Why Hans Zimmer Got The Job You Wanted (And You Didn’t)

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I worked for Hans Zimmer for about 8 years, 5 of which were in a studio at Remote Control, his facility in Santa Monica. Since leaving Remote, many people have said to me, usually in a conspiratorial tone of voice, things like this: Hans doesn’t really write his own music. The studios only give him work because he’s famous. He’s not a real musician. He just gets his clients drunk and all the work is done by guys in the back room. And so forth.

The underlying implication is that this underhanded semi-musician has Hollywood in his thrall due to Svengali like powers and maybe, someday, they’ll wake up and hire a “real” composer – like whoever is whispering to me.

No other composer seems to stir up this kind of ire – I never hear people say, “Yeah, that John Williams only writes 12-line sketches and it’s up to his orchestrators to make it into real music!”

Well, I hate to break it to you, but Hans gets what he gets because…he deserves it.

Here is why:

1) HANS IS A VISIONARY.

In films there is a process called “spotting” in which the composer and director decide what kind of music is needed where. Hans is the best spotter I’ve ever observed. He has an extraordinary sense of what will work. But long before spotting, he will spend weeks writing a suite which is the source of the musical themes of the film. Oddly, this isn’t really about music – it’s about the essence of what the story and the characters are. Film composer great Elmer Bernstein (Magnificent Seven, To Kill A Mockingbird) once said to me, “The dirty little secret is that we’re not musicians – we’re dramatists.” Hans is an outstanding dramatist.

But he also fearlessly pushes himself, challenging the limits of what is acceptable in our medium. In Batman: Dark Knight, long before we had footage of the film, Hans asked Heitor Pereira (guitar), Martin Tillman (cello), and me (violin and tenor violin) to separately record some variations on a set of instructions involving 2 notes, C and D. This involved a fair amount of interpretation! For those who are familiar with classical music, it was John Cage meets Phil Glass. We each spent a week making hundreds of snippets. Then we had to listen to each other’s work and re-interpret that. The end result was a toolbox of sounds that provided Hans with the attitude of his score.

Later, he asked me to double every ostinato (repeating phrase) pattern the violins and violas played. There were a LOT. And a great studio orchestra had already played them all! I spent a week on what I considered an eccentric fool’s errand, providing score mixer, Alan Meyerson, with single, double, and triple pass versions of huge swaths of the score. Months later, I joked with him about how “useful” my efforts had been. Alan told me that, actually, they had turned out to be a crucial element of the score, that he often pulled out the orchestra and went to my performances when something needed to be edgy or raw.

The video below shows something from Man of Steel. Hans assembled a room full of great trap set drummers to play the same groove at the same time, each with tiny variations. Is it a stunt? Maybe. But does it deliver a sound you’ve never quite heard before? Definitely.

2) HANS WORKS VERY, VERY HARD.

When working on a project – which is most of the time – Hans usually arrives at the studio at 11 am and then works until 3 or 4 in the morning. 7 days a week. For months. As the deadline approaches, everything else fades away. Harry Gregson-Williams once told me you could tell how far into a project Hans was by the length of his beard – at some point, he stops shaving.

His late-night hours provide welcome relief from badgering studios and the noise of running a business. They proved to be a challenge to my metabolism when I was getting up at 6 a.m. to go to yoga. Which leads me to a the title of another post, “Never Keep Different Hours Than Your Boss.” But I digress.

Hans is not as fast as his one-time assistant, Harry, or his current go-to arranger, Lorne Balfe, both of whom work at superhuman speed. Hans once suggested that I worked too fast. I was puzzled at the time, but what I think he was really saying was that I needed to pay better attention to the little details that, cumulatively, make all the difference.

3) HANS IS THE BEST FILM MUSIC PRODUCER IN THE BUSINESS.

We’re not talking about technical music skills. Hans is a so-so pianist and guitarist and his knowledge of academic theory is, by intention, limited. (I was once chastised while working on The Simpsons Movie for saying “lydian flat 7″ instead of “the cartoon scale.”) He doesn’t read standard notation very well, either. But no one reads piano roll better than he does. [The piano roll is a page of a music computer program that displays the notes graphically.] Which gets to the heart of the matter: Hans knows what he needs to know to make it sound great.

Sometimes, that is the right musicians. Sometimes it is the right sample library. Sometimes it is the right room, or engineer, or recording technique, or mixing technique. All that counts is the end result. And it always sounds spectacular.

4) HANS WORKS WITH GREAT PEOPLE.

Take a look at the composers who have worked for Hans: John Powell, Harry Gregson-Williams, Heitor Pereira, Henry Jackman, Steve Jablonsky, Lorne Balfe, Trevor Morris, Ramin Djawadi, Jeff Rona, Mark Mancina, Atli Örvarsson, Geoff Zanelli, Blake Neeley, Stephen Hilton, Tom “Junkie XL” Holkenborg and on and on. And Alan Meyerson, his mixer. And Bob Badami and Ken Karman, his music editors. (Bob’s credits alone dwarf about everybody in the business). His great percussionists, Satnam Ramgotra and Ryeland Allison. Sound designers, Howard Scarr and Mel Wesson. Not to mention Steve Kofsky, his business partner. And all the tech whizzes he’s had over the years: Mark Wherry, Sam Estes, Pete Snell, Tom Broderick. Even his personal assistants – Andrew Zack, and later, Czar Russell – are remarkable.

Of course, the really amazing talents are the ones he works for: Chris Nolan, Gore Verbinski, Jim Brooks, Ron Howard, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Jerry Bruckheimer. But he would never get the chance to work for them if he didn’t hold up his end of the bargain.

5) HANS IS A CHARMER.

The first time Jeffrey Katzenberg heard Hans’ love theme for Megamind he said, “It sounds like 1968 on the French Riviera.” It was not a compliment. And it wasn’t wrong. Actually, what Hans realized – and Jeffrey hadn’t – was that the heart of the love story in the movie was right out of A Man and A Woman and La Nouvelle Vague. Rather than point this out, Hans said, “Let me work on it some more.” Over the next two weeks he played revision after revision for Jeffrey, each time making small changes to the arrangement or structure, but keeping the same basic tune. A couple of weeks later, after Jeffrey tore apart the music for a different scene that we’d worked pretty hard on, he said, “Well, at least we have a great love theme!” The rest of us looked at each other. When did that happen!

Hans is acutely aware of the presentational aspect of our business. His capacious control room, rather than being the strictly functional wood and bland fabric of a typical studio, is a lurid red velvet – a 19th century Turkish bordello as Hans describes it. With a wall of rare analog modular synthesizers in the back. At dinner, he serves his guests fine wine, and gives others cleverly appropriate (more so than lavish) gifts. As one of his clients said to me, “Hans makes you feel like a great chef is inviting you into his kitchen.”

Not all of us can afford HZ-level dog and pony shows. But most of us can use what we do have better.

6) HANS DELIVERS.

Hans often gets hired for massive projects. The reason he uses an army of people is that he needs them to keep up with the demands of the directors and the studios. Halfway through Rango, Gore Verbinski suddenly changed direction, threw almost everything out, and we started over. Without a team to carry out the new directions, we’d have been dead.

Look at what happened to Howard Shore on King Kong, Marc Shaiman on Team America, Maurice Jarre on River Wild, Gabriel Yared on Troy, or the great Bernard Herrmann on Torn Curtain. In each case they were fired because the studio or director lost faith that they could shift direction quickly enough once their original approach was rejected. In 150+ films this has never happened to Hans.

BTW, he is also very aware of what the power structure is – who really makes decisions. I was fired – or more accurately not hired after a trial period – from a film because I jumped through hoops for the director who brought me in while not spending enough time figuring out what the producer – the actual power – wanted. Rather than being sympathetic, Hans told me I had failed in a fundamental task: determining who was my boss. He was right, and I haven’t made that mistake again.

So, is Hans my favorite film composer? No. He’s not even Hans’ favorite film composer! (I’m guessing that would be Nina Rota or Ennio Morricone, but you’d have to ask him.) And he can be dismissive, condescending, arrogant, exploitative, and just plain mean. Like me. And, I suspect, you.

But he is exceptionally smart, gifted, accomplished, and hard-working. And here is the hard truth: outside of a few rare exceptions, the people who are successful in the film business are successful because they deserve to be. They have earned it. Yes, they have been lucky. But everybody gets lucky eventually. The question is what do you do when good fortune arrives. If you want to be as successful as the people you admire, you need to be as smart, resourceful, and determined as they are. As Hans is.

 

You’ll find composer Michael A. Levine on Facebook and IMDb. His website is MichaelLevineMusic.com

Composer and Songwriter for TW, Film, Games & Concert Music. Credits include Cold Case, Star Wars Detours and the Hunger Games: Catching Fire OST with Lorde’s cover version of “Everybody Wants to Rule The World”.

Discussion115 Comments

  1. Really enjoyed what you had to say about Han’s and about composing
    film scores…Richard Halsey editor

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  3. Hans is currently the greatest living film composer alive. Period! And to all the haters… Stop being so nostalgic and be progressive, like Hans!

          • Please, go listen to some more Philip Glass. If you just made a statement like that, then that means you clearly haven’t heard enough from him. Two of my favorites are “Philip Glass – Aguas de Amazonia” and “Metamorphosis” There’s a great version of Metamorphosis on youtube played by Branka Parlic; it’s deeply captivating.

  4. Well done, when I saw this on Facebook I was expecting another kiss-n-tell hatefest. Thank you for swimming against the modern trend of cynicism. The world needs more people like you and Hans!

  5. Thank you so much. It was really nice to read it. One of my biggest dream of life is to meet Mr.Zimmer and tell him how he changed my whole life forever!

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  7. I got to know Hans music around 89 and immediately got hooked. Not everything is a s brilliant but he has done so much great stuff. If you are as productive as he is you need to be practical and social, (to gather all the right people on the right places). There is no “best”in music, it all comes down to taste in the end… but if you have done around 150 movies and still get asked by the top movie directors you must be doing something right! Cheers.

  8. Working hard must be his German background. The strict mentality to focus and execute. I know someone else who shares similarities to his name structure and works 16-17 hour days to achieve great end-results in creative projects.

  9. Great and poignant article. Based from personal observation, I would agree with every single thing. It’s so efficiently forward in it’s focus of the ‘job’ over the ‘work’, it could slip past the reader if they’re not paying attention.
    Making filmmakers feel ‘special’ is hands down his forte, and a cornerstone of his success. That sounds like a left-handed compliment, and it is. However, we could all learn something from this approach…

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  11. The answer to the posit in the title of this article is that Hans Zimmer gives studios precisely the music that they think they need. And what they think they need is shit.

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  13. I would like to tell you guys about great Indian Maestro Ilayaraja. He is the best Indian music director and who brings life to the movies. I can bet no one in this world can bring so much emotions to the movie through music.

    • YES. Mr.VK. i AGREE. I AM A DIE HARD DEVOTEE OF ILAYARAJA. WE CAN FEEL HIS SOUL TOUCHING BGMs AND EMOTIONS THROUGH HIS SONGS’ PRELUDES, INTERLUDES AND POSTLUDES. NAGIN

    • YES VK. GUYS, LISTEN….my dream is to give a movie named MOUNA RAAGAM,THALABATHI or NAYAGAN, my list goes on….to any of the worlds renowned composers and see the result….I am sure that they cant create the magic which MAESTRO Ilayaraja has created. Every other composers you name them , they stand next to him MAESTRO ILAYARAJA..( the messenger of GOD )

  14. Marylata E. Jacob

    Thank you Michael, for your insightful, in depth and accurate portrayal of Hans. From the earliest of days when his studio was housed at the old Wilder Bros on Santa Monica in Century City to his current teeming complex, Hans has made a welcomed home for filmmakers. Hans, by his very nature and talent is a true filmmaker. His scores are influenced more by the film’s lighting and colors, than dialogue. His work and imprint begins long before he plays the first note, long before principal photography, long before the shooting script is final.

    In the land of Hollywood where credit is coveted, Hans will leave the door open to the coffee runner if they have an idea or comment. He listens. Most astoundingly, he’ll give credit where credit is due, proudly announcing to the filmmaker the person whose idea worked. He’s generous on cue sheets. Hans has done more for musicians, singers and young composers than any agent or manager to date.

    Yes, Hans is witty, charming and very continental but it is his insight into collaboration that makes him unique.

    Marylata Elton Jacob
    aka DreamWorks’ Duchess of Music

    • We’ve contacted Disney and will tell you the latest news about it asap. Right now you’re unfortunately right about the fact that there are only mp3-downloads available. Because this is more off- than on-topic, we will send you the news directly via email.

      • Thank you, i appreciate it. Technology is great but i like to have a physical copy of a soundtrack. Mr. Zimmers arrangement of the william tell overature on the LONE RANGER soundtrack is simply amazing. when i heard it begin during the final chase scene of the movie, i thought OK, here we go.

        • We’re still waiting for an answer by the international office but meanwhile we at least got an answer by the German office which simply told us that it is available right now! Please check your local sellers as well as amazon: http://georiot.co/p0c Good luck!

  15. Chris–Those are important words. Hans openly acknowledges his debt to Stanley, who was his mentor. Stanley often dumped unwanted tasks into Hans’ lap. As HZ puts it, “I wrote a lot of car chases.”

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  17. It was a very interesting read, Mr. Levine, but it did not dissuade me from my enduring opinion of Mr. Zimmer. That being: he is a soundtrack composer, and not a film composer.And not a very good composer, per se. In fact I would have to conclude that he is an “organism”, and its not very clear at all what he actually writes. It’s a concept he spawned, and does nothing to further the excellence of his true predecessors , as he appears to breed, in the main, equally mediocre “talent”. It’s not clear where he begins and his minion take over and conclude. I do not deny his importance in terms of the business aspect of this industry, but in terms of his artistic “legacy”, he will be a completely anonymous, backwater curiosity in 200 years from now ( should he be remembered at all), whilst Mr. Williams, Mr. Goldsmith, Mr. Herrmann ( probably the most important of them all), Mr. Barry,etc. etc., and their torch-bearers will be studied and wondered at, as we appear to slide further and further down the slippery slope to the compositional weaklings that seem to pass as composers these days. Unless, of course, we’re really heading for idiocratic meltdown….. :-s

    I could write at considerable length ( probably too much for some already ) of my views on Mr. Zimmer’s rather baffling success in Hollywood. His Teutonic roots should really have placed him in a position of importance, but,unfortunately, this tradition seems not to have been one of a DNA perpetuation, in his case. In fact, I really do not understand why people harp on and on about him, when one has the likes and originality of Mr. Elfman, or Thomas or Randy Newman ( have you actually LISTENED to the score of Toy Story 3?! ), or Elliott Goldenthal. I could go on, but I despise this groupie-mentality, attributed to Mr. Zimmer. I don’t begrudge him his success,please be aware! It’s not sour grapes, otherwise I’d be swiping at all of them, including JW. I simply feel his “work”, like so much of modern popular culture, is shallow and inconsequential to the point ignominy. Why do not people ,instead, compare Mr. Elfman, or Mr. Newman to Mr. Williams? I suggest this, purely because Mr. Zimmer is so extraordinarily…..DULL, in his attempts to illustrate the picture. I do not question his technical innovations, or his production values, or his undeniable charm.But the content simply does not hold up under technical and artistic scrutiny. Samples and synths are fine, and Herrmann and Goldsmith were both comparable innovators in this field, but the longevity and tried and trusted tradition of real players, will never go away. OK, so he uses real orchestras to, but why does it always sound so boring?! Blocky, parallel voicing, with no interesting counterpoint, or really getting under the skin of a scene? Like most lesser composers these days, they seem to write straight though a scene. Mr. Williams can do it all, and I mean ALL. These days ( one of the Tylers please note ), action is played like it’s come, freshly squeezed, straight out of the computer sequencer, and not scored with care or talent. IT SUCKS.

    To my constant confusion people seem to ill-conceivedly compare Mr.Zimmer to ( or, at least, match him against ) John Williams.I find that completely mystifying. There is no comparison, and never will be, of the two. One objective, realistic listen to possibly the greatest score ever written, ET The Extraterrestrial, will clearly demonstrate to anyone with any grasp of composition, that Mr. Zimmer is not even fit to make Mr. Williams a decent cocktail, let alone dream of coming up with just one minute of the true magic that has now, sadly, deserted Hollywood’s so-called film composers.

    And it’s not just a case that it’s something he could only dream of writing: he is not even capable of DREAMING on this scale at all! But this paucity of talent and imagination, extends to just about all of Hollywood’s current crop of “composers”. They dream so small, that cinema history ( should there be on in 100 years or so ) will require the critical equivalent to the electron microscope to actually see what they achieved, if anything .This is plain and simple, and anyone who feels Mr. Zimmer is a superior film composer ( or any other form of composer, for that matter) to JW and his ilk is either ignorant,deluded, or ( more likely ) of a certain age that renders them completely innocent of the monumental skill and talent that precedes Mr. Zimmer. Talent and skill, the likes of which he is simply not fit to assume the mantle of inheritor.

    Sorry for the long post. Some people might think me arrogant. However, I do have a compositional background in this medium, and think I know a bit about the subject. I could go into a lot of depth about this, so don’t ask!

    Mr. Williams is truly the last of his kind. I sincerely and fervently hope Mr. Zimmer will be, too.

    • Hello William Anderson!

      I could not agree with you more. While I commend Hans Zimmer for his production and ability to create interesting new soundscapes for film music I don’t think his music is inspired at all but rather what years ago would be considered mild underscoring of a film or simply mood music. Big drums with blocky brass writing is not at all an art but rather taking one sound and expanding it as much as possible.

      I am a young film composer, just starting out in the industry and lucky to have worked with a few of the composers mentioned in the article while working on my own scores. I intend to look up to and follow the ideals of John Williams, Hermann and Goldsmith of making film music real music while still using all the innovations in soundscapes and concepts that film makers so like. Using those does not mean letting go of counterpoint and proper harmony and creative orchestration but rather enhance it. I am classically trained and have written operas and continue to write concert music. I believe that film music could be the ultimate medium to bring together audiences of all genres of music and teach them the quality a well composed piece of music has to offer and how much more involved, beautiful and ultimately touching it can be.

      • Hey FGL – You and William Anderson seem to share the same opinion, how sad. I see it especially sad, that as a young upcoming film composer you’re not embracing the future… and have this ‘resentment’ of innovation. You might be a fine classical composer – – but you scare me with the way you talk about ‘film music’ – – I’m a massive film score buff (not a composer) and why do I love film music so much? The possibilities are endless… The sounds and music that can be created goes beyond our imagination!!

        You certainly won’t achieve ‘success’ within the film music industry, by following the ideals of John Williams, Hermann and Goldsmith – in fact you’ll most certainly be derided as nothing more than an imitator among the many already out there, and laughed outta town! But worst of all you won’t find work – Why?? So simple… The style, orchestration and harmonies that are oh, so sweet… are not ‘cool’ today… Yes I said ‘COOL’ – Because movie making and music are synonymous with being ‘relevant’ or ahead of their time…

        Unless Hollywood and people enter some mental time warp whereby they cry out for a return to the golden age of film music, due to a box office decline… you’ll always be struggling for work as a ‘film composer’ within ‘Hollywood’ – Pure and simple as that.

        Don’t mean to be harsh, in fact I wish you all the best, but you need to change your ‘mindset’ and start being a ‘futurist’ like Hans Zimmer. (Seriously) If not a futurist – at least be original… And not try to be like another famous film composer… It’s one thing to be fond of and a ‘fan’ of a certain era of music, but it’s a whole other issue when wanting to work as a film composer.

        Sebastian

        • Sebasitian,

          I think you misread what I wrote. I clearly stated that I do intend to utilize all the innovations in sound design, orchestration and approach to film music and further up on them. I have been lucky enough to work on a few of them this past year. What I meant of the ideals of John Williams and Goldsmith was meant with the sense of the artistry of it rather than the mass production and limited musical language (this comes into the notes themselves not the sounds or instrumentation which I think Hans Zimmer is genius at) of using three or four chords and endless ostinatos to create tension. I hope you understand that when I meant ideals it doesn’t mean style, orchestration and sounds. A good film composer should use all those innovations in orchestration and sound scape in modern film music and still write with the ideals or artistry of John Williams and others. This has nothing to do with orchestration but the music itself, one can write a cue with artistry and use all the big samples, electronics and fantastic colours modern technology has to offer.

          And about not being successful you might have to be careful as you know nothing of my career in an industry in which I’m already working and being supported by people you surely consider to be successful. You are allowed your opinion, but as fan don’t try to speak of a world of which you only have and outsiders perspective rather than an insider one.

          Trying to be original comes from trying to do something else. I never said I would imitate either John Williams, Hans or any other composer but be my own. Ideals or artistry have nothing to do with style or imitation, in fact if I was trying to imitate someone else I might as well give up because why would a director get me to compose the music for their film when they could just get the guy who is known for that to do it. If you do not know my music or background (which is irrelevant to this discussion) do not assume things.

          I appreciate your message and concern but not to worry. I am getting work and I am looking to the future and creating my own original aesthetic, while trying to innovate not imitate the past. What I talk about is a standard of music that has depth on any level.

          Oh and for your information I am not stuck in the past of films scores or film making. I like a lot of the scores from this past year and thing they are amazing including Oblivion, Skyfall and After Earth (now are those Golden Age Scores? Not that I know of). So don’t try to make assumptions about my art and style and who I am. I think you might be a fan boy who’s not paying close enough attention to what is actually being shared and written here. Next time you’re in LA try and get into a scoring session and talk to a composer, see what it is they talk about. Can’t get into one, let me know and I’ll gladly bring you along but please don’t undermine what I do and pretend to know me or a craft and industry I actually work on.

    • Mr Anderson…

      First off, i’m a massive film score enthusiast and collector.

      Having read your post and the ‘contempt’ you seem to have for Mr Zimmer is nothing short of hate and elitism. ‘Hans Florian Zimmer’ is currently one of the greatest living film composers working today, and will be remembered in 200yrs time as the ‘MOZART’ of our time! He will always maintain a Top 5 Greatest Film Composer status in human history. The closest in comparison (in terms of quality) is Ennio Morricone.

      You sound like all the other pompous windbags who yearn for the ‘golden age’ of film music. Guess what! It’s never coming back! Hans’ music is the future. In fact his ‘music’ transcends ‘music’ – – So much so, that his ‘gift’ of creating ’emotion’ through music will soon be recognized as a very powerful tool (if not already) among the psychological and mental health fraternity.

      What’s so sad, about you and your fellow haters… Is that you will most likely stifle your careers and become miserable old people due to this resentment… this hate (poison) you have manifesting inside you.

      PS: I am an equal admirer and collector of works from, Elliot Goldenthal, Jerry Goldsmith, and Ennio Morricone.

      PPS: Don’t wanna burst your bubble, but good ole John Williams has never ever been close to the ‘genius’ level that Hans Zimmer possesses.

      Sebastian

      • Poor “Sebastian”, and all the other deluded Zimmer sycophants, you are so out of touch with musical art of film scoring, and in love with your precious genius to be incapable of stepping back and objectively looking his output in a historical,and potentially historical, context. Also, you are so determined that Mr. Zimmer is the modern equivalent to Mozart or Beethoven ( what a sick and offensive joke that is ) that you fail, miserably in defending his collectively-written creations, or acknowledge that he is incapable of single-handedly “scoring” ( if that what you call his form of art ) a film, and has to rely on his other cronies to help him out.When will you idiots wake up and accept that Zimmer is NOT A FILM COMPOSER. You clearly know nothing about what it really takes to score a film, and neither does the Zimmer collective. He / they are soundtrack composers. There’s a huge difference. Their idea, in the main, is to write straight through a scene, without any sensitivity to the content. Why? Because they’re lazy, and less than capable, and they’re being patted on the back by the producers and directors, afflicted by what I call the Emperor’s New Clothes syndrome. Let’s not forget that most directors, particularly these days, haven’t a clue about the power of music in cinema. One example is Ridley Scott, who has always has a very dodgy grasp on this aspect.

        The elderly citizen you so discourteously refer to Mr. Williams as ( MR. Williams to you, you ill-informed, disrespectful pig) has won more Oscars than any other composer in history, and is part of a lineage that Mr. Zimmer bluderingly gatecrashed in the 80’s. What has Mr. Zimmer achieved? One oscar. One, for a cartoon.One oscar for something he didn’t write by himself. Interesting non? Incidentally, that old guy, Williams, was nominated for two Oscars in the same year. He won, BTW. The only reason why Mr. Zimmer is where he is today is by luck. Before you think that’s sour grapes, he, himself, admits it. He came to Hollywood, after being one part of a pop group called The Buggles (in which he had precious little writing input) and happened to have a Fairlight. Even the guys in Hollywood had heard of a Fairlight, and, as we all know, technology means progress and, so it must be good. So they employed him, with his Fairlight, and the rest is history.He is an entrepreneur: a good one.

        Listen, I am a film and TV composer, so I know a bit about this. Do you know how easy it is to actually write his kind of stuff? I doubt it, because you’ve not demonstrated any insight to the process. All you’ve done is shown yourself up and behaved like a child, called people names and generally been biblically ignorant about the context of this subject. I often have to create Zimmer -alike music for trailers and ads. I did one the other week. It took me a day. Actually about ten minutes to write the clumsy, parallel slabs-of-lard chords, then the rest of the time on the production; layering drum after tribal drum, and line upon line of lazy, one-fingered synth patterns , to disguise that fact that there’s practically no substance at all underneath all that production. That’s the way it is with Zimmer, these days.

        Finally, you were so up you own posterior trying to deride the work of JW, and insult me anyone who happened to agree with me,in the process, that you failed to acknowledge that I mentioned many contemporary , proper film composers, who I admire. I love Clint Mansell and the incredibly “cool” and talented Cliff Martinez. I also love Carter Burwell and James Newton Howard. You know him? He was Mr. Zimmer’s better half in a superhero film. Silvestri, Elfman, Shore, Gregson-Williams. The list goes on, and pushes Mr. Zimmer ever further down the role call. So don’t even dare point a finger at me and accuse me of being a geriatric fanboy, when I’m actually out there, in the same industry, and know what it takes to do this stuff, while you are….a collector. Out of your own mouth, “Sebastian”, you are an “enthusiast and collector”. You are an amateur, and therefore ill-qualified to speak with any authority about the actual process of film scoring. I’ve scored Zimmer- type films, and I’ve scored JW-type films. I know the enormous chasm in the two styles.

        Oh, BTW, Zimmer adorers: the only thing he has in common with Mozart and Beethoven is the accent.

        • Wow William Anderson really comes off as a bitter little twerp. He must just wish you had a career as lucrative as Zimmers instead of having to score my little pony lol. And for some who claims to “know what their talking about” you may wanna do some fact checking. Williams doesn’t have the most Oscars for a composer. A gentleman by the name of Alfred Newman holds that honor. Fuckin moron hahaha

      • What an odd reply to Mr. Levine. You don’t seem to have grasped anything he just wrote, and merely used it as a platform to further your Zimmer fixation. In fact ,none of what you just wrote made much sense at all! It had no academic merit or content. It was the incoherent noise of a kid, to use your word. Exactly, how old are you, er, dude?

        BTW, I’m not anally obsessed with Mr. Williams, like so many seem to be with Mr. Zimmer. I don’t have posters of him on my bedroom wall, though I suspect some of you have HZ pictures splattered everywhere. I simply acknowledge JW, and a whole raft of his contemporaries and predecessors as being far more important than HZ ever will be, when the production value dust has settled, and we see the actual musical content.

      • Sebasitian,

        I think you misread what I wrote. I clearly stated that I do intend to utilize all the innovations in sound design, orchestration and approach to film music and further up on them. I have been lucky enough to work on a few of them this past year. What I meant of the ideals of John Williams and Goldsmith was meant with the sense of the artistry of it rather than the mass production and limited musical language (this comes into the notes themselves not the sounds or instrumentation which I think Hans Zimmer is genius at) of using three or four chords and endless ostinatos to create tension. I hope you understand that when I meant ideals it doesn’t mean style, orchestration and sounds. A good film composer should use all those innovations in orchestration and sound scape in modern film music and still write with the ideals or artistry of John Williams and others. This has nothing to do with orchestration but the music itself, one can write a cue with artistry and use all the big samples, electronics and fantastic colours modern technology has to offer.

        And about not being successful you might have to be careful as you know nothing of my career in an industry in which I’m already working and being supported by people you surely consider to be successful. You are allowed your opinion, but as fan don’t try to speak of a world of which you only have and outsiders perspective rather than an insider one.

        Trying to be original comes from trying to do something else. I never said I would imitate either John Williams, Hans or any other composer but be my own. Ideals or artistry have nothing to do with style or imitation, in fact if I was trying to imitate someone else I might as well give up because why would a director get me to compose the music for their film when they could just get the guy who is known for that to do it. If you do not know my music or background (which is irrelevant to this discussion) do not assume things.

        I appreciate your message and concern but not to worry. I am getting work and I am looking to the future and creating my own original aesthetic, while trying to innovate not imitate the past. What I talk about is a standard of music that has depth on any level.

    • Mr. Anderson. I couldn’t agree with you more. I am a vocalist and my husband is a composer and like you, understand and appreciate the level of excellence that Mr. Williams brings to a film score. Angela’s Ashes and Memoirs of a Geisha are 2 outstanding examples of his work. The art as such is going the way of the Do Do, I’m afraid. When Oscars are given to someone who played a series of guitar pieces without ever seeing a frame of picture, the art is certainly lost. Obviously, there is massive ignorance in what constitutes “score” Music is to be written to picture. It is a precise undertaking. I would encourage anyone to view Maurice Jarre’s tribute to David Lean. One sees first hand the level of excellence and precision, musically and technically. Mr. Zimmer might be a great schmoozer, but I cannot include him in the company of Mr. Williams et al.

  18. Curiously in the article where he talks about Hans best collaborators he doesnt appear one of his most important and long term one … Klaus Badelt… !

  19. how we so quickly forget about michael kamen, friend of Hans, I met Hans in notting Hill, London, was introduced to me by ex wife Vick..he seem a very nice chap…he sure did some excellent work after that meeting and have grown from Strength to strengh..good luck to him..I do like his work and also Michael Kamens as wella s John Williams..jimmy

  20. Word, Mr. William Anderson! I worked with Hans Zimmer in the early 90s as a studio musician in the ARCO Studios in Munich Germany. I can confirm everything you wrote in your article! I will keep it shorter than you did, William: Hans Zimmer is the André Rieu of film music! Cheers!

    • @Charles Catlow – comparing Zimmer to Andre Rieu is not a compliment… Rieu is cheap and tacky -and especially among the classical elite. Hans Zimmer is comparable to Mozart or Beethoven.

      • Now that is not a compliment to Mozart or Beethoven, Sebastian! BTW: there are people out there who think that Rieu is a great violinist…

  21. Another thing that zimmer does that pisses people of,and pleases producers, Is that he has no ego as a musician,
    If I write a good melody I will insert it into a project and then it will stay there. I just can’t imagine reusing an old melody. My pride and ego prohibits me.

    Hans doesn’t care. If it worked in that movie, it can work in this movie to.
    I’ve heard bits and pieces of ‘the lion king’ in ‘the last samurai’ and so on. He does everything to get the job done, even if he has to reuse earlier ideas.

  22. Love this article… Have to agree with many of your points, Michael. I have worked with hand also for many years on and off… First in the UK in my youth a day then as employee #1 at Media Ventures! Yep, from the very early days in the 90’s…had the official screen credit of “Score Wrangler”… Have had many people say the same negative things about Hans… As I always say, you must be doing something right if you have this many haters and are still killing it! Thanks for the nit… Nico

  23. Eh.. he might be a good Hollywood schmoozer and get the job done (for crappy movies) but Hans’s music has always left me cold. He’s definitely no Alan Silvestri or Randy Edelman.

  24. thank you for posting this article… nicely done! my wife (a former *awesome* music editor worked with some of these talented people in your post) AND thank you *again* for posting the percussion session! (i’m a percussionist myself, and in my earlier years was also lucky enough to set up kits for a third of the guys featured in the vid) rock on!

  25. Herr Zimmer certainly gets the job done and that is about the ticket. Of course, we should bear in mind that “Film” music has no real place of value beyond enhancing a visual art form and if it intrude, it is probably too good as music per se. Herr Zimmer should compose a symphony or a concerto, perhaps an Opera (maybe he has done this already) and then pundits can judge his composing prowess for real. In the meantime, collaborating with top performers and arrangers working jolly hard for endless hours (don’t we all?) for big bucks is absolutely fine. His work is super. Mr Williams and many of the others mentioned here are proper composers rather than excellent collaborating arrangers.
    Personally I found The Batman score was monotonous in the extreme. The Pirates of the Caribbean motif a jolly Jig that wanted to be a Hornpipe and never settled. Lion King of course was super but mainly borrowed from Ave Verum and pastiche Requiem moments “gut geklaut, nit wahr??” Only when the music is removed from the ‘visual’ will you truly know what it is worth.

  26. I wish I could say I’m a fan of Zimmer’s work, but alas… I do appreciate having some light shed on his working methods, however.

    As it happens, I had Jerry Goldsmith’s score for “Planet of the Apes” on in the car today. The thing is a masterpiece and the hoops that he and Arthur Morton put the Fox Orchestra through are astounding. I am in awe of the work of Herrmann, Rozsa, Steiner and (latterly) Bronislau Kaper, Goldsmith, Williams and Howard Shore. Long live good film music!

  27. Great piece, thanks for sharing. Still upset he missed out on Conception Academy award. And, have to say it…..he’s German, OF COURSE he works hard!

  28. I learned more from this article than I ever learned pouring over my Music theory books. I’m good enough at what I do without a Julliard degree, so why am I limiting myself with that millstone? SO WHAT? I can barely read notation, and I’m a so-so pianist. But I have a good ear, and I’m very good at my arrangements. Play to your strengths indeed :)
    Thanks for this.

  29. It’s not true, if some one says others don’t have visionary, don’t deliver, not hard working hard, are not pleasant to work or not charming. I rather say some other composers and music creators can do much better and tremendously successful job. Only difference is most of the productions stick to cliche trends than trying new talents taking risk,even if it sounds promising and give much better results..

  30. Seriously, I am so sick of hearing all these Zimmer haters!! There so frozen in time with the ‘golden era’ of film music that their shocked to see in 2013 – film music along with the rest of the world has progressed!! – I am shocked at how pathetic all the wingers keep salivating over the elderly citizen that is John Williams… – and harping on about sweet melodies and counterpoint…. (I feel like i’m in a mental home reading this crap!) You’re embarrassing! Stay in your basement, and better still cut the internet off – you’re scaring yourself and pissing other people off!

  31. Michael A. Levine

    While I am delighted this article is still getting interest so many months after I wrote it, I think the debate about the merits of HZ’s music somewhat misses the point. HZ, John Williams, Goldsmith, Herrmann, et al. achieved success because, first and foremost, they understood story. Some composers learn this intuitively. Most grow up around storytelling – Herrmann was a theater composer before scoring Citizen Kane, for example. Personally, I acted and wrote plays when I was young, and got my start composing pieces for dance companies. My advice to the younger guys here is to not simply focus on film scores but learn more about film-making – especially writing. There are many good books relevant to scriptwriting including Save The Cat, Story, The Writer’s Journey, Screenplay, and Aristotle’s Poetics.

    • Well said dude – so many people on writing on this page and dissing HZ know NOTHING about film/story or film making etc. Seriously – they might be good composers… but reading their words when it comes to film composition… is insulting! Perhaps it’s the whole ‘hipster’ fad… – kids just wanting to ‘hate’ – Bleugh!

  32. Insightful points about focus and outside-the-box creative problem-solving. Thanks for this. On a tangent, I was hoping to see that there were some women in this world, none noted in the list of names of talent in the article. Is it really still such a man’s world?

    • Michael A. Levine

      It really is an overwhelming male world and I think it’s both mystifying and frustrating. Mystifying because I think the industry is more open to women composers than ever before, and frustrating because so few women take advantage of it.

      One of my great encouragers was Shirley Walker, who I believe also was the inspiration to many others. However, when she was ghosting The Black Stallion I think the sexism was so much more explicit. Now, it still exists, but it could also work in your favor. When I was at Remote, a friend gave me a hard time about HZ not having any female proteges. I said she should send over anybody she thought was right because I think Hans would be delighted to be the way “in” for someone really good who happens to be female. Especially since Danny Elfman is mentoring Deborah Lurie and Hans must keep up with Danny!

      You probably know who many of the outstanding women in the field are but they include Rachel Portman and Anne Dudley in films; and Wendy and Lisa, Lolita Reiman, and Laura Karpman in television.

      • In my haste, I left out Kathryn Bostic and Lily Haydn on my list of film composers who happen to be women. There are many more, of course. Kathryn is also African-American, another underrepresented group in the film composer world. It would be an interesting topic for another article as why film composing is such a white boys club and how it could be changed.

      • BTW, Lolita’s last name is correctly spelled Ritmanis. And I left out Nan Schwartz – and many others, I’m sure!

  33. “… thejob that you wanted.” Who is “you”. To reduce music to an element that supports something else, something trivial, is, to me and my art, a sacrilege. I did it once when I urgently needed money. Now, fortunately I am in a position not to have to do it anymore. True art should stand independently and not be reduced to background noise for some Hollywood nonsense.

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  35. Because he’s the composer America deserves, but not the one it needs right now. So we’ll hunt him. Because he can take it. Because he’s not our hero. He’s a silent guardian. A watchful protector. A Dark Knight.

  36. I guess many young composers including myself would rather spend time hating on popular composers rather than learning from them. No one says you have to be like Zimmer, but he is in his position because he does what HE does in a way that people like.

    It doesn’t have to always be about being better than another composer, but rather than making yourself to be someone that a client wants to work with.

    This article seems to sum up what it’s like in business. If you’re confident in your ability/talent, then don’t forget the rest (working well with others, learning from others, treating your clients well, getting the job done, hard work, embracing new things, and simply being yourself.)

    Zimmer is successful because he is himself. Not because he tried to be someone else because he listened to everyone on the internet hate on his success. If he likes big drums, oscillators and brass, then so be it. Every young composer hating on that has every opportunity to bring what they have to the table. Unfortunately they’d rather spend those 11am to 3am hours (that Zimmer is working) hating on Zimmer and calling him unoriginal.

  37. I worked with John Debney on a score for End of Days that we had ended up doing some work at Remote control with Alan Meyerson. I had been given the nickname “Scaremeister” by John, and Hans had heard it, and asked to hear the music to which he responded. “Thats not scary!” I had a wonderful experience working on that film, and wish they’d call me again.. !! :)

  38. Thin Red Line is a wonderful soundtrack. An astute article that I would imagine could also apply to Danny Elfman. Even the great Alfred Newman used orchestrators when needed.

  39. So you guys listen to great musicians but still come up with lines like;

    Darren Baker November 16, 2013 at 2:22 am · Reply →
    Nor are Horner, Badalamenti, Glass, Elfman, Shore, Armstrong, Isham, Goldenthal, Patrick Doyle, Trevor Jones, etc… etc… Who are all better.

    Stephen
    Stephen November 22, 2013 at 5:54 pm · Reply →
    It hurts my soul that anyone actually thinks Glass is better than Hans. Just hurts my soul.

    I don’t get it. Since when this is a competition? Are they cars? BMW vs Audi?

    It’s irrelevant when people say “X artist is better than X”. Everyone is different and you’re free to listen to anyone you like. No need to be shallow.

    Honestly, people like you guys don’t deserve to listen to any good music.

  40. Pingback: | Why Hans Zimmer Got The Job You Wanted

  41. He got the job because he can supply unlimited revisions on a limited budget. He does this by using other people to do as many drafts as the studio wants. In this way, the studio can be the control freak they always wanted to be.

  42. Thanks a lot Michael for your great informations!
    So, could you tell us how could us work for him ?Some one to contact ?
    Thx

    Fox

  43. I was a musical colleague of Hans in a band in the 1970s (pre-Buggles). We played together for a couple of years, rehearsed a lot, toured a lot and recorded a lot. His ideas always surpassed his (and the band’s) not inconsiderable abilities as players. No he’s not a trained orchestral musician but his scores work extremely well. They give me goosebumps. He has always loved cinema. He has learned how to use technology to achieve what he wants. He knows how to “network”. He deserves his success. I’m guessing that a lot of the “sour grapes” commentators I just read on here don’t (for one reason or another). If he’s so useless, why do so many of you spend so much time talking about him?

  44. I enjoyed this article and it gives me hope that I can become something similar. I continue to stay dedicated to my work and put in the time to see it through to the end. Film music is my life, I just need the opportunity to prove myself. If he can make it, why not me?

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  47. Hans Zimmer was a huge inspiration force for me to start music composing and to really love film music. I loved his scores from The Rock, Gladiator, Peacemaker, Lion King, and so on. These scores were really emotional, uplifting and inspiring listening to them.

    Sadly now days what I feel is that his music style become a ‘brand’, like McDonald’s… he and the Remote Control team uses the exatly same patterns, both in melody, in instrumentation, or in mixing and electronic setup, etc. (e.g.: the Joker’s motif-theme is used exactly the same way in the recent Rush score like it was in Batman, without any change).

    And that really disturbs me. With this ‘industrialization’ the soul and the essence of music what will be lost. And the whole ting sinks into popcorn music level. It is intense, supports the pictures, it has the effect – but it won’t be a long lasting effect! You won’t think much about it later, and the themes won’t be remarkable for a long time.

    Remember the Rock theme? Or the Gladiator? Yes? Me too! Remember the score for Man of Steel? Rush? Only a little, but only because I’ve heard them not long ago. And these are all Zimmer! He simply builds a ‘franchise’ with his music by simply giving up adding real soul to the music…

    So this is why he is not the main inspiration of my musical sound now. And despite that I agree his skills on many levels, I’m not sure his dominance is beneficial for the film music industry.

  48. All of what you said in the article might be accurate- but none of that means he is a ‘composer’. An unbelievably great sound designer- yes- Schmoozer-yes-
    but composer, not really. Why? because a composer should be judged in large part on ‘melodies’. Atmosphere falls in the land of design.

  49. Sidestepping the question of whether Hans has written any great melodies (and I think upon closer examination you might discover that he has) there are two assumptions here that I think bear challenging. One is that great music is always melody driven. This eliminates much of the work of Penderecki, Ligeti, Xenakis, Part, Glass, Gorecki and many others considered 20th century masters. But the other, more subtle assumption is that great film composing is the synonymous with great composing. It’s not. The function of music in film is to help tell the story. Period. If it succeeds at that it doesn’t matter what technique was used to accomplish it. If it fails at that, it doesn’t matter how wonderful the music is by itself.

    • Michael- I have to disagree with your list of composers- many of those mentioned wrote great melodies- even if they were of the non easily singable sorts. Secondly, I have to question weather the story is helped upon a second listening, b/c for me often the case is that its not- a few times even on the first listening I get driven crazy- and apologies if you worked on Sherlock Holmes, b/c that for me is case in point; using certain music there was completely out of context and destroyed the fabric of the film- thats not the only one imo- of course box office sales might disagree with me.

  50. Ignatius J. Reilly

    Mediocrity begets mediocrity. Shore, Herrmann, Yared, Jarre, and Shaiman have had scores rejected because they have artistry, balls, and aren’t too big to fail. Art needs failure to grow in ways more than “know who’s in charge and suck that cock like you’re drowning and the balls have oxygen”. Time is a filter that will not be kind to HZ or the sound of film music he created in this era.

  51. Hans Zimmer’s trusted conductor Nick Glennie-Smith who’s a great composer in his own right will be the featured guest speaker at the monthly ASMAC (American Society of Music Arrangers and Composers) Luncheon on May 10 at 12pm at Catalina Jazz Club in Hollywood. 6725 Sunset Blvd. Hosted and moderated by Peter Rotter who does most of the orchestra contracting for Hans.

  52. Well a true composer knows how to write music, Hans Doesn’t, he write simple 4 notes, he couldn’t write like Williams if he tried sadly, the article state that

  53. My question is after all this bashing and clashing,hating and debating. Do know why things are the way they are?? I hope you all do know that the whole concept of Art is not what it used to be. There is an intentional stultification of society and art form. What Mr Zimmer does is working,the movies become successful and that’s good enough for the executive producers. The shape of art has taken on many new sides,embrace it or fall behind. I compose music too,and speak with Lorne Balfe (Hans right hand man) occasionally,humble,pleasant hard working people. Knowing them and what they are truly capable of may change your views. Williams is great,but so was Mozart and Beethoven who passed on. They all have different footprints,so does Mr Zimmer. He is a composer,snobbery won’t affect that FACT of his bank account equally! Hans is simple and effective,the movies are a success!! Get with the flow or make yourself miserable. I surely want to meet Hans one day for some tips. How about you?

  54. Hoooo man ! This is amazing, Han’s seems to be a wonderful person.
    How did you manage to work for him ?! What’s the secret ?

  55. I guess Hans gives the film industry what Apple gives consumers: the perfect pitch. While the rest of us know who the better composers (and computers) are :)

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  57. His work in The Prince of Egypt was the first time I payed attention to the soundtrak, when I was a kid. Very expressive, it’s amazing how music is part of the story.

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  60. Wow. This made me never want to write music for film. Ever. Just the comments here. I thought football debates were dumb, I’ve never seen so much raw immaturity and aimless hatred in my life. Enjoy your careers, fine sirs.

    Also, Skrillex is way better than Glass and Zimmer. Even if they worked together, Skrillex could score, like, 50 more films in a day, and they’d all fit the mood, because brostep fits every mood. Even sad cello.

  61. Actually, Skrillex did “score” a movie: Spring Breakers. The typical scenario when a pop star is paired with an experienced film composer is the star delivers a couple of existing hits plus a track or two s/he didn’t have much other use for and displays little awareness of the narrative. The film gets a p.r. boost, the film composer gets a gig, and the pop star gets to brag that s/he can score movies, too – everybody wins. I suspect this was the case in Spring Breakers, whose experienced composer was Cliff Martinez.

    This doesn’t mean that pop musicians can’t learn to be outstanding film composers: Danny Elfman was in Oingo Boingo, Trent Reznor was/is in Nine Inch Nails, Hans Zimmer was in The Buggles, and the aforementioned Cliff Martinez was in The Red Hot Chili Peppers.

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