Few outside the trailer business have heard of Robert Etoll.
But every Earthling with a TV is familiar with his music. That’s because Etoll’s distinctive sound elements are as common in tentpole TV spots as the A-list star close-up.
“Pretty much every film that I have worked on (he) has touched in one way or another,” says Matthew Tolhurst, music supervisor of Universal Pictures Worldwide Creative Services. “That is probably not just me either. I feel like it’s just about every movie trailer that is released has his fingerprint on it.”
Etoll’s swelling compositions and distinctive swishes, rumbles and drones can be found in trailers ranging from “Avatar” to “The Hunger Games” to the upcoming “Men in Black 3.” In fact, the Berklee College of Music alum, now in his third decade in showbiz, is known as a trailblazer in the niche world of trailer music and sound design.
“He helped shape the modern trailer,” says Tolhurst, who has collaborated with Etoll on countless films including “Wanted,” “Fast Five” and “The Lorax.” “Trailers are not just wall-to-wall music anymore. Many are told with sound design to highlight impact and story points. Robert, in many ways, was the father of sound design for trailers.”
The New York native found his way into the world of trailers by chance. A year after Etoll scored the 1988 low-budget horror pic “Vampire at Midnight,” the film’s director, Gregory McClatchy, called him about a side project.
“At the time, McClatchy’s day job was as one of the biggest trailer editors in the business,” recalls Etoll. “He was working on editing a 30-second trailer for ‘Godfather III.’ He called me up and asked, ‘Do you want to give it a shot?’ Next thing you know he is calling me for more and more work.”
At the time, the demand for special scores for trailers was on fire, and Etoll scored more than 300 TV spots. Then in 1995, a Trimark Pictures marketing executive put the bug in his ear to start licensing music.
Etoll’s library, dubbed Q-Factory Music, became the go-to resource for trailer producers and editors looking for original music cues and emotionally stirring sound design.
Today, Etoll keeps some 15 composers under contract at any given time, crafting everything from the distinctive title swish in the “Captain America” spot to the “Grinding Dread” snippet in the “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” trailer intro.
Meanwhile, just like a successful music label, Q-Factory spawns hits such as the “Quest for Glory” cue that can be found in such disparate trailers as “The Lorax” and Lionsgate’s extreme fighting drama “Warrior.”
“Notice the vast difference in movie styles,” says Etoll. “But the composition established a sense of adventure, inspiration and triumph, especially for the feel-good climactic ends for these trailers.”
And though there were few competitors when Etoll launched his trailer music business, he now shares the landscape with such upstarts as X-Ray Dog and Music Junkies.
“The competition is absolutely fierce,” he says. “A lot of young composers are going into the trailer world now because of how much profit there is.”