Hello Composers, Mike here! =)
– Today I have the great opportunity to share an interview I did with Cody Still (in the picture), who is an experienced and highly successful composer in the very competitive “Trailer Music” niche.
In this interview, Cody shares his background, experience and journey towards becoming a professional Trailer Music Composer.
He even shares a lot of practical tips for aspiring composers (like yourself?) who want to enter this part of the music industry. Let’s dive right in! =)
First: Listen to this trailer music composition he made for Spiderman:
1. Trailer music is such a hot niche right now, but you started several years ago. What is your story that got you started with professional music composition, and trailer music in particular?
I began my journey in music at the age of 11, playing the trumpet in my middle school band. I continued with the trumpet throughout high school, and was given a scholarship to attend Houston Baptist University as a music major.
At that point, I wasn’t sure what I could do as a career in music, so I chose to pursue a double major in music and business management.I graduated from college in 2009, and after a few months of job searching, I ended up taking a job at an Apple Store with plans to work my way up through the management chain.
By 2011, I was still at the Apple Store when a friend of mine at work introduced me to Logic Pro 9 as a composition tool.I went to a very traditional music school, and Finale was about the highest level of technology we used. I had no idea that composers were using software like Logic to compose.
As an Apple employee, I was given virtually limitless free training on any Apple software, so I began using every spare minute I could afford to learn all about it.It consumed my every break at work, and also my evenings after work. I wasn’t too concerned about writing at this point, I just wanted to wrap my head around the software so that I may one day be able to make something of it.
I had always been an avid listener of soundtracks, but it wasn’t until around this same time that I discovered the art of Trailer Music. I had never realized that Trailer Music existed, much like the majority of the population who still assumes trailers feature music from the scores.While most of my friends were listeners of modern popular music, I was instead enjoying music by Two Steps From Hell, Audiomachine, Immediate Music, Position Music, etc.
It was an every day routine of mine to listen to trailer music, and study digital audio production.In 2014, I began working at an Oil company, which left me available to compose during the evenings and weekends.
By this time, I had spent around 3 years messing with Logic as a hobby, and had written a handful of tracks that I felt were pretty decent. One day in early 2014, my wife told me about a contest that was being hosted by Hans Zimmer and his “Bleeding Fingers” team at Remote Control. I decided to enter the contest.
Even though I did not win, I was approached by a publisher named C21FX as a result of my submission into the contest (submissions were publicly visible through SoundCloud). The music supervisor at C21FX was interested in hearing more of my work, so I sent them a few tracks to consider releasing.
I was soon thrilled to hear that they wanted to publish my work and bring me on as a composer for additional projects. Within only a month or so afterwards, I was approached another publisher named Sub Pub Music (now known as Colossal Trailer Music) through a random SoundCloud message, and I decided to pursue that opportunity as well.
I worked hard for several months to feed music to these new publishing opportunities, and I got my first trailer placement in November of that year in the launch trailer for the LEGO Batman 3 video game. I could now claim to be a trailer music composer.
Within 2-3 more months, I had music in a trailer for the Shadow of Mordor video game, as well as a TV Spot for Avengers Age of Ultron. I was connecting with more supervisors and publishers through Facebook, and slowly began writing for more publishers such as Really Slow Motion and Audiomachine. By 2016, composing for trailers was my full time job.
2. The trailer music industry is still pretty small compared to many other styles, and the competition is fierce. Can you give some advice on the quality, structure, sound palette etc. to achieve that high bar the industry demands?
The competition is tough, so you do have to find a way to stand out from the crowd. Working with great publishers who will take on the expense to record live orchestra definitely helps, but I understand this isn’t available to most composers looking to enter the trailer industry.
This means you’ll have to make the most of samples to get you there.As a trailer composer, you will almost never be given footage to score to picture, so you need to get used to writing in a format that works well with trailers in a more generalized sense.
Traditionally, trailers themselves are structured in 3 Acts, growing in energy and power as they progress. Act 1 serves as the intro, where the characters, plot, environment, etc, are first introduced. Act 2 builds upon the intro, often introducing conflict and story elements that are key to the film. Act 3 (often referred to as the “backend”) is where the trailer and the music build towards the climactic finish.
It’s important to write music that has this distinction of “acts.” Include plenty of gaps between the various sections of the cue, and have clear edit points to make the music as “editor friendly” as possible.Compositionally, trailers these days regularly involve very simplistic melodies.
The melody could just be a few notes or even a single note that’s repeated over and over. The key, though, is making a simple melody as interesting as possible. This can happen through the use of signature sounds, unique production techniques, and rock solid orchestration. In general, it’s best to avoid busy melodies.
Trailer music does have the tendency of being repetitive, so you must find a way to have have a repetitive motif that doesn’t seem repetitive to the listener. Introduce new layers throughout a cue to broaden and diversify the sound palette. Try to avoid having the same “overall sound” for more than 30 seconds at a time.
The development and building of the cue is paramount.The “sound” of trailers is constantly evolving due to trailer editors and clients always looking for new ways to market their material. Trailer music does tend to follow trends that come and go, but some genres, such as Hybrid Orchestral, serve as the bread and butter of the industry.
These tracks feature orchestral arrangements that appeal to a broad audience, while also including “hybrid” components such as whooshes, impacts, sound design, synths, and risers to give it a modern flair. Other genres come and go, sometimes rather frequently.
You may have noticed over the last couple of years a lot of trailers featuring covers of popular songs. Whenever you hear this, it’s usually a trailer composer who took the original song and added a “trailerized overlay” to it, but it can even be a full remake of the song.
Trailerizations typically involve making additions to the original song to give it more of a trailer flavor. Huge drums, aggressive and unique sound design, and trailer orchestrations are some of the tools utilized.
For a complete remake of the song, the composer has the increased opportunity to give the song a more unique spin while also incorporating newly recorded vocals. A good example of a project that I was involved in is the Gamescom trailer for Battlefield 5 with my cover of House Of The Rising Sun. https://youtu.be/-FEgeuGsmzQ
3. You know this question was coming: what are your go-to software instruments and effects for Epic Trailer Music?
Ah yes, there has to be the discussion of sample libraries, effects, and other tools!
For strings, I use Cinematic Studio Strings, Metropolis Ark 1, Albion One, LA Scoring Strings, NOVO, Symphobia, and Cinematic Strings 2, just to name a few favorites.
For brass, I use a variety of libraries such as Hollywood Brass, Metropolis Ark 1, Symphobia, Cinebrass, Albion One, and Berlin Brass.
Trailer music places a huge focus on the non-orchestral components as well. For drums and percussion, I like Strikeforce, Damage, DM-307, Decimator, and Master Sessions. Many of the FX libraries for Kontakt also include hits that can be used as drums or drum layers.
For trailer effects such as impacts, booms, and risers, I often turn to Keep Forest, AVA, Project Alpha, Sampletraxx, etc.
There are also many great soft synths on the market, such as Zebra, Omnisphere, Hexeract, Diva, and Serum which can be used for the “hybrid” elements of trailer music.
I’ve found that the longer I work in this industry, the more I turn to synthesis to shape my sound. That’s arguably due to the demands of the industry on making trailer music that is new and fresh.
For every track I write, I try to always include a few “signature sounds” to help set it apart from the competition. Signature sounds need to be some kind of sound design component that you made and is unique to you. For crafting signature sounds, I often turn to one of my many soft synths or a hardware synth such as my Moog Sub37.
There are so many great mixing tools available to today’s trailer composers. I use a lot of tools, but I’ve developed a love for many of the mixing plugins available from Universal Audio. Some of the UAD plugins I enjoy most are the Vertigo VSC-2, Chandler Curve Bender, API Vision Strip, FATSO, API 2500, Manley Massive Passive, Moog Multimode filter, and the Studer and Oxide tape plugins. There are just too many to name.
In my opinion, Universal Audio makes some of the best tools on the market, modeled very accurately after some of the most coveted pieces of analog mixing equipment. I do also use plugins from Waves, SoundToys (get the bundle, you won’t regret it), Eventide, Izotope, and Valhalla.
4. Many composers, like myself, are interested in diving into the trailer music niche. I would love for you to share some advice on “how to break into this industry”. How did you “get in”?
The trailer music industry is one of high demands on both quality and authenticity. If you can produce at the level necessary, you will be successful in this business. It’s nothing like being a film composer and having to schmooze your way into the path of directors.
The truth is that a minimal amount networking can be enough to build the connections you need to succeed with a good publisher. Modern day social networking even allows you to do all of your networking over the internet. All it takes is one well connected publisher to accept your music and represent your work for you.
I would try to focus on the publishers that operate as a high-end boutique label. For instance, the average production music library may not have the proper connections to land you that next big Marvel trailer, but a company like Audiomachine gets them all the time.
I’ve explained this some in my previous answers, but I got into this industry just by putting my work out there to be found (SoundCloud, Facebook, etc). Every one of my publisher relationships started through a Soundcloud/Facebook/email message from a representative of the library.
Call it luck, but I think that speaks to the attainability of this industry. I don’t suggest sitting around and waiting for a message to arrive, but by uploading your music to SoundCloud, sharing music on your Facebook account, and creating a website, you’re making it possible for supervisors to find you.
To help speed up the process, you can also put together a small collection of tracks that represents your best work. Compare those tracks to works from Audiomachine, Immediate Music, Position Music, Colossal Trailer Music, Really Slow Motion, Brand X Music, Cavalry, etc.
If you feel that your work stands up to theirs, then start sending out demos to a few select publishers. If the quality is truly where it needs to be, you’ll surely get at least one publisher to notice and respond back with notes for revision/submission.
I’d suggest only sending out demos that are unpublished works. If the supervisor likes it, they’d rather publish it than have you write “something like it. I’d also suggest limiting the number of demo submissions to 3 tracks or less, but even just 1 polished track is all it takes.
If they like what they hear, believe me, they’ll ask for more. Don’t get discouraged if your messages/emails go unanswered. You have to imagine how many submissions these companies receive. The key is to keep trying until an opportunity clicks.
5. What do you see for yourself if you look towards the horizon? Are you going to continue focusing on trailer music, go into scoring, other music library styles?
I’m very happy with my life in trailers. I find that I get great satisfaction from this industry, and it seems to be well suited to my particular skill set. I’ve learned a lot from my experiences in this industry, and I hope to continue to learn more as I continue down this path.
That’s not to say that I wouldn’t venture into scoring some day in the future. If the right opportunity came along, I’d definitely consider taking it on, but I don’t feel the need to seek it out at this time.
6. Anything else you want to add, words of wisdom and motivation perhaps?
One characteristic that I feel helped me succeed was my genuine love for film music and trailers. I feel there are many composers who try to get into trailer music for all of the wrong reasons. I don’t think you can “do it for the money” and become a success.
You have to love it with every ounce of your being. It was that burning desire to be a trailer composer that pushed me to where I am today.My best advice is to find that one thing that motivates you and inspires you more than anything else. Channel that passion into your art. Find “your sound.”
Trailer music is open to many different interpretations, and the last thing you want to do is try to fit into the mold of another composer.
Listen to other composers’ work as reference, of course, but at the end of the day trailer music is just another avenue for artistic expression. It’s highly personal, and requires you to give a part of yourself to your art in order to create something that truly stands out and is unique to you.
7. What’s your website, social media etc? And most importantly, link to one of your trailer music compositions.
Here is one of my tracks, published by Colossal Trailer Music, which was featured in Trailer #2 for Spider-Man Homecoming: https://youtu.be/eE67-U7j-8Y
And for fun, here’s one of my Audiomachine tracks featuring live recorded strings, brass, and choir; mixed by the great Greg Townley: https://youtu.be/w8eTlm33aNI
Thank you, Mikael, for inviting me to do this interview. It’s a pleasure to be able to share a little bit about my career and the path I’ve taken to get here. I hope your readers can gain some kind of benefit from my ramblings. Thanks!