There’s a lot of money to be made writing music for movie trailers — so you have to be good. Have you got what it takes?
As we saw last month, Hollywood trailers are a glamorous and money-spinning corner of the library music world. Last month we looked at the Hollywood side: how the movie studios and trailer houses operate and what they are looking for in music. This month, we’ll look at the composer’s angle. How do you make trailer music, where does the money come from, and how do you get into the industry? As the owner of three trailer music labels under the Gothic Storm brand, with many major placements, this is a core part of my work and so I speak from some experience.
By definition, trailer music is whatever music is used in trailers; and a browse of www.trailers.apple.com will demonstrate the variety. Comedies typically use commercial, hip-hop or guitar-based tracks. Family adventures often have big orchestral themes. Fantasy epics might have choirs. Horrors might have creepy noises and massive scary slams. As we noted last month there are also constantly shifting trends: choirs and orchestras dominated five years ago, then pure sound design (impressive noises) reigned supreme, and lately it’s all about ‘trailerised’ cover versions and well-known songs, with epic booms, prowling electronica and orchestral elements augmenting the background for cinematic awe.
Underlying all this variety, one constant is the well-worn ‘three-act structure’: a compelling intro, a building main section and a massive ending. It’s a cliché and not universal, but the three-act structure remains a useful way to offer editors intros, middle sections and endings that they can either use as is, or edit together with different sections from different tracks. Gaps between sections are thus essential: pauses in the music make it easy for the editor to chop between different tracks at these edit points.
Trailer tracks will also typically have stunning sound design: whooshes, rises, sub-bass booms, intense impacts, power-downs and atmospheric noises that both hit the audience on a primal level of excitement or fear, and enormously help the editors by giving them incredible audio tools that they can synchronise with their cuts for maximum impact.
Trailer endings typically reach a huge climax but don’t resolve: they leave you hanging up in the air, to purposely create the feeling that the only true resolution is to go out and watch the film.
Although trends will always influence the choice of music, every film needs trailer music or sounds that are perfect only for that film. Choices are influenced by whether the film is serious or light-hearted, its era, location, whether it has multiple characters, is realistic or super-heroic and is emotional or action-heavy. For every possible variation there is a corresponding perfect musical tone, and for this reason, there will be an endless need for new trailer music and sound to fit endless new...
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