Approximate reading time: 6 Minutes
Westworld Scoring Competition

 ·  Source: Spitfire Audio / HBO

A hugely popular soundtrack scoring competition fell into controversy when the internet didn’t approve of the winner and started hurling insults at all concerned. Then Hans Zimmer weighed in with a bit of calming wisdom that we should all listen to.

Westworld Scoring Competition

We reported on the competition back in May when Spitfire Audio got together with HBO to offer big prizes to someone who could come up with an original score for a car chase scene from the Westworld TV show. There was a bunch of Spitfire product to win along with €23,000 as well as those all-important bragging rights to boost your career as a composer. Judges included J.J. Abrams (Westworld executive producer), Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy (Westworld creators), Ramin Djawadi (Westworld composer), as well as the team at Spitfire Audio – and they had over 11,000 entries.

The winner, David Kudell, was announced on 27 June along with the release of his work on the scene. The internet went bonkers. Insults and accusations were hurled, people said it was a fix, nobody, it seemed, liked the track and reading the comments on the YouTube video and various Facebook groups you’d think that some heinous crime had been committed (check out the winning entry video below).

Is it a fix?

There are some valid reasons to raise a few eyebrows. David Kudell is a professional in the industry having worked on over 25 movies including Mission Impossible 3 and The Matrix Reloaded – as a sound assistant, not a composer. More recently he’s the Commercial Video Producer/Director/Editor at Rimrock Creative Media (LinkedIn link). A competition of this nature does suggest that it’s giving an opportunity for new talent to emerge, so that’s probably something that narks people, but there’s nothing in the rules saying that you must be an amateur.

The other point of contention is that many of the people who entered claim that their YouTube analytics says that no one in the UK had viewed their video so they couldn’t have possibly have been fairly judged by Spitfire Audio. But who’s to say that they didn’t have an international team of people working on the entries to bring the level of work down to a reasonable level for the guest judges? Do we really expect JJ Abrams to spend 1,100 hours viewing each individual entry? It’s like the Long List for the Booker Prize or nominations for Oscars – someone has to do the filtering down before the judges get to vote.

And lastly, there’s the track itself which many people have declared as “ghastly” but could probably be described as a mix of Chiptune arcade sounds and orchestral weight. It, of course, comes down to opinion but what many commentators seem to have missed is that the scene in question was focused on the Aaron Paul character Calib who had taken a drug called Genre which makes him experience the world from the perspective of different film genres. He is off-his-face, a transformation was taking place and so weirdness is to be expected. In so many of the entries the music stayed consistent and so while the Chiptune angle feels perhaps frivolous and twists the scene into something funny it certainly stands out against the swathe of good, solid, thumping, orchestral action scoring.

Hans Zimmer

In a very interesting twist to the story Hollywood film composer Hans Zimmer posted some thoughts in a thread (under user name Rctec) about the competition on the VI Control website forum. He talks about his passion for music, his enthusiasm for the sort of talent this competition might highlight and his disappointment at the criticism:

But then I started to read the comments and the bitterness and bitchyness in most of the responses to the winner (whom I’ve never met or heard off). And I thought, why even bother with this lot. They’ve already lost. They think music is a business when it’s a passion, they forget that putting hours or days in, is a luxury you’ll never have again when you’re on a deadline on a ‘proper’ job… but, mostly, it’s the lack of respect for someone’s moment of joy – where they should be celebrated – that got me.

And then he brings out the tough love.

so – carry on with your uninformed small minded criticism. it’s all here now in black and white for ever. The beauty of the internet. And as a reference of how i wouldn’t ever want to work with a single one of you. Nor you with me. Bad fit. It doesn’t even ever matter how good your music is or how smart you are… And since music and film-making are inherently collaborative, I can’t really see how any director will want to deal with that amount of entitlement and hubris.

It’s quite interesting how deferential the comments become after Mr Zimmer (legendary, awesome and deeply wise) has had his say. Read his full post here.

A couple of hours after the post David Kudell steps up and gives a perfectly poised response. It turns out that he’s a humble chap, filled with the same fears and self-doubt as the rest of us despite his career and time in the industry.

My whole life I’ve been afraid to take risks with my music. Avoiding putting my music out there for fear it’s not good enough. At 43 years old, I kick myself that I didn’t follow through with music when I was scoring a student film 25 years ago. Ironic then that I won this contest by what else: Taking a risk with a take on this scene that was different. As much as I would love to try doing a version of Dark Knight, guess what – you’ve already done that, you invented it and it’s time for us to try something new.

Read his full post here.

Happy Endings?

What a lovely story! And the great thing is that everyone on the internet came together in a loving virtual hug, cried some tears and pledged to go on encouraging one another in our creative endeavours. No, of course not – it’s hell out there! Personally I really liked the start of the chiptune sequence, it was unexpected and quite funny but I didn’t really care for the tune that much after that and I was a bit confused as to whether it was supposed to be funny or not.

In the actual series they used the music from Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries which certainly lends an over-the-top and amusing edge. I can imagine the joy of the judges in finding David’s track amongst the heavy waves of Dark Knight inspired orchestration. And to note that the runner up entries were all truly amazing and would fit perfectly into any action sequence – they did a fantastic job.

I think we should all take note of Mr Zimmer’s comments and consider how we approach criticism on the internet. Being rejected is something you have to get used to in any creative industry where you are trying to be heard and if we all encouraged each other a bit more maybe it wouldn’t feel as devastating. Congratulations to David.

Here’s the winning entry.

And, what do you think?

26 responses to “Hans Zimmer brings wisdom to Spitfire Audio Westworld Competition debacle”

  1. Thomas says:

    While I strongly agree with the opinion that loosing a competition like this should never end in personal attacks against the winner or in fact anybody else, I think it’s only fair to mention that as far as I remember the rules clearly stated that modifying the original clip was forbidden. The winning entry obviously altered the original sound of the clip quite a bit, which should be against the rules I guess, right?
    Other than that I honestly enjoyed watching the scene supported by 8 bit sounds, quite a refreshing approach to film scoring.

    From my point of view, as an amateur producer with the ambition to enjoy making music, I cannot understand why creating music is more or less seen as a competition where only some “chosen ones” are able to win.

    • jeb20 says:

      That’s how it is in the music business. A bunch of composers compete for a job and the one that gets picked is the winner. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. It’s all in the game.

    • emission says:

      It may be true, but the claims of alterations to the original sound have so far only been….claims. Sure, there are parts where the music deliberately overpowers the original sound (e.g the gun shots) to take its place, but surely that’s well within the enforceable rules.

  2. Spartaco says:

    Dont forget Zimmer has a product selling at spitfire audio.

  3. K W says:

    lol why can’t people just admit the music sucked? because it quite clearly did…

    • djsmps says:

      Well, compared to the runner-ups, that sucked.

    • albcwc@gmail.com says:

      It absolutely sucked. I couldn’t care less whether it sounded like chiptunes or Loony Tunes – the music did not work, it made a scene that was supposed to be serious and suspenseful seem totally comical, and it commented on the action in a way that was far too intrusive. However, I ended up liking the fact that this was chosen as the winning selection – because I absolutely, unequivocally, infinitely DESPISE Westworld and everything about it – and nothing could make me happier than something that reveals the series for the insulting, preachy bore that it is.

      • Piotr says:

        ‘…preachy bore…’ So… Not like you, at all, then… So interesting how people always betray their own problems with these bespoke terms they craft and decry in others.

  4. It’s nice to see such class being exercised on the internet!

  5. Marshall says:

    “Within any year I see 98 percent horrible stuff and 2 percent quality” – Hans Zimmer when asked about the quality of soundtrack music by the Chicago Tribune

    ” I think it works on the lowest common denominator. No more, no less. But it works” – Hans Zimmer on James Horner’s Titanic score

  6. I agree that we as fellow artists need to be careful HOW we offer criticism of others but I also think it comes down to how you’re saying something not what you’re saying. For example… it does seem a bit convenient that the winner has industry credits and worked on a film that JJ Abrams directed. Is it possible there is zero connection between the two? Of course! But optically it seems bad, especially for a competition where the judges were aware of the entrants names as they viewed the clips. The other valid point being made is that the rules very clearly stated that no modifications were to be made to the original film clip…and yet Mr. Kuddell altered the sound effects to suit his chosen style of scoring/creating. Nothing wrong with applauding a bold decision; what he created was well done and definitely inventive! But if we’re overlooking the stated rule, then that means all the rest of the competitors were at a disadvantage by following the set guidelines. Just my thoughts. 🙂

  7. Maybe it would help the winning entry if they didn’t play the runners up right before showing it, because doing that makes it clear how much better they are.

  8. Superpuss says:

    Not the best choice, IMHO. At various points, it detaches itself from the images and starts doing its own thing, which is very distracting. A couple of the others did a better job of fusing with the images – without, at the same time, being subservient to them.

  9. I admire the boldness of the choice to go that route, but the tone couldn’t be farther off the mark. I can see why other contestants were angry because it looks like judges trolled them with that selection as the winner.

  10. It’s seriously not that engaging, don’t know how the world works now a days, I guess it is what it is. 😐😔

    • Rick Harwell says:

      I have to agree. It isn’t about “freshness” or a “new spin” of an idea for the score. It literally disengages the viewer toward its own end and does not support or enhance the viewing experience. There is no subservience to the moment, no emotional attachment being created. I would have passed on this.

  11. This well meaning journalist believes that if he allies himself with the great Zimmer he can’t be wrong – they are.

    True enough art is subjective but that does not mean there is not an extreme limit of grotesquely inappropriate material that does not deserve to be celebrated.

    Example: Would you approve of pornography submitted in a film competition? What about a film of somone doing a poo they shot on their phone??

    Example: Would you approve of hate speech or foul language, threats or insinuations in a political debate?

    Example: Would you approve of pro-racism ideology in a renaissance painting or a statue? How about a macaroni smiley face, and not even a very good one? Could that ever deserve to ‘win’ in a line up with Van Gogh or Turner??

    The point I am making is that an 8-bit cacophony of tuneless distortion is NOT a valid entry to a competition such as billed by Spitfire, who requested quality scoring. Absolutely something can be in such appalling taste as to deride contempt, especially when so many people worked so hard to make something more akin to fine art and the spec ls given by Spitfire.

    True, too, death threats etc would be overkill in regards to the criticism. But Hans weighing in on this from the lofty heights of his established career to scold people understandably hurt and offended by Spitfire’s actions is both unhelpful and hypocritical: as a young man I believe he too would have felt the sting of wasted time and energy and wouldn’t dream of playing Jesus.

    The situation is indefensible. Shame on Spitfire. Period.

    Ps. I have nothing to do with the competition, am not a composer, just a huge fan of Westworld. That is my view.

  12. This was one of my favorite episodes from Season 3, and from a viewer stand-point (that’s not savvy on all the “music aspects” of the contest), the winner definitely made the segment more FUN. Considering the character was supposed to be on drugs, I felt it was a more than accurate depiction of what I imagine the “genre” experience would be like.

  13. Dmitry says:

    Do you have credits? Yeah, I am a looser in Westworld contest. Wow! We are glad to hire you for our new super duper project! )))

  14. griffin says:

    I read the debate before I actually watched it and all I can say is that this piece of music brought a huge smile on my face. It is truly creative and a welcome departure from the standard. If the composer has altered this or that effect sound is not really relevant because that isn’t what won him the competition. Its the boldness of the approach. Coming up with the idea in the first place and then executing it so brillantly is a sign of true genius.

  15. Phillus says:

    I found your/Mr Zimmer’s email quite aggressive. When someone (extremely powerful in an industry) says something like ‘I’ll never work with you’ I liken to bullying basically. Like ‘you’ll never work in this town again’ or something similar.

    It IS a healthy reaction for people to speak out when they don’t agree with something! It’s not ‘small mindedness’ it’s brave I think.
    Having said that, (because I’d rather deal with people’s true emotions than a crowd of blank stares and no opinions), I DO believe that we should be respectful of other peoples art.

  16. I can’t help feeling that this whole sorry situation could’ve been avoided with some public input from the ‘celebrity judges’ to validate the winning choice. They seem to have remained completely invisible through the whole process. I really admire Christian and Paul for what they’ve created with Spitfire and the community they’ve built around it but it does seem that they backed themselves into a corner with this one. I wish them a speedy recovery from this PR nightmare!

  17. Saul Cross says:

    Hans Zimmer made his comment that music is a passion, but isn’t that precisely why so many people are annoyed with the result, as many will have poured their heart and soul into it only to be beaten by somebody who has a professional connection to one of the competition judges. That is a conflict of interest and as the competition is a commercial one, it may even be legally questionable.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *