How To Choose The Right Music For Your Trailer

Trailers have always played a key part in the commercial success of new features. Today more than ever it is vital for your trailer to grab the audience’s attention, hold it, and leave them with a burning desire for more. With attention spans running at an all-time low, your trailer needs to be the best it possibly can be.

How Important Is Your Trailer And The Music In It?

The fact is producers understand this and the art of trailer creation has now been finely honed into an attention-grabbing stimulus-packed recipe for success. These methods actually work so well that many complain at how formulaic trailers have consequently become in recent times.

To most creators, however, their trailers are little more than a promotional tool to ensure the commercial success of their product. Consequently, for a director that has spent countless hours and sums of money on creating their works, these methods are just formulas for success that must be utilised to ensure their creation gets the attention it deserves.

If you are an aspiring creator, producer or developer, in all likelihood you simply want to get your product out to as many people as possible. To do this you are also likely willing to use these tried and tested methods of promotion. This means you will need to pay particular attention to your trailer, with many claiming that editing theirs is just as difficult as putting the finishing touches on the product itself.

At the centre of any good trailer is that critical part of it – the music. This is perhaps the one component that determines its success more than any other, as many experienced trailer editors will tell you. Extensive testing has shown that it is the music itself that has the greatest impact on your audience’s engagement with and perception of your trailer. It effectively places an emotional lens through which the audience will view it, priming them for the emotional experience you wish to communicate. This means that any music you choose to use should be carefully chosen and skilfully applied.

So What Music Should I Use Then?

Experienced trailer editors will tell you that picking the music should be the first thing done when you get to work. Generally speaking, trailers should be created around the music and their natural flow should come from the tracks used rather than have the music following the visuals. Doing the latter can result in your trailer failing to gather momentum, instead feeling stunted and poorly paced.

This means your end product will fail to grab the audience’s attention and lack emotional impact – the death sentence for any trailer. Yet with all the various kinds of music available, the question is what kind of tracks you should choose. The answer, of course, depends on the nature of your feature. A technology-heavy futuristic thriller will need very different music to a family comedy, but there are guidelines to follow that can make the decision easier.

Just try not to use music with any lyrics – more often than not they’ll simply get in the way! As a general rule it is advisable for your music to match the tone of your feature. Doing so will not only guide your audience’s emotional state where you want it to go, but will amplify the emotional impact you are trying to convey through a mixture of image and sound too. Is the story in your feature mainly happy, or is it more serious or introspective? Whatever the tone of your production, the music will need to match this. Indeed, you’ll know when you’ve found the right track as it will feel very natural, almost like it was written specifically for your trailer.

Ideally you will have some understanding of what type of music you would like in your trailer before work has even begun. This is not a luxury everybody has, however, and if you’re struggling for ideas then watching other trailers can give you an insight into what you like and what may work well with your project. This can even help you determine how you would like your own trailer structured and composed. The pacing of your music is also critical. Many tracks will fit perfectly for a few passages before failing to escalate in the necessary manner, leaving your trailer deflated and lacking momentum.

Others will go too hard too early, making it lose any tension and not giving that all-important payoff. These issues can be avoided by using multiple tracks in one trailer, editing each part very carefully, or simply picking a better fitting song! The more adventurous out there may wish to make a leftfield move by pairing their trailer with music than that is quite the opposite of the visual content.

This is typically seen in more action-oriented features where chaos and high stakes are accompanied with gentle piano passages, or in horror where innocent sparse melodies march alongside darkness and terror. The contrast can be highly effective, adding an unexpected and attention-grabbing twist. Whether this can successfully work for your project, however, depends on a mixture of experience, editing skill, and even a bit of luck.

How to Make Your Music Give Your Trailer Maximum Impact

So you’ve had a good think about your trailer, you have a general idea of what you want it to be like and what you want to achieve. You’ve even found a few tracks you think will pair well with your vision for it. So now we have to start considering how to make it all a reality. A good trailer should have a clear narrative that is easy to follow and entertaining whilst not revealing too much of the final product.

It should entice an audience into experiencing the full feature, and the music is vital to making all this happen. Indeed, the music should essentially be the vehicle upon which the narrative rides to deliver its content. Such a specific requirement is certainly a tall order for many, especially if you are tackling your very first trailer. The initial step in piecing it all together should be to watch the feature the trailer is for from start to finish, paying close attention and making notes. Look at its feel, look for subtle nuances and think what kind of music would best accompany a short representation of its contents.

This will help build the foundations of what will ultimately become your trailer. Once you have a rough idea of what kind of trailer it will be and what message you want to relay, it is time to think about the music needed to bring this to life.

Most music designed for use in trailers has a kind of natural momentum that can be felt as it progresses. They generally begin with a low level of intensity that builds, ebbs and flows for maximum dramatic impact. Within these dynamic shifts the editor has space to weave a narrative and capture the audience’s attention.

Trailer music
This is a screenshot of the track Master of wrath from our album Trailer Music 2

It is therefore important to choose music that will allow you to do this, using a track with the space to tell your story yet with enough strength to elicit an emotional response. Key to this is the rhythm of the track used. Rhythmic flow and syncopation will act as the breaths and punctuation of your trailer, giving you cues on how to build the visuals and audio on top.

Synchronise the visuals to the audio properly and you have a powerful and professional-looking trailer. Fail to do so competently, however, and your trailer will quickly look amateurish and audiences will have little faith in your final product.

Skipped beats and sloppy transitions simply cannot be tolerated here.

Those searching for specialised trailer music for the first time will likely notice the relatively short length of most tracks. This is done intentionally to match the ideal length that trailers should be. The main reason that trailers are so short is to cater to the ever-shrinking attention spans of audiences, and research has shown that shaping a trailer’s length to align with this obtains the best results.

Just because your trailer is shorter does not mean it will take less effort, however, as dealing with short attention spans means that you need to make every second count. A careless lapse in momentum or failing to keep the content engaging can mean the difference between your trailer capturing your audience or leaving them looking at their smartphones.

Don’t drag anything out unnecessarily, and if you’re wondering whether a certain section really needs to be in then stay on the safe side and remove it. Part of giving your trailer the polish it needs is considering whether sound effects should be used too. Tastefully applied bent metals, bells, whispers and a range of other atmospheric noises can really bring things to life (especially for thrillers). This must always be viewed in relation to what music is being used, however, as not all tracks will sound good with sound effects applied over them. Even those that do need them placed appropriately – put them on a big crescendo at your peril!

Generally speaking sound effects are best used on titles and transitions to really ramp up the dramatic tension. Remember that you don’t just need to use only one track for your whole trailer. Shifts in tone and feel can necessitate the use of two or even more songs to make it have the impact it needs. This may be best left to more experienced editors, but for those who believe their trailer would benefit from such variety should not be dissuaded from trying it. Just remember to get those transitions between tracks sounding good and fluid.

I Need Music For My Trailer, Where Do I Start?

In times gone by you may have needed to pay big money for your trailer to be personally scored, and indeed many bigger production companies still do this. There is also the option of licensing popular songs by well-known artists that will obviously have the appeal of being instantly recognisable.

The costs of such musical acquisitions are proportionate to their prestige, making these high-profile options as eye-wateringly expensive as they are effective. Yet in recent times the demand for trailer music has increased to such a degree that countless businesses have cropped up to supply aspiring directors with original music at an affordable price..

This has led to a large industry arising and consequently offering the consumer a better choice of music to use in their all-important trailer. Due to increased competition the quality of this music has also risen, with music producers needing to up their game to keep their tracks attractive to their clientele. Whilst generally affordable, the price of trailer music can still vary greatly and you will have to decide how much you are willing to spend on this crucial part of your creation. Cost will obviously be matched by quality in most cases, though there is no need to spend more money than necessary if you find the perfect track at a lower price point than expected.

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Yet whilst the quality and price may be right, the sheer volume of trailer music out there (most written to follow the same general formula) means your track of choice may lack that essential standout factor. If this is the case then it may be worth experimenting with introducing new layers, effects or melodic embellishments to the existing track to put your own spin on it. Yes this may cause it to deviate from the tried and tested formula, but once you understand the rules it can pay to tactfully break them. Remember, it can take only one fresh and memorable element of a track to grab your audience’s attention and not let go.

With all this in mind it is advised to explore what trailer music is out there available for purchase and find the perfect piece for your project. Keep looking, eventually you’ll find the one that will keep your creation in the hearts and minds of your audience long after it has finished.

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