Based on my experience as a trailer music composer and music supervisor for a trailer music company, I want to share five of the biggest mistakes I see a lot of new trailer music composers do today. Make sure to avoid these common traps if you’re trying to get into the industry!
This is probably one of the most valuable and impactful tips that I can give you. It is so crucial, yet so simple. And most new trailer composers simply don’t do it enough, even though it could make a huge difference for the quality of their productions.
Watching and analyzing trailers should be your daily bread and butter. Just like a professional pianist practicing drills and scales to maintain the sharp motor functions of his fingers, you should make sure to watch and analyze at least two to three trailers on a daily basis. This will greatly increase your knowledge about writing licensable trailer music.
You can watch out for interesting syncing points and incorporate them using your own sounds into your new productions. With time you will have a good overview of the most recurring edit points out there.
You will also develop a perfect feel for how a good trailer music mix sounds like.
Besides that, you will be up to date when it comes to new trends.
Make it a habit to watch at least a few of the newest trailers on a daily basis. Trust me – the licensability of your trailer cues will increase drastically if you apply things that you have seen or heard on big main trailers.
A mistake that new trailer music composers often do is to not separate each act of their composition (Intro, Buildup, Climax I, Climax II, Outro) properly. This makes it harder for the potential video editor to disconnect them in case they e.g. only want to license the first climax, or another part in the middle of the track.
As a rule of thumb, you should try to make each break one full bar long. There are several possibilities on doing that. Even if you just have half of a bar break it would be much more valuable for the editor to use your track in their trailer.
I highly recommend using SFX in breaks. One thing you might not know yet, is that your music publisher will usually ask for grouped stems. Grouped stems are all your instrumental tracks exported into groups such as “Brass”, “Strings”, “Choir”, “Perc” and so on. One of those grouped stems will be called “FX – Impacts”, “FX – Riser”, etc. Editors can easily remove the FX stem in this particular case, if that’s needed.
So how do you make a cool break?
You can fill the break by using a riser. You can end a section with a radical audio cut. Perhaps a combination of a whooshhit followed by a sub fall (downer) will do the job, too.
This is where tip #1 comes in handy. Make sure to watch for transition points already used in trailers. They already worked well so why not imitating those using your own sounds?
If you start watching trailers on a regular basis you will realize how you can hear those big and epic hits in almost every trailer.
As a beginner – and I speak from personal experience – one tends to only use simple impact sounds from e.g. Heavyocity Damage. This indeed is better than nothing but it might not sound big enough in the end.
A good sounding hit is all about having a full sound which means that we will need to combine low end (boom, depth) mid range (punch, body) and high-end elements (snap, crunch, sizzle, air) to achieve it. Layer your hits. Think of it as a puzzle. You want the hit to sound full and complete so you will need to put together all the puzzle pieces.
The majority of trailers are all about having an “in-your-face” sound. Everything needs to sound huge, big and punchy.
That being said, most newcomers set their trailer FX elements at a way too low volume. This will make the track sound less powerful, and it will lack intensity.
Don’t be shy, and increase the volume of your FX elements so that they almost jump out of the composition. Again: watch as many trailers as possible to figure out the perfect volume mix. With time you will develop a good feel for how loud each FX element should be.
One recurring problem that most new trailer music composers, especially those who have worked on either film or video game scores before, is that they have a too complex composition for the trailer medium.
A simple composition is more universally applicable. You want your track to not get licensed only once, but hopefully several times. This is why you should try to make your track work for as many movie genres as possible. Incorporating too prominent and limiting sounds can reduce the chances to place that track in several trailer campaigns.
Another benefit of a simple composition is that your trailer track offers more space for the video editor. Keep in mind that your track primarily serves as background music. The editor will be placing dialogues and sound FX all over your trailer track. Make sure that it would not get too chaotic.
Last but not least your final mix will sound better. If two different elements play in the same frequency area at the same volume at the same time, they fight each other for attention and space. You should avoid that, and choose each element carefully.
Hope you can take something good from these common mistakes and correct them if you should stumble upon the same things. Good luck!
Music producer, director and supervisor of the trailer music company End Of Silence. His clients includes film- and game production studios such as Warner Bros, 20th Century Fox, Disney and more.