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Nailing music for movie trailers

Ciaran Birch's alternative take on working with music for blockbusters

This is truly an inspiring story about discovering a whole new territory that most people probably have no idea even exists - and on how to just grab the opportunity when it presents itself. 

Ciaran Birch is a Dublin-based composer and producer that has made himself an amazing career within a niche industry that involves movie titles like 'Avengers: Endgame’, 'Avengers Infinity War’, ’Wonder Woman’, ’Dr. Strange’, ’Star Wars: Rogue One’ and ’Blade Runner 2049’ just to name a few.

But he didn't compose the music that is used in the actual films - he composed the music that is used for the movie trailers! And the music for movie trailers is unique productions that are not directly connected to the soundtracks that you hear in the theatres. We guess that a lot of people actually never gave that much thought, and as it turns out, neither did Ciaran Birch: 

"Music in trailers was always something I was fascinated by. I had always assumed the composer for the film did the trailer music as well as the film music, so that came as quite a shock when I realised there was a whole industry dedicated to producing music for the trailers and TV spots.

And an even bigger surprise was that this industry had composers that were based all across the globe and not just in Hollywood."

 

Getting into the trailer business

But how did Ciaran manage to get into this 'unknown' field of work in the first place? 

"Well, there is an Irish composer called Dean Valentine who was writing music for huge blockbuster trailers and just by chance I ran into him at a music talk. He is such a nice guy and he gave me invaluable feedback on my music so that it would be of a standard to submit it to the trailer publishers.

After sending a demo reel to maybe eight or so companies, one replied to me saying they'd liked what they heard and would be willing to take me on. That was in 2014, and after a long year refining my mixing and production, I landed my first trailer in the movie 'San Andreas' with Dwayne Johnson.

Since then I’ve been fortunate to have worked with some of the top trailer publishers and I’ve had my music featured in around fifty trailers which include the likes of Blade Runner 2049, Star Wars, Avengers Infinity War, Wonder Woman, Thor: Ragnorok, and Ant-Man & The Wasp."

 

Working with LYD

In his studio, Ciaran has been using LYD 5 studio monitors and has recently upgraded to a pair of LYD 48.

"The first time I went to Dean Valentine’s studio I noticed he got this massive sound from his music. He was using Dynaudio speakers, and I always like buying gear based on recommendations.

As I was working in a more compact space, I bought the LYD 5’s as they had just come out and the reviews were fantastic. The power and clarity I found from this smaller near field monitor was just brilliant.

Then, I upgraded to the LYD 48's when I moved into my first house and could set up a bigger studio room. And straight off the bat, there was just this massive sound, but yet the definition was striking.

One huge benefit that has helped me with setting up my sound is the 'Wall' switch option the LYD series has, which I’m sure a huge amount of people find useful due to proximity issues.

Half profile of LYD 5

For me, there was no 'breaking in' period where I had to get used to the speakers. They will be part of the setup for many years to come based off how comfortable I am with them already.

My style of music is generally quite aggressive and big. So having control over each element in the mix so they are powerful, but defined, is so important, and I find that I get that with the LYD 48's.

To be honest there's no hiding away with bad mixing choices either from my end. That clarity I mentioned brings up the good and the bad noticeably. Which is exactly what you want out of a high-end speaker."

 

The benefit of adding one more 'way' to the mix

Ciaran also commented specifically on the difference it makes to move from a 2-way speaker to a 3-way with a dedicated midrange driver.

"I think that having the midrange driver makes a phenomenal difference. A friend of mine had said to me that 3-way speakers are a whole different ball game, and now that I own a pair, I completely agree with him.

I honestly feel like my ears have opened up having this extra dedicated midrange driver. My mixes were always decent enough, but they now automatically have a new dimension to them thanks to the LYD 48s."

 

Front of LYD 48

Fast move from accounting to music

As Ciaran mentions, he landed his first trailer in 2014, but in fact his music production journey had only been initiated a few years prior to that.

"I actually studied and worked as an accountant until 2012 when I decided I wanted to try making a start in the world of composing. I started working with DAW's and sample-based music back in 2011 when my dad retired from his job and began to study sound engineering.

I've always been into writing music, and as a teen, I did the usual thing of writing music and songs as part of bands and recording tracks on our 16 track recorder in the house.

But when my dad began his college course, he bought an iMac and Pro Tools for the house and thankfully let me mess about with it. That was my first foray into writing orchestral and electronic based music and I was hooked!

The last place I worked before pursuing a career in composing was a finance company and inadvertently I composed a lot of music for their radio adverts. This gave me a great taste of what it would be like and I absolutely loved every minute of it.

I didn’t mind spending 10 to 12 hours a day working on a track and it was great to feel such passion and drive for something. So, I bit the bullet and decided I needed to leave and pursue what I really wanted."

 

How to enter the trailer music business

Ciaran also has a few pieces of advice for producers out there who may find this line of production work interesting: 

"There’s a few essential bits of advice I definitely live by for both trailers and any composing based career.

Top of the list would be production quality. The production quality of your track is such a key aspect for trailer publishers if they're looking to take on a new composer. Mine wasn't the best a few years ago, but thankfully the first publisher who gave me a shot saw the potential in my composing and the production was something I worked very hard on.

So unless you're lucky to run into a music supervisor who thinks that way, my advice would be to refine your demo tracks as best you can. Comparing them to the tracks that are landing in blockbuster trailers to see where your tracks differ - or could be improved - is a great way to see where your tracks are at.

I still do it to this day to make sure my production is on point. There are dedicated YouTube channels like Epic Heaven Music and Trailer Music Weekly that release previously industry-only music that is amazing to listen to.

Secondly, constructive criticism from the right people is invaluable. It sucks when people don’t automatically say your track is amazing on the first draft. But they’re not doing it to personally hurt you, it's because at that moment your track isn't at the level needed for the clients. Taking on board what the right people say about your music and striving to make all the production, mixing, and composition better will be the difference between making it or not."

 

No doubt, this is a niche in music production that is unknown to a lot of producers out there. And one that could be a path to pursue in the way that Ciaran Birch has done so successfully. We guess the key point here is to simply keep your eyes, ears and not least mind open to whatever opportunity that may present itself along the way. There are alternative directions to take... 

And frankly, how many out there can say that they had their music heard by more than 250 million people during the first few days from release? Well, Ciaran can with the brand-new trailer for 'Avengers: Endgame'. 

To make it even better, the music for this trailer was actually the first production Ciaran delivered that was mixed entirely on his LYD 48 studio monitors!