How Did Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross Become Hollywood’s Favorite Music Duo?

Many of us know Trent Reznor as the supercharged leading man in Nine Inch Nails, the protagonist of eyebrow-raising music videos and large-scale live performances. Since its inception in 1988, Nine Inch Nails has constantly been breaking new grounds and mixing genres in a way that’s completely unique and instantly recognizable. The voice, the sound, the vibe, there’s no mistaking it – you know when you’re listening to a Nine Inch Nails song. That probably has a lot to do with the production of NIN’s music, as well – and that credit also goes to Atticus Ross.

Some might wonder how Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross became Hollywood darlings, scoring big-budget movies and earning Academy Awards and nominations pretty much every year. Listening to NIN’s iconic The Downward Spiral album, released in 1994, you wouldn’t believe it’s the work of the same person who scored movies like Soul. 

However, if you were to go through Nine Inch Nails’ entire discography, you’d be able to see the band’s evolution towards more atmospheric, genre-bending music. NIN’s Ghosts series of albums incorporate eerie instrumentals and reflective tonalities that have a lot in common with what Reznor and Ross did for movies like The Social Network or Gone Girl

How it started

Trent Reznor’s transition from rock frontman to elite Hollywood composer became official in 2011, when Reznor and Atticus Ross took home an Original Score award for The Social Network at the 83rd Academy Awards. Not even the two winners could believe what was happening; the list of nominees included legends like Hans Zimmer, Alexandre Desplat, and John Powell. But The Social Network, along with its soundtrack, marked the beginning of a new era in filmmaking, one driven by fast-paced, David Fincher-style dialogue and a strong music score as the backbone to hold it all together. 

From that point on, the musical duo was unstoppable, churning out eclectic scores for movies like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl, Before the Flood, Patriots Day, and Bird Box, among others. Most of the projects the two composers worked on received either awards and nominations at prestigious ceremonies, including the Emmys, Grammys, Golden Globes, BAFTAs, and Academy Awards. 

How it’s going

Fast forward to 2020, and Reznor and Ross were busier than ever. The pair received multiple nominations at the 72nd Primetime Emmys for their work on HBO’s Watchmen series, and won the award for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics. They once again partnered with director David Fincher to score his latest movie, biographical drama Mank, and also wrote the music for Pixar’s animated film Soul

Fincher’s Mank, which focuses on the life of Citizen Kane screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz has received positive and even stellar reviews from critics, who praised Fincher’s direction, as well as Gary Oldman’s acting. The movie earned 10 nominations at the 93rd Academy Awards, including nominations for Best Original Score and Best Sound. 

The animated movie Soul also received numerous positive reviews from movie critics, who praised the movie’s storyline, acting, animation work, and music score. The film won Best Animated Film and Best Original Score/Music awards at the Golden Globes, BAFTAs, and Critics’ Choice Awards, and also earned three Academy Award nominations, including Best Sound and Best Original Score. 

What this means is that basically Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross are competing against themselves for the Best Original Score award this year. Not many music composers can pride themselves with such an accomplishment, but Reznor and Ross are in a league of their own at this point. 

Later update: the musical duo scored another Best Original Score award for their work on Soul, at the 93rd Academy Awards held April 25th, 2021.

When two (or three) heads are better than one

The level of success and recognition that Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have earned over the years is proof that two heads are often better than one when it comes to writing music. There aren’t a lot of musical composer duos that come to mind, that have had the same level of success in Hollywood as Reznor/Ross. Another long-standing partnership is that of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, who’ve worked together on scoring films like War Machine, The Proposition, The Road, and The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford

Musical composer partnerships that can pass the test of time are rare, because a lot of times, egos and clashing ideas can lead to friction. However, when two creative minds are on the same page, or rather on the same music sheet, and their connection is driven by respect and friendship, the results can be outstanding. Musical composer trios are even harder to come by, because ‘the more, the merrier’ doesn’t always work in this industry. That’s why Cutting Room Music stands out, being driven by not two, but three creative musical minds that manage to combine their different styles, tastes, and talents to create something fresh and original. 

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