TMCP 002: Where do I get inspiration for my trailer cues

By Richard Pryn •  Updated: 01/14/20 •  19 min read

This episode is actually a more general chat about what inspiration is and how you can better harness it to improve your ability to write on demand.

I find a good analogy for inspiration is that it is a flow of energy; it’s just a case of keeping your flow open (sounds gross when I put it like that).

Immature jokes aside, if you can have a better understanding of your ‘spark’ or ‘flow’ or ‘element’ then the better chance you have of being in it/with it/in control of it etc.

If you have ever suffered from “writer’s block” then I reckon you need to give this a listen. It’s pretty good!

Transcript

Welcome to session two of the trailer music composers podcast, let’s dive in. 

(Music)  One microphone and a head full of dreams. 

Welcome to the trailer music composer’s podcast. 

Hey guys, in this episode I’m going to be covering something that I feel really passionate about, and that is talking about inspiration.  Because I often get asked the question, where do I get my inspiration from?  And the answer I give is kind of long winded and sort of meandering because there is no real quick answer to this question.  I can give you little snippets which I’m going to, but I want to reframe how you think about inspiration when it comes to writing music.  Because what we have to do as trailer composers is we have to get up in the morning, sit down and write music.  Regardless of whether we feel like it, because that’s our job.  If a publisher turns to me and says hey Rich, I want this album out in the next week and I say you know what, I’m feeling a bit low today so I don’t really want to write any music, then I would quickly lose my job, or at least lose work.  So you have to kind of be in the mood for music all the time.  And that means that you have to have a continuing flow of inspiration and there’s the key here, you know inspiration isn’t something that you look for, something that you find, inspiration is a tap that you turn on basically.  This is my personal view of it.  You’re always tapped into inspiration, it’s just whether you’ve got the tap on or tap off.  And the way to do it is, to turn the tap on as it were, is just to get writing, you don’t stop yourself from writing just because an idea isn’t there. 

And that’s the really important part and that’s why it’s very important to have templates, to have go to places that where you know you can find sounds that you like or instruments that you like, often if I’m feeling like I’m not in the mood for music I will just load up a template or I will sit at my piano and I will make a sound. And immediately as soon as I get a sound the taps turned on and the flow has started.  And that’s the really important part here, inspiration is a flow. 

And that’s the problem.  Because with a flow there is a way to stop it and people forget that you will self-sabotage yourself by being critical, you will stop your inspiration by being critical.  So you know when people talk about having that blank paper, sure you know I don’t have any ideas, I don’t have any ideas.  If you sit down and you tell yourself you don’t have any ideas then no ideas are going to come.  You know don’t be afraid of the blank page.  And when I’m talking about a blank page for us trailer composers, I mean sort of the blank session window where you open up and yes, you might have a template or some markers and make it look pretty with colours, but it’s empty of musical content at that point.  Do not be afraid of that.  If you sit there and think I think I’ve got writer’s block, yes, you could say that all day until the cows come home. It’s not going to help you, what’s going to help you is just making some noise and not criticising yourself.  This is really, really important.

A lot of people let themselves write and also edit their music at the same time. And I’m a huge fan of just writing, no editing, just writing, let the ideas come thick and fast, keep layering, keep looping, keep adding, keep developing.  Even if you think what you’ve just done isn’t great, just let it go, just keep working through it, it’s almost like you’re kind of throwing paint at the canvas regardless of what happens and seeing what sticks.  Because the moment you start to criticise what you’re doing is the moment that you will stop the inspiration from continuing, you will stop  the flow.  And the moment you stop the flow then the fear sets in.  and then the fear, once the fear sets in and that inner voice, that inner critic comes in and says you know what, what are you doing, you’re not really a good composer, you don’t know what you’re doing, you don’t know what an Italian sixth is really, do you?  And all of a sudden these voices creep in and those voices are the things that stop the flow.

Now what you need to do is this, so this is my tip to you to help you get inspiration from your trailer cues.  Regardless of your mood, regardless of how you’re feeling, sit down, have a little play on the keyboard, on the drum pads, whichever instrument it is, just for a couple of minutes just to kind of get some sounds going,l that’s all you’re doing.  Even if you fall into the same old patterns, some sounds out.  Because that’s what we all work with, that’s why we love what we do, because we love sound and sound is the thing that triggers our excitement and once  we trigger that excitement the flow,  the inspiration flow, the tap comes in and the idea springs forth.  So you need to make some sound regardless of whether you feel like it.  It’s like going to the gym, you don’t always feel like going to the gym, but once you’re there, you’re like ok this isn’t so bad.  And then you get into it. 

So that’s what you need to do with music, you need to see it like inspiration isn’t striking me right now, you just sit down and show up.  Sit down at your desk, whether it’s a posh producer’s desk, or whether like me it’s just a simple at home office with a keyboard on it, start busting out some sounds and that will get you excited.  I mean it gets me excited, sounds, even if it’s just plucking my violin behind me here, or noodling on the piano or loading up my favourite batches within the omnisphere or something like that.  Just to get excited about sound again.

So that’s how you start it right. How do you think about it? Ok, that’s how I started the idea,but what if I don’t feel like writing a horror track today?  Say I want to write like an inspirational family adventure piece of music, yes ok good, you can do that, but your job at the moment, the current situation is to write a horror track in this example.  So you sit down, same thing applies, if you sit down and go well I don’t feel like writing horror music today you’re not going to write horror music.  What you need to do is just search for a sound and get that sound on and press record, get a sound loaded into your session.  And that sound is going to be the start of your cuere, that sound is a signal to your brian, however you want to see it, to your brain, to your higher soul, whatever a signal that you’re ready to let inspiration flow. 

And what will happen is you will just get into the groove, and if you don’t let yourself get into the groove.  And by that I mean if you don’t let yourself just layer sounds in to bring new sounds in and start structuring your cue then it’s not going to happen, and you’re going to start criticizing yourself and remember what I said, the moment you start criticizing yourself is the moment you stop the inspiration. 

So, going back to that point and I’m going to hammer this point home to you, because this is only session two of this podcast, but this is so important, do not edit your stuff at the same time as writing it.  And I’m not talking about mixing, that’s not the same because mixing is also to do with balancing the sounds, you’re working with the sounds.  I’m talking about when you write an idea and you go mmm, that’s rubbish delete, write another, mm, that’s not right, delete.  Just leave it on there, you can always delete later on when your fresh ears are ready and you’re ready to sit down with the editing in mind.  What I often do is I sit down with the intention of just writing, so I will say to myself this morning I am going to write an entire cue, and I’m not saying it will be a finished cue, but I will sketch out a whole cue.  And the way to do this for those of you who have done my courses, I give you guys lots of different ways to sketch out a cue.  And by sketching out a cue, and for those of you that don’t know a cue is just another word for the price of music that you’re writing for the film trailer, by sketching out the cue you are getting something out, you are saying again I’m ready for the inspiration, ready for the flow. 

So you’ve got your sketch and all of a sudden you have something there.  So that fear goes away because your ego is not going ah there’s nothing there, you can’t do it, your ego is saying oh actually there’s something here to work with, lets keep going, see what happens.  So if you want a starting point, one nice way to do it is to sketch out the whole trailer cue.  And it doesn’t have to be with sounds, I would advise it so, but you can use markers, which I often do, or regions, sketch out your trailer into the act that it needs to be into the sections.  So the first thirty seconds act one, the next minute act two, the next minute act three.  And then snip out the last bit just for your outflow or some people call it the act four. 

And then you have a structure and you go ok that’s good.  And then you can just chuck in some hits, just put some hits there at the beginning of every four bars.  And then all of a sudden you’ve got this thing that’s happening and you realise that you’re working, you realise that you’re creating.  And it’s just a wonderful freeing way to get your inspiration.  Ok.

Now when we talk about inspiration we’re not just talking about getting writing, we’re also talking about getting excited.  And that’s a huge part of it.  You will know about being in the zone, you know there’s a guy called Ken Robinson who talks about finding your element.  And there’s other people who talk about finding your flow, finding your zone of genius.l  you’re finding a place where everything just feels right and you’re completely captivated and not thinking of anything else, you’re just in the zone of writing.  And what you will do by practising this just starting you will find that you will get into that zone quicker and that zone is when the inspiration is not being hindered.  You’re getting this flow down from wherever it is, I believe it’s yourself that’s, your soul that’s chucking down all these great ideas and you’re getting these ideas and you’re letting them come out, your flow is flowing.  For want of a better way to say it.

So we;ve talked about getting sound, get your sound out just to get you started, we’ve talked about laying down a template, laying down markers, a visual thing to get you working and get that flow and get you into the zone.  Now what about when the voices, l say the voices like I’m a crazy person, we all have the voices in our head, don’t pretend that you don’t, you do.  I definitely do.

Now the other thing linked to these voices is to be very aware of that.  So I don’t work, I don’t write for very long at a time.  I usually write music for about two hours  and then I stop.  Because I’ve noticed in myself that the moment I either a, get tired, or b, have been doing it for a bit too long, or more than two to three hours, the voices creep in which means for me that the critical element comes in and I start editing.  And the moment I start editing and I start to think negatively of the piece of music I’m writing I stop.  I either stop that track and go have an apple or go for a walk to whatever, or I stop and write another one.  Because I guarantee that when you write these ideas, even you come back to them you think that’s alright, you know.  After sort of five days of doing this, you’ve got five ideas.  Done.  And that’s the wonderful thing, you’re being productive, and you’re allowing yourself to be productive and you’ll find that your self confidence goes up as a result because not only have you produced five ideas, yes maybe they’re not your best ideas, but you’ve produced five ideas.

And I always say done is better than perfect.  Because once you start getting into the realms of perfection you are deleting your criticisms, your editing takes over too much.  I have had tracks placed that had not even been mixed and they were clipping all over the shop, but they were done, it was an idea that I sent out to the publishers, I don’t expect them to pirch it for anything, but it just happened to be right for something that was requested at the time.  And had I not sent that out, had I waited until the mix was perfect, had I waited until I’d finished that final flourish on the third act, I wouldn’t have got that placement.  Sometimes it’s better just to let the ideas flow out, stop. Let another idea flow out, stop, let another idea flow out.  And let that inspiration flow. Because you will notice that not only does your ease of writing increase you will  find that your enjoyment of it increases. 

And this is a huge thing for those, in fact all of us, I was going to say for those of you who do this as a side hustle, you’ve got your full time job and you liek I want to be a trailer music composer, I’m going to do this on the side.  And the problem with that, I remember because I did the same thing, is you come back from work and you’re absolutely exhausted and you find that actually it’s quite hard to get into the flow because you’re exhausted.

But the trick there is the same tricky hat I would use if I had been writing for an entire day, which is one of those rare days but I do have them, it’s just let the ideas out.  Don’t edit them, get them out.  So for instance I did a ten track album for a publisher in one day.  Because I let the ideas out first, i sketched out the ideas, I created a template to help me I found the sounds that excited me, the template was done then I had the template for the entire album, and then I sketched out an idea, stopped, sketched out an idea, stopped, I don’t edit the idea whilst i was working on it beyond anything lyrics bouncing audio in place or reversing stuff like that.  You know that’s not editing, that’s just manipulating to get the desired sound.  I’m not thinking oh get rid of that bit, it doesn’t work, I’m just going yes this, yes this, and I found myself before I knew it I had 10 tracks sketched out. And then it was a simple case of going back with my editing hat on and editing, because that’s a very different job.

There is a reason you have in the world of composition, you have a composer, you have an orchestrator, you have an editor, you have a copyist because they are all different hats. You’ve got a mixing engineer, you’ve got a mastering engineer. You’ve got studio technicians, they are all different hats and they all require a different type of thinking.  So when you sit down you are not shutting down as a production assistant, you are not sitting down as a copyist, you are sitting down as a composer to get ideas out.  Ok.  so that’s what you need to start to practice, is letting the ideas flow and not editing anything.  Yes there will be a time when you come back to edit, but that’s not what I’m talking about, when you sit to write that’s all you do, you write, you let the idea fly. 

Right now I know I’[ve been hammering home this same point for shy of 20 minutes but it’s so important and people overlook it so often.  They wonder why they are working on the same trailer cue for sort of eight hours, because they’re writing and editing at the same time.  Now I’m not saying there won’t be moments when you do have to spend that time on a trailer cue, especially when you’ve got, you know you’re dealing with a full orchestral thing that’s filled with all sorts of ornaments and flourishes, and all sorts of different articulations etc., yes, that is a different beast altogether, so again you approach that like this, you write your ideas, sketch out the track.  And you come to as an orchestrator and you develop it, then you cpem to it as your mixing engineer and you mix it, then you come to it in different stages.  At some point your master engineer he’s going to say hold on. This bit doesn’t work, then you have to switch back your editors, but by then,  you’ve got a cue, you’ve got a track, you’ve got the idea.  And that’s what you need to do because if you’re going to become a trailer music composer you need to be able to write easily.  And write quickly because sometimes especially with bespoke work your turnarounds are very, very small, you know they will phone you up and say hey we need a turnaround on this in a couple of horus, and a couple of hours admittedly tis qui9te rare for iot to be a couple of hours for an entire cue, a couple of hours or produce something, you need to be quick, and you need to allow yourself to be quick and train yourself to be quick. 

And I do actually pride myself on my ability to write fast, because I sit down and I let the flow happen, thats sounds gross when I say it like that, I sit down and let my ideas flow, I don’t hinder them, ok, it’s like you’re planting a seed and your watering a plant, constantly watering, not constantly because then you down it, but youre looking after a seed until it becomes a plant. And when that plant grows and gets bigger that’s when you clip it, that’s when you start editing it, but when it’s just a little fledging, you don’t sort of go there with a pair of scissors and snip the top off and go didn’t like the look at that plant.  Well admittedly if its a weed in your flower bed you might do, but I digress again.

So, what we need to do, next time you sit own to write a piece of trailer music or to write a piece of music that you hope to become a piece of trailer music, just write it get a sound out, sketch out an entire track, flesh it out, do not edit it, just let those ideas forth, and the moment you start to edit stop, save it, start another one.  Until you’re either done or you’re tired or you’ve got all your ideas out.  You will be very,very surprised at the experiments this will bring your workflow, to your attitude about wiring and to enjoyment of writing.

Now if you enjoyed this podcast please click subscribe, so you can keep up to date with a new session and also give me a review, that’s always most welcome and if you nat to know more about rinygg trailer music you can head on over to the trailer music school and passively subscribe to my YouTube channel, thanks for letting and your awesome.,  take care.

Music plays.


Richard Pryn

Hey there. I am an award winning composer for movie trailers, including Bladerunner 2049, Diablo II, WandaVision, and loads more. I am the founder of The Trailer Music School where my aim is to teach everything I know about music composition, production, and generally being a functional human being. I podcast, blog, vlog and jog (sometimes). I also love coffee, nachos and self-improvement. I live with my wife, three kids and numerous pets. I am also known by my pseudonym, Richard Schrieber (it’s a long story).