Rock Star Composers

You know what they say, everyone has to start out somewhere.  I've compiled a list of some composers who started out (and perhaps still continue) in the rock world.  

Danny Elfman 
One of the more famous names on the list, Elfman was actually a founding member (along with his brother, Richard) of Oingo Boingo in the 1970s. While in the band, Elfman connected with now long-time collaborator Tim Burton to begin his film score endeavor. Some of Danny’s more popular scores include Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985), Beetlejuice (1988), Batman (1989), Edward Scissorhands (1990), the Men in Black trilogy, and Alice in Wonderland (2010).

Stewart Copeland
As a founding member of The Police, Copeland was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003. His most notable scores are Wall Street (1987), Highlander II: The Quickening (1981) and She’s All That (1999).  He recently composed a new score to the silent film, Ben-Hur: A Tale of Christ (1925)

Mark Mothersbaugh
The lead singer and a founding member of popular ‘80s group Devo, Mothersbaugh is also composer of such TV shows as Rugrats, The Carrie Diaries, and House of Lies.  He has also scored many feature films including Happy Gilmore (1996), Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009) and The Lego Movie (2014). Mothersbaugh frequently collaborated with director Wes Anderson, having scored Rushmore (1998), The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004).

Trent Reznor
While Reznor is most famous for being in ‘90s rock band Nine Inch Nails, he is now gaining momentum as a film score composer after winning the Oscar for 2010’s The Social Network. Quickly becoming a frequent musical partner on the haunting works of director David Fincher, Trent has also scored The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011), and Gone Girl (2014). As of October 2014, Nine Inch Nails is nominated for induction into the 2015 class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Charlie Clouser
Another member of NIИ, Clouser is known for scoring all of the Saw films. He has also scored Resident Evil: Extinction (2007), The Stepfather (2009), and the TV shows Las Vegas (2003-2008) and Numb3rs (2005-2010).

Trevor Rabin 
Rabin was a member of ‘80s prog rock group Yes. His notable scores include: Armageddon (1998), Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000), Remember the Titans (2000), and National Treasure (2004).

Cliff Martinez
A member of The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Martinez was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012 as the group’s longtime drummer. He provided scores for Wicker Park (2004) and Drive (2011). Martinez is also a frequent collaborator of director Steven Soderbergh, having worked together on Traffic (2000), Solaris (2002), and the Cinemax series The Knick.

Daft Punk
While widely known as the electronic music duo in the robot helmets, Daft Punk also famously scored 2010’s TRON: Legacy.

Tangerine Dream
Speaking of electronic music groups, 1970s German group Tangerine Dream have also scored such films as: Risky Business (1983), Legend (1985), and the 2013 video game Grand Theft Auto V.
(side bar: Tangerine Dream’s Paul Haslinger has scored several films on his own, including three entries in the Underworld series.)

Nick Cave & Warren Ellis
Both members of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (the ‘80s Aussie alt rock band), they have also collaborated on a few film scores, such as: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), Lawless (2012), and the documentary West of Memphis (2012).

Alex Ebert
The lead singer of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Ebert won the 2014 Golden Globe for Best Score for the Robert Redford-led All Is Lost. He has also recently completed the score to A Most Violent Year, which will be released December 2014.

Lisa Gerrard
An Australian solo singer and part of the group Dead Can Dance, her noted scores include collaborations with Hans Zimmer on Gladiator (2000) and Tears of the Sun (2003), The Insider (1999) and Ali (2001) with Pieter Bourke, and a solo effort in 2002’s Whale Rider (2002).

Randy Newman
While Newman is certainly known as a solo artist from the ‘70s and ‘80s for such hits as “Short People” and “I Love L.A.,” he has made his mark on the film score industry by scoring many Disney-Pixar classics. These include the Toy Story trilogy, Monsters, Inc. (2001), Cars (2006), and Monsters University (2013). Newman’s other notable scores include: The Natural (1984), Maverick (1994), Pleasantville (1998), Seabiscuit (2003) and Disney’s The Princess and the Frog (2009). He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.

Popular EDM artist BT (aka Brian Transeau) began scoring films in 1999 with the fast paced Go (1999). He has also scored The Fast and the Furious (2001), Monster (2003), Catch and Release (2006), and the Disney-Pixar short Partysaurus Rex (2012).

Co-founder of ‘90s hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan, RZA (born Robert Diggs) began scoring movies in the late ‘90s. His first major credit was Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003). Other scores include Soul Plane (2004), Blade: Trinity (2004) with Ramin Djawadi, and The Man with the Iron Fists (2013), which he also wrote, directed, and starred in.

Mark Knopfler 
Most famously known as part of Brit rock band Dire Straits, Knopfler made the jump to film composer in the ‘80s with the score to The Princess Bride (1987). His credits also include Wag the Dog (1997).

Nancy Wilson
Half of ‘70s-‘80s powerhouse rock duo Heart, Nancy crossed over to scoring films during her 24-year marriage to writer/director Cameron Crowe. She has composed just three feature films, all of them being works of Crowe - Almost Famous (2000), Vanilla Sky (2001), and Elizabethtown (2005). She also scored the 2002 documentary short Hitting It Hard, which was written/produced by Crowe. Nancy was inducted (as part of Heart) into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.

David Byrne
Another rocker on the list that has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (2002), Byrne is a founding member of New Wave group Talking Heads. He began his scoring career in the ‘80s and collaborated with Ryuichi Sakamoto and Cong Su on The Last Emperor (1987). The film would go on to win nine Oscars, including Best Original Score. His other works include Married to the Mob (1988) and several episodes of the HBO series Big Love.

Anne Dudley
A Brit composer and pop musician, Dudley was a member of the ‘80s synthpop group The Art of Noise. In her twenty-plus-years of scoring films, she won the Oscar for Best Original Score for The Full Monty (1997). Other notable works include: Say Anything… (1989), The Crying Game (1992), American History X (1999), and Pushing Tin (1999).

Giorgio Moroder 
Italian producer/writer/DJ Giorgio produced many hits for Donna Summer, David Bowie, Blondie, etc. In 1978, he wrote the theme and score to The Midnight Express, winning him an Oscar for Best Original Score. He would go on to share the win for the 1984 Oscar for Best Original Song for Flashdance (‘What a Feeling’) with Keith Forsey and Irene Cara), and again for the 1987 Oscar for Best Original Song for Top Gun (‘Take My Breath Away’ with Tom Whitlock). Moroder also scored American Gigolo (1980) and Scarface (1983).

Jonny Greenwood
A founding member of the rock band Radiohead, Greenwood’s first film score credit is Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood (2007). He also scored Anderson’s The Master (2012) and the upcoming Inherent Vice (2015).

Pharrell Williams 
A true Jack-of-all-trades, Pharrell has been on the music scene since the early ‘90s.  He first gained notoriety as half of the producers group The Neptunes, then later as part of hip-hop band N.E.R.D. He has also dabbled in being a solo artist, with his biggest hit to date, “Happy,” released in 2013 as part of the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack. Although Pharrell’s scoring career is a short one thus far, he counts fellow bigwig composer Hans Zimmer as a colleague, so I am sure we will be hearing more from him in the future. His scores, thus far, consist of Despicable Me (2010) and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) as part of Zimmer’s ‘Magnificent Six’ scoring team.

Honorable Mention -
James Newton Howard

Although, JNH was hardly a rock star in the traditional sense, he did tour as a keyboardist for Elton John in the ‘70s and ‘80s. He also briefly toured with Crosby, Stills and Nash before beginning his extensive career as a film composer. While I won’t name all his credits here, I will list some ‘biggies:’ Pretty Woman (1990), My Girl (1991), Glengarry Glenn Ross (1992), Wyatt Earp (1994), Waterworld (1995), My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997), The Sixth Sense (1999), Signs (2002), Batman Begins (2005), King Kong (2005), The Dark Knight (2008), and The Hunger Games films.

[Thanks to Taylor Victor for this guest article.]

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