You, as potentially a media creator that needs music in their art – be it film, video games, opera or eccentric installations – want the best composer out there. Someone who understands the intricate world you have created through extensive hours of writing, storyboarding, trying new ideas, filming, programming, or any other endeavor.  You cannot afford to risk placing that precious effort in the hands of an uncreative, unresourceful composer.

But a question you must ask is, how can you know which one is the best? Is it someone that has that unique recognisable sound that your game needs? Is it a composer that can imitate any style of music so my new cues will sound very similar to my temp or reference tracks? Or is it the one that can adapt to what my film needs and generate a distinctive sound palette?

I do not personally think any answer is better than the other. Different creations might need different approaches so it is probably good to assess what you need in terms of the process of planning the music and sound of your art. Here at IB Aural, we believe in one particular approach – created around the 60’s but gaining huge popularity by the day – that can yield really interesting results: Design Thinking. 

But… what is design thinking?

Design Thinking

Is a practical process method aimed to generate innovative ideas and solutions. This can be applied to architecture, engineering or fashion… and of course to music! This approach can help music composers to understand projects, search for original solutions and to create a unique palette of sound that might have never even been tried before. And it does it through a well defined series of steps:

Chart by Tofas Academy 


In this step, you will work with your composer so they fully understand the project and the problems it faces. Perhaps it is really hard to decide on instrumentation because the plot revolves around pirates in Mars who travel through time and space. Also there is a dragon. Perhaps you want to try this new technique, like the shepard tone, you read about but you need an expert. Or maybe you need a unique sound, but don’t know where to start looking.

Your composer will need to access really deep in the world you are creating: character models, scripts, storyboards, early cuts, your aspirations, etc. In this way, it might be a good idea to have them on the project quite early, contrary to near the end as in most cases. Talking about budget or other limitations here is also a great idea, as it can give your composer a clear picture on what they can afford to invest in, like live musicians or studios.

Activities: meeting or briefing together


Your composer will proceed to gather all the information from empathizing, and identify key problems and needs. You might want to start thinking of your composer as a troubleshooter… because they are! In engineering, the problem might be the high pressure found in deep waters. And in media music, the problem might be conveying a complex concept such as brother’s love through sound, finding a distinctive sound palette or the inability to hire live musicians. 

Possibilities are endless, but your composer needs to clearly identify these problem statements. Most surely you want to have them written so everyone is on the same page. We advise creating a creative proposal that everyone has access to. Also, depending on the media form, a spotting session could take place here.

Activities: composer will create a written proposal.



This is more of a “trust your composer” phase, since they will have to start generating a work plan. Research on a particular instrumentation, studying how a particular tool works or consulting an expert on a specific genre are activities that take place in this step.

You probably want a composer with a team (for different inputs and brainstorming sessions) and with a great knowledge on things not only music, but history, art, philosophy or science. It is important to set up a schedule of deliveries and progress. You want to be informed on those aspects, but remember we composers are a little like scientists. We need space for those creative juices to manifest.

Activities: plan tools to use, instrumentation, calendar, etc.


Time to put all that planning to the test and make things explode! Here your composer will create prototypes of the ideas generated and approved by you in the previous step. These will most probably be mockups (non polished versions of the cues), foley or even quick cell phone recordings. Sound quality is not an issue here. If you trust your composer it will sound good after recording live musicians, mixing and mastering.

Here you have to ask yourself, is this music really capturing the essence of my creation? Is my story about killing tires or jumping plumbers being correctly reinforced by the music and the sound? For this you need a composer that can deliver mockups and who is really thick skinned. You might be ditching the idea they worked all night to show you!

Activities: composer will show you recordings, ideas and mockups.



Once you like the prototypes shown in the previous step, this is where polished versions of the prototypes now become fully functional cues, themes and sounds. They are integrated into the film and fortunately approved and called done, in case non live musicians are needed, or ready for recording sessions in the case where necessity and budget allows it. A lot is needed after this step, but this is where the creative process ends… or does it?

The best part of Design Thinking is that it is a 100% iterative process and any step can lead to a previous one with ease, as shown in the image at the beginning of this article! Maybe your composer just showed you a final cue, but you got a financial aid and they can now hire live musicians.

Maybe they showed you some ideas, but one of your voice actors happens to be an accordion player and you can record them. There is a reason filmmakers like Cristopher Nolan like to embark composers from the early stages.

As you can see, thinking of music and sound creation as a design process that has been used in other areas (namely graphic or interior design, fashion, architecture) can lead to a fun way to structure its creative process. It is important to give your composer the space to create and have fun with your project. But keeping things in check, clear and forward will allow for better communication and clearer goals. 

If you want to implement Design Thinking in your next project as part of the music and sound creation, follow up on the next entries in this series:


An insight into what Design Thinking in composing and sound design may look like in a real life situation

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How, directly or indirectly, Design Thinking has led to very unique interesting results in the world of film and video games.

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