Chaplin developed a passion for music as a child, and taught himself to play the piano, violin, and cello. After achieving fame, he founded a short-lived music company, the Charles Chaplin Music Corporation, through which he published some of his own compositions. Chaplin considered the musical accompaniment of a film to be important, and from A Woman of Paris onwards, he took an increasing interest in this area.
With the advent of sound technology, Chaplin immediately adopted the use of a synchronised soundtrack—composed by himself—for City Lights (1931). He thereafter composed the score for all of his films, and from the late 1950s to his death, he re-scored all of his silent features and some of his short films.
Because Chaplin was not a trained musician, he could not read notes and needed the help of professional composers, such as David Raksin, Raymond Rasch and Eric James, when creating his scores. Although some of Chaplin's critics have claimed that credit for his film music should be given to the composers who worked with him, Raksin—who worked with Chaplin on Modern Times—has stressed Chaplin's creative position and active participation in the composing process. This process, which could take months, would start with Chaplin describing to the composer(s) exactly what he wanted and singing or playing a tune he had come up with on the piano. These tunes were then developed further in a close collaboration between the composer(s) and Chaplin. According to film historian Jeffrey Vance, "although he relied upon associates to arrange varied and complex instrumentation, the musical imperative is his, and not a note in a Chaplin musical score was placed there without his assent."
Chaplin's compositions produced two popular songs. "Smile", composed originally for Modern Times (1936) and later set to lyrics by John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons, was a hit for Nat King Cole in 1954. "This Is My Song", performed by Petula Clark for A Countess from Hong Kong (1967), reached #1 on the UK Charts. Chaplin also received his only competitive Oscar for his composition work, receiving the Academy Award for Best Original Score for Limelight (along with Raymond Rasch and Larry Russell) in 1973.