Hey fellow creators!
This week we had the pleasure of hanging out with trailer music composer Max Cameron and got the opportunity to ask him a few questions. For those that don’t know, Max is one of the most highly sought-after trailer and production music composers in the business; his successes in TV, Film, and Advertising has established his place as one of the elite composers in the industry at large. In addition to his work as a composer, he has an extensive background in publishing and is also the owner and creative director of Universal Production Music’s premier trailer music label, Hypersonic Music. Max’s music has been heard in massive film trailer campaigns such as Marvel’s ‘Black Widow’, ‘Avengers: Endgame’, ‘Godzilla vs Kong’, ‘X-Men: Dark Phoenix’, ‘Black Panther’, ‘Spiderman: Far From Home’, ‘The Hunger Games 2: Catching Fire’, and many more.
Check out some of Max's Work!
What was one of your biggest hurdles in your career and what helped you get over it?
I would say in general it was that I really started with 0 dollars to my name when I graduated college. In fact, it was more like negative dollars with all of my student loan and credit card debt. I lived with this very stressful reality that my career in music was directly tied to my survival. I used to say ‘ I write my music like my life depends on it ! ‘ — which it did — and in a way it still does. But that kind of sink or swim scenario was a big part of what allowed me some of the success I have had.
Were you classically trained at a music school and would you recommend that path for someone starting out today?
I was classically trained and I have a degree in Music Composition for Commercial Media. You go through the same program as the regular Composition majors, and then they go off and start doing 12-tone poems and other esoteric things while we would study John Williams and James Newton Howard. I can’t say specifically how important this is to have, although I do find that trailer music that is most successful is still compositionally interesting. So I think whether that is achieved by ear / natural talent or through studying is irrelevant — the end product is what matters. Sometimes, certain colleges can be useful as a way to get an in-road into the music industry in terms of jobs — if they have the programs and reputation in place. Back when I graduated it was a pretty good way to get an initial internship as composers and businesses would pull from the colleges for interns if that is the route you are interested in. I am not sure what is happening today though as it’s been a minute so its possible things are different now. As usual, best to do your own research especially before committing to a potentially major financial obligation such as college.
What’s a broad overview of your go-to orchestral libraries and mixing tools you’d typically use in a trailer cue?
I get asked this a lot of course and I think the best way to look at it is really just learning how to understand what the ‘character’ of the sample library is. Also spending time to get to know your samples so that you sort of internalize the character of the sample so that you can know when you want to use it. I think the choice of which patch to use is really a personal one of taste. For instance some strings feel dry…some feel quite hyped…etc. So I think it’s really about understanding what you are trying to achieve — what you are imagining to hear in your composition and then using the right sample for it.
For plug-ins — I tend to fix a lot of issues from stems in a mix. One I use a lot is Black Salt Audio’s Low Control. Mostly because I find composers have way too much sub content in their mix. Especially considering my label does a lot of work on TV. It’s a very quick way to reduce the sub content on a stem and I prefer to compress the sub bass rather than simply EQ it off entirely. Another favorite at the moment is the Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor. I really just love the character of it — it makes things feel deep and wide without losing clarity.
As a side note — one plugin I am sick of hearing is OTT. I think it’s been used to death and a lot of new composers lean on this plugin really hard. I think it has its uses, and it’s certainly been used in tracks that have a lot of success, but I think it really sucks the life out of the sound, especially orchestral instruments.
What would be the biggest piece of advice you would give to an up and coming composer?
This is probably the most important question here. The first thing I would say is learn who you are as a person — your personality type. You have to work to your strengths and understand yourself a bit. How this applies is that: What worked for me, isn’t necessarily going to work for someone else. For instance I find my career in music to be a sort of process where 90% of the time I’m pretty stressed out, frustrated with the music I am working on, and being hyper critical of it. I tend to look at the music I work on more as making it ‘not wrong’ rather than something I consider my Grand Opus. I almost never listen to the music I write after I finish it and will usually cringe the entire time I am watching it playing in a trailer even if it is for a huge blockbuster campaign. I have a pretty terrible work-life balance in general — I tend to get fully wrapped up in whatever music I am working on and can’t really think about much else until I finish it. Do I recommend this? Not really — for what should be obvious reasons. However, for what it’s worth this has worked for me. So for that reason I am sometimes apprehensive of giving too specific advice…because I am pretty sure there are more balanced ways to achieving success but I only know what my experience has been, and continues to be.
The second thing I would say is it’s important to be adaptive and flexible. Ultimately, what worked for me when I was starting 10 or so years ago, isn’t even necessarily going to work for today. The marketplace and industry changes so much. We can only try to gather as much information as we can and then make the best decisions with the information we have at our disposal.
Last thing I will say is — patience is incredibly important. Especially if you are working in production music or trailer music. It really is a marathon not a sprint. Success I think is something that is the result of doing high quality music for a long period of time. No single track or even album is going to be the thing that brings you financial stability, but rather an aggregate of a large body of high quality work done over a long period of time.
Do you recommend a composer focus on one style of trailer music or have a vast repertoire of styles?
I don’t think it’s possible to have a vast repertoire of styles, because ultimately I believe we will only be able to excel at a handful of styles. No single person can be everything to everyone. But I do think it’s possible and important to have a range. I also think if you tend to only write the same kind of trailer track over and over — you are going to struggle to have long term success.
Personally, I’m an appreciator of music as a whole… the entire zeitgeist of the art form. I feel like something about myself is that I can listen to almost any genre of music and find something about it that I appreciate. So I think that helps me draw influences from a lot of different sources and apply that to my work in trailer music. It helps me create music in other styles as well, which I think can be useful to build a repertoire as a composer outside of only the genre of trailer music. There are a lot of different types of uses out there for all kinds of projects and trailer music only represents a small section of that…albeit a very important one. I think that being open minded musically allows me to maybe be less rigid in the approach I have to trailer music, where I can appreciate musical gestures I hear in other tracks that I would not have personally done and use that as a learning experience.
If you want to learn more about Max and his trailer music label, Hypersonic Music then you can check out his Facebook and Spotify links below.
Thanks for hanging out!
– Shawn from Cinematic Tools