Once the province of specialized, classically trained composers, today’s movie soundtracks are attracting the talents of musicians sometimes more famous in other fields, such as rock and pop. Just why are mainstream musicians turning their creative talent to films?

Film scores, not songs

The answer could lie in the challenge that writing a film score presents for musicians more accustomed to penning three-minute songs. Like a concept album, a movie requires its accompanying music to represent its story and its theme. With a film score, a musician cannot simply write any type of music and rely solely on words to express its meaning; the music has to speak for itself. For a musician, a film score offers a unique opportunity for musical expression, a chance to stretch the creative muscles. Then, perhaps, there is the possibility that the film will be remembered for its music as much as the story. Just consider how many films are identifiable by their theme tune alone: DriveStar Wars, Tron, 50 Shades of Grey, Chariots of Fire, for example. What musician wouldn’t want to be remembered for creating such a stunning piece of work? Then there is the more prosaic reason for a mainstream musician wanting to write a film score – the chance to stop touring for a while.

However, while the majority of film scores have traditionally been crafted in the classical mode, the world of contemporary music has delved into the film industry before. Think Queen and their theme song “Flash” for the film Flash Gordon. Perhaps it is only more recently, however, that the crossover is happening with any regularity. Of late, movie audiences have been treated to film scores penned by such artists as Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor, with his score for The Social Network; Daft Punk with music for Tron: Legacy; Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood for There Will Be Blood; and the Chemical Brothers for Hanna.

The musician is usually invited either by the director or the production company to write a film score, but has this been just the creative whims of a few, or is this trend set to become the norm? With the resulting film scores often netting an industry award or two, it is likely to become the norm, especially for those film production companies, such as Global Produce, owned by Marc Shmuger, that want to stay on top of what is hot in Hollywood and beyond. Marc Shmuger is renowned in the industry for being a creative leader, so if he sees the value in commissioning film scores from outside the industry, it is likely other producers will follow suit.

Perhaps the two most valuable traits that the mainstream musician brings to a film score are novelty and freedom. A producer or director does not hire such a person to deliver the same old type of sound, but rather to inject a new sound and, as a consequence, life into their movie.

The novelty aspect appeals to the filmmaker, while the freedom aspect appears to the musician as a chance to explore their creativity in a new medium, and the resulting collaborations have been, for the most part, hugely successful. Perhaps the old-school film score composer should watch out.