Like everything connected with cinema, music for trailers has evolved. Years ago, familiar classical tunes like “O Fortuna” from Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” or various snippets from Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” filled movie theaters as previews of soon-to-be-released features flickered on the screen. There was also a period when cues from previously released movies — like Randy Newman’s for “The Natural” — served the same function. But now the music accompanying trailers is almost always written specifically for that purpose. And the change was less a choice than a necessity.
“Using classical scores and also soundtracks from other movies — big epics and such — passed largely because the cutting style of trailers has changed dramatically,” says Yoav Goren, co-owner and president of Immediate Music, a Santa Monica-based production music library founded in 1993. “In the 1950s and ’60s, you saw (generous) parts of a scene in trailers. Now, thanks to the influence of MTV videos, it’s very fast-paced. It’s no longer about the content of the film; it’s about trying to sell you on the concept.”
In part this shift mimics much else in the industry. “There’s so much conformity in Hollywood,” Goren says. “It’s not about originality. It’s about the Iron Man and his cool suit, not about his story. There’s a lot of quick cutting, and classical music is not going to do it. You need to talk to the demographic. It’s still using film-music language, and quite a bit is still orchestra. But it’s hyper-percussive with a groove, and you then put the orchestra on top of that.”
Yet today’s trailer music still has ties to the past. “The epic cinematic stuff is born of traditional Western classical-music motives,” Goren maintains. “A lot of orchestra and choir is still used, but it’s in very digestible sound bites — thematic elements that go by quickly and repeat. So in that way, it’s closer to pop than to classical. The remnants of classical music are in the orchestration and the arrangement — and in the thematic material, which is melodic. It’s very much a hybrid of music of our time, with heavy guitars and rock and power chords crashing away.”
The firms that create libraries of trailer music attempt to give their clients — generally marketing firms hired by studios — something that will conjure actual film scores. “A lot of film scores are recorded with big orchestras on a sound stage, and we also use orchestras,” says Tim Stithem, president of Burbank-based X-Ray Dog Music, which has created and licensed music for trailers since 1996. “The difference is we have to go out of town to use non-union orchestras. Then we come back, mix it, and add more elements. Our clients often want something that sounds like something else. So we step in and try to fulfill that need.”
This niche industry formed in classic necessity-is-the-mother-of-invention fashion. “Most people assume that the trailer music is from the score, but that’s not true,” Stithem says. “The score is not recorded when we’re doing the trailer — it might not even be written then.”
Improvements in technology also helped the formation of these trailer music libraries, which create great quantities of music specifically of short duration and then make their work available to the trailer houses that combine a trailer’s various components.
“We can get that really dense big sound that’s not found in every score, and which needs to be in most trailers,” said Carol Sovinski, co-owner of Los Angeles-based audiomachine. “When the composers are scoring a film, they’re not necessarily thinking of a 30-second or 60-second spot. So when we hand them a disc of our work, it allows producers and editors a lot more flexibility. And they come to the music libraries, because we’ve elevated our game to the point where when you put one of our CDs on, it sounds like a trailer movie score. And 20 years ago that wasn’t necessarily the case.”
Sovinski’s partner, Paul Dinletir, handles the musical chores at audiomachine, which, like most such libraries, also employs freelancers. And he wants to make sure that outsiders don’t assume the trailer-music business is bereft of originality.
“Even though we specialize in the big action movies, that doesn’t mean it’s the only thing we do,” he says. “We try to find newer styles and end up writing for all sorts of different genres. Not every movie is going to be a ‘Gladiator,’ after all.”