Fresh from his double win at the Guild of Music Supervisors Awards, where he took home the award for Best Music Supervision in a TV Promo (Stranger Things), and the award for Best Music Supervision for Trailers (Baby Driver), we chat trailer music trends, recent projects and more with Bobby Gumm, Vice President of Music at Trailer Park.
Hi Bobby, thanks for chatting with us! How did you get into the world of trailer music?
I grew up in Missouri near Kansas City, and in 2003 I moved out to Los Angeles to be an editor. I was also really into music and I knew a lot about movie scores, but becoming an editor was really the plan. A friend of mine got me an interview at a small trailer house, and I thought I could start there as a production assistant and work my way up to editor. I didn’t even know that music supervision existed as a job, but I got talking to the president of the company and it just so happened that they needed someone to take care of the music paperwork, which was basically the role of a music supervisor at that time. Because of my interest in movie scores I got offered the job, so that’s how it started. And even from there I still planned on becoming an editor, but then the music thing turned into a career.
And you’re now Vice President of Music at Trailer Park
Yeah. I’ve been doing this for a while and I think if you do a good job then the people you meet along the way tend to return the favour. An editor I had worked with in the past recommended me to Trailer Park and I’ve been there about eight years now.
And in that time the world of trailer music supervision has really grown
When I started out, music supervision for trailers was not a big thing. We’d get denied licenses all the time because it wasn’t cool for a band to have their music in a trailer. But since then the music industry has changed so much and it’s really turned around.
Most of the time you get involved in a project before the music supervisor for the movie is involved. How do you go about crafting the sound of the trailer when you don’t have much to work with?
There’s a lot of trial and error, and a lot of revisions! It’s a little tricky, especially if it’s early on and we’re doing a teaser trailer or the first trailer. You just talk with the client and they get an idea of what they are looking for from the filmmakers. The marketing people at the studio usually have a vision for a project – sometimes it’s not super specific, but they’ll definitely give you direction. If music is going to play a big part in the movie then we typically know that right away and we can address that. Sometimes there’s temp music and that definitely helps to give you an idea of the tone.
What’s the process when you’re first given a project?
Once the client gives us their direction they usually turn us loose for a few days and we do our thing. I work with the editor and the producer, and sometimes there’s a copywriter and that might influence the lyrical themes I’m looking for in the music.
In such a fast turnaround environment, how often would you say you commission something bespoke?
It’s happening a lot more now, that’s for sure. When I first started it never happened because it just wasn’t financially feasible – you’d have to bring in a band and hire a studio and an engineer. It would cost you 100 grand just to temp a cover of a song, but nowadays with technology artists can pretty much make music from anywhere. I would say I’m calling people for bespoke compositions on a weekly, if not daily basis.
Is that something you’re noticing a lot more demand for on the client side?
Yeah. When you’re working on a trailer you need a song that does something really specific, and that’s why certain songs get used over and over again. Clients don’t like it when you keep re-using the same songs, so the solution is to do a remix or a cover of the song, or a whole new composition altogether.
It certainly seems like the re-arranging of a song is a whole new art form in itself when it comes to trailers, for example, the way you used “Thriller” in the Stranger Things promo
Yeah. That was all our in-house composer Michael Paquette who won the Guild of Music Supervisors Award with me. He did that whole arrangement himself and made it fit that Stranger Things vibe. We were all really excited when he put it up for us.
Netflix producer Shawn Levy said that getting permission to use “Thriller” was the hardest thing he’s ever had to pull off as a producer. What happened there?
I don’t typically get involved in those negotiations as usually it’s the studio who does the licensing. We provide them with the information that they need to license the music, and then they actually do it themselves. I’m not sure what the difficulties were in that case, but anytime it’s a song that big there’s usually a lot of people involved. It took the show runners and the producers to get involved to make it happen, it was pretty crazy.
You mentioned earlier that you’ll usually know when a movie is going to be very music-driven. Was that the case when you were working on the Baby Driver trailer?
Yeah, for sure. We actually had an early cut of the movie and there was a lot of music written in. We tried to stick to the music that was in the movie – so for example we used “Nowhere to Run”, but a cover version. The original version of the song, which features in the movie, just doesn’t have the same build and the breaks that we needed for a trailer. So in that instance the cover worked better and made it feel a little more fresh and modern. And then we took “Tequila”, another song from the movie, and used an alternative version of that track in the third trailer. I happened to have a remix of The Champs’ version of “Tequila” that I thought was cool, so I pitched it to the editor and he liked it. So we were inspired by the movie, but we still did our own thing with it.
Nice. So in terms of relationships with labels and publishers, are you open to receiving music? And from a practical perspective, do you recommend that they send stems, instrumentals, remixes and so on?
Yeah, absolutely. We have contacts with everybody. We’re reaching out on a daily basis to get stems and instrumentals of the tracks that we like, and again that’s something that’s much more prevalent these days. I can understand why artists are sometimes hesitant to let us edit their music, but it really can make a huge difference in a trailer if we are able to change certain elements.
It must be difficult for rights holders to actually find out what you’re working on at any given time?
Yeah, it is. But I think if you’re a composer or a music company, just take a look at stuff I’ve worked on in the past, or other trailer music that’s been really big. And then when you send me stuff you can say it’s in the style of Interstellar or Godzilla, or whatever. That gets my attention. But you’ve got to make sure that it’s true or I’m probably not going to open any more of your emails! Given the nature of movies it’s likely that I’m going to work on another space movie or another superhero movie, so just keep that stuff in mind.
Do you think there’s a formula for the perfect trailer? And what part does music play in that?
I don’t know if there’s a formula. I hope there’s not. I’ve definitely seen people follow a certain formula, but I think for me the most important thing in any trailer is the emotion, and the music definitely plays a part in that. Whether it’s inspiring or funny or whatever, music is always going to play a part at helping get that emotion across. I think a lot of music supervisors get frustrated with how much it’s scrutinised, but music is so subjective, and what you’re going for is emotion.
Yeah, and the point isn’t necessarily to get people to take notice of the music, the point is for people to watch the trailer and think, “Oh my God, I really want to see that movie!”
Yeah, and that’s how our clients feel. They’re not interested in breaking a cool new band, they’re interested in selling a movie. If using a cool new band helps to sell the movie then great, but really it’s all about the sell.
Are there any trends that you’ve noticed in trailer music?
I think the remix thing is catching on – I get lots of requests for remixes of songs. Editors always want to use old songs, but typically if it’s an old song or it’s perfect for a trailer then it’s probably already been used. So I get tons of requests for remixes. I’m also noticing that lots of labels and publishers are sending remixes now, so it definitely seems to be on the upswing. Covers are also still a big thing, especially when they do something different with the song.
In terms of budgets are you seeing any changes there?
Again, I don’t do that much licensing so it’s hard to know. I do know that there have been some really high-priced licenses out there, but I think studios are definitely more conscious of how much they’re spending now.
It seems as though SVOD giants like Netflix are taking the lead with content and have huge budgets to spend on productions
Well, they do and they don’t. Netflix is pretty smart when it comes to budgeting – they’re very budget conscious when they need to be. I’m sure licensing “Thriller” wasn’t cheap, but they were smart enough to realise that it was worth it and that it would get a lot of attention. From my experience with them they’ve been pretty good knowing what to do with each individual project. Every Netflix thing that we’ve worked on has been really cool.
Can you tell us about some projects that you’re working on at the moment?
I can’t really talk about the stuff I’m working on at the moment, but in terms of recent stuff our Incredibles 2 trailer came out the other day, so did our Wrinkle In Time and Life of the Party trailers. We’ve also done some of the 50 Shades Freed TV spots.
With new technologies becoming more heavily adopted and our attention spans ever-decreasing, do you see any changes in the trailer format?
I think the biggest thing now is when you watch a trailer online there’s always a mini five second teaser trailer beforehand. They’ve found that people don’t have the attention span to sit out the full trailer, so they have to put a mini trailer before the trailer to entice people to watch the rest. It’s a crazy phenomenon.
When even trailers have trailers it’s a bit much!
Yeah. I do like the teasers that they use to announce a trailer. I think it’s cool that trailers have become an event now, but it’s definitely a little weird to have a five second trailer that plays directly before the trailer you’re about to watch.
And whereas before trailers only ran on television and cinema screens, nowadays there are versions of trailers for YouTube, Instagram, everything!
Yeah. We do specific spots for YouTube and Instagram and Facebook. Sometimes it’s looking at what will grab people’s attention without them necessarily having to hear it. So that’s become a new thing.
What would you say has been your favourite trailer to work on and why?
Man! You know, if I had to pick I’d probably say Mad Max. I love that movie, and I’ve always loved George Miller’s work, so it was an honour to work on that. And I thought our editor killed it on that trailer and I was proud of the unique music choice that we made.