Interview with Mark Petrie

Mark Petrie was born in New Zealand, and now works in L.A as a composer for trailers , films, games, TV and advertising. He is mainly known among fans for the trailer music cues that he did for the PostHaste Music library. Some of his tracks have already been used in blockbuster movie trailers, such as The Green Lantern trailer – featuring “Kara Kul” – and  The Amazing Spider-Man trailer – featuring “Aurora”.

Trailer Music News: When and why did you start to compose?

Mark Petrie: I was lucky enough to go to an amazing school for boys in New Zealand – Dilworth School – that gives every student free tuition and housing for up to nine years. The school also provides free music theory and instrumental lessons, which was a huge help because like most of the other boys accepted at the school, I was raised by a solo parent (my dad passed away when I was five). I started learning the piano soon after starting at this school (age nine), but to be honest, my heart was never in performing. I used to frustrate some of  my teachers because instead of practicing the music they assigned me, I would be ‘wasting time’ improvising and coming with my own compositions.

TMN: How did you get into trailer music?

MP: At this school I had an inspiring teacher who loved film music. He would show us the difference between a scene with music and a scene without it. He would also show us how film music was specifically timed to manipulate the viewer’s emotions, in classic movies like Alien (which scared a few of my classmates out of the room!) It was a lot of fun for us young kids to watch movies and listen to music in class, but I think it also planted an idea in my head from a very early age.

After studying at Berklee College of Music, where I majored in Film Scoring, I eventually ended up in LA, as most aspiring composers do. These days I divide my time up between writing for trailers, film, games, advertising and TV. The trailer writing is a more recent venture for me – although the music business in general is notoriously competitive, trailer music is held to such an incredibly high standard. I needed a few extra years to really sharpen my production skills before getting involved in it!

Although I had dabbled in epic action music from time to time in my TV and film work, my first official trailer music writing gig was with PostHaste Music, after my friend Ryan Amon introduced me to them.

It’s been a great working relationship – over the past three years my wife (Gina Brigida) and I have literally written 100 tracks for PostHaste.

TMN: You have travelled and moved a lot – you were born in New Zealand, you went  to Great Britain and then to the US. Did this influence your work?

MP: I’m not sure how it may have specifically affected my writing, but the travelling certainly helped me develop the ability to be self-sufficient. Being a ‘self-starter’ is incredibly important to any aspiring composer, and I think you’ll find with any of the successful composers working today, they’re just as good at finding work and running their business as they are at writing music. For better or worse, the two skills go hand in hand.

I also used the years between high school and college as a time to really reflect on what I wanted to do for a living. After some soul searching I came to the conclusion that I wanted to write music more than anything else.

TMN: You are mainly known for the cues that you did for PostHaste Music. Which companies have you already worked for?

MP: I’ve written for a handful of other trailer music libraries, including: Immediate Music, FineTune Music, MMX Music and Music Junkies. I’ve also written for a number of other libraries that don’t necessarily specialize in trailer music, like: Killer Tracks, Auracle Music and S3 Music. I even just launched my own library geared towards lower budget projects – Royalty Free Kings. At last count I have nearly 2000 tracks out in the world, trailer music making up only a small slice of that pie.

TMN: Where do you find your inspiration? Do you have a particular creative process, or is it more spontaneous?

MP: Years of writing for TV forced me to write quickly, which is great because I usually write 5-6 days a week. Even when the ‘muse’ isn’t flowing, my fingers will hit the keyboard and (luckily for me!) something usable eventually comes out of just sitting there improvising (a skill that I think comes from all those years as a kid mucking around instead of practicing). However, the complexity and demands of trailer music mean that the ideas don’t always come as quickly. In fact I can easily spend a couple of days just coming up with a melody or theme strong enough to base a whole trailer piece from. I have to make the most of the times where the creativity is flowing, and when it isn’t, just accept it and wait it out by working on something else.

TMN: Your tracks are usually very typical and easily recognizable. How do you manage to keep a similar style and yet create new music every time you compose?

MP: Getting better known in the trailer world has a blessing and a curse, as my tracks are under more scrutiny than ever before. Over the past couple of years I’ve written a lot of trailer music (something like 50 tracks just for trailers, let alone the 100’s of tracks for TV, commercials and film), and some fans have pointed out that there’s a ‘sound’ that a lot of the tracks share. When you’re writing so much music it’s definitely a challenge to come up with something completely new each time, but I think you’ll find that my most recent tracks are a departure from what I’ve done over the past couple of years. At the moment I’m really trying to push the envelope with new synths and percussion. It’s nice to have a recognizable sound, but I want to make sure that I don’t lean too heavily on any particular instruments or musical devices.

I think a composer naturally writes in a style that aligns with their own personal tastes, in other words you write what you want to hear. I never set out to write in ‘my style’ though. It’s just a combination of my own taste in music and the tools that I have available that make up the signature sound that you might recognize in a lot of my work.

TMN: What do you think makes your cues very successful, both among music supervisors and fans?

MP: I think my biggest strength as a composer is my melody writing, it’s definitely one area I don’t need to work as hard at. I’ve really spent a lot of time (and money!) bringing up the production value of my music over the past couple of years. So I think the recent success my tracks have enjoyed in the trailer world have been a result of solid thematic material delivered in a more modern, impactful way.

TMN: Do you use samples or do you record your music live as well?

MP: Most of what I do is samples based, but every now and then I get the opportunity to add live parts to a track.

TMN: Your wife, Gina Brigida, is also a composer. Do you work separately or do you also collaborate on projects?

MP: We both have separate workstations, but we often contribute music to the same projects.

TMN: Do you have particular plans for the future?

MP: This year I’ll be writing a lot of trailer music and scoring a few films, but I might be working on some games as well. It’s one area I’d love to work more in.

TMN: Anything else you would like to share with us?

MP: Composers usually write music that’s meant to sit in the background, behind visuals, and as a result we usually don’t get much recognition for what we do. Especially with trailers, where most people think it’s just music from the movie being advertised. So thanks! It’s awesome what you guys are doing with this site – getting more recognition for trailer music in general.

TMN: If you had one million dollars to spare, what would you do with it?

MP: If I was feeling charitable, I’d donate to a great organization like The Miracle Foundation or Homes For Our Troops. If I was feeling greedy, I’d buy lots of Apple shares!

TMN: thank you!

You can find Mark Petrie on Facebook and SoundCloud.

His new library, Royalty Free Kings, also has a Facebook page. This library is described as THE source for premium quality royalty free music. We cover a wide range of genres and styles – including rock, urban, world, epic and inspirational, hi tech and romantic.” “You can immediately download music that you can license for less than $50 per track. The albums work out to be less than $10 per track.”

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About Clothilde Lebrun

Editor-in-chief. Music-loving writer, currently living in Paris.

2 responses to “Interview with Mark Petrie”

  1. trailerman says:

    Now I know at least about the price required to use trailer music. 50$ ain’t that much hah.
    Nice interview!

    • Clothilde Lebrun says:

      It actually depends on the budget of the project. The Royalty Free tracks are only meant for rather small budgets (under $250,000), which means that the license fee can cost much more if it’s a big budget (for example, a blockbuster movie trailer). If the budget is over $250,000, a license fee must be negociated with Royalty Free Kings.

      Glad to hear that you like this interview!

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March 21, 2012
Clothilde Lebrun