How Trailer Music Gets Made: An Interview With Composer Yoav Goren

We're headed into the time of year when all of the sweeping epics, historical dramas, and Oscar contenders start making their way to the screen. And some of your are likely excited about some of these big releases because of the grand trailers Hollywood has been pumping out over the last couple of months. Part of getting you hooked in, of course, is the score accompanying the trailers.

Composer and producer Yoav Goren is one of the people responsible for making sure that music works its magic over you. An Emmy-winning musician and president of Immediate Music, his work has shown up in trailers for everything from "Carlito's Way" to "Lincoln" to Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit".

With selections from Goren and Immediate's music getting collected in "Trailerhead: Triumph," we thought we'd talk to this veteran composer about his 20 years in the industry, why superhero movies are tricky, and the secret to the perfect epic score.

MTV Geek: First off, how did you get into the composing game?

Yoav Goren: I was working in a music store in Santa Monica, California, in charge of the synthesizers, computers and software. A guy by the name of Jeffrey Fayman was one of my customers, and he eventually hired me to set up his home studio for him and teach him how to use all that newfangled gear of the early ‘90s! Jeff and I discovered we shared a passion for film soundtracks, and we started writing some music together. Eventually, we were hoping to establish a career as a film scoring duo in LA. We thought we may get there by scoring trailers, as Jeff had a couple of contacts around the post production houses in Hollywood.

After beating the pavement and dropping off our demos around town, we got hired to score the trailer for the 1993 Academy Awards, which featured a montage of the 5 best picture nominees. Our very next job was a custom score for the trailer for “In The Name of the Father” (Daniel Day Lewis) for Universal Pictures. While our score was ultimately not used in that trailer, we were hired to score the “Carlito’s Way” trailer, which not only was the first full theatrical for Immediate, but also the first time I was to have any of my compositions recorded by an orchestra. And so my career as composer was launched.

Geek: When you started out, what was the landscape like for music in trailers?

Goren: There were only a handful of trailer companies in town at the time, and most of the music which ended up in trailers was either licensed from another film’s soundtrack, or composed specifically for the trailer. Immediate saw an opportunity to supplant the use of expensive soundtrack cues by pre-producing big, epic and dramatic soundtrack-sounding music which would support the cinematic scope of a 2-3 minute montage of the film. From a business perspective, our music was also designed to come in quite a bit less expensive than licensing the soundtrack cue.

Initially, Immediate’s strategy was focused around scoring jobs for specific trailers. We then slowly evolved into creating productions that sounded like they were scored for a specific trailer, but were actually part of a trailer music CD release given to our editor clients (there were no music supervisors at the trailer houses at that time). Over the years, the methodology of choosing music for trailers has definitely evolved away from custom scoring to soundtrack, pop song or trailer music library placements.

Geek: Typically, why would studios commission a new piece of music rather than excerpt from the existing score?

Goren: Typically, a film’s marketing campaign, if we are talking about your average Hollywood studio film, begins about a year before the release, especially if it’s a $100m+ budgeted production. First up is the teaser, which is a carefully crafted mini-trailer that is more like an enigmatic commercial. Teasers are typically quite stylish, and the music choice must reflect that style. Purely from a logistic approach, the music for the film has not yet been written at this early stage. Even if it was, confining the music choice for teasers and trailers to just a handful of tracks which belong to the soundtrack of the film would really be handcuffing the marketing campaign to create a memorable series of trailers and TV spots. The trailer is loyal to one thing – getting people to come to the opening weekend of the film’s release. Unless the film is a sequel and has a thematic motif remembered by the public from the first film (i.e. “Harry Potter”), there is no requirement to use music from the film’s soundtrack, even if it was ready to be used in marketing materials so much ahead of the release date. Often times, the music score is one of the last items to be produced for the film, so even if it were perfect for the trailers, odds are it would not have yet been created!

The studios are most interested in creating a unique audio branding for the film, and this is why choice of unique and stylish music for the trailers – whatever the source – trumps the need to represent the film’s soundtrack.

Geek: So, along the same lines, do you typically feel beholden to the film’s score in some way when putting together your composition?

Goren: In the twenty years I’ve been producing music for trailers, this has happened once. In 2011, Immediate scored the “Mission: Impossible” trailer, and we were asked to incorporate the iconic Lalo Schifrin theme into a modern version to play on the trailer’s back end.

Geek: Typically, what’s the most challenging type of trailer to produce music for?

Goren: Comedies used to be the hardest genre, but the trend there has lately been to use current Top 40 pop songs or upbeat hip-hop, rock or punk songs by commercial recording artists.

Today, the most challenging genre is probably the dark superhero trailers. The producers definitely don’t want their 2012 summer blockbuster to sound like anything from 2011, so we are constantly finding ourselves trying to reinvent the wheel, so to speak, while obviously staying within the sound sphere that trailers are known for. These days, a heavy mix between orchestra, electronic and sound design elements seems to attract the creatives’ attention, but we must ensure that it stills sounds unique and is not merely copying a style that has already been exploited.

Geek: There are a lot of sweeping, epic fantasy pieces in the “Trailerhead: Triumph” release. Although each of these movies is very different, in our heads sometimes they can sound alike musically. What do you do to create distinctions in the tone/rhythm of these types of trailers?

Goren: The subtleties come from mixing in ear-catching electric and electronic sounds with the orchestral recordings. The addition of big percussion and drum kit also brings the listener forward to something more modern and unexpected in a largely orchestral composition. There have been a couple of trailers recently that used dubstep-meets-orchestra tracks, similar to the “Trailerhead: Triumph” bonus track “Barbarians.”

It really depends on the demographic that the studio marketing folks are shooting for. As an example, for Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” traditional sweeping epic orchestral works for the demographic and the period nature of the film. But for “Twilight: Breaking Dawn” or “After Earth,” the subject matter and the need to pull in a younger audience determines the mixture of epic and modern contemporary electronic production style for the music.

Geek: What are some your favorite compositions you’ve been responsible for?

Goren: There is usually one track on my releases that I would call my “favorite” which stands out slightly for me. On “Trailerhead,” this would be the final track, “Age of Discovery.” On “Trailerhead: Saga,” it would be “Surrender to Hope.” And on “Trailerhead: Triumph,” the track “Burden of Atlas” sticks out for me. All three tracks have a building orchestral/choral motif which slowly builds and finally breaks out in an epic way. And the three tracks are quite strong melodically, which personally speaking is the most important part of a composition. To me, a memorable melody is king.

Geek: What are you working on next?

Goren: I just returned from London where I recorded with members of the London Symphony at Abbey Road studios. These are probably the best musicians in truly one of the best sounding rooms on the planet. The style of music is more cinematic adventure, and the project is currently being mixed. Another project is tentatively titled “Dark Hero” and contains some delicious tracks maximizing deep and dark orchestra with some intriguing ear candy…

With “Trailerhead: Triumph” being the last in the “Trailerhead” trilogy, expect the next release from Immediate to chart the way forward as we strive to continually define our brand of trailer music.

"Trailerhead: Triumph" is available now from Immediate and Imperativa Records.

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