15 Artist Who Composed Movie Soundtracks

By Rose Wythe

November 15, 2018

You might think transitioning from being a successful artist to a film composer is an easy shift to make. Even with a solid list of hits under your belt there’s still a completely different process to making a soundtrack than making an album. When an artist makes an album it’s usually their sole vision in mind. Yet when making a soundtrack the music must compliment the action of the scene and push the story forward. Even as we move into the era of the “visual album” there is still a vast difference between a visual album and a film. The driving motion behind the visual album is the music, while the driving motion behind a film is the action you see on screen. The soundtrack of a film is of course extremely important in contributing to the story line, and in some films becomes just as talked about as the story itself.

Below is a list of artists who pioneered their own style of soundtrack compositions. From Simon & Garfunkel, one of the earliest and most notable artists to mix pop music into a soundtrack, to Mark Mothersbaugh, who rose to popularity as the singer and keyboardist for cult classic band Devo and transitioned into a well-known composer for TV and film. If you haven’t seen any of these films below we highly suggest you check them out. If not just for the story, but for the notable soundtracks that accompany it.

1. Duke Ellington - Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

Legendary jazz musician, Duke Ellington, composed for this film with Billy Strayhorn. He even makes a brief appearance in the film as “Pie-Eye,” the owner of a roadhouse where a confrontation occurs.

2. Simon & Garfunkel - The Graduate (1967)

Simon & Garfunkel’s album track spent nine weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard album charts after the film came out. Director Mike Nichols felt their songs matched the tone of the film perfectly. The infamous “Mrs. Robinson” was originally titled “Mrs. Roosevelt” and perfectly tied together the film’s story line with the album.

3. Isaac Hayes - Shaft (1971)

Funk & soul mastermind Isaac Hayes scored for the 1971 film Shaft. The film’s success was wildly due to the incredible score. In 2014 the Shaft album was added to the National Recording Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

4. Queen - Flash Gordon (1980)

Flash Gordon was one of the earliest films to use a rock band to score the soundtrack and actual audio from the film is used widely in the soundtrack album. The film has become a cult classic, much in part to the music Queen wrote for the film.

5. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - She’s the One (1996)

Some of Tom Petty’s most classic songs might get placed in films often, but the soundtrack to She’s the One consisted of their entire ninth studio album. The album was certified gold by the RIAA in 1996.

6. Phil Collins - Tarzan (1999)

The classic 1999 hit Tarzan was composed by drummer and solo artist Phil Collins. The song “You’ll Be in My Heart” won both the Academy Award and Golden Globe award for Best Original Song. Tarzan was the first Disney soundtrack to be recorded in multiple languages. Collins recorded it in English, Italian, French, German, and Spanish.

7. Mark Mothersbaugh - The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

Along with various licensed songs the Wes Anderson hit, The Royal Tenenbaums, was scored by Mark Mothersbaugh. Before becoming a well-known composer, Mothersbaugh was a member of the cult classic band Devo. He’s scored other films for Wes Anderson such as Rushmore, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and is supposedly scoring Anderson’s new film that is set to shoot in France next year.

8. Jack Johnson - Curious George (2006)

The light hearted and heartwarming sounds of Jack Johnson match perfectly with the 2006 animated film Curious George. He released the soundtrack album Sing-A-Longs and Lullabies for the Film Curious Georgia in 2006 where it topped the U.S. Billboard Top 200. Johnson is no stranger to cinema. He studied film in college and has made a few documentary films himself.

9. Eddie Vedder - Into the Wild (2007)

Lead singer for Pearl Jam, Eddie Vedder, released his first solo album as the soundtrack to Into the Wild. His song “Guaranteed” won a Golden Globe for Best Original Song.

10. Karen O - Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

Where the Wild Things Are: Motion Picture Soundtrack was written by Yeah Yeah Yeahs singer Karen O. Her fantastical approach to songwriting matches well with the childlike world you enter while watching the film.

11. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross - The Social Network (2010)

Founding member of the rock band Nine Inch Nails, Trent Reznor, created the emotionally stirring soundtrack to The Social Network with his now band member, Atticus Ross. The score for the film won nine major awards, including the Academy Award for Best Original Score.

12. Daft Punk - Tron: Legacy (2010)

It seems only fitting that the first film Daft Punk scored was Tron: Legacy. The futuristic and sci-fi world of the film was made for the electronic duo. Their score was able to effortlessly complement the artistic direction of the film.

13. Arcade Fire - Her (2013)

Her’s soundtrack was composed by Arcade Fire and Owen Pallett. Owen Pallett and William Butler, both members of Arcade Fire, were nominated for Best Original Score at the 86th Academy Awards. The soundtrack was never officially released physically or digitally, but garnered much attention for the complimentary notes the score gave to the internal life of the main character.

14. Jonny Greenwood - The Phantom Thread (2017)

Jonny Greenwood has composed for multiple films, but is best known as the lead guitarist and keyboardist for Radiohead. He was nominated for Best Original Score for his The Phantom Thread compositions. Greenwood used a 60-piece orchestra for the film’s score, matching the lavish and luxurious setting of the film.

15. Kendrick Lamar - Black Panther (2018)

One of the most talked about soundtracks of the year, Black Panther, gathered an array of talented artists to contribute to its widely popular soundtrack. Rap genius Kendrick Lamar not only performed in many of the original songs for the film, but produced the soundtrack album as well.

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