Chapter I was just a prologue that evinces the writer's lingering thirst for seeing metal and epic welded together to take up from where the likes of Metallica and Apocalyptica left off. S&M probably didn't live up to the expectations that many had but it surely gave the audience something to think about. So far, we didn't really talk much about trailer music and it would be wrong to just throw a bunch of tracks in your faces without giving an overarching description about it. This chapter is meant to give you everything you need to know about this music without delving too much into the details.
Some of the best composers, artists, producers and musicians have been kind enough to answer my questions and enlighten us with their expertise. This, is the technical side of Trailer Music:
The Technical Side [Unraveling the Clenched Fist]:
Before going to leisurely swagger behind enemy lines, there are few blurry technical terms that need to be thoroughly explained. First off, the term "music library": Just like Nuclear Blast or Metal Blade, music libraries are record labels that license full music tracks to be used on motion picture advertising or video games, but with the significant advantage of hoarding capsulated scores that are put at their composers' disposal, initially created by the library's founding members and masterly orchestrated by hordes of the world's most talented Academy Award-winning beasts. Storming within the scoring stages, these musicians are girded by an arsenal of multiple formats, mountains of preamps and converters, miles of cable, 96-input consoles and a 100-piece orchestra. These scores; hand-crafted and partly programmed; are mainly released for various categories of media (feature films, video game advertising...) and are meant to rapidly snatch the viewer's attention during a movie trailer (hence their relatively short length) in order to cleverly tempt him into buying the movie itself, regardless of the latter's true caliber.
1 - Library Music: It generally refers to any music that is owned by production music libraries that can be licensed for use in TV, film, commercials etc.
2 - Stock Music: It's another name for library music or production music.
3 - Buyout Music (or Buy-Out Music): It refers to the one-off purchase of a tune, ditty, or effect that has a lifetime synchronization license. Buyout Music can be used as many times as required and no further royalties are paid to the composer.
4 - Royalty-Free Music: refers to a tune, ditty, composition or effect that has a single or one-off cost or licensing fee.
Once the stroll through the cutting-edge art begins, the composer delves into the library's musical scores in search of the most fitting cues (orchestral, instrumental or choral pieces) to escort the movie trailer, all while taking into account the feature's driving themes (thriller, adventure, mystery, horror…) and the time constraints by which he's bound to abide. Alone in his composing cell, the composer must chose between using the library's samples or recording the cues himself, which is no picnic. The second option can be in fact very time-consuming and extremely expensive; not to mention nerve-wracking:
"I think people are a little misguided in their understanding of how composers use samples. Take for example a piano track. You can record the entire piano track live, but if you make any mistakes, you have to go back and re-record it from scratch. By using samples, if you make a mistake, you can simply go in and change the pitch of the incorrect note you hit."
- Emmett Cooke - Composer and Sound Designer at Sonic Octave
"I only use one instrument to create all my tracks. My keyboard in my studio. In the digital age of composing you really don't need to play any other instruments at all. You sit down at your keyboard and run the midi through programs like Kontakt 4 which reads samples from individually purchased sample libraries. Symphobia is a perfect example.
You can use any combination of real life instruments and sample libraries as well. If you are on a low budget for a film you could score the background tracks completely digitally, but record soloists overtop the digital mix to make it sound more human and disguise the choppiness and robotic playing style computers use. It's really all up to the composer."
Daniel Yount - Composer at AudioGrave.
Excluding the case of some of the biggest music libraries out there who usually incline towards hiring a monumental orchestra for the recording process, some well-established composers would rather use the loops (specific percussion or synthesized that composers can sometimes add into their composition as an underscore to the overall piece or as a compositional underpin) their libraries hold than creating them themselves, and this is of course for a good reason:
"For a piece of piano software, the people who created it will have recorded say the note "Middle C" on the piano 10 times at different velocities (levels of loudness). They will have done this for every note on the piano - so when you play this piano software on your PC, it sounds almost life like. To get the same high level of recording by recording it live would be a laborious process and expensive if you need to rent a recording studio to do so."
- Emmett Cooke (Sonic Octave).
We metalheads grew up listening to bands razing hell's seven gates to the ground from their grubby lightless places that we referred to as "basements"; and we loved them for it. These artists have their "basements" too, only much more difficult to rein, less soiled and weed-free. Coming to the name "Workstations", their workplaces are basically electronic systems designed solely for recording, designing and editing digital audio. Emmett Cooke explained for that matter that the DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) (Examples: Cubase, ProTools, Logic, Digital Performer, Sonar..) is the equivalent of Photoshop for composers. Their equivalent of the Photoshop plugins would then be VSTs (Virtual Studio Technology) (Examples: Hollywood Strings by East West, LA Scoring Strings by Audiobro, Cinebrass by Cinesamples) which are pieces of software that can be loaded into the DAW software to emulate instruments or load loops of instruments playing, allowing the composer to add effects.
Studio control room with a mixing console, monitor speakers, and MIDI workstation.
Mixing and mastering studio
If you haven't noticed it already, it's a lot easier to criticize than create. We judge bands' deliveries on both content and degree of impact. Well, these trailer music artists have excelled in both and dared to set foot in the forbidden land of metal. Not only that, they are also humble to boot and grateful to the core. Seriously, can either of us say something better than this:
"I grew up listening to metal (as well as many other styles). There isn't any real conscious decision to draw on my metal roots, but early on, metal was very influential in my guitar playing, so some of that is always poking through. Mostly there's a sense of power and epic-ness that is paralleled between metal and trailer music. Check out Slayer's
Seasons In the Abyss or Black Sabbath / Ozzy Osbourne, or any of the endlessly awesome instrumental sections by Metallica or Testament, it's all dangerous and haunting and powerful and unpredictable. We try to bring those elements into our compositions and productions. But really, someone would only have to look as far as Carmina Burana to see the biggest connection of metal to trailer music. Giant, epic, gothic, over-the-top choir/orchestral power... If it's good enough for Ozzy... right?"
- Michael Nielsen - Ex-Groove Addicts/Currently at Non-Stop Music/Warner-Chappell.
GrooveWorx formerly known as Groove Addicts
Making of Full Tilt
Michael Nielsen composed Full Tilt, a series of volumes that holds some of the best trailer music tracks over the past decade and arguably of all-time, along with Kaveh Cohen, back when they were both storming inside Groove Addicts' walls. But no rush, we'll talk about them later.
What you should also know is that trailer music composers, as you may have already noticed, tend to use specific words when describing their work or their projects, and if you haven't already put a lot of time into it, you wouldn't be able to understand their world:
"As far as technical words go we really only keep our most technical terms for music theory (...) A music library is basically (in these terms) a collection of musical tracks (commonly referred to as cues) for the sole use of advertising a product or simply putting the tracks on iTunes for the public. We only call the tracks cues because thats literally what they do. They are designed to cue in a certain mood or aesthetic and bring the viewer into what is happening on the screen."
- Daniel Yount - Composer at AudioGrave.
It's no surprise that metal is considered by many academics and scholars to be the "Black Death" of art and the destroyer of cultures. Since the day it came into being, its name has been dragged through the mud countless times and stood as a byword of opprobrium and disgrace to those running the wheel of time. But what is it that makes it so despicable that not a single producer has ever asked his composer to bring it into life? It has nothing to do with its cheap beer-drenched history or its lowborn addicts; it's solely because there's not enough demand:
"I think that it's not enough demand for metal music in trailers. Hybrid symphonic/metal is pretty popular, but it's a huge amount of work composing such songs, and they may not be used anyway."
- Erik Ekholm - Owner, Composer, Sound Designer and Producer at Brickwall Audio.
If you think about it, what Mr. Ekholm said is totally understandable. Blockbusters like Avatar, The Lord Of The Rings, and Gladiator wouldn't probably have made the sort of impact they had, had they been escorted by extreme metal trailer songs. Same goes with video games, the launch trailer songs of Assassin's Creed, Devil May Cry, and God Of War contributed a lot to the success of those games and they are far from being metal or even rock. Basically, they are hyper epic symphonic cues which are powerful enough to transport whoever dares to listen to them to a different time and place.
Behind The Curtains:
If the composer is on a low budget and can't afford a monumental 100-piece orchestra to score his songs, what can he do? Well, this is the part where DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) and SAW (Software Audio Workshop) make their entrance. A DAW is basically a complete multitrack audio and MIDI recording, editing, processing, mixing, and mastering environment. Currently, the most popular DAWs are Reaper, Cubase, Digital Performer, Logic Pro 9, Pro Tools and Ableton. With these you can literally compose anything you want (if you're good enough of course).
Reaper - Digital Audio Workstation
SawStudio Basic - Software Audio Workshop:
- Record audio and MIDI from multiple inputs simultaneously.
- Layer recorded tracks and takes over previous recordings.
- Edit recordings in almost any imaginable way.
- Hundreds of audio and MIDI processing effects included, or choose from thousands of third-party effects.
- All editing and effects are completely non-destructive.
But what if our talented composer has everything at his disposal, from DAW, through a huge choir and orchestra to a limitless credit card, what happens then? Well, you get something like this:
The teaser you just saw was the promo to Two Steps From Hell's album Dynasty. Now, imagine the same teaser, the same monumental choir and orchestra recorded with our beloved genre of music: Metal. Oh Boy! Just the thought of it gives me the creeps. But no worries, we won't keep you waiting any longer. We're going to bring them to you, three legions, over six months of song-seeking madness and one hell of a sound!
Next chapter: Trailer Music - Introducing The First Legion: Pure Epic. Stay Tuned!
Special Thanks to Emmett Cooke from Sonic Octave | Michael Nielsen Ex-Groove Addicts/Non-Stop Music | Daniel Yount from AudioGrave | Erik Ekholm from Brickwall Audio | Collin Perry from Non-Stop Music|(Formerly of Groove Addicts) | Greg from Trailer Music News (TMN) | Tyler Bacon from Position Music for answering my questions and enlightening me with their expertise. Without your help, this modest work wouldn't be complete.