Hollywood music supervisor shares top sync tips

Hollywood music supervisor Toddrick Spalding was in London last week to advise publishers on the best ways to pitch music. We went along to get his top tips on making your mark in the LA sync industry.

Anita Awbi
  • By Anita Awbi
  • 17 Dec 2012
  • min read
Toddrick is Director of Music at High Bias Industries and has worked on hundreds of successful motion picture marketing campaigns, indie films and global advertising campaigns. Some recent projects include Toy Story 3 trailers and ad campaign, Levi's Commuter ad campaign, Givenchy Very Irresistible ad campaign and the Abduction trailer.

He started out as the drummer in Chicago indie rock band The Detachment Kit, and has since built a successful career in music supervision for film advertising, features, traditional advertising and television.

In 2011, he joined the team at independent publisher Spirit Music Group as West Coast Creative Director. He is currently working on filmmaker Mike Ott’s follow-up feature to the critically acclaimed Littlerock.

We caught up with him at the latest NARIP session to glean his top tips for publishers interested in the Hollywood sync industry. The session, which was organised by Sharon Dean, Director of the London Chapter of NARIP, gave publishers the chance to pitch music to him and get instant feedback.

For more on NARIP, visit: http://www.narip.com/

What’s the most lucrative area of sync?
Trailers and advertising by far because you’re working with big budgets across huge campaigns. With trailers, you’re looking at $10-20,000 for indie films and up to $500,000 to £1m for big movies. Advertising is the same. It’s very easy to get $75,000 up to $1.5m, depending on what it is. Trailers are a hidden entity. Even today, lots of people think they just take the music from the film.

Why don’t they?
Usually the marketing department wants to get as far away from the creative team as possible! I’ve worked on musicals before and they’ve said they don’t want any music from the film used in the trailer. The whole point of marketing isn’t to represent the film but to sell it to as many people as possible. You try to stay true to the film as much as you can, but you need to hit the advertising demographics.

So a film will have many different trailers?
Oh yes, definitely. And then there are the TV campaigns. They cut 30 or 40 TV adverts. With film theatre spots, you’ll do a teaser, then a trailer, then a second or third one, depending on how important the film is to the studio. Then you get the TV campaigns. It’s a lot of music.

What kind of music is trending at the moment?
I’m hoping that dubstep stops! That’s been a big thing everyone’s been asking for this last year and a half. People are keen on sound design too. Ever since the Inception campaign, there’s been a move towards building sonic beds as opposed to using a song.

What do you mean by ‘sonic beds’?
Taking sonic hits and rises and sound effects, and using those to craft a designed piece in the editing bay, as opposed to laying out a song in the traditional sense. It’s been a big trend, but these things are always cyclical. I think songs will come back.

Right now it’s 50/50 between wanting that weird noise which will identify the campaign, verses wanting a song to define the campaign. That’s for everything – even production music. For a long time people said, ‘No more choral!’ But now they are asking for choral again. It really does go back and forth. Every editor I’ve ever worked with is always looking for something that nobody else has.

Is the music licensing side in step with what’s happening in the wider industry?
I think it’s always about six months behind. The music supervisors are in step with what’s going on but you have to convince your editor, producer and marketing executive, filmmaker or whoever that this is what’s happening right now. I don’t want to be mean but often they have old man ears! It’s part of our job to convince and translate, because a lot of people don’t speak that musical language necessarily.

What are you looking for?
I’m always looking for stuff that sounds unique, that has an element to it that stands out – it may be a pop song in 4/4 but it has an accordion or a unique melody or something that makes it hookier and catch you. There are a million bands that sound like Coldplay and I can just license Coldplay, I don’t need those other million bands. So what are you doing differently from that to catch me? Those are the kinds of things that editors will catch on to as well.

What is the best way to pitch music?
I’m anti-CD. Send me a We Transfer or YouSendIt link. I prefer to have digital files sent to me in zips so I can download them. I hate when people send me links to a password protected thing and I have to go to a website and log-in.

The thing with trailers is that the turnaround is really fast. Often what I’m looking for is sorted that day. On a film you have months to craft the soundtrack and you have a while on an ad campaign to define it sonically. On trailers, the turnaround is often four hours.

What’s your routine when placing music?
I’ll watch the feature or the cut and take notes based on themes and the demographics they are trying to reach with the story. I’ll find out how they want to pitch then trailer - they might be selling the movie as a romantic comedy but really it’s a depressing drama, or a horror, or whatever. I have to find music that works with the picture but doesn’t betray it, and will also sell to the target demographic.

Sometimes you get a call – ‘this film is not testing well with urban 16-year-old males’ – so we have to think, ‘OK, what can we do musically to reach out to that demographic?’

I take notes on all that stuff. Then I do a first round scout based on my own brain.  I think about what artists or records could fit. If nothing comes then my second round is to reach out to my immediate contacts – around 20 or 30 people. If I don’t get anything that way I do a general contact list.

What tips do you have for publishers pitching music?
Don’t send stuff just because you’re under pressure to deliver on a particular catalogue. Don’t try to force that into my search, because then I won’t want to come back to you because I’m under time pressure and can’t wade through lots of inappropriate music. It’s really easy to blacklist people that waste my time.

Also, know your songs. If there’s a bit you know would be perfect at 3 minutes 5 seconds, tell me!

But don’t send me 30 second cut-downs of a song. Send the full file – we will decide on the part we want to use.

In a trailer, we have two and a half minutes to tell a whole story. We need something we can hold on to.

Trailers are scheduled in three acts, montage after montage. They are always building. The third act is huge – we want dynamic music and big swells. When listening to the music, editors always ask me, ‘Can it get bigger?’ So send us songs that build and build – we like that.

I think having all the metadata attached to the cues is very important too. If you can tell me who controls the master or who the co-publishers are, that’s really helpful. Anything they can do to make my job easier is really appreciated.

I work with Spirit Music Group. They view themselves as a solutions company and I really like that. Their ethos is to suggest a competitor that might have the right song if they don’t have it. I wish more people did that. We’re all in this together – if you have the right song, you have it. If you don’t, the relationship is really important so I’ll come back to you.

What genres are going to be big in the next 12 months?
It will probably still be dubstep unfortunately! And as the sound design thing has been so big I think people are going to be looking towards music which draws on that too. Artists like Flying Lotus and that whole scene of urban electronic avant-garde music will lend itself to trailer work. I think people are going to start pulling that in. It’s a big thing for indies. I think people are going to be a little more adventurous. By the same token, for the big movies, I think there will always be demand for the sounds that are at the top of the charts right now. That’s why Black Eyed Peas or Kanye West are in everything – it’s a safe bet.

How has the sync world changed in the last couple of years?
Budgets have definitely come down in trailers and film marketing. When I started working on really big campaigns like Miami Vice you wouldn’t have been surprised to see numbers like $1m to license a song for a campaign. That’s all dropped. Now, named records or copyrights are licensing for $300,000. That’s right across the board. For indies its dropping lower. I’ve had trailers come to me where they only have $10,000 for music across all territories and in perpetuity.

How is that affecting the music getting onto trailers?
It’s a big opportunity for indies to step in. It’s a big opportunity for production music and libraries to step in too because they are willing to work and it’s an easy clear. But what’s great about trailers is you’re not working with creative teams, the budget falls under marketing so the numbers are higher. Often, if they really want a song, chances are they’re going to pay for it. The right song is always the right song. If you’re spending $300m to make a movie, what’s another million?!