Making Music For Trailers

I’ve been doing a huge amount of writing in the first third of 2015, and to keep me sane I’ve been bouncing around from genre to genre with promiscuous abandon. Electro-dubstep, gentle-synth bubbling corporate stuff, happy ukulele & whistling as well as the more cinematic music I wrote for feature films Heathen and Darkest Day.



Courtesy of the fantastic composers forum Vi-Control, I got the opportunity to do a recording session with a decent sized orchestral string section for a great price. With only nine days to write two pieces, I thought it might be fun to video some of the composition process. Film trailer music was going to form a part of this particular music library submission, so it made sense to write those tracks in a way that would take full advantage of having live players. Virtual strings are fantastic these days – I use Mural mostly, from Spitfire Audio – but there are things which are all but impossible to do well without real strings. The second track at the end of the video, for example, is based on a three triplet rhythm. First two triplets are spiccato, which virtual instruments deal with well as it’s essentially a percussive articulation, but the third triplet in each phrase is slurred. At that speed, the nimbleness required to pull that off is something only real players can do properly. Regardless of the musical specifics, a good set of live players will always bring something to a piece that virtual instruments, accomplished though they may be, cannot.

Here’s the vid. Some waffle on the process, and videos of both pieces – swapping back and forth between rough version and final – at the end.

I make light of messing around and procrastinating to a degree, but I actually think it’s an important part of the process. I liken it to an athlete warming up or stretching – even though I’m playing unrelated stuff – Liberace arpeggios, ragtime TV themes etc – it’s getting my mind ‘into the zone’ and making me think musically.

Also, the comment on simplifying and changing parts – that was a really difficult thing to do. I’ve always been bad at scrapping bits of music that took me hours/days to write, but I’m now getting a lot better at realising when something (nice as it may sound) isn’t working for the project and having the conviction to start afresh on that section.

It’s fairly light on the ‘piano outline to mockup’ stage, as that would’ve taken forever to record and edit. I’ve seen a few composers do videos of that process, and might do something similar next time if I get the chance.

I may well be doing another session with these guys, but adding brass (and possibly woodwinds) towards July, so I’ll make sure I get some footage from that session and post it up here.