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Trailer Park’s Spalding: Music for Trailers is like a Three-Act Opera

Think of Film Trailers Like Hyper-Condensed Operas to Get Your Music Placed

In a recent NARIP Music Supervisor Session, Toddrick Spalding of Trailer Park had plenty of reasons why trailers are like operas along with some explanations of how he finds music and best practices to ensure your sound is what he wants.

Trailers are Like Operas

How is a film trailer like a three-act opera? They both have a beginning, a middle and an end.  Spalding repeatedly emphasized how his goal in finding music is that it must work to underscore or punctuate a hyper-condensed three-part piece.

The beginning is usually used as the introduction to the storyline. Characters from the film which the trailer advertises are introduced and called into action. The middle, or complication, revolves around a series of chain events; one leading to another. And the end, or resolution, is where the “conflict” or final conclusion occurs as the major climactic point.

This all has to happen in 1 to 2.5 minutes.

Each trailer may use from 1 up to 6 song cues ranging from a couple seconds to a full 2 minutes. Spalding commented, “At Trailer Park, we don’t have music editors, we use film editors to make cuts. Editors have super short attention spans. They want music to change very quickly. If something repeats for 4 bars, they say, ‘It’s boooooring. Can you make it only two bars?’ It’s great when music has a lot of close changes and things people [editors] can grab onto.”

But a slower song may have its place, in particular for Act One. When reviewing the track “Tension Cue” – a creeper score from composer Rob Danson – Spalding remarked, “This is very cool. It’s totally a First Act for a horror film. You don’t have to make all the acts. I would just cue another song for the rest of the trailer.”

Unlike lyric-centric operas, many times lyrics in songs are minimized or removed for trailers as they build through Act Two. Sydney Alston who is West Coast Account Manager at Disc Makers and artist manager pitched Frederik Thaae’s soulful hip hop track “Waiting On the Wall.” Spalding responded enthusiastically saying, “The choruses are great! But most of the time with trailers, we don’t use the verse and sometimes take out the whole vocal. But I like his voice and it’s a really cool song.”

Or when hearing Billboard-charting indie artist Nyee Moses’ “Crazy” he said, “I love the whole ‘live life’ background vocals. A lot is happening [in this song] and I like it if I can remove the top vocals. I can totally use it. I will have in my ‘little pile.’”

San Francisco-based songwriter Lisa Sniderman joined the session via Google Hangouts. Like any good plot twist or surprise in character development, Spalding had this to say about her track “Neopolitan Day” sung by artist Aoede, “I like the whistles. I would like a mix without the vocals but with the whistles and snaps. Any instrumentation that makes a song unique is good.

However, sometimes music just doesn’t work well for a variety of reasons such as genre, current sounds, and production. The strongest operas (and musical theater productions) have always been timely in their sound and message to resonate with an audience. Spalding gave this feedback to a country track, “Country music doesn’t really get used [much]. Well, Nashville and Country Strong have made it more mainstream but not for marketing. We [studio clients] don’t really take risks. That’s why everyone uses music from the Black Eyed Peas.”

Following the progression of a three act opera propels the story forward and Spalding’s role is to further magnify the intensity of the drama, romance, comedy, or action with the right music. When building through Act Three Spalding looks for sounds that “go big” emphasizing, “When you think the sound has built up and grown big enough, it’s hasn’t. Trailers don’t have place for nuance. ‘Go to eleven.’”  In other words, make the sound as BIG as possible.

Just as every opera concludes with a resolution, a trailer resolves with a “button.” The music goes full-circle and continues after the action ends to drive the message as far as it can go. This may be an audio “hit” or “punch” or even silence.  Trailer music supervisors and editors prefer this “button” ending to a fade out, as it’s easier to edit and cut to picture.

If you think of trailers in the terms of an opera, it will help you compose and pitch the right music for today’s film trailers and TV promos.

Toddrick’s Comments on Submissions

Spalding answered questions on submissions as well, “I try to pull music internally (among Trailer Park supervisors and libraries) for the first one to two rounds. Then I reach out to other. If I know a label with a sound I want, I reach out to them. Lastly, I put it out the public.”

Trailer Park is the world’s leading producer of feature film and television trailers. At any one time Spalding, along with 4 other music supervisors, may be coordinating music cues with 35 editors working on 9 to 15 films and 15 to 20 television promos.

“If I send you a brief and you send me music that is nothing like what I want, you will be off my list. I can’t waste time. Give me exactly what I need or don’t send me anything. If you have someone to refer that you know has something that fits what I need, that’s great.”

“If you request to send me something I haven’t asked for, don’t be offended if I don’t open or download your link.”

On Budgets

“We only work with marketing budgets, not the creative budgets. They are totally separate. The marketing may be 25-30% of the film budget. An indie trailer may have about $30K to spend (or $7K per track). If you are using a legend artist or a hot artist $500 thousand to $1 million per track (all-in) is not unheard of. Every film is different. It depends, how important is it [the song] to the studio?”

Toddrick’s Feedback

On “Never Settle” submitted by music publisher Phil Ciadella of Wonderlous Music Publishing: “This has a lot of things we are looking for… Dubstep, hip hop.”

On “I Want You,” also submitted by Ciadella: “I love the swagger of the open. It’s cool. We’re always looking for that swagger.”

On “Silence” submitted by Robert Case, producer, writer and owner New Pants Publishing with over 600 copyrights: “This is very specific to Sunset Strip in the 80s. I don’t need this right away but I will definitely take it. I’ll take everything. If I need it later, it will be in my library.”

On “Super Hero” submitted by Sydney Alston, Music Manager: “Great energy. I can use this in an animated context. Great upbeat message.”

On “I’m Gonna Hunt You Down” by the Mustard Pimps, as submitted by John Fulford of Dim Mak Records: “Super. Tons of fun. Badass girl. That one I definitely want. Give me all their stuff.”

On “Gonna Show” submitted by John Fulford of Dim Mak Records: “The verse gets a little dirty for the trailer world but the verse is fun–total party. I can use it to replace P!NK or Ke$ha.”

On Bollywood composer Tej Gills track “Ambient”: “Cool, man. It’s like Sufi/Kraftwerk. I can see that in a movie like Trance. I’d love to hear more stuff like that. Anything that is ‘world’ can only have a hint to it. We need to go over on emotion and vibe but we can’t go over for that “world” sound.”

On songwriter / vocal arranger Michael Kohl’s track “You Need to Be With Me”: This is really polished pop. Your stuff is super Radio Disney friendly (that’s a super positive thing). You can use this for animation or Rom-Coms [romantic comedies]. This is perfect for a young audience.” (Spalding wanted more. Michael has a full album to give him.)

On EDM composer Stephen Morrison’s tracks: “Maybe for Fast and Furious. The only part I can’t use is the voice part… it’s too distracting. I can use everything else. If the vocal stands out from the track and distracts from the storyline then it gets killed. It’s totally badass and I can use it. I love the production. All your sounds are crisp and huge.”

On “9 to 5” submitted by Ramblin’ Man Music’s Yupa Wathanasin: “That actually works. This would totally fit for a film I’m working on right now where they have a party in Carnivale.”

For More On This Session

For more tips on Trailer Park’s budget, Toddrick Spalding’s submission practices, and helpful information on formatting music to fit the needs of today’s biggest film trailers and TV promos, download this entire audio program, just click here.

Be sure to check back to to read about more upcoming NARIP events and NARIP Music Supervisor Sessions!

About Toddrick Spalding

Toddrick is a music supervisor at Trailer Park, one of the biggest film marketing agencies in the business. He 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 / 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.

About the Author

Jonathan Roberts is a music blogger, vocal industry personality, entertainment event host, and insatiable singer. Through his Web site, he has set out to explore every corner of the singing world.