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The Role of Trailer Music
First impressions are crucial. Whenever a movie is to be released, trailers are needed to promote it at least 6 months in advance. Most of the time, this moment is what determines whether the movie becomes a hit or a smash, whether the audience will be swept away by the promised greatness, fun or fear (depending on the movie genre) or will be disappointed already by the sneak peek. Regardless of the result, the first impression is always reflected in box office takings, which is why trailer-making is often delegated to professional marketing companies such as Trailer Park (1).
Although the creation of trailers takes place when enough scenes are already finished to be cut into a coherent preview, the movie soundtracks are usually not yet available (2). Music, however, is no less important than visuals to create a lasting impression. As a result, the careful selection of the trailer sound matters to the producers, although different movies choose different approaches towards it: new or recycled composition, obscure or overused track. Nowadays, a vast majority of trailer music remains fairly conventional, and trailer music choices are full of clichés, repetitions and overuses–that clash of art and commerce generates an increasing backlash as an antithesis of artistic. In spite of that, the current trailer-making system still functions well and thriving in its function of bringing the audiences to the cinema. But how exactly is trailer music being made and why is it all so similar?
How Is Trailer Music Selected?
Essentially, trailers are simply advertisements made by companies specialized in marketing rather than film-making. An effect of prioritizing commerce is visible already in the production process.
The preview creators have a multiplicity of options to choose from when it comes to the place where they search for the most suitable music. A major concern and limitation, however, is that the music has to be royalty-free (3) (available to use without the need to pay royalties or license fees), unless the movie budget allows for additional copyright expenses. Effectively, popular choices for trailer music come from: classical music, popular songs (and their covers), other music scores from different trailers by the same producer (for example, Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride used parts of The Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack in the trailer), and tunes by composers and bands specialized in trailer-music making (such as John Beal (Titanic, Star Wars, The Matrix, etc.)) (4), and the very popular Two Steps from Hell (Star Trek, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (5)). In the recent years, an observable tendency is a switch away from commissioning original pieces for trailers, toward music that is known to have worked for other movies (2).
This music is chosen with the film narrative and mood kept in mind: horror trailers look for music generating suspense, action cinema always incorporates sounds described as ‘epic’ or ‘badass’, and romantic comedies choose upbeat popular pop songs. While some editors prefer to cut the scenes to an epic trailer music they find, a better strategy is to first choose a trailer’s visuals and edit music later (3)–music, after all, has a secondary role. Typically, the chosen tunes last around two minutes, but have a fully developed structure; they are a “heavily briefed, tightly wound and meticulously edited piece of work in which every second counts” which is quite a challenge to achieve (2). Even if an already-existing song or classical piece is chosen, it is usually heavily edited before it gets incorporated in a trailer, as sound design effects need to be added and the music has to match the visuals. On the other hand, original trailer score producers more and more often hear demands for composing a piece “as big a sound as possible and just like something that somebody else did but different enough to not get us sued” (2). Originality and Inspired World values (uniqueness and artistic quality) are only of importance if they serve the Market World (profit maximization, as described by Boltanski & Thevenot) (6): attracting audiences through the greatness or popularity of the tune, while at the same time avoiding possible suing.
Trailer Park. “About”. Trailer Park Official Website, 2018. https://www.trailerpark.com/about. Accessed: 3 June 2018.
Kelly, Stephen. “Movie trailer music: it's not what you think”. The Guardian, 2011. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2011/aug/25/movie-trailer-music. Accessed: 3 June 2018.
Ward, Caleb. “How to Pick the Right Tone, Shots, and Music for Trailers”. The Beat, 2015. https://www.premiumbeat.com/blog/how-to-pick-the-right-tone-shots-and-music-for-trailers/. Accessed: 3 June 2018.
John Beal. “Credits”. Composer John Beal, 2018.http://composerjohnbeal.com/credits/. Accessed: 3 June 2018.
Barrera, Sandra. “Trailer score heroes: Two Steps from Hell brings its epic orchestra scores to the Walt Disney Concert Hall”. Daily News, 2013. https://www.dailynews.com/2013/06/07/trailer-score-heroes-two-steps-from-hell-brings-its-epic-orchestra-scores-to-the-walt-disney-concert-hall/. Accessed: 3 June 2018.
Boltanski Luc andThévenot, Laurent.On Justification: Economies of Worth.Translated by: Catherine Porter. Princeton University Press, 2006.
Gruttadaro, Andrew. “How to Choose the Right Cover Song for a Movie Trailer”. The Ringer, 2017. https://www.theringer.com/2017/7/27/16078190/how-to-choose-the-right-cover-song-for-a-movie-trailer-f1674c5011c4. Accessed: 3 June 2018.
Heritage, Stuart. “Harder? Better? Faster? Stronger? Why is every trailer soundtracked by Kanye?” The Guardian, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/music/2017/may/26/kanye-west-trailer-soundtracks-netflix-ozark. Accessed: 3 June 2018.
Yajima, Austin K. “Trailer Music Terminology: Explained Easy!” Trailer Music Academy, 2017. https://www.trailermusicacademy.com/trailer-music-terminology-explained-easy/. Accessed: 3 June 2018.
DanFanMac. “Overused Trailer Music: 4 Reasons You Should Never Use a Song More Than Once”. Fuzzy Elevator Trailer House, 2015. https://fuzzyelevatortrailerhouse.wordpress.com/2015/08/14/overused-trailer-music-4-reasons-you-should-never-use-a-song-more-then-once/. Accessed: 3 June 2018.