A little while ago, I was having lunch on the beach of Koh Lanta in Thailand with LA based composer and songwriter Phillip Lober. His recent placements includes The Jungle Book, Pete’s Dragon, The Avengers, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, to mention some of them. As we had lunch, we discussed the trailer music industry, what’s needed to succeed in it, and Phil’s advice for aspiring trailer music composers out there.
Here are his top five tips for anybody wishing to succeed in the trailer music industry:
1. Listen to a successful track
Mimic it slightly, but don’t copy. Notice the style, how it builds, the musical elements, the atmosphere – and blend it with your personal style. The trailer music industry is always following different trends that are constantly changing and evolving. The current trends might determine what kind of tracks the trailer editors are looking for, so by studying a track that’s been recently successful, you might be able to catch a good wave. However, strive to create something slightly new. Mix what works, with your own personal touch, and you will be able to come up with a licensable, unique sound.
2. Focus On Production
If the production isn’t strong, even a good composition might have a hard time succeeding in this business. As competition grows in the industry, having high production quality is quintessential. Given the high number of tracks and composers today, not having your tracks produced well enough will significantly lower your chances of standing out in the vast ocean of material out there. Remember, you just have a few seconds to impress the music supervisor or trailer editor, before they switch to the next track. Giving a good first impression with a solid production is definitely required to grab their attention.
3. Have a hook element
You should aim to have some kind of hook element that defines your track in some way, giving it a uniqueness that attracts the attention of editors. This can be a sound effect, a piano chord, a rhythmic pattern, or basically anything else. One great example of such a hook, is “Mind Heist” from Zack Hemsey, that was used in the Inception trailer. The characteristic “BRAAAM” effect became insanely popular after that, suddenly appearing in almost every trailer cue around – changing the entire trailer music industry for years to come.
4. Don’t give up
There will be times where you’ll see no results, but if you keep on writing, suddenly things will start moving and you will eventually start to get licenses. I know people who made 30 tracks for libraries before anything happened at all. Now, their music is getting placed in the biggest Hollywood campaigns out there on a regular basis. Keep your head held high, and don’t give up even it seems hopeless at times. You can’t expect your first licenses to come overnight. More often than not, it takes a bit of time until you gain momentum, but when you do, you’ll see everything suddenly happening more rapidly, and it will all be worth it.
5. Spend some effort on each track
Don’t mass produce tracks every day. spend a little more time getting them better and more unique before moving on to the next so it stands out in the ocean of competition. Make every track a tiny bit more characteristic. Refine the production just a little bit. But, at the same time, don’t get too hung up in each track. You won’t be able to make money in this industry if you’re way too much of a perfectionist. You have to find a healthy balance. Learn to let go when a track is good enough and move on to the next one.
Check out Phil’s music in the Pete’s Dragon Official Trailer, from 0.46 onwards.