In indie film and theatre alike, there can be a lot of gray area in the middle of sound design and composition, especially if the director doesn't establish specific roles. I would love suggestions on how to communicate to composers that I value their work and partner with them as opposed to slugging it out or (in one recent instance) being a doormat.

Especially if you're a sometimes composer and a sometimes sound designer, please wear your sound designer hat and let me know what can be done to facilitate a good working relationship. I am looking for specific suggestions as opposed to the obvious things that ought to be normal business etiquette.

I know that there are difficult people to work with in every field, and some experiences can be chalked up to that, but I thought it would be interesting to discuss.

5 Answers 5


Hi Matt, I am passionate about that matter too. If you ever read in French, I have written a post about the sound designer / composer relationship on my blog : it deals with time and spectral separation of both parts, along with the process of working together.

  • @Xavier Collet, I am going to Google Translate it so I can check it out later tonight. Thanks!
    – Matt Tibbs
    Jul 24, 2010 at 22:56

On a serious note I recommend reading this article by my good friend Randall, page 15 - 28. His whole PhD was titled "COLLABORATION AND INTEGRATION: A Method of Advancing Film Sound Based on The Coen Brothers’ Use of Sound and Their Mode of Production" and discussed how the entire soundtrack is an involved collaboration between the Coen's, Lievsey and Burwell right from the script stage.

Speaking as a mixer it is the most frustrating thing trying to work out if the music or sound is the most important thing in any given moment. If the entire soundtrack is planned out from the beginning it makes for a more cohesive product.

I think there are pros and cons to being a composer and sound designer. On the pro side the fact that there is so much that can be transferred between each discipline can make you come into it having a unique perspective. On the con side I do find that sound that has been done by composers is sometimes lacking in quality. Badly edited or synced footsteps or poorly chosen sounds for realistic sounds are the main culprits. However, I have noticed that is more true in the less experienced people.

  • I will definitely check this out ASAP. Thanks for the reading material @ianjpalmer! I'll follow up after taking a look.
    – Matt Tibbs
    Jul 24, 2010 at 23:00

Here's one relationship suggestion; marry one, worked for me.

  • haha :) that's cool
    – georgi
    Jul 24, 2010 at 10:27
  • Sadly, for the sake of my marriage I had to stop trying to be a composer myself LOL Actually I love working with my wife on the rare occasions we do.
    – ianjpalmer
    Jul 24, 2010 at 12:37
  • Too funny how that works out sometimes, @ianjpalmer
    – Matt Tibbs
    Jul 24, 2010 at 22:57

They touch on this in a recent sound profile vid for Salt. Present/promote a modern day working relationship on sound as early as possible? I see your point - 'plan for other people/leave sonic space' makes sense but how do you actually ensure it's modus operandi from day one?

Since director has final say, could it hurt to inquire about the aesthetic priorities well in advance? It might be a starting point for friendly negotiations with the score composer..


It is obvious that you don't want to hear clichés, but still i think the key is communication.

My worst experiences included coming up with the finished work and recognizing that the composer worked on the same thing. Or none of us coming with a necessary part, thinking it was each other's thing to do!

So before starting anything, try to arrange a meeting, at least a skype chat, and try to clear out the lines of each other's work area.

I have been living less issues since I've started preparing what i call a SOUND BOARD for my projects. It is basically a story board for sound design/composition. You can request a copy of the story board from the director or even prepare a primitive one yourself, and adjust it in such a way to include the audio details of that specific scene. Once you have the scene dissected, than it is easier to share the work.

This takes a lot of effort but saves incredible amounts of time in the end, especially when you're working in large groups.

Good luck!

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