Composing : Multiple Composers - One Film by Joel Irwin

Joel Irwin

Multiple Composers - One Film

Here is something possibly controversial that we may not all agree on. Today I was talking to a filmmaker about a potential project he wants me to score. Partway through the conversation, he mentioned he uses multiple composers in a film and chooses between cues for each place. I told him (especially as I am not getting paid for the project - it is a competitive film) that I understand why he uses that approach especially for a time sensitive project, but I can not work on a film where there are multiple composers. My main reasons are:

1. The quality of my perceived music is based on the 'least common denominator' - meaning that I can have great cues but if one of the composers has inadequate ones, it 'drags down' all the music and all the composers (IMHO).

2. I would like to think that each composer's music has an 'identity' and a 'sound' - perhaps even a 'brand' (when we get good enough :) ). I spend a lot of time insuring the 'consistency' of my music across all the cues and often times, carry thematic work or other melodies, arrangements, and/or rhythms across my cues which helps tie them together. Jumping between two or more composer written cues makes the connections weaker at best.

Now I have no issue with the use of completed commercial music used in places in the films (such as bands, singer songwriters, etc.) - that is why there are music supervisors (or at least someone wearing that hat). Most of that music (if not all) has lyrics and both the music and the meanings of the words are important to the place it is used in the film (except perhaps the end titles if there is a commercial song).

Also I have no issue if I am paid for the cues and they are not used. In fact, I know of many cases in Hollywood where a scored film was thrown out and another composer re-scored the film (though the original composer got paid). Also there are many occasions where multiple composers are used but not on 'equal footing' - one heads the 'music department' and the other composers contribute as dictated by the composer. Hans Zimmer has often worked that way.

So what are your experiences and opinions on this topic?

By the way, they got back to me this afternoon and agreed to hire me to score by myself. I am honored that despite the time sensitivity of this project they trusted me enough to complete the scoring of the film as they require.

Brian Alan DeLaney

I don't personally like the idea either, unless it would be the composers working closely together. A few years back, I joined a group that did that sort of thing, there were a bunch of composers that all wrote cues and the director picked which one he liked. Needless to say, I did not stick around too long.

Jonathan Price

Yeah, that's the best call for both you and the filmmaker.

Shanika Freeman

I'm working closely with another composer on a feature film at the moment. He is doing a good chunk of the score and I am writing the songs, lyrics and credits. I do not mind that set up. As long as both or multiple composers gel well together and communicate , I think it could work. it isn't ideal but it can work.

Joel Irwin

Shanika - that is a great division. The 'issue' for me is when both are independently working on cues for different scenes. As composers, like any other creative content providers, we have styles, 'sounds', perhaps even a music brand. The audience will not know which scenes were scored by which composers. And so the branding/sound could be confusing at a minimum but in some scenarios (such as a feature I was part of two years ago), our music was totally different and my concern was the other composers were not scoring at the same 'level' I was and so my reputation to a certain extent depended on the quality of their scores - a risk I was not willing to take (as I had no input or control over their products).

BTW - I scored the film above that this post was based on and the filmmaker loved the music. Turns out he was concerned that one composer could not finish the score in time and we had no prior relationship and so I was an unknown entity. Another happy customer :) (and pretty cool music to boot!)

Richi Carter

I agree with you Joel. The only times I could understand this happening, is if the film requires a really niche piece of music, such as a Dubstep track, or an 80s Metal Song etc. Otherwise I don't see any reason why the Director would require multiple composers. Just like a good actor should be able to convey different emotions onscreen, a good composer should be able to do the same with the soundtrack.

Rods Bobavich

This is a new production style that we see everywhere. Asking artists to speculate for work is degrading to the artform. However, it's a truism that this is happening more and more...

If you have to get involved in something like this my best advice is to demand that there be communication and transparency between composers. Most of music is a collaborative process and we work better together in a collaboration than independently in the dark.

I understand both sides of the equation... But I don't think the director understands that run length composition is another actor in his film. You can't change out actors halfway without loosing continuity. If that run length actor is an animated character then several people will collaborate. That's fine. But changing things out in the dark doesn't work unless you have a music supervisor who can insure continuity in the end.

Even then it doesn't sound like happy working conditions...

Tomasz Mieczkowski

Sounds strange to me. If there's a composer duo or something like that, it's fine, but I think you'd be able to tell if music changes from one composer to another. :)

Rods Bobavich

Yup. Sometimes two voices of music can work though. Like if you're in two different times. Or if you're trying to wildly contrast perspectives. But even then there should be communication and transparency.

James T. Sale

This process is the sign of a half-assed director. So your instincts are correct. Don't do it. I wouldn't do it even if getting paid. When you're a ghost-writer and part of a team it's unavoidable but even then, it creates myriad problems.

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