Anatomy of a Commission

Today, American Composers Forum (ACF) announces the launch of a new digital resource titled “Anatomy of a Commission.” Designed for both music creators and their collaborators, this year-long initiative aims to provide transparency about the commissioning process, informed by a variety of field-wide insights and perspectives. Joined by partners American Composers Orchestra and National Sawdust, “Anatomy of a Commission” will amplify the powerful impact of collaborating with living creators to encourage equitable experiences and an overall expansion of commissioning efforts.

All three organizations consistently receive inquiries from artists, organizations, funders, and programmers about how to approach the commissioning process, especially within a rapidly changing digital landscape. In the collective return to live performances, organizations and individuals are considering how to make their programming relevant to their entire community, reflective of timely topics, and attractive to new audiences. There is increased interest in living art; ACF and its partners see this as an opportune time to help shape successful collaborations, especially for those artists who have been most marginalized in the past.

“We see artists as storytellers, change agents, and curators,” says Vanessa Rose, ACF Executive Director. “Recognizing the need for these perspectives in today’s world, we are excited to roll out resources that can help artists and their collaborators to develop their relationships as well as move forward the creation and advancement of substantive works.”

“In many ways, the future of our field will be shaped through the creativity and imagination of composers,” shared Melissa Ngan, American Composers Orchestra’s President & CEO. “Definition-expanding work requires flexible tools and practices to bring concepts into reality. By leveraging digital platforms, this responsive set of resources will continue to evolve alongside composers’ visions and the generative ecosystem that sustains their creative practice.”

“For composers, ensuring equity and transparency in contracts can be an intricate and challenging process, leaving them feeling disempowered,” shared National Sawdust’s Paola Prestini, Co-Founder and Artistic Director, and composer, and Managing Director Ana de Archuleta. “However, by offering mentorship, context, support, and a collaborative think tank environment, we can foster the growth and advancement of the field in this crucial area.”

“Anatomy of a Commission” is designed to support the dynamic and fluid nature of each unique commissioning scenario. Rather than directing a one-size-fits-all approach, this comprehensive resource is designed to function as a guide for composers and commissioning parties, while also serving as an advocacy tool for continued investment in living artists. The initiative will comprise several components:

  • A Discussion Guide to encourage necessary pre-contract conversations between artistic parties;
  • Updated contract templates with annotated fields for different scenarios;
  • Written articles from composers and other collaborators providing examples of their own successful (or unsuccessful) experiences;
  • Filmed conversations between collaborators (composer/presenter, composer/commissioner) who discuss the nuances of an equitable experience;
  • A “National Co-Commissioning Hub” for those seeking to join a commission consortium (a collaborative effort among ROCO, New Music USA, American Composers Orchestra, and American Composers Forum); and
  • Office Hours concerning common legal issues when commissioning new music.

“This is an important resource for artists creating work today,” says composer Daniel Bernard Roumain, an early advisor on the initiative. “I look forward to sharing this with our community and entering into meaningful conversations as we have more information about each other’s perspectives. In our field, the work of composers continues to challenge, change, and heal communities in need.”

The partners will continue to add perspectives and resources as feedback to the initial pieces are received. The initial content for the series includes:

  • Discussion Guide for commissioning new works for large ensemble
  • On-demand webinar with music lawyer Ari Solotoff featuring a breakdown and detailed analysis of the Discussion Guide
  • Customizable and annotated contract templates
  • Essays by composers Stephanie Ann Boyd, Gemma Peacocke, and Yaz Lancaster
  • Launch of the Commissioning Consortium Discussion Board
  • Office Hours with Ari Solotoff regarding common legal issues that arise when commissioning new music

Do you have experiences you’d like to share, or questions about the process you’d like to see answered here? You can share them with us at and we will follow up! Join ACF’s newsletter list or visit this page for updated information.

This project is supported, in part, by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support is provided by Augusta Gross and Leslie Samuels, and Rob Mason.

The “Discussion Guide” is made possible, in part, by a grant from Eastman’s Institute for Music Leadership’s funds from the Paul R. Judy Center for Innovation and Research, Solotoff Law, and contributions from composers, artistic administrators, managers, and publishers.

We wish to thank the Eastman School of Music’s Master of Arts in Music Leadership graduate cohort members (Samantha Andrew, Sarah Bertrand, and Rebecca Clarke) for their work on the initial design of this project as well as Daniel Bernard Roumain, Melissa Ngan, Rachel Roberts, and everyone who contributed feedback on the concept.