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Spalding Rocks London

By Tess Taylor.  At two recent sold-out NARIP Music Supervisor Sessions in London, Toddrick Spalding discussed how he finds, licenses and places music. Toddrick is founder and music supervisor at High Bias Industries in Los Angeles, and he was in London actively seeking music for his current projects. Attendees received six briefs of his current music needs before the session, enabling them to prepare targeted pitches. They then met Toddrick face-to-face, played him their music and received immediate feedback. In some instances, attendees have been able to tailor tracks to better suit Spalding’s needs, making the revised tracks much more likely to be placed.

Photo (L-R, back row): BPI’s Debi Blackgrove, Ver Entertainment’s Lori West, Delicious Digital’s Ollie Raphael, Tactal Hots’ Spencer Hickson, Massive Advance’s Paul Fowler, Felt Music’s Steph Perrin, Respect Music’s Debra Downes, composer Paul Fincham, NARIP’s Kieran Dickson, singer / songwriter Paul McGee AKA McGoo, BPI’s Chris Tams. Front row: singer / songwriter Texas Terri (red hair), Nervous Records’ Roy Williams, High Bias Industries’ Toddrick Spalding, NARIP’s Sharon Dean, Wardlaw Banks’ Stanley Banks. Photo by Stephen Beanz Rudden

How & When Does Your Search For Music Begin?

Toddrick freelances for 8 or 9 trailer shops, which are film marketing agencies. His clients include major and independent film and television studios. When a project lands on his desk, he goes to a client’s office or editing bay to watch a feature. He’ll take notes about plot lines, themes, characters and styles of music that fit picture and would help sell the film.

“Then I go mostly through my own head for music and sources I already know that I think would work,” he says. “This could span many genres to help spark ideas early in the process. Sometimes the client will know a direction they want to go with the trailer. For example, they may want to use Black Eyed Peas songs and have a general idea such as that the film isn’t testing well with moms. “It’s my job to find music that will support but won’t betray picture, sell it and move it so it will appeal to the demographic that’s not testing well.”

After the first round, “I reach out to 20 or 30 trusted sources who would have the genres I need. I try to get as much new music or unreleased music that I don’t already have. I get this second round of music and put in a zip folder for the editors and producers. And if I haven’t solved it by that second round, I will do a really broad search to more people describing my needs, such as ‘I need hip hop that moves, with lyrics like this…’ That’s the process.”

Spalding at NARIP London Sessions

How To Get On Toddrick’s Music Search List… And Stay On

The goal of any music publisher or music creator is to get on a busy music supervisor’s search list. This is the memo or email supervisors send out when they’ve exhausted their internal resources and need something specific to fit to picture. Getting on this list is key because it enables recipients to know exactly what a music supervisor seeks at the moment he needs it. Most supervisors keep their search lists small because they don’t want to be inundated, especially by music that may not match their needs. It’s a novice’s error to send music that doesn’t fit to brief, although plenty of pros make this error as well.

Toddrick says he’ll give anyone a shot once [to respond to a search] but if you send music he can’t use or that doesn’t fit to brief, “if you try to sneak in a song but that is clearly a mis-match, I’ll take you off my search list immediately. You’ve wasted my time,” he says, which is annoying as music for trailer projects frequently needs to be turned around in less than a day if not in a matter hours. Better you should say, “Sorry, I don’t have anything like that,” or refer Toddrick to someone you know who has what he’s looking for. This builds huge credibility with him, he says.

To get on his search list, he says it’s also great to do things like NARIP Music Supervisor Sessions. “I like to hear new stuff, and events like these are great so I can actually interact with you, it’s not just a blank email. Doing unique promotional things helps, too. We had a guy come by from a new library and he brought a liquor sampler along with his music. So now I have positive connotation,” he laughs. “I’m not saying you have to buy me drinks but it doesn’t hurt.”

And he notes, “If your music is awesome, I’ll add you to my search list.”

Creative Process

The film’s director rarely creates the trailer, which is conceived and guided by the film studio’s marketing department and produced at a trailer house such as High Bias Industries. The studio’s head of marketing usually has the final say about music in the trailer, and this can be a source of creative tension within the film studio where there are frequently two warring factions. On the one side is the marketing department whose job is to sell the movie. On the other side are the creatives who made the movie, and may not agree with the marketing department’s decisions. “You have to reconcile the two,” says Toddrick.

“Whatever they [the client] want is what we try to provide,” he says. “You have to walk a balance musically between staying true to the project and also selling the movie the way they want it to be sold. Oftentimes it’s totally opposite. I’ve had musicals where they don’t want to sell it as a musical, ‘Then why did you make a musical?’ you want to ask. But that’s what it is.”

Often the music used in the film is not used in the trailers, and it is not uncommon for two or more trailers to be produced for the same film to appeal to different demographics. A film is a massive investment so the studio tests everything, especially the trailers, which is the first thing the public will see of a new film. “I’ve been on projects where they’ve said, ‘The name of this film will turn off boys, so we have to change the name so everyone will see it.’ Marketing is involved in every aspect of the film.”

When do trailer music supervisors step in?

“I’ve been in sessions [so early in the creative process] where we actually helped to name the movie,” says Toddrick. “And sometimes you come into a project and you’re already up to the Oscars and it’s [the film] all done, so you can step in at any point.”


Budgets for music for trailers are higher than for film placement because the rights needed for trailers tend to be broader (“all media, worldwide and in perpetuity”).

Also, unlike film and TV where license fees for music comes out of the creative budget with only a small percentage set aside for music, trailers come out of the marketing budget which is always higher. Thus synch fees for trailers are much higher as well. “What you would clear for $10,000 in a film you might get $75,000 all-in for a trailer,” says Toddrick. Major artists can get $350,000 all-in, and historically it’s been even higher. “The first campaign I worked on were Miami Vice trailers, we used Jay Z and Linkin Park and they got $1,000,000 a side, and they used hell out of that song in the campaign. That’s a rarity but they [the studios] will pay for right song,” he says.

Unfortunately, there’s no performance money in trailer marketing synchs, so you make all your money off the up-front fee. They will ask for everything, but will then expect you to quote a price only for what they actually use. They want to pay a minimum but get all rights and for marketing, it’s rare that they will ask for anything less than “worldwide, all media and in perpetuity.”

Toddrick suggests that publishers request “in context” language when licensing for trailers so that the license is limited to a specific use and prevents re-editing the same song for a different use which would require permission and an additional synch fee.

Music Submission Preferences

Toddrick prefers to receive and send music digitally (no CDs please!) and doesn’t like to log onto third party sites.
“This just slows me down,” he says. “I prefer ready-to-go download links.” Attach metadata to files, including every possible searchable thing like tags “sounds like Coldplay and Snow Patrol.” This is really important. “I want to have all the splits, who owns the master, contact information, publisher or co-publisher, if there are multiple writers, etc. Also, I like this information – artist’s name, song title and contact info – in actual file names. What happens is that I send songs to the client, their assistant editors create a cue sheet that has only the song title. So if you have all that information in there, there is no way you miss out on a potential synch.”

In short, his preferences include:

An Extra Word About Instrumentals

Music supervisor love instrumentals because they offer greater flexibility especially over dialogue to fit picture and are much easier to edit, cut and layer. A great deal of internal editing is done, and so supervisors and music editors appreciate receiving stems (i.e., individual pieces of songs), too. “For licensing purposes, make sure you always print an instrumental as a master file. We hardly ever use verses, it’s almost always chorus, hook and instrumental,” says Toddrick.


For projects other than trailers, Toddrick prefers one-stop, that is, being able to clear the publishing and the master in one-stop. However with trailers, he’s less concerned with this. “We [film studio clients] just want the right song, and it’s usually their legal department that clears it. The song should be clear-able. Splits and multiple writers doesn’t affect me as much.”


The importance of keywords to find music was emphasized repeatedly. What does this mean and how does it work?

Music must be appropriately and richly tagged with a description that matches the music and contains excellent adjectives and sound-alike references. It serves creators and publishers to give thought to how they describe their music and what its possible uses might be so that the well-tagged song comes up in a search when a buyer or supervisor is looking for that (your) kind of music.

Example of description of a song: “Anthemic with big brass chorus at :35, prominent instruments include roaring guitar, bass and trombone. Lyric speaks of courage and overcoming obstacles against difficult odds, heroic, uplifting, positive and inspiring.”

Throughout the evening when giving feedback to a particular song, Toddrick frequently mentioned where he would “see” the music presented fitting best, in past or current projects. Here is his feedback to some of the music presented at NARIP’s London sessions:

Toddrick’s Feedback To Music

Amid music praise Toddrick also offered constructive critiques as to how songs he heard could be made more synch-able in his world. A few of his comments included:

Trailer Structure

Trailers are structured in three acts, which is different from music or underscore used in film or TV where there is more time to build the story. The beginning of a trailer needs to grab attention, the middle provides background for the movie to draw an audience in, and it usually should end with a bang or an uplifting feeling to entice. The third “act” is the biggest and it has to get HUGE, says Toddrick. “Throw it all in there if you’re writing for trailers. That’s what we’re always looking for.”

And all this needs to occur in 2 minutes and 30 seconds or less, especially if the trailer is used in advertising where spots can be :15, :30 or :60 seconds long.

Toddrick’s Tips

Following Up

How often to keep in touch with you? Toddrick laughs. “Truthfully, if you send me an email once a month to keep on the radar is good. Any more than that [maybe not]. I get buried so much, it’s real easy to get lost if I keep getting emails, I don’t have time to go through them all. If the stuff’s awesome, I will add you to my search list, then you can just hit me back when I have a search and that would be perfect.”

People Spalding Admires

Other music supervisors Toddrick admires include Danny Exum at mOcean, Serena Undercoflter (who used to be Toddrick’s assistant) at BLT. “We all know each other, we all hang out. Natalie Baartz at Ignition is great, Vanessa George is great, too.”

About Toddrick Spalding

Toddrick Spalding is a music supervisor and founder of High Bias Industries. Toddrick got his start in the music industry as founder and drummer of Chicago indie rock band The Detachment Kit. Since those long ago days of constant touring and near-death experiences, he has built a career in music supervision for feature film marketing, indie features, traditional advertising and television. His company High Bias Industries, a collective of music supervisors, has worked on numerous high-profile projects (Django Unchained trailer, Givenchy worldwide campaign, NBA Finals, and FX’s Wilfred Season 2 and others). Prior to launching High Bias in 2011, Toddrick worked as a Music Supervisor at film marketing agencies including The Cimmaron Group and mOcean/CMP+, and also spent time as Director of Music for Film & TV at the Spectre Entertainment Group and as Director of Marketing for Knitting Factory Hollywood and Knitmedia. He is also currently the West Coast Creative Director at Spirit Music Group, home to artists as diverse as Pete Townshend, Marc Bolan, Lou Reed, The Naked and Famous and The Used.

Sources for More Info


See event photos in NARIP’s Gallery

Audio Recordings On Sale Now

The London Sessions with Toddrick Spalding
Session #1 recorded December 10, 2012
Session #2 recorded December 10, 2012

Los Angeles Session with Toddrick Spalding
Recorded March 7, 2012 in Los Angeles, CA

Other NARIP audio programs available online now include:

NARIP Music Supervisor Sessions -w- FILM & TV music supervisors:

NARIP Music Supervisor Sessions -w- TRAILER music supervisors

NARIP Music Supervisor Sessions -w- GAMES music supervisors

Go to NARIP’s shop and see what’s “in store” for you now!


Article (c) 2o12 by Tess Taylor, all rights reserved.