Hey fellow creators!
This week we had the pleasure of hanging out in the studio with trailer music composer Caleb Swift and got the opportunity to ask him a few questions. For those that don’t know, Caleb is a composer for Film, TV and Game Advertising. Having played multiple instruments in university music studies, Caleb began his composition career writing music for student films and eventually began his journey into writing music for publishing after one of his musical tracks was synced in the most anticipated TV Crime Crossover Episode of the BBC Fall Lineup. Caleb has since had music placed in trailer campaigns for Marvel’s Eternals, Black Widow and Sonic The Hedgehog 2 as well as a plethora of television ads including Paramount+, American Crime Story and Deadliest Catch.
Check out some of Caleb's Work!
What was one of your biggest hurdles in your career and what helped you get over it?
Definitely getting anywhere near good enough to submit to a publisher. I wanted to make what I was hearing and so many many nights were spent beating my head against the wall lol. A HUGE help to me was actually submitting some of my music to Alex Moukala for track feedback ($25 dollars per or something, I’m not sure if he does that anymore though.) He really helped me get some basic understandings down in regards to structure, layers and how much effort goes into this type of music. Joining Facebook groups like Trailer Music Composer’s Support Group with pros who occasionally drop useful information is also incredibly helpful and honestly graciously appreciated. I learned a TON from just reading what others had to say.
On average how long does it take you to write a trailer cue and can you break down those days tasks?
I can do a standard hybrid orchestral trailer cue in about 3 hours. But this is because I’ve spent nearly 2 years maximizing my productivity. Everything from sound choice, orchestration, planning the structure is maximized to the full in as little time as possible.
I have templates with instruments and fx loaded up for different genres and I never really stray from the basic libraries (I list later). I feel if you have the right libraries that blend together well, you have the ability to start writing fairly quickly if you understand those libraries well.
I have a standard writing process which I might break down in an education course in later months if anyone is interested.
What would be the biggest piece of advice you would give to an up and coming composer?
Outwork your competition:
Everybody around you is faster, better and more dedicated than you until you prove yourself. I played 3 sports in school (wrestling, soccer and football) as well as serving in the US military and all of that had one basic principle for success, “If you don’t put in the work, you’ll never see the results.
Part With Your Art:
Library music and trailer music has been likened to an arms-race, you can’t sit on a cue for more than a few days otherwise you’ll start to overthink,
I also say this is more a science than an art form. (Artistic Mindsets Beware)
Trailer music structure and principle sound fx categories have not strayed very much in difference, so leave the artisanal mindset at the door and focus more on productivity and you find yourself more successful in the long run.
What’s your favourite part of the process when creating a cue and why? What’s your least favourite part and why?
Favourite part will always be when I start bringing in the percussion and hits because it just doubles the emotional impact to a cue. A great example of this is Transfiguration by Pauli Alexander Hausmann & Ugur Dariveren under the labels Really Slow Motion & Giant Apes.
My least favourite part is writing the intro because I really have to dig for ideas. I usually just listen to new releases to see what others are doing. This helps a lot!
Check out a couple more of Caleb's placements!
There’s a specific formula for writing trailer music so what advice would you give to balance ‘nailing the structure’ with ‘sounding unique’?
Trailer music is an 80/20 craft. 80 percent predictability and 20 percent unpredictability….what you do with that 20 percent is up to you. I have a checklist I will share on this 20% as I think it would help inspire others to get out of their comfort zone.
Have I made a unique impact by:
Did I do something different in the bridge, or do something like an intro where it rises and climaxes before the bridge?
Do I have a distinct sound that catches ears?
Is there a catchy hook in the tune that the audience will love?
Am I doing unique rhythms that will help drive the cue forward or are they repeating the same ideas too much?
Were you classically trained at a music school and would you recommend that path for someone starting out today?
I took lessons here and there; piano and cello mostly. I played different band instruments in high school, I went to a small private school that didn’t have orchestra options for me to play in so I taught myself timpani and marimba lol.
I wouldn’t actually say trying to major in composition at a university or anything is a must or the end-all be-all when you’re trying to go the library/trailer music route. I mean, you can and it wouldn’t hurt, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to writing a full production on a DAW (there’s so much trial and error that comes to learning how to use reverb, fx etc. that honestly, you’re better off buying a DAW and watching Youtube Tutorials in this realm of music production)
There’s more and more publishers popping up each year so do you have any advice for composers on what to look for when choosing a publisher?
Follow the placements, I had the misfortune of being talked into joining publishers that had no business in the music business. I’m not going to name any names but just say that you should always vet the companies or ask around to fellow composers if you’re unsure.
You need to settle within yourself, the worth of a combination of things in order to make a successful choice, your worth to yourself, your time’s worth and your money’s worth. If you dive into something that doesn’t add to either of those, you are probably in the wrong place.
Writing more music!!!
I write for about 4 different publishers at the moment including Hypersonic Music (Max Cameron is one of your interviewees too LOL, he’s one of my music idols and I love working under him)
If you want to learn more about Caleb and follow him on his journey in trailer music then feel free to click the links below.
Thanks for hanging out!
– Shawn from Cinematic Tools