Hitchin’ Yer Music to a Trailer: an AIMP Panel Discussion

Last week (Yes, I meant to post this when it actually happened) Six months ago, I attended a panel put on by the Association of Independent Music Publishers (AIMP). It was titled Hitchin’ Yer Music to a Trailer, and was going to be all about the trailer business, and how music is related.

This was actually part 2 of a similar panel held a little over a year ago, which I missed at the time. I’m going to do my best to recap what was discussed. With respect to those that spoke, I do hope I don’t get anything wrong.

AIMP trailer music panel 2010
Front row, from left: Vanessa Jorge, Nick Martin, and Julie Sessing-Turner. Back row, from left: Noah Gallico, Emily Weber, and Dan Korobkin. Photo by Liz Redwing and Ronan Chris Murphy, courtesy House of Blues, Sunset.

Emily Weber, now working at Position Music, was the moderator. She did a recap of the previous panel to get everyone up to speed for what was a continued discussion. From the sounds of it, the previous panel was very interesting. Apparently, they went in depth into what trailer editors look for in the music they receive. In fact, a bit too much time was spent on it, so that’s why a year later, a new panel was being held.

The panelists covered the spectrum of trailer music licensing and usage. On the music clearance side of things, Julie Sessing-Turner, president of Sessing Music Services, gave her perspective.  Dan Korobkin, partner and co-founder of Source Media and CueMx, came from a production music services background. Noah Gallico, Creative Producer at Universal Pictures Creative Operations, provided some great insight as well. Representing the music supervisors were Vanessa Jorge of The Ant Farm, and Nick Martin of Flyer Entertainment.  Without going into too much detail (because I can’t), I’ll try to cover some of what I found interesting, and that stuck with me.

If you are an AIMP member, I highly recommend downloading the Podcast of this panel, and the last one. This panel was very interesting, and enlightening to me, and I’m sure it would be to anyone remotely interested in the world of trailer editing, licensing, and scoring.

First, I’ll try to give a basic overview of how the business flows together, as described by the panel. The studios ask a trailer house to create trailers for their marketing campaign. Editors are given footage, and look to music supervisors to provide them with music suited to their needs and requests. Music supervisors sort through the mountain of music they receive, and pick a selection of perhaps 10 tracks that would work for the current cut of the trailer. The supervisor goes over these tracks with the editor, and they are whittled down even further. Then the trailer house contacts someone like Julie, and asks for quotes to license the tracks chosen by the music supervisor and editor. Julie contacts the composers or companies that represent each piece of music, and receives a quote from them. The cost can vary depending on a variety of factors, like, if the license is for all media, etc. The music clearance house sends this information to the trailer house, and they have to determine whether the quotes are in the budget. There is back and forth communication in every step of this process. Cuts of the trailer can change many times during the editing, and if the music changes, quotes are requested for the new pieces being considered. If a piece is too expensive, or not licensable, it’s important to know as soon as possible, before everyone falls in love with a certain cue.

One interesting thing that was mentioned by Noah, was that multiple trailer edit houses can be brought on board any given marketing campaign. In other words, more than one trailer edit house can work on creating a trailer for the same movie. This way, multiple versions of the trailer can be seen by the studio, and the best one can be chosen for the campaign. It’s not so much a competition between trailer houses, but a kind of collaboration and effort to create the best trailer for the given campaign. For example, the studio may ask that a portion of a cut from, let’s say, Flyer Entertainment, be incorporated into a version of the trailer that Ant Farm is working on. This is also the reason you might see multiple trailers for one movie.

Trailer editing houses, like The Ant Farm and Flyer Enertainment, get tons of music, all the time, from many different composers, and libraries. Nick Martin already explained how he listens to music whenever he can, to find the next great piece, and be familiar with it for his projects. During the discussion Vanessa said that she loves trailer music, and enjoys listening to it as well. One thing that she stressed was that not everything they get is suitable for cutting to trailers. On the most basic level, trailer tracks have a structure: there is the intro, the bridge, and the back-end (the epic part). Trailers are usually structured in three acts, and the music needs to complement that. Both Vanessa and Nick mentioned that when listening to music, they often look at the waveforms. If they are hooked in the beginning, they might skip to the back-end, which can usually be identified by the waveform.

The most important factor in getting one’s music licensed is production value. If the production quality of the track is not high, then it’s unlikely that it would be considered. This doesn’t mean to succeed you have to record an 80 piece orchestra and choir. In fact, these highly produced tracks are naturally very expensive to make. Julie mentioned that sometimes, the cost of a track with live elements, might be too much for a particular campaign to afford.

The way a company presents its music can also be just as important as the quality of the music. Vanessa mentioned she does appreciate the lengths companies take to make their albums look unique and professional. A slick presentation, is going to leave more of an impression than a CD with a label that comes off in the computer, which she said has actually happened to her. Of course, in the end, the music has to be good, and that’s what counts.

One theme of the discussion, was how fast paced this business is. Everything needs to get done quickly, and schedules and deadlines can be difficult. Every step in the process has to work efficiently, and any slowing in that can mean the difference between getting a track licensed or not. With the digital age, communication and instant access to resources is becoming the norm. Vanessa explained how having quick and easy access to music was important. Even CD’s are becoming unnecessary, and less convenient, when everything can be accessed from a secure online server.

As a side note, Emily mentioned fans of trailer music, and said that they exist for those in the audience that weren’t aware. In relation to this, Dan briefly talked about the security in place in case it appears that a certain site is being hacked or is experiencing an unusual about of traffic.

I saw this as an opportunity to learn more about the business, and a chance to meet both Emily and Nick. I’ve actually met Emily on a couple occasions- once when I did the Immediate Music interview a couple years ago- and it was nice to be able to say hello after the panel ended. I also got a chance to meet Nick, and thank him in person for the great article he wrote up a little while back. He was very enthusiastic about this site, which was very cool to hear. If anything, I regret not going around the place, and chatting with more people. I was the only student there as far as I could tell, and most everyone else was working in the industry in some respect as either a composer, or a publisher. It was both an opportunity for people in the industry to meet and catch up, as well as an opportunity to make new contacts, and relationships. I felt a bit out of place, but hopefully I’ll feel less so at the next one!

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I am a video editor currently working in Los Angeles.

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