5 Tips For Licensable Trailer Music

Walid Feghali
February 24, 2024
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In an industry of a lot of music, and competition and struggles to sound as big and professional as possible, it’s not uncommon to feel that trailer music can be hard to write. Trailer music has a very high production standard, it requires a proper structure so that it builds anticipation and excitement and thus be useful for editors in trailer houses. A lot of factors come into play for a track to get licensed in a big movie or game trailer, tv spots and so on.Here I have written down five tips I believe are very useful for treading further in the grand quest for locking in those music placements. Some of these really helped me get my bigger placements (such as Warcraft, Independence Day 2, Starcraft 2, etc). Hopefully at least you will pick up one of them and increase your chances of acquiring a license, so – here we go!

#1 – Keep it simple

This is probably the absolute best tip getting out of a creative writer’s block, and to make something that’s actually useful. Just keep it simple! If there’s too much crap going on, it will be hard to balance the mix properly – especially in the low end and low mids where the braams and hits have their oomph. Remove things you think the track can actually do without – just test it. It is also a lot easier to continue a simpler track, and make it into something great than it is to evolve a complicated one.Keeping it simple goes to all the aspects of the track; mixing, orchestration and composition. So basically: Simpler mix, simpler and cleaner sounds, and simpler melodies, harmonies and structure. Simplicity just sounds good and is the easiest route to go, so why not take it?

#2 – Copy what works (and add 10%)

Most beginners that go into the fine arts of creating music (and a lot of other things for that matter) think that it’s wrong to copy and mimic others. It’s a common belief that we should always be creative and original and that if we copy we’re mere thieves – *EEEHH* WRONG! Copying and mimicking is what composers have done for millennia! They copy what works, and then they add a bit of themselves in it (sometimes a lot more than a bit).If you study any music genre you will find the great similarities between many artists, and many times even straight up plagiarism – but to a large extent, that’s totally fine! Just make sure you add 10% of yourself – which you most likely do subconsciously – and you’ll be laughing. If the formula works, why not use it? Why try to reinvent the wheel again? Go on Youtube and copy the crap out of a track – you’ll learn A LOT!

#3 – Use cleaner sounds

This is another big tip that will help you if you’re not already using it: don’t use too many twisted, distorted and grungy sounds. For the majority of the track, use simpler, cleaner sounds. The foundation should consist of clean percussion, straightforward strings and brass, clean hits and clean synths. Once you have a really nice, clean and powerful sounding palette, mix in one or two dirty, distorted sounds for a special effect. It’s really cool when you have a solid foundation for your track, and then cautiously mix in original and interesting sounds.A lot of the times, the supervisors for trailer music publishers push this point a lot. They say “the tail of this hit is not so clean” or “it’s hard to hear what’s really going on here”, and that’s mostly due to the fact that your sound choices aren’t too clean. So clean that mix up! Use simple and clean sounds!

#4 – Let the music breathe

Use more silences, stops, breaks, interludes, drops. Let the music have time to breathe. This will help in many ways, chiefly:

  • Give editors more parts to cut and use in their trailers
  • Allows for an easier listening experience, as trailer music can be very intense
  • Adds to the simplicity

Checking out successful trailer cues will let you know easier when to stop, when to put these cuts and silences in. Every single trailer have them, so better incorporate them more in your trailer cues. Even if only 5 seconds of your track is used in a major blockbuster movie trailer, just because you decided to put a cut in there and give the editors chance to use that small interlude with no fuss, you just got yourself a bunch of money you would otherwise not have gotten.

#5 – Step out of your own perspective

This tip goes out to pretty much every creator wishing to sell his or hers own creation: you need to step out of your own perspective. If you’re an artist trying to get a lot of fans, don’t write music for other artists or composers, write music that you know your potential fans will like. Like that guy who sits air drumming listening to the music he loves – he doesn’t know much about music but he loves it.Same goes for trailer music. You want to step out of the writer’s perspective, and into the audience’s; the editor for a trailer, the cinema-goer, your trailer music supervisor, and so on. Stepping into their minds will empower you and enlighten you to what is actually needed from you if you want to make it in the trailer music industry, if you want your music to get placed in actual trailers, tv-spots, promos and commercials.

Bonus tip:

Remember that writing music should be fun and exciting. If it’s not, then you might need a break from it and some meditation. If you ever feel this way, perhaps take a week break, and when you want to get back into it again, go to Youtube and search for your favorite trailers to hear what actually inspired you to get into it in the first place. This will give you many new ideas and might even spark new excitement to create your own cues.To summarize, you simply have to make your music sound expensive and be useful. If someone listens to it, it should sound like it’s worth 10.000 bucks straight off the bat. This is achieved by simplicity, choosing the sounds and structures that has worked in the past (for yourself and for others), being up to date with what’s in in the trailer music industry, what trailer editors hunger for. Hopefully at least one of these tips were helpful to you – now go out there, create some pro sounding trailer music and get dem placements!Until next time –stay awesome and creative!

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Walid Feghali

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