I’m pretty sure there are as many ways as creating a musical score as there are composers. Every composer has their preferred way of composing. There is the iconic picture most of us have in our minds of a composer working feverishly at the piano, banging away, looking for the perfect chord or melody. This is just one of the many ways composers work when writing for film. With the advent of newer technologies and the studio’s never ending quest for shorter deadlines and smaller budgets, the process continues to evolve.
I’m reminded of how many ways composers can work after reading this Variety article about Hans Zimmer and the way he goes about putting together a score. I’ve written about Hans and his composition process here before. Hans wasn’t going to be considered for an Academy award because he hadn’t composed the score on his own and had numerous collaborators. The decision to disqualify him was over turned but it was clear that the Academy wasn’t clear about all of the ways that composers put together musical scores. Hans has always been very open about his process and how he goes about putting together all of the different parts and people in each of his scores.
Hans actually puts together quite a few elements of the score before even seeing one frame of film. He has many collaborators, all with their special area of expertise. More and more composers are expected to know all of the different areas in composing, orchestration and engineering while still having a particular area of expertise. Most of the composers in the Variety article are capable of executing all of the necessary operations in putting together a score but choose collaboration when the budget allows. This allows the various players to focus on their area of expertise and allow collaboration between very creative people.
There has been a lot of talk about the right and wrong way of putting together a score. There have been numerous articles about the lost art of melody writing and some articles putting down the use of too much technology in modern scores. The truth is that all of these arguements are valid within context. There are films that scream out for a traditional score with huge orchestral themes and melodies. Then there are some films that need just minimal sound FX and even some that need little to no music at all (the Sopranos jumps to mind here). There is no one perfect way to score a film and there is no one perfect way to compose the score for that film. It may involve a lot of talented musicians performing together on a Hollywood sound stage or it may involve one guy with a handful of FX loops. It really isn’t that simple most of the time and in the end it really comes up to the director and the film.