These days, we’re all very familiar with the multi-million dollar sticker shock that comes with mounting a musical. We’re even well aware that every musical will need to go through months and years of costly development before it fully comes to life. But before any of that can happen, the musical has to be written. And if you, the writer thinks that your only expenses will be your lucky pen and a ream of staff paper, think again.
Those of you who have written musicals are probably nodding your heads. You already know where this is going.
Here are just a few things to keep in mind when budgeting for writing a musical…
Many shows are based on an underlying property. Nailing down the rights often involves an entertainment lawyer to grease the wheels with the rights owners and then draft a solid option that will ensure that you have time to write the musical before the rights lapse. Then, if you are granted the rights, you’ll likely have to pay an option fee on the property. These two expenses together can range all across the board depending on how hot the property is and which lawyers you use, but this part of the process can easily start in the tens of thousands.
We all know it takes reading after reading to hone your new musical. Before you can ever even dream of roping in a producer to shoulder some of these costs, you will undoubtedly be footing the bill. Sure, you will be calling in a lot of favors from friends and colleagues, but the inevitable costs may include photocopies, binders, pizza (!), rehearsal space, accompanists, all the way up through equity stipends and more. These expenses, especially after two or three readings can add up fast.
I highly recommend new works festivals as they are a great way to see/hear your show, and festivals often shoulder the majority of the costs. However, you will often have a submission fee, postage, and if you are onsite for a workshop or residency, you may be taking time off from a day job. So while these will save you money out of one pocket, it may still cost you.
These days you have to have a good demo recorded in order to pitch your show to producers, festivals, even cast members. You don’t need to shell out for a recording studio but prepping your music, using strong singers and clean recording technology is rarely free.
And this only gets us through early development. Once you get to a workshop and productions the expenses get more expensive. I’ve also left out the basic requirements like education, a piano/keyboard, theater tickets for show research, travel, books, classes, etc. I’m not saying all this to be discouraging. It is simply to remind you that no one gets off for free in musical theater. Better to be prepared going in than have a brilliant musical and no rights nor opportunities to hear it out loud.
Luckily, these costs often are spread over years of development so you can budget for them along the way. In fact, preparing a basic budget is a great idea. That way you can stay within what you are willing to spend for (invest in!) your musical, and save the sticker shock for Broadway.