Hey fellow creators!
Creating impactful trailer music is a crucial aspect of film and video game marketing. A well-crafted trailer can generate excitement and anticipation for a forthcoming release, and music plays a vital role in setting the tone and building suspense. Here are just a few tips for making your trailer music stand out.
Start with a concept
Depending on your writing circumstances, this may or may not be the most important thing to focus on.
For example, if you’re just feeling inspired to write and you aren’t writing for a specific publisher project, then this may not apply to you. But in most cases, you’ll be writing for an album or a project that’s been given to you with a certain set of guidelines or an overall theme. So that’s what we’ll focus on here.
Before you begin composing, it’s important to have a clear concept in mind.
What is the overall tone or style of the project put forth by the publisher?
What genre of trailer music are you writing for?
What emotions are you trying to evoke?
What kind of story are you trying to tell?
Answering these questions will help you to choose the right instruments, harmonies, and rhythms to create the desired outcome.
Another great reason to have a concept in mind before you start is so you can gather 2 or 3 reference tracks in that genre. Bonus points if you already have a handful of reference tracks for each genre you want to write in.
Reference tracks will also lend a helping hand to creating a roadmap, selecting different instruments and sound design elements etc.
Focusing on this will massively cut down on the time it takes you to create a track and will definitely help with the inevitable revision process from the music supervisor for the publisher you’re writing for.
Establish a strong theme
Above all else, this is the most important part to get right!
A recurring melody or motif can help to anchor the trailer and give it a sense of cohesion. This theme should be memorable and easily recognizable, so that it sticks in the viewer’s mind, even after the trailer is over.
Remember, a trailer is meant to keep the viewer engaged and get them excited. So your time to hook someone in is very limited. This is why your theme should be established within the first 30 seconds of a cue.
Simplicity is your friend here. In most of the popular trailer cues, the melody is usually just a handful of notes. And in some cases, as little as just two or three notes.
As an example, check out the trailer for Black Widow. This is a perfect example of a simple yet powerful theme.
Strategic use of dynamics
When it comes to most styles of trailer music, there are two ways we can discuss dynamics.
1. Dynamics of an individual instrument. An example of this would be automating the MOD wheel to create a contrast between quiet and loud playing.
2. Dynamics between different sections of your track.
In this post we’re going to talk about the latter.
Trailer music needs to be dynamic, meaning it should have different sections of intensity. Your goal is to achieve two things when plotting out the different sections of your track.
a) You don’t want to give away too much too soon. If you think about a movie trailer; the climax is never the first thing on screen. The trailer always starts out very stripped down. This is done purposefully to keep the viewer engaged and also leave room for the trailer to go somewhere bigger.
Your music should follow that same arch.
b) Plan out your sections with the editor in mind. You want to have different levels of intensity throughout your track so the editor has the most amount of options to work with. It’s key to create different sections within your track that have a different emotional impact but still maintain a continuity. Meaning, at any point, the editor can jump around your track and it still feels as if each section is part of the same track.
There’s many ways to achieve this and each section almost has a science behind it but we’re not going to go into detail in this post. Let’s save that for another article.
The example below is from one of our team members and will give you a pretty good idea of the different dynamic sections in a trailer cue. Also note that the theme is only two notes!
A good trailer composer knows how and where to build and release tension. This is one of the best tips to keep a piece of music interesting and the listener engaged.
Trailers are all about creating anticipation, so it’s important to use music to build tension and suspense throughout your track. This can be achieved through a variety of techniques, such as layering different instruments, using dissonant harmonies, using pauses in the music, or building up to a big climax.
This tends to be where someone new to the trailer music world might struggle. One thing that might seem counterintuitive but can really help, is to get out of the mindset of a composer and into the shoes of the video editor.
These risers, downers, stops and starts, builds and releases are a video editor’s dream because it gives them a treasure chest of edit points. Typically, they listen to a track much different than a composer hears a track. The hook is what they’ll initially make sure is solid and then the edit points usually follow. “Does this track have enough edit points for me to work with? And are those edit points interesting, unique and engaging?” are just some of the questions an editor will ask.
This trailer cue below is a master class on taking a very simple idea and building it in such a way that there’s max tension.
Layers! Layers! Layers!
This is one of the main areas where traditional cinematic music and trailer music diverge. When creating trailer music, this is one component in which you’re expected to “break the rules”.
There’s different sections of a trailer track where there’s a lot of layering going on (usually more than you’d think), but let’s focus on the climax of a track since that’s usually the busiest part.
This is the section where every instrument is playing and where you need to create that ‘wall-of-sound’. Remember, simplicity is our friend when it comes to our melody, well it’s also our friend when it comes to arrangement. With a simple melody and a simple arrangement, layering now becomes the important piece of the puzzle to create that over-the-top sound.
Starting with your traditional orchestral sounds, these are usually layered with a few different libraries per instrument. As an example, if you have a string ostinato part, you’re going to want to layer that with a few different orchestral libraries. Be strategic when picking the different libraries.
Let’s say you choose a string library that has a nice lush sound to it that’s well mixed. But now you might run into the issue that the strings aren’t quite cutting through the mix because there’s not enough attack. So your next order of business should be to choose a library that’s a bit more dry and attack focused. Now lastly, you might find that the strings aren’t quite sitting right in the mix, so you now need to pick a library with a bit more of a room sound to it. I’d even suggest taking this one step further and layering in a plucked synth to sit behind your string ostinato.
Now apply this technique above to every area of your track. Almost every instrument in your trailer track should be layered.
If you’re new to trailer music and don’t own a lot of libraries then I would highly recommend getting creative with synths. This can take you a long way!
Of course there’s more things that go into creating a really great trailer track but in our opinion, these are the 5-core building blocks that every great trailer track has and the ones that will give you the greatest return if you focus on.
In summary, making impactful trailer music requires a clear understanding of the trailer’s narrative, establishing a strong theme, building tension, LOTS of layering and a good use of dynamic changes to keep your track interesting.
Thanks for hanging out!
– The Cinematic Tools Team