How to license music for use in film trailers

Over the past 15 years, new opportunities have opened for independent artists looking to get their music placed in TV shows, movies, and video games.

But nevermind the soundtrack or score!

In the world of quick social sharing and viral videos, the art of film and game TRAILERS (ya know,… the previews!)  has taken on a life of its own. Savvy musicians are now earning money composing shorter “cues,” mini-scores to which studio editors can cut the teasers you end up seeing (and hearing) in theaters, TV, blogs, and YouTube.

But how do you get into the film trailer game, find licensing opportunities, work with studios, and deliver quality music on a deadline?

I spoke with two successful people in the film trailer world who were kind enough to share their experience and advice.

Part 1 of this series is my interview with Carol Sovinski of audiomachine, a boutique music production house specializing in original music and sound design for film, television and video game advertising campaigns. You’ve probably heard their work dozens of times and not even known it, as they’ve composed the film trailer music for huge blockbuster movies (Prometheus, The Artist, Madagascar 3, 21 Jump Street, The Cabin in the Woods, The Avengers, Battleship, and hundreds more).

An interview with Carol Sovinski of audiomachine about the world of music licensing for film trailers

CD Baby: What IS trailer music? And why do studios use trailer music?

Carol Sovinski: Trailer music, simply put, is original music and sound design, created with the intention of promoting movies, television shows, and video games.

Studios typically use our music for  two main reasons.  First off, the original score for a feature usually isn’t completed by the time film trailers are edited and shipped to theaters, and second, often a film’s score doesn’t adequately address the varying needs of an entire movie’s advertising campaign, so that is where we come in.

What qualities is the customer, director, or studio looking for when they pick trailer music?

The qualities that a studio or director look for in trailer music constantly changes.  It usually depends on how they want to sell the film. If you have a superhero movie, you may cut multiple trailers based on your target viewer.  For example, for a young male approach you might use a big bombastic epic action track that supports the high flying action and adventure elements of your film.  If you are trying to entice female viewers you may use a piece of emotional epic music that complements a romantic storyline or subplot of that same movie.

Is music ever composed custom for the job? Or is trailer music usually all stock stuff in a library?

The marketing executives in charge of these movies sometimes will have a very specific vision and in that case we will compose something entirely new to fit perfectly with the picture.

Can the same piece be used in multiple projects?

Sure!  Some of our most successful tracks have been used to bring movies of all genres to life on the big screen.

Can you tell us a little bit about audiomachine— its history, mission, what projects you’ve been involved with, and what sets it apart?

My partner, Paul Dinletir, and I launched audiomachine in 2005.  From day one our mission has been to create the best original music and sound design for film trailers, television and video game advertising campaigns.  We continue to try to push the envelope by recording in some of the most historic studios in the world and we work diligently to find the most amazing musicians available to us.  Some recent campaigns that have featured tracks from audiomachine include Prometheus, The Artist, Avatar, and the upcoming Life of Pi.

How do composers and artists get their music placed in trailers? Is it possible to do on their own? Or would they need to work with a licensing agency? 

I believe most advertising agencies that edit movie trailers don’t accept unsolicited composer submissions – so it can be extremely difficult to get your music heard if you aren’t affiliated with a licensing company or represented by a music library the agencies already have a relationship with.

How do you seek out licensing opportunities? Can you go through a day-in-the-life in terms of the tasks and emailing and phone calls and wrangling and composing and everything else that goes into matching the right music to the right project?

We have a dedicated music supervisor that fields calls and constantly interacts with trailer editing facilities.  Based on their creative needs for the project, he will put together a catered playlist of the music in our library he feels will best fit their needs.  Concurrently, our team of composers is always trying to set the trend by coming up with the next great motif, sound, or style that energizes new trailers!

Do artists who compose music for trailers usually release that music commercially? What is the audience for such music? How do those artists/composers promote their work? 

It seems that recently more and more trailer music has been released commercially.  Trailers have really taken on a life of their own and become recognized as stand alone works of art.  The online community that closely follows the release of trailers has exploded with the growth of high speed Internet and the ability to watch and share video content on mobile devices.  As a result, the amount of people exposed to our music in these trailers has grown and those same people have become followers and supporters of our music.  In addition to services like CD Baby, right now we promote our music and make ourselves accessible through social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook.

What is Chronicles?

Chronicles was audiomachine’s first public release.  It was a 28 song compilation that featured some of our most recognized and celebrated compositions.

Your upcoming release EPICA is listed as “the first entry in audiomachine’s Artist Series.” What does that mean?

With EPICA, our main composer Paul Dinletir approached the writing process from a much different angle.  Traditionally our cues are built with the “trailer recipe” in mind.  Most cues run between 90 seconds to 2 minutes in length, and substantially build and grow so that editors can use them to build tension or excitement in a trailer.  EPICA was an artistic project for Paul.  It was a release where he wrote the compositions unencumbered by the trailer format.  His trailer influences show through on many tracks, but EPICA feels more like a cohesive thought from start to finish rather than 12 independent cues written to support individual trailers.

So was this Artist Series experiment a success?  Where might people have heard music from EPICA?

We think so.  The motion picture advertising community has embraced the music and it has already had several prominent placements in advertising campaigns for movies like The Artist, The Grey, Prometheus, The Iron Lady, Man on a Ledge, and the upcoming Life of Pi.  These high profile placements have prompted trailer fans everywhere to inquire about owning the songs on EPICA, and starting July 10th, they can.

Anything else I missed that might seem interesting for our readers?

While we enjoy our fans being able to own our music,  audiomachine is also a proud supporter of the Los Angeles Youth Orchestra.  A portion of the proceeds from each sale of our commercial releases goes directly to the LAYO.  This non profit organization is where young musicians between the ages of 8 to 18 come together to rehearse and perform symphonic music alongside professional musicians. Their main goal is to foster a love of music for life.  You can read more about this wonderful organization directly on their webpage at

Listen to audiomachine’s music on CD Baby here.