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The 6 Most Notable Low-Budget Soundtracks of All Time

Logan Baker

Here are six of the best, most inventive film scores created with little-to-no resources. Listen to these soundtracks for inspiration, and then head over to our music library.

While almost all the other elements of making a movie require the involvement of multiple people, the score can be created in your bedroom. And that’s wonderful news for anyone working with a small budget.

Let’s take a look at some of the best examples of innovative directors and film productions from the the past few decades that didn’t let a tight budget get in the way of a truly masterful soundtrack.

When watching and listening to these scores, think about how they were produced, as well as the work filmmakers had to put into it in order to get their film to the finish line. Today, low-budget filmmakers have a plethora of accessible options that can help them craft their vision from the ground up, even with a limited (or nonexistent) crew.

One of those options is quick access to affordable soundtrack and soundscape solutions, like PremiumBeat’s brand-new music subscription that lets filmmakers download more music for less money.

How does the subscription work? When you sign up, you get 5 tracks every month from our stacked music library, all for one low monthly payment that shakes out to just  $12.99 per track (complete with shorts, stems, and loops). At this price, you’re saving over 70%, so be sure to give a subscription a closer look.

Now, let’s get inspired.

1. Dark Star

With a budget estimated at roughly $60,000, the real magic here is that the film was written, directed, edited, and scored by the same guy — the great John Carpenter.

Dark Star was Carpenter’s first feature film and the scrappiness of it all should come as no surprise to any fan of his work. The soundtrack is comprised mostly of computer sound effects, dialogue, and music from the film, and it foreshadowed Carpenter’s iconic discography of ominous, electro-rock soundscapes.

2. Halloween

Soon after Dark Star, Carpenter turned his attention to 1978’s Halloween. This low-budget slasher flick was a bare-bones affair, with Carpenter once again creating the soundtrack.

Seriously, if you haven’t already, you need to take a trip through the John Carpenter soundtrack wormhole. He’s composed complete soundtracks for or contributed music to Assault on Precinct 13, The Fog, Big Trouble in Little China, They Live, about 100 different Halloween movies — including the new one — and many more.

Carpenter’s adaptive approach to the process of filmmaking is the real deal. He’s undoubtedly one of the original DIY filmmakers. Worship him accordingly.

3. It Follows

I wish more people would talk about It Follows, David Robert Michelle‘s sophomore feature film. This underrated horror flick from 2014 was extremely effective for two reasons: one, the cinematography. And two, the music produced by musician/composer Disasterpeace.

Nobody really knew what to expect when this film was announced, but my goodness were we pleasantly surprised. Consisting of heavy, Carpenter-esque synthscapes, the score accompanies the low-budget film masterfully as it adds, creates, and builds upon the suspense throughout the entire movie.

Does your scary movie demand synth-heavy tracks? There’s a playlist for that!

4. Brick

Rian Johnson‘s debut film Brick is a detective story told through the eyes of high schoolers. With a dense, complicated screenplay, Johnson had a difficult time getting funding for the film. This led to a bare-bones approach to filming, editing, and scoring the film.

For the score, Johnson enlisted his cousin Nathan Johnson to carry the bulk of the film through memorable, noir-like soundscapes. (As you can see by the examples set by Carpenter and the Cousins Johnson alike, relying on yourself and family is a common theme on this list.)

The reoccurring background music — “Emily’s Theme” — is still stuck in my head after all these years. If that’s not the mark of a great score, I don’t know what is. Also, fun fact: The entire score was recorded with one microphone over iChat due to Nathan not actually being on set or even anywhere near Rian when filming. Anything is possible!

If you’re interested in ambient/ethereal scores, well, you’re in luck.

5. Once

Want an easy way to incorporate a beautiful score without having to fork extra budget for a composer? Have your talent fill the film with performances and score! That’s exactly what John Carney did for the 2007 film, Once.

The stars of the movie — Glenn Hansard and Markéta Irglová — were actually in a band together prior to filming. So, while I understand this isn’t a traditional score or technique of film production, framing the film around performers is something to consider when forming your next idea.

If you’re looking to capture the kind of mellow folk vibes featured in Once, your search ends here.

6. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

This Bonnie and Clyde-inspired feature was our introduction to David Lowery. Going on to direct Pete’s Dragon, A Ghost Story, and the upcoming The Green Knight, Lowery has established himself as one of the best working filmmakers today. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints was a communal effort that saw Lowery harness the talents of friends from all across Texas, including Daniel Hart.

The score was composed almost entirely in Hart’s home, and is comprised of mostly strings — specifically the banjo and mandolin. The minimal, ominous sounds play a big part in creating the aesthetic of the old west.

The use of strings and horns is a traditional take on a film score, but the approach fits perfectly with the tone and mood of Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. Since this film, Hart has gone on to score Lowery’s other productions, as well as many other television shows and feature films.

If you’re into the lush sounds of orchestral compositions and robust instrumentals, we’ve got your soundtrack ready to go.

Film scores are the unsung heroes of filmmaking; a good score can elevate and outlast even the most mediocre movie.

Capture your audience’s full attention by experimenting and getting creative with your next soundtrack. PremiumBeat’s library is super dense, filled with any and every type of genre, sound, and instrument you can imagine. Mix, match, and mash it all together to create something memorable.

Want to take a deeper look at the filmmaking process? Start with the handpicked article below.

Cover image via ITV/Shutterstock.