‘The Simpsons’ Composer Alf Clausen Fired After 27 Years (EXCLUSIVE)

Alf Clausen
Courtesy of Fox Broadcasting

Two-time Emmy winner Alf Clausen has been fired from “The Simpsons” after 27 years of providing music for Bart, Lisa, and company.

Clausen told Variety that he received a call from “Simpsons” producer Richard Sakai that the company was seeking “a different kind of music” and that he would no longer be scoring the longtime Fox hit.

A Fox spokeswoman declined to comment.

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Clausen, whose Emmy record includes two wins (1997 and ’98) and another 21 nominations for “The Simpsons” dating back to 1992, has scored more than 560 episodes of the series, starting early in the 1990-91 season. He is believed to be the most-nominated composer in Emmy history, with a total of 30 nominations overall.

He has also won five Annie Awards, all for his “Simpsons” music. His long tenure with the series has made him one of the most respected creators of animation music in TV history.

Clausen’s last complete score for the series was for the season finale of Season 28, which aired in May. The season premiere is slated for Oct. 1, but it is not yet clear who will be scoring that episode.

Speculation about Clausen’s dismissal involves cost-cutting measures, which have been ongoing at “The Simpsons” in recent years, despite its massive profits for Fox and executive producer James L. Brooks’ Gracie Films.

Clausen uses a 35-piece orchestra every week — something that “Simpsons” creator Matt Groening insisted upon from the start of the show. Including costs of musicians, recording studios, and orchestration, expenses routinely run into the millions of dollars per year. Danny Elfman’s “Simpsons” theme is expected to be retained.

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  1. He had a great run! The music is a major component of the show. Seems like they could afford it but what do I know….

  2. Newshound24 says:

    I’m afraid the Simpsons’ problems run a lot deeper than just changing ‘the kind of music’. The fact is, almost all the staff that made the show great in its beginnings is now gone, and with them, all the spark that made the show great in the first place.

    They haven’t been ‘funny’ for years.

  3. Ted Baldwin says:

    it is possible to do digitally what he does for real. That makes it difficult to justify – for a weekly cartoon series…

    • Rena Moretti says:

      No. It’s not. Don’t mean to be rude but you do not understand what you just said.

      That attitude of yours, by the way, is commonplace in Hollywood where executives “cut” everything they can on the basis that “the audience can’t tell the difference”.

      The result: awful TV shows with awful ratings.

  4. Rena Moretti says:

    The most absurd thing about it is the idea that they want a “different kind of music” when Alf Clausen delivered almost every style of music known to man over the past 27 years…

    Talk about a ridiculous statement…

  5. jedijones77 says:

    The problem is Jennifer Tilly keeps getting so much money from the show that could be going towards producing better quality episodes instead.

  6. Jonny2x4 says:

    Just put the Simpsons out of their misery already. It’s not even worth reaching the next milestone season at this point.

  7. dreck says:

    All the doofus comments here, about a composer simply sampling, cutting and pasting in a room equaling the quality of Alf’s music. What the heck do you think they will be sampling? Live musicians. Probably old “Simpsons” episodes.

  8. Daniel Lopez says:

    I’m not a musician, but I do know an orchestra is life compared to the dead music produced in pop culture today. It’s a shame to know the direction taken, yet not a surprise it wasn’t done sooner. Those who can appreciate what was, should be happy it lasted as long as it did. Thank you, Alf Clausen and all of the the contributing musicians, for years for entertainment. God bless you all and much luck and success to your next endeavour.

  9. Arysta says:

    They need to be real. He got too expensive. End of story.

    • Rena Moretti says:

      If you read the story, there was no discussion of budgets…

      He got a call and a ridiculous “explanation” from a lower-rung producer….

    • dreck says:

      Oh for God’s sake. I feel sorry for your pets, you horrible person. Hopefully, your children will say the same thing about you someday.

  10. Steven L. Schaffner says:

    There hasn’t been anyone this good at “cartoon” music since Carl Stalling, and to be fair, Stalling used a lot of the Warner movie and pop music catalog to make musical points in the Warner cartoons. My bet is that there will be a lot of cheap stock crap, the orchestra will go away, and stuff will be pretty run-of-the-mill. Which is to say (looking at most commercial music), crap. Too bad. But on the other hand, it will make Clausen more available for shows that are not “running out the clock” in Florida. Good luck, Alf.

  11. Don Paul says:

    It may be understandable fiscally, but it’s very sad to see great music disappear from contemporary tv. Alf is a great composer and orchestrator, so he’ll do fine. But our enjoyment of this great show will lessen to some extent, depending on the individual viewer’s musical passion. I’m still confident Seth McFarland won’t allow this to happen to Family Guy.

  12. Shane says:

    Things rarely end nicely in the entertainment business. They must have figured out they only have a couple more seasons at most to go, so why not just use their extensive library of already produced cues and a good sound editor. Sad and infuriating when you realize what a cash cow the show has been, but on the other hand: a 27 year long run is pretty damn good in any field. Looking forward to Alf’s next gig!

    • Rena Moretti says:

      Actually, because of the Union contract, you couldn’t do that. You have to pay again for the session if you re-use the music from a different season (or you could re-record it, but then why not write original music)….

  13. FOH says:

    next up:
    “Metro boomin’ want some mo Springfiled”

  14. Stefan Myles says:

    Another outstanding example of a disappearing art form has been silenced. Thirty-five professional musicians lose their gig, support personnel, HR and other resources cut back. It’s like a factory closing. A factory that made gold plated, platinum filled soundscapes for one of the most beloved programs in entertainment history. It’s just a flesh wound.

  15. J. David Neal says:

    The cost of the orchestra is miscible compared to what the profits they have made. The quality of the orchestra, musicians and music has been a huge part of the shows success and it would be short sighted to eliminate it.

  16. technusgirl2016 says:

    I was mad until I realized they used an entire orchestra that costs millions of dollars every year. You can achieve the same thing and even more with music programs these days. I’m surprised they waited this long, to be honest.

    • Rena Moretti says:

      1 – You CAN tell the difference.

      2 – Even if YOU can’t, audiences can FEEL the difference.

      3 – As for the cost, you have to realize it is spread over 22 episodes. I also doubt it reaches 2 millions unless residuals are added in. Back of the envelope, I’d say a half million for musicians and recording, plus composing, orchestrating and copying… I could be wrong if someone knows more and wants to develop this.

    • Steven L. Schaffner says:

      Spoken like someone who can’t tell the difference.

    • Bob Uripides says:

      I was mad until I realized you don’t have a clue about what you’re talking about.

    • Ron says:

      So I know U DO NOT PLAY AN INSTRUMENT

    • Alexandre says:

      Are you sure you can achieve same results with programs these days? Have you ever write/produce a score? There is, simply, no way to achieve same results, neither with samples or analog modelling. And by the way these “millions of dollars” are hopefully distributed to the players, studio crew, composers, orchestrators etc. This money holds a (yet very restricted) culture of production, labor, and supports whole families.

    • scottishwildcat13 says:

      No music program can reproduce the sound of a 35 piece orchestra anything close to accurately. An entire orchestra costs millions of dollars every year because it comprises people who’ve dedicated their lives to mastering a specific art. If that’s not what they want to do any more, then fine, but the result will be very, very different.

  17. AngieA1 says:

    Fox has spent a lot of money on severance packages. Maybe trying to recoup.

  18. James says:

    Wow, I had no idea, that it took “a 35-piece orchestra every week” to do the score for “The Simpsons”…

    I’m not a musician & don’t know too much about music, but I understand producers, who would like to make the scoring easier and more cost-effective.

    Just imagine how complicated it must be to do all the organizing, checks, rights & residuals for so many people every year…it’s an insane amount of time, work & money.

    I guess, one person with a great samples library & good knowledge of music programs could compose
    just as good a score for less money?

    This event might be remembered once in film history as the moment when film scoring went digital.
    Film production & distribution & projection were only the beginning.

    Let’s see if it improves movies.

    • Rena Moretti says:

      James, it does not sound the same, no matter how much the people selling sample libraries want you to believe it. Just like video cameras don’t come close to the quality you get with film.

      Matt Groening insisted on getting an orchestra because he knew it was the cheapest and best way to increase the productions values of the show.

  19. coleyemde says:

    Seth McFarlane also has the whole orchestra and band for Family Guy. He’s not cutting back. Whatever the reasons for the cutback, hopefully this longtime staff member was treated much more respectful than has been insinuated. I’m only 41 but people do not give the credit and respect due to a longtime employee. Best wishes to him.

    • TVFan2000 says:

      Seth’s not cutting back (in fact, he just tweeted the other day about being at a scoring session for an episode of his new show The Orville which is using a 75 piece orchestra) and he won’t cut back. The difference is Seth understands and appreciates the value of having an orchestra, and if need be would take a pay cut out of his own pocket to insure they can keep the orchestra. TPTB over at The Simpsons would not.

      • Rena Moretti says:

        The difference is that Seth MacFarlane is protected at FOX and treated like he was royalty. (in this case good for Walter Murphy and his musicians!)

        Do you think Matt Groening wants to cut the orchestra he fought for when the show started?!!!

  20. Rusty Shackleford says:

    D’oh!

  21. Phillip Ayling says:

    Alf is brilliant, talented and a wonderful man. After all these years, firing him via a phone like this is so disrespectful and classless.
    Perhaps Producer Richard Sakai was the inspiration for Mr. Burns…only classed-up a bunch for prime time.

    • Scott says:

      I REALLY doubt (but don’t care quite enough to research) if the firing over the phone was that simple. If it were/is that cut and dry I agree with you 1000%; “disrespectful, classless,” despicable!

  22. elliotjames2 says:

    He’ll get loads of work, he’s excellent. An A-hole’s way at Fox to end a decades-old relationship.

  23. Christopher A. Heldt says:

    They will miss Alf and his talent. Great guy and composer. Seems to be loved by all who work with him.

  24. 27 year run must be a record in the TV biz. Alf probably won’t be waiting long for another gig. Berklee comp classes certainly paid off. Bravo, AC.

  25. ezwalker says:

    Nobody respects talent or wisdom any longer.

  26. 125hz says:

    I understand the new music director Poochie the Dog should give the Simpsons a fresh update with some attitude.

  27. Rena Moretti says:

    Not sure how it got to “millions” a year for the cost of the orchestra… Even with full Union rates, you don’t get to that. Maybe if you add years and years of residuals…

    • Atomix says:

      “…Including costs of musicians, recording studios, and orchestration, expenses routinely run into the millions of dollars per year…”

      Total expenses would typically include; scoring / orchestration / copyists / musicians / leader / contractor / soundstage / first engineer / assistant engineers / conductor / conductor assistants / composer assistants / gofers / etc: Takes a big team to pull this off every week.
      A typical session will run around $20-25k, just for studio and orch;
      Season 28 had 22 episodes: Do the math.

      Used to be the norm, but no longer, due to expense – now it’s someone using sample libraries and working out of their converted garage somewhere in the Valley.

      • Rena Moretti says:

        I did the math, which is how I came up with under a million…

        I’m assuming they were counting hypothetical residuals for dozens of years for the musicians…

    • Isaac says:

      2 million divided by the 35 members of the orchestra is… under 60k per person. For a salaried gig at a very profitable venue that’s not a lot, actually. And that doesn’t include things like health care, 401k benefits, PTO, etc. Several million for a full time orchestra isn’t unreasonable.

      Source: I do operations analysis for a living

      • Rena Moretti says:

        It is not full-time, but then again costs a LOT less than 2 million, so there you have it.

        To expand the discussion, the studios used to have full-time orchestras. Musicians would punch in at 8 and various composers would bring cues to record that day.

        Quite a thrilling time to think about if you like orchestral music.

      • Bob Uripides says:

        With respect, this isn’t a full-time gig. A significant gig, yes.

    • Scott says:

      Respect!

      • Scott says:

        Alright I SUCK at this. While I’m confident the point you make is dead-on Rena, my reply: “Respect!” was intended for 125hz’s poochie take. And with this my contributing-to-forums career officially ends as quickly as it began like an hour ago

  28. William says:

    The Simpson’s will never be the same .you ‘ll be missed.

    • Scott says:

      I’ve a bit of alone/free time these days. Today I’ve decided to spend a little of it replying to a few of these comments, but only after saying, IMO most of the 29 so far are right

  29. Billy sotherden says:

    Danny Elfman composed The Simpsons’ theme, not Alf Clausen.

    • Todd says:

      The article said “Danny Elfman’s “Simpsons” theme is expected to be retained.”

      Alf Clausen scored the episodes, meaning he wrote the music for the “interior” of the episodes, not the theme, which the article did give credit to Elfman.

      • coleyemde says:

        Aren’t you amazed at how little a person pays attention to an article but then feels they know the entire gist, then leaving a nonsensical comment.

  30. Harry Missoula says:

    Remember when almost every episode of The Simpsons could be counted on to be consistently hilarious, entertaining, and original? Now we’re lucky if there’s three or four quality episodes a season. And firing this man over the damn phone? Disgraceful.

  31. Aaron says:

    27yrs and he’s let go by a phone call!! Fecking phone call! Is this normal Hollywood practice?

    • Rena Moretti says:

      Surprising he didn’t hear of it through reading the trades… :(

      Quite disgusting to treat one of the main assets that way…

  32. Mike says:

    Ah yes, this is just what the show needed. Clausen was clearly to blame for the show’s steep decline from its glory days. It had nothing to do with the writers, the producers, or the general difficulty of coming up with new ideas for a show after 27 years. Now that we’ll have “a different kind of music”, the show will be great again!

  33. Jason Sharke says:

    Why, let me guess. The Simpsons needs dumbing down again for the docile 15-30 age group, which is one of the shallowest, most clueless generations in human history.

  34. Mitchem says:

    This show hasn’t been any good since the 90s. Who cares.

  35. Mike Oxbent says:

    Awe just twang it on a mouth harp for Pete’s sake!

  36. AJ says:

    This cheapens the show a lot. Yes, it costs money to have an orchestra score every show but it also adds a certain amount of class that differentiates it from other cartoons.

  37. cadavra says:

    You said it yourself. Cost-cutting is a silly excuse for getting rid of a key person in such a cash cow. There must be some other reason.

  38. bob says:

    Obviously a cost saving move and little else. Now some person can just fire up a few keyboards into their basement workstation and have a go instead.

  39. Les Moor says:

    The shark, she has been jumped.

  40. ECheung says:

    Agreed. I have absolutely no personal stake in this, and I love The Simpsons and will miss it if it leaves this Earth before I do, but this firing of the brains behind the music is a singular step in the direction of this program’s self-destruction…mark these words!

  41. So what says:

    People are stupid.

  42. Moses chalmers says:

    As a amateur music critique, I will be listening closely to Oct 1, 2017 airing of new season.

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