Trailers for a blockbuster movie usually come in three distinct acts.
“Act one music tends to be very tense. Kind of eerie and suspenseful. It’s sort of a setup cue," said Emily Weber or Position Music, a company that specializes in soundtracks for trailers.
“You’re telling the story in act two," said Position Music owner Tyler Bacon. “That’s kind of where they’ll have the dialogue and give you the meat of the movie.”
The final act is where you see the coolest stunts, the biggest fights and, if there’s a car chase, this is the time to show it.
The music at this point has to be “Really big. Very Epic. Really exciting. Driving it home. Make you want to see this movie!" said Weber. Bacon and Weber think about this three-act arc all the time.
For example, Position Music provided some of the songs for the "Dredd" trailer
Making beautiful (trailer) music together
The Position Music office is in a three-story condo on the Westside of Los Angeles. It’s spacious, tidy and has a generic model-home feel to it. One thing that stands out: the music collection behind Bacon’s desk.
The company represents dozens of artists who specialize in trailer music, from traditional orchestral composers to rock bands. They give their albums names that let you know what kind of trailer they’d fit.
“So, this is 'Vendetta.' It covers … a couple of the songs I feel should be, like, for spy thrillers," said Bacon.
There’s also "Wonderstruck," for fantasy or adventure movies, and "Zero Hour" for post-apocalyptic fare.
“'Rise Above' is our most recent one. This would be more on the drama side. More emotional elements," said Bacon.
None of the Position Music artists are household names, but that makes it much more affordable for filmmakers. Licensing a track from Position Music costs around $30,000, whereas using a song by AC/DC or Arcade Fire can cost at least 10 times that amount.
These days, editors often want their trailers to have a pop music feel. Lately, that means songs that sound like dubstep artist Skrillex.
Emily Weber said one of Position’s newer acts, Jack Trammell, fits the bill:
“I call it editor candy. Lots of crazy noises that you can cut picture to, and that’s why I think it is so popular," said Weber.
Position Music is one of about 30 companies specializing in music made for trailers, and with production companies creating more and more trailers every year, there’s plenty of demand.
But Tyler Bacon said that, lately, their business has been getting another boost.
“We started putting up our records for sale, and all of our trailer music is available on iTunes," said Bacon. "It’s amazing — there is a whole fan base of trailer music out in the world. It’s become a reasonable niche in actually selling records.”
He said some of those fans are kids who grew up watching coming attractions on YouTube. A lot of them are buying these songs to cut their own trailers for fun.