Sound designer Alan Howarth was introduced to John Carpenter by the picture editor of the film, Todd Ramsay, who had worked with Howarth on Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Howarth used equipment including ARP and Prophet-5 synthesizers and a Linn LM-1 drum machine, as well as an acoustic piano and Fender guitars, to create the palette of sounds used in the score, while Carpenter composed the melodies on the synthesizer keyboards. As the MIDI standard had yet to be invented, Howarth manually synchronized the equipment to picture while listening to a copy of the film's dialogue. Initial inspirational directions which Carpenter shared with Howarth included albums by Tangerine Dream and The Police.
The original release included a contractual obligation to provide a written musical score, which Howard manually transcribed after recording was completed. The soundtrack was released in 1981 through Varèse Sarabande (originally on vinyl, then CD in 1982); a remastered and remixed edition was reissued in 2000 through Silva Screen Records, containing an extra fifteen tracks not included on the original version (eight of them being short extracts of dialogue from the film), as well as expanded liner notes.