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Re-imagined Covers of Familiar Tunes Breathe New Life Into Trailers

A creepy lullaby rendition of Disney’s classic “Once Upon a Dream,” a grungy version of Ben E. King’s feel-good “Stand by Me,” and a brooding interpretation of Robert Palmer’s bouncy ’80s anthem “Addicted to Love” all exemplify a growing trend: songs creatively covered and “trailer-ized” to market movies.

“Trailer music supervisors are being asked for ‘something that everybody knows that no one’s ever heard before,’ ” says Steven Stern, VP of custom music production house APM Music. “They’re trying to reach a broad market, so they need songs everybody knows across demographics, but it needs to be fresh, relate to the kids, and work for the film.”

Covering a familiar song cashes in on whatever emotional or cultural currency the song has, but gives it a loaded or ironic subtext paired with images from the marketed film.

Skylar Grey, a young singer-songwriter who co-wrote Eminem’s “Love the Way You Lie,” was approached by her record label, Interscope, to alter the meaning of “Addicted to Love” for a trailer for this year’s youth romance “Endless Love.”

“Darker, creepier, and sexier,” is how Grey describes the cover. “The lyrics can be taken as creepy if it’s done that way. In the original it’s almost playful, and in this version it’s more like a heroin addiction.”
Fueled by technological advances and a competitive market among trailer houses, the value of unique, tailored music has risen significantly.

“It’s a big factor in the tone of a trailer,” says Bobby Gumm, VP of the music department at the 400-employee Trailer Park. “You’re trying to find the voice of the movie, and a lot of times that comes with the music. If you can find that perfect piece, it gives you a big leg up.”

Remixing, instrumentally enhancing or deconstructing older songs to achieve the “build” needed for the trailer format are other facets of this trend. Gumm recently oversaw a trailer for “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” redressing an instrumental version of Led Zeppelin’s classic “Kashmir.”

“In the movie they go back in time to the ’70s, so we needed a song from that era in the trailer,” says Gumm. “The thing you tend to run into with older songs is the production isn’t quite up to the standards of modern production, so a lot of times they sound flat against picture. So we had a couple composers take a crack at recomposing ‘Kashmir,’ but in an orchestral way.”

Song exposure in trailers is an enormous boon to performing artists. When David Fincher licensed a version of “Creep” by the Belgian women’s choir Scala & Kolacny Brothers for “The Social Network” trailer, he shined a priceless spotlight on the little-known European group.

“I was astonished,” says Steven Kolacny, one of the two brothers behind the group. “Everybody knows that if your music is used in movies or trailers that it travels around the world. And it was four minutes of pure Scala music, which you can only dream of. It was the start of something really big for us.”

Industrial rock band Filter first created their angry cover of the Turtles song “Happy Together” — strikingly used in “The Great Gatsby” trailer — for the 2009 horror film “The Stepfather.” “They released it as a single at the time, and it didn’t do anything,” says frontman Richard Patrick. “Then you put it next to Leonardo DiCaprio and you have my voice right there with his head, and suddenly the song sells 100,000 copies and the trailer gets 3 million YouTube views. I got a huge amount of different fans.”

The older artists benefit, too. “We called the Turtles and asked them if it was cool,” says Patrick. “They said, ‘Yes, and here are other songs in case you want to do more.’ They were psyched.”

“It’s something that can revive an older song,” says Danny Exum, director of music supervision at the Hit House. “Something that maybe doesn’t have a lot of licensing life in it, but then you cover it and all of a sudden make it fresh again. These covers are a very smart and creative way to breathe new life into older catalogs.”

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