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October 25, 2022

How to Choose Perfect Movie Trailer Music

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Jade Chow

Jade Chow

October 25, 2022
When we think of a movie trailer, we think of swift cuts, enticing scenes, and an occasional dip into silence or an explosive ensemble of cinematic sound effects, all in a two to three-minute video. So how do the world’s best creative agencies and trailer composers use music to amp up an audience in the same amount of time it takes to cook instant ramen?
THEN AND NOW

an overview of editor evolution

Heading to the heart of the trailer industry, we heard from renowned professionals spanning Los Angeles and the United Kingdom that cut music, teasers, and trailers for titles like Squid Game, Bird Box, and the soon-to-come Bones and All on how music can bring a movie trailer to life.

Editors have evolved musically too. The use of rhythmic sound design has changed the game completely, and that’s done by editors in the bay. The quality and quantity of sound design elements have vastly improved as well.

Weston Winsor, Trailer Editor at AV Squad.

As music and sound design have made leaps and bounds of progress, editors have honed in on their craft and polished their skillset to edit perfectly in step with their musical counterparts.

Today, a common misconception is that trailer music is made either by using score directly from the film’s official soundtrack or by licensing a popular song without any hassle. In actuality, “trailer music” has come a long way since this was the case:

  • Not only are existing songs customized to flow with groundbreaking sound design, but nowadays, there are music production companies with a focus on producing entirely new tracks for creative advertising.

Weston Winsor, an editor with over 16 years of experience cutting trailers, can attest to that:

“It’s rare to watch a trailer that doesn’t have some amazing custom adaptation of a popular song. When I first started editing trailers in 2006, trailer music was in its infancy.

We were basically using score from the film, adapting the score from another movie, or using a popular song (without any trailer customization). We didn’t have many options, and there were only one or two companies focusing on ‘trailer music’ specifically. These days, there are hundreds of trailer composers writing new trailer music every single day, the majority of it tailor-made for the project we are working on.”

pacing and timing

A KEY INSTRUMENT IN STORYTELLING

So, we know that music has since branched out to specialize in producing custom trailer tracks, but what impelled its significance in movie trailer editing?

Brett Winn, co-founder and creative director at The Refinery and an instructor for an upcoming course here at Trainrobber, discusses how music plays a crucial role in the pacing and timing of a trailer score.

“To me, the foundation of any great trailer is music, it can make or break the entire piece. It’s all about finding the right tone, the right energy, the right messaging, the right lyrics, and really utilizing that song to the fullest,” says Brett.

While this is a single aspect of how music can impact the trailer editing process, it weighs in as possibly the most important:

  • “I also feel like a key instrument in great storytelling in a trailer is pacing and timing, people can only digest small bits of information at a time, and it’s really important that you hit that information with an accent point that says, ‘Okay, you got that, I’m gonna move on to the next thing.’”

Brett also mentions that throughout a song, there’s a tempo that usually remains consistent and acts as a foundation for the editor to decide on when the next sound cue should come in to guide the audience and allow them to anticipate when the next piece of information is going to be given.

PIONEERS AND PARODIES

MOVING THE NEEDLE MUSICALLY

Apart from the actual production and selection, figuring out how to rework the soundtrack presents its own challenges:

  • Oftentimes, editors or clients become enamored with a piece of music as it is — lyrics, length, pacing, and all — but creating a balance between every cue, effect, and line of dialogue requires a certain level of inventiveness on the editor’s part for the sake of storytelling.

Despite the wide variety of styles and editing techniques used in trailers, it can still be difficult to produce something that sounds and feels fresh to an audience.

Music, just like other stylistic things that come across our path in society, is deeply affected by trends.

Brett Winn, Creative Director at The Refinery.

“We went through a trend in trailers where it was a dark, moody, vibey version of a cover song that played into the intrigue or the horror. But the truth is after you do that a certain number of times that trend passes and all of a sudden we become a parody of ourselves.”

That’s why it’s so beneficial for editors and composers to experiment and put the time into developing their concepts hand-in-hand with the stories being told. On the same wavelength, Weston notes how the tools and talent  have also developed over the years:

  • “Music that was mind-blowing five years ago could be average or standard now. What was cool or popular yesterday could sound cringe-worthy today.”

Though today’s trendsetters could be tomorrow’s memes, there’ll always be those who’ve pioneered trailer and film editing.

  • Think of the Inception trailer; referred to by Weston and considered by many others as the “birth of the Braaam.” If you’re wondering what that is, it’s all in the name — the Braaam is that deep, ominous sound you’ll hear in a lot of modern movie (and game) trailers.

To this day, the Braaam is familiar and beloved by many, but agencies, editors, and composers usually take heed even when recreating something similar, as the sound is prone to coming across as cliché if it’s not done right; the good news is that it can be done right.

In the words of Richard Pryn, expert trailer composer and creator of The Trailer Music School, the Braaam represents the whole purpose of trailers to catch people’s attention and to get them to connect to the movie, game, or TV show as quickly and easily as possible.

That’s what Braaams do so well; deliver an entire film's worth of action in one single sound.

Richard Pryn, Trailer Composer and founder of The Trailer Music School.

“The great thing about them is how easily they emphasize a part of the music or the edit. This is where they are most effective. They are the battle cry, the war horn of the film industry declaring ‘You must pay attention to this, it’s an important part of the trailer! ’ They are overthetop, brash, and bold.

Much like an audacious riff from a heavy metal band, they scream attitude. In a lot of cases, they have almost become the trailer’s motif for a character. Braaams have become part of the trailer vernacular.”

Although Braaams serve as a powerful indicator in the trailer world, they’re not as popular in movies themselves:

  • “They are rarely used in films for the same reason huge hybrid hits are not used in films the music is not functioning for the same reason. Film score serves to deal with the subtleties of characters, scenes, and moods within the narrative. Trailer music is doing that same thing but condensed and on the macro, the entire film. So the trailer music has to represent all the drama, action, and scale of the entire film,” says Richard.
TOP TEN FEATURE

The most audibly striking trailers

Wrapping it up with a top ten list of the most memorable trailer soundtracks, we asked Weston to pick his all-time favorites, but to him, that seemed a bit like trying to figure out what his all-time favorite pairs of jeans were because of how styles tend to change overnight.

So, instead of picking all-time faves, he named the ones that stood out to him:

#1 Atomic Blonde (2017)

Atomic Blonde (2017), featuring a custom rendition of New Order’s Blue Monday by HEALTH.

#2 Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022), opening with Tems’ cover of No Woman No Cry by Bob Marley, and building into both Tems’ and Kendrick Lamar’s Alright.

#3 Hereditary (2018)

Hereditary (2018), with SFX from The Hunt album by SIIX Music.

#4 Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), with I’ve Got No Strings by L’Orchestra Cinematique.

#5 Kong: Skull Island (2017)

Kong: Skull Island (2017), with a cover of The Animals’ I’ve Gotta Get Out of This Place.

#6 The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), with Black Skinhead by Kanye West.

#7 Logan (2016)

Logan (2016), with Johnny Cash’s cover of Hurt by Nine Inch Nails.

#8 John Wick: Chapter 3 (2019)

John Wick: Chapter 3 (2019), with Andy Williams’ cover of Impossible Dream by The Quest.

#9 Inception (2010)

Inception (2010), with Mind Heist by Zack Hemsey.

#10 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) with Renee of MONEYPENNY’s cover of Song To The Siren, originally by This Mortal Coil.

We hope you enjoyed this selection as much as we did, being the perfect blend of different genres and eras of music that it is, and the next time you watch a trailer, make sure to pay attention to the score, too — there’s a lot more behind the scenes that go into its creation than you might notice at first glance (or decibel).

Jade Chow

Jade Chow

October 25, 2022

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