Music & Entertainment

Working With Musicians: The Orchestra - Part 2

Hans Zimmer

Lesson time 7:10 min

Hear from Hans on how he makes sure he's getting the best performance he can while recording an orchestra.

Hans Zimmer
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What is slightly misleading about what we're doing right now, it looks a bit like your real studio or something like that, but it's just a computer and a bunch of screens and a couple of not very good speakers. So we can just pick this up and off we go. The thing that I don't think works is to try to make a movie if you're not in the same town as the people. I don't think-- I think you never get the subtlety of the conversation if you try to do these things over Skype or any of this. The hardest thing I think we ever did was, on Inception, we were supposed to record the score in London and the volcano in Iceland blew up. So we couldn't-- the planes weren't flying. Which wasn't actually strictly true. We could have gotten to London but we were worried about not being able to come back. So we used all technology at our disposal. I mean, we literally put more cameras than you guys have right now. We put, I think, six cameras in amongst the orchestra. We miked the orchestra in a way-- I had control over the talk back from here so I could speak to them. And we knew all the players. So if I heard a voice asking something in the orchestra, I knew it was Mary the bassist or somebody, you know. But during these sessions, starting at 2:00 AM our time, watching them take their lunch break at 6:00 AM our time, watching them file out and-- it was just brutal. And you don't get the communication. You don't get the subtlety. You don't get the-- music happens in real time and performance happens in real time. And even the slightest delay, it just throws our natural rhythms off. And I think everything that we do is about communicating with each other. And it's just the way I like working. I like making the director and the editor be part of the band. Look, I play a computer. The editor plays a computer, you know? So it's not about that. It's about the conversation. It's about feeling what, you know-- and instantly feeling what they are feeling when you play them the piece of music. I mean, again, it's this thing about, you need to listen. But sometimes, it's not even with your ears. You just need to feel what they're feeling. They don't need to say anything. It's really amazing what happens. How you can start with a piece where all the notes are played well and it's all musically correct but the emotion isn't quite there, and you can work on that. I mean, you can really work on that and you can really get that to blossom. And suddenly, you get these moments where it is undeniable that the story is being told in the correct way. That everybody is on the same page and everybody knows why they are playing the note. I mean, it's a weird thing when you have a large orchestra. The front row is going to be praying exact and passionate, et cetera. And as it goes down the line, it might not be your best player. So it d...

Tell a story with music

Hans Zimmer didn’t see a film until he was 12 years old. Since then, he’s scored over 150 films, including Inception, The Lion King, and The Dark Knight. In his MasterClass, the self-taught Academy Award-winner teaches how he creates sounds from nothing, composes compelling character themes, and scores a movie before ever seeing it. By the end, you’ll have everything you need to start film scoring.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

This was an amazing and very helpful ride. Hans' words were the "little push" (as the Joker said) every musician or composer or producer needs to improve and push beyond their limits, and also to understand that an artist's life has to base about enjoying and loving his or her job, and showing everyone else that music is one of the pillars that define and give human life a purpose. Thanks Hans!!

Brilliant, I'm not even a fan of his scores but I thought he was great at explaining his process.

Insights into the creative process with music.

This was my 2nd Masterclass. Hans is a great instructor. So much wisdom from such a great personality. Thank you Masterclass and thank you Hans Zimmer


Dr. Monnie Chan

Our maestro teacher Hans Zimmer live concert in Hong Kong is coming on 26th September 2019. Just 12 days to go. I am going and wonder if there are any classmates I can meet?

Alina D.

I am wondering what proportion of the time is the score created on a computer vs. a more expensive orchestra?

Kori C.

In the past when I've worked on my own projects, specifically working with other musicians, I have learned to "listen" and encourage. It is so awesome! I SO can relate !

Solly F.

"And I've got these crappy speakers" *points at $800 dollar speakers specifically designed for him


It's true when you are doing a RECORDING, it's all about the SOUND -- how everything sounds good and nothing else matters. Good reminder. Thank you.

A fellow student

Does anyone knows what orchestral program / plug-in he uses? thanks in advance :)

Marcus M.

I didn't know about the remote recording he had to do. Definitely try to get in the room as much as possible!

Judith M.

I was interested in the comment about not being in the town with the people, it tied into a few other things Hans said here. Because regardless of being able to get an audio feed from a hall, what you really don't get is the vibrational feedback of the room and people. It is also much harder to gauge their emotions and hear the slightly off tonation which would lead to more recording time being necessary. Music to me is best heard when I am able to get full sensory information or it sounds a little off for instance.

Jonathan S.

It's amazing that he can hear the player who don't get it, like they're out of tune.

Mia S.

"A weird thing when you have a large orchestra: the front row is going to be playing exact and passionate, and as it goes down the line, it might now be your best player. It doesn't mean they're not necessarily technically professional, but they might not have a great tone. My ear doesn't go to the guy who plays the loud, wrong note - my ear always picks up the one person who doesn't quite know why they're playing the note; they don't know what story to tell. There's like an indifference in their sound. I know, OK, got to have a bit of a chat here, and figure out how to encourage and help and get everybody to understand what it is we're trying to do. The great thing is about these musicians, they are so used to storytelling with their instruments that they get it. Directors are envious when they come to the orchestra session, because there are 100 plus people sitting there, and first of all, they're not chatting - they're paying attention. Imagine you have a scene with 100+ extras - it's quite hard to go and wrangle them. But here, these people, they're sitting there and you can tell them what to do and they will do it beautifully - they are experts at picking up their instruments and making a beautiful sound, if you want a beautiful sound. If you want a scary sound, they can scare you to death. Each one of them is a complete expert, and they are experts at being human beings, at expressing humanity. Figure out how to get yourself some of that - get that out of them. That's the part. The thing you're doing is, you're making a recording, you're not doing a live performance. I used to get called out all the time, sitting behind the glass, looking at the fabulous orchestra, and there's passion in their faces, and the guys are hitting things, and it looks so exciting. And two days later I'm listening back to it and it's really boring. We're making a recording, we're not doing a live performance. There is something not bad about not actually getting seduced by the smiles and the energy and the bright eyes. Listen, listen to the thing, and help them to make the best recording, as opposed to make the best theater play for you."