How to pitch music for Hollywood films and ads

Hollywood music supervisor Bobby Gumm’s has worked on music for the likes of The Dark Knight Rises and Anchorman 2. Ahead of his appearance at the next NARIP session, M heard about what he looks for when choosing music to sync…

Jim Ottewill
  • By Jim Ottewill
  • 14 Feb 2013
  • min read
Are you a composer looking to hear your music in a Hollywood film? Or a publisher wanting to place a piece of music in a trailer for a video game?

If the answer is yes, then attending a NARIP seminar could be ideal for you - the events give participants the opportunity to pitch their music to a professional music supervisor based on an advance brief. Attendees receive feedback on their music including advice on where they are going right and tips on how to avoid going wrong.

The forthcoming NARIP events on 19 February will see Trailer Park’s Bobby Gumm lead the sessions and give 16 attendees the opportunity to pitch their music to him. Bobby works for Trailer Park, an agency which specialises in film advertising - their remit includes trailers for films, video games, network TV promos and web design while his previous work has included The Dark Knight Rises, Anchorman 2, Batman Begins, Up and Avatar.

We heard from Bobby ahead of the latest NARIP session, which was organised by Sharon Dean, Director of the London Chapter of NARIP. He provided some words of wisdom to publishers, composers and musicians interested in working as part of the Hollywood sync industry…

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When you work on different projects what are the most noticeable differences between music supervision for trailers vs. television broadcast, commercials and feature films?

Supervising for trailers and features are very different. In a trailer you’re trying to tell a story in a very condensed period of time so the music has to get to the point and evolve very quickly. In a feature, or TV show, the pacing is slower and you have more time to tell the story so you’re not quite as limited. You deal with a lot more score and orchestral music doing trailers as well, whereas with features, it’s primarily just songs.

Does Trailer Park have in-house music producers, composers, or do you start browsing and selecting music from scratch for every project?

We do have an in-house composer but his primary job is to help with sound design. For the most part, the music we use comes from outside sources. Where I look or what sources I turn to generally depends on the budget and direction we’ve been given for the project.

What chances do independent publishers, musicians and composers have to pitch their songs and secure licenses in modern media? How can they improve their chances?

There are so many opportunities. Technology is a double-edged sword because it’s easier than ever to make music but this has also led to massive over-saturation. As a music supervisor, it’s difficult for me to listen to everything you receive but I’ve learned you can’t discount anyone. I’ve heard amazing tracks that were recorded in someone’s bedroom so you have to give everything a chance if you’re really trying to find those hidden gems.

How challenging is it to deal with budgets and at the same time keep in mind the director’s view of the music needed to market and promote his film?

With the big studio movies it’s a little easier because they’re generally pretty open in terms of budget. If you can find that perfect song to brand the campaign they will pay for it. The smaller budget movies are certainly tricky though. Sometimes we do a first version with expensive music just to get the tone right and then, if necessary, go through and replace the tracks with more affordable cues. Other times you know your budget outright and have to stick to library cues from the beginning.

What's the most lucrative area of sync?

I don’t know about the most lucrative but trailers certainly can be. It’s tough getting in but once you are, there is definitely money to be made if you have a knack for it.

Does a film typically have more than one trailer?

The bigger studio movies generally do. With the internet, it’s also becoming more prevalent with smaller films too. Internet-only trailers have become a big thing in recent years and for the smaller films it’s a cheaper way to gain word of mouth and hit more specifically targeted audiences. ‘Red Band’ trailers are also a newer thing - these trailers are R-rated and allow R-rated movies to show more edgy/risqué content to promote the movie. Usually, these are only released on the internet.

What kind of music is trending now?

They [clients and studios] always want ‘modern/edgy’ music and at the moment, ‘modern/edgy’ means dubstep and electronica. Those sounds are even creeping their way into the big orchestral music that I use. We call it ‘hybrid’ music, it has the epic feel of a traditional score piece plus modern elements which give it some edge. Mixing contemporary and classic sounds is popular because it reaches across more demos. Clients also are always asking for unique covers of popular songs these days as well (i.e. we used Jack White’s cover of the U2 classic Love Is Blindness in our Great Gatsby trailer).

What are you looking for now?

Everything ! I’m always working on more than a dozen campaigns/projects at a time so I’m constantly searching for different things. One minute it’s orchestral, the next it could be comedic glockenspiel cues. The ‘hybrid’ stuff I mentioned before is really the hot ticket at the moment though. 

What's your routine when searching for and placing music?

First and foremost I watch whatever footage we have. Many times it’s not the full feature but just seeing some visuals gets you in the right frame of mind. After that I’ll get some direction from the client, which includes budget, and then it’s off to the races. I don’t know if I have a specific process, I just go wherever the inspiration takes me.

What genres do you predict will be big in the next 12 months?

Hip hop and electronic music are gaining a bigger foothold in the market. Beats are getting bigger and better so their placement opportunities are becoming more diverse. Party music dominates advertising because it’s fun and up-tempo, and since most party music these days is hip hop or electronic, it’s only natural.

How has the sync world changed in the last few years?

I think opportunities have increased greatly and people are starting to realise the significant role music plays in advertising. On the other side of the coin though, I’ve also seen budgets get lower and lower. I think that’s more just a result of the economy in general though.