The first act in trailer music cues sets the mood for the whole piece.  Rich is known for his ability to create memorable first acts that get placed.

In this session of The Trailer Music Composer’s Podcast, Rich speaks from his studio, with his DAW open and playing!  He moves through his process step by step, sharing his techniques to create simple and effective first acts.


Hey guys, welcome to another session of the trailer music composers podcast, in this episode, I am sat at my computer because I wanted to cover something that actually a lot of other composers pick me up on and not in a critical way at all,  in a highly complimentary way, which I’m always honoured to receive from other talented people.  And that is how do I create such simple but effective trailer intros.  Intros are by far my favourite thing to do, and when I say intros I mean the act one, the setting of the scene.  And I think honestly it’s because of a couple of things, the first thing is you know how much I focus on imagining its landscape and giving it a sense of depth.  And I don’t just mean like depth in pitch, but I mean depth in distance.  And obviously you guys should also know how much I love reverb.

So you can’t see it, which is really nice actually, it’s really nice to know that you can’t see what I’m doing because it actually will hopefully focus your ears on the intricacies (Music) of what I’m doing.  I have absolutely no idea what I, I’ve gone against everything I normally teach, which is having a picture in my head, and at least having some template loaded up.  Well I do have a template, I have my blank Logic template loaded up, I’ve got Elisha’s keys (Plays note) which is pretty much all I ever need.  

So here’s the plan, I’m just going to do a first act, and I want to do this as simply and as minimal as possible and I’d like it to be more sound design than traditional, because it’s a lot of fun and you guys can start to listen to see what I’m doing.  Now my bag is usually thrillers and horrors with sort of the darker side of action as well when it comes to sound design.  So I’m going to write a brief little introduction, first act for a dark thriller.

Now the way I would do this is I like to set the tone with either a pad or something for a booming in the distance.  So I’m going to make my own pad here. I’ve got Elisa’s Keys, so I’m just going to stick with that now.  (Plays note).  So what I’m going to do is I’m just going to load up something.  (Piano music).  And I’m going to be playing that in, and I’m just going to play that in a little bit, and then export it and have a little play.  (Piano music).

That will do the job nicely, let’s bounce it in place, piano pad I will call it.  So this often how I roll, this is how I roll guys, I mean honestly.  This is how I roll when it comes to sound design, I will bounce it in place and idea.  So what I’ve got now is I’ve got the waveform in front of me and I’m just cleaning it up a touch so that I can then create a longer wave form from it.  So now I’m just  copying it with a cross fade between the two, so this should sound.  (Piano music)

There we go, that was me going over a cross faded element and I didn’t even notice, which is perfecto.  And I’ve just done that four times and I’m just going to give the last one a fade out and probably give the intro one I fade in, so here’s the fade in.  (Piano music).

Cool, so there’s my basic pad, which I’m not, it’s roughly 54 seconds long which is more than enough. I’ll call it piano pad bip, that’s in place, there it is, there’s the master at work.  No there’s the master file, I’m just going to mute that track there.  And I’ve got this, so what I’m going to do is first thing, you know it, let’s reverse it.  Ok, because nothing does erie like a reversed piano, live a reversed track.  (Piano plays).

Ok, cool, this is nice, but it’s too close, I want to set this in like as if I’m in the caves of, oh no, I’m going to kick myself for not remembering a Lord of the Rings fact here, the Dwarven Caves from Lord of the Rings.  So I’m going to chuck in a recent freebie which was Val; Hella’s super massive reverb, which is just immense, this is my type of ridiculous reverb.  So I’m going to Massive and we’re going to laid up, let’s try final frontier shall we, that’s the setting.  (Music plays).

That’s done everything I wanted it to do and more, so lets, what I did with that was I’m just going to fade in that track, I was going to put this into a sampler and have a little play, still could.  (Music plays).

You know what that just sounds beautiful I am going to bounce that in place, piano, affected paired, I’m going to bounce that I place, load it into a sampler, the wonderful thing about it is I’ve got a tonality going on, it’s C minor.  So that’s the lovely thing when you do put something, so convert to new sampler track, yes please.  Let’s put it to C1, there we go, piano affected pad, create one, it’s good.  Here we go let’s see what we’ve got.  (Music plays).

So that is me just pressing the key on the keyboard by the way, and that’s a ridiculous long release isn’t it.  Let’s take that down a touch.  So let’s try if I play that same thing up.  (Music plays).

Hold on I haven’t gone into EXS yet have I.  Come on.  So at the moment it’s just on C1, so if I stretch that up to C5, lets try that higher up.  (Music plays).

So obviously what I’ve got, I’ve got is tonality going on here.  So when I, I’ve got a sample of a minor third, so when I do play a C minor chord on the keyboard it’s actually giving me some complicated demised chord.  So what I want is to think about this, so if I’m in, I can afford to play a C, the note C because that gives me C and E flat, I can also afford to play a G because that would then give me G and B flat.  So if I played C and G together that would give me a C minor seven chord.  (Music plays).

The thing I like about a C minor seven chord is it’s sad but optimistic. There’s hope for it.  But this is not dark enough is it, so actually, all my hard work I’m just going to delete the affected pad and I’m just going to use the original sample.  (Music plays).

Because I want it to have that minor feel to it.  Let’s turn it down a bit.  (Music plays).

Nice.  So we’ve got this lovely bed of noise going on, it’s hinting at the minor, so we’re feeling like it’s dark and sad and tense and stuff like that.  So I mean my next go to thing is.  So remember this has created a sense of hugeness, which is exactly what I want.  I also want to have a sense of impact.  And for this my go to impact sub is in damage One, because Damage Two just came out which I haven’t yet bought.  I probably will eventually, here we go.  Punch kit there we go.  (Drum sound)

That’s the business, just love that.  Here we go, let’s play that in.  (Music plays).

Immense.  And then let’s just want that, and I’m going to have that coming in.  Sorry what is done is gone to a plastic kit.  There we go.  I’m going to have that playing every eight bars perhaps.  How long is that, that’s 16 seconds.  Ok cool.  (Music plays).

And another little trick that I do like to do although some might say this is a cheesy one, I like to have an echo on this type of hit, and then you colour the echo.  Let’s see if we can hear this.  (Music plays).  I want it on the quarter notes.  Let’s put the feedback up.  (Music plays).

It’s just a nod to the size again, it’s only a subtle thing.  Lets try it on a half note.  (Music plays).

Yes that’s better, half note.  Ok, so we now have the two elements that I already wanted.  I have created a sense of space, the final frontier, these are the voyages.  I would now like to think about the importance of word dynamics here.  And I don’t mean necessarily dualisms like compression, I mean dynamics like in the sonic space, in the space around you.  Now the way our ears perceive sound is obviously things that happen are really far away, the lower frequencies travel to us much more easily than the higher frequencies.  That’s why when you hear something big and boomy in the distance it’s extra specially low.  The frequencies that are available to our ears it’s going to be the low ones because the short ones will sort of die off on their way here.  Hence this stuff creates a sense of distance.  (Music plays).

I mean I can, what I’ve just done is I’ve just taken an A almost like a high cut down to about sort of 1500 hertz to take the edge off that top of the pad, because then what you can do there.  (Music plays).

I will use it as an extra bit to bring in the build to the finale as it were.  One, two, three , four.  One, two, three, four.  There we go.  So I’m going to have an extra long introduction to 54 seconds, I mean Vik at Elephant Music would be going it’s too long, yes sir, I shall stop that.  But for now for this purpose I want to create a sense of epicness.  Epicness.   

Ok so let’s add in an extra part to this, I’m going to take a, I want to add like a little oh into my sub hits.  A little switch hit as it were.  So let’s just load up an epic drum, let’s just load up Damage Armageddon.  I’m just going to play this in, there we go, two, three, four.  Play.  (Music plays).

Yeah.  And I’m going to quantise that and I’m going to export it and reverse it.  I say export it, bounce in place.  Now I’ve got my file here and I’m going to reverse it, there we go.  Yes, delete that and now I’m going to put this so it leads into that sub, because I want to kind of give the sense of build even into elements like a sub.  Let’s have a listen to it.  (Music plays).

Classic.  Ok, however I don’t necessarily want that really high, again I don’t want all that high detail, so I’m going to put some kind of high pass on it, I mean low pass.  (Music plays).

Cool.  That sounds cool, cool, cool, cool.  Let’s chop it even more down to about 200.  (Music plays)

Three hundred, four hundred, yes, yes, yes.  Ok.  So this is the stuff I do all the time, not laugh like a madman, I simply think about the minimal elements I have and how I can make them more interesting.  So what we have is this wonderful, wonderful sound.  (Music plays).  

This great pad that was just me playing Elisha’s Keys.  And now we’re getting extra sense here, Ok.  so shall I stick with it, I’ll stick with Elisha’s Keys.  Let’s go back.  

(Piano plays).

Ok.  So I want to bring in an extra element here for this sub hit. (Piano plays).

I mean that’s really cheesy, but you know what we’ll do is we’ll smush, squash, amplify, minify, you know.  All those little things to make that sound coller.  So I’m going to bounce that.  There we go, so I’ve got my audio file to work with which sounds like this.  

(Music plays).

There we go, ok, so let’s just normalise it, there we go.  And i could reverse it, but I don’t want to, the first thing I want to do is smash this to death, this low C.  So as those of you who listen to the podcast will know, most people when I say go to plugins guys, the amount of people, in fact everyone I’ve interviewed pretty much goes Sound Toys, awesome.  Lets use Sound Toys, everybody loves Sound Toys.  so I like a combination of Decapitator, well I say a combination I just like Decapitator really if I’m completely honest with you.  So we’re going to effects and we’re going to add Angry Neighbour.  So this is like a, (Sound plays) I mean who doesn’t want that, I mean that is ridiculous isn’t it.  (Music plays).

Yes.  Yes.  Ok, so what that does is it smushes it to death and then chops off the high information which is exactly what I want.  Ok.  Now a classic thing to do here is I’m taking the end of the file off, so we’ve just got this.  (Music plays).

I mean that’s brilliant, pretty bloody cool really.  And then I’m just going to add this, so every four bars we hear that noise.  (Sound).  Maybe I’ll turn it down just a touch.  Ok.  fantastic, I mean that’s just wicked.  So what I’m going to do now is I’m actually going to bounce that little section in place and I’m going to add a little woosh in it, low C woosh.  So all they can hear is brrrrr, like that.  Same again, let’s just chop the ending.  I’ve just bounced that.  I’m going to reverse it, there we go.  (Music plays).

Ok. And I’m just going to add in a little fade with a curve so it’s like  (Sound plays).  Ok, now the other thing I want to do is just go through the EQ, because obviously we’ve removed a lot of the cool information here, the higher up information as you can see when I (Sound).  There’s not much going on there so I’m going to get the compressor out and smash that.  There we go, a threshold of minus 45.  (Sound plays)  ratio of 12 (sound plays).  (Music plays).

Yes, yes.  Ok.  And I’m not going to add that in for the first one.  So the first one must be plain old, here we go business as usual.

(Music plays).  But this one  (Music plays).

Ok, now another little trick I do like to do is I’m going to pan this throughout its lifetime, and that means that I am going to be taking this from your left ear to your right ear.

(Music plays).

Cool, just a simple little titbit.  Now here’s the other thing right.  So at the moment we have that (Music plays)  and what I could do is have that every two bars.  (Music plays). Because then what you’re doing is you’re playing with a sense of space and a sense of pace, space and pace.  So we’ve got out space (Music plays) which is that low rumble in this lovely piano pad. (Music plays).  And then we have our sense of bringing thighs forward with this woosh (Music plays).   So it’s starting to feel like its ticking along which is really important.  (Music plays).  And copy and paste everything so there, it’s going to carry on.  (Music plays).

But what I want to have is I want to have something that’s going to give me a sense of tension increase, I mean honestly I’m really resisting just chucking in a ton of risers because I love risers, but I want to give you guys something different here.  So let’s load up (sound plays)  Going to keep Damage Armageddon, so we’ll use that again in a minute.  I don’t want a lot of stuff going on so I might load up one of my own samples and play with it a little bit.  Where are we?  Church piano, I think it’s this one (Piano plays).  

So I like having things ticking along.  (Piano plays).  It makes you think like something’s coming and also things are going.  So it gives the track drive and it’s incredibly simple to do, you can just do it on the beat.  Ok, so let’s bring this in half way, about here.  (Music plays).  

Ok, I mean that’s, the sound isn’t quite right yet, it’s going to need to be (Music plays) probably smushed, but let’s take out some of this low information.  Yeah, I’ll take out some of the low confirmation because I want this to feel closer, you know (sings closer to me).  So I’m going to take out Native Instruments, Supercharger GT for smushing.  (Music plays).  

Ok cool.  So what you’re getting now is (Music plays)  can you hear the room swelling, whea, whea, whea, and it’s just fantastic isn’t it.  (Music plays).  So what happens if I then take some of the high information out?  (Music plays).  Awesome.

So here’s what I’m going to do now, rather than having a riser I’m going to use an automated EQ.  Ok.  I’m going to take this automated EQ, so that actually this starts at the same time as our lovely low C (Music plays).  But what I’m going to do is I’m going to automate the EQ so that what happens is it kind of opens up progressively.  So taking a very, very simple idea and giving it a progression.  So let’s turn on Latch and let go.  (Music plays). 

It’s like someone’s walking up the stairs.  (Music plays)  Opening up the filter (Music plays).  Classic dance move.  (Music plays).  And then lets turn the reed on and then I’m just going to give it a volume cut right there, right as it stops.  So I’m going to also do the same for this piano pad (Music plays).  So you notice, remember I put a little filter on it at the top, so let’s put it onto Latch. Let’s open that up.   (Music plays).  It’s got to be subtle but it all make a difference.  

Ok there we go and then let’s put it on, so if we now listen to the track we can then get a sense of what this track needs.  So remember I wanted to create a sense of pace, not pace, a sense of space and scale and a sense of the ominous, remember this is a dark thriller, nothing huge is happening , I don’t want anything huge.  (Music plays).  Keep it simple, here we go.  (Music plays).

Ok, awesome, so simple and yet it’s so effective.  Admittedly my little tapped piano note kind of sounds like a fall to the floor kick doesn’t it.  Lets just, I’m sending it up an octave.  (Music plays).  See I like this, maybe I’ll put an echo on this as well.  (Music plays).  

Ok, fantastic.  So this essentially now just needs a little bit more to help it into that section, that drop.  So I’m actually going to add a couple of hits, maybe not that aggressive, just a little one, just to be like, hey guys we mean business you know (Music plays). Maybe a little bit louder, didn’t hear that one.  (Music plays).  There we go.  And then I’m going to put that into a space just using reverbs, default and Logic.  Because I want to send it somewhere. (Sings send it somewhere).  Halls, let’s put it on a church balcony shall we.  (Music plays).  

Again I’m keeping the sense of space, I don’t want close things to happen and if I did, which, actually let’s scrap that bit.  Yes if I did.  And what I’m going to do is this, is this track is at its turning point because I didn’t really picture the whole cue beyond this, where I take it from now is entirely dependent on where the track needs to go.  And that seems really obvious, however what I’m trying to say is this could go into an orchestral cue right now.  This could go into a  hybrid cue, this could continue down the like organic sound design route.  

But I think I’d like to try something a little bit different, I’m very tempted to sort of do a (Music plays).  It’s like a fancy little thing going on, but I kind of want it go get a little bit like I’m not weird, but unusual I shall say.  So what I’m going to do is I’m going to load up a simple drum machine.  So for us Logic users that would be UltraBeat.  (Drum sounds).  Ohh, there we go, no I want to load up Drum Banks Acoustic, Analogues, Bank there we go.  (Drum Plays).  

Ok right.  So let’s just have a listen to this (Music Plays).  I don’t want to do this, I was maybe thinking of going something like tense 24 music by just playing random notes and then just filtering it, but you know what, that’s just lazy delete.  I’m going to load up some of my risers.  I can do what you say oh that’s lazy too, but you guys I want to do some risers.  Where I am, I know I’m at home.  Schreiber Samples, my string risers.  (Music plays).

Yes.  The beauty of this sample is its tons of information, recorded at 96, going super slow so it doesn’t feel like a traditional riser.  Let’s add it in.  (Music plays).  It fits in with that low C sound.  

Ok.  There we go, lets, I’m just going to bounce that in place just so that I can hear it in situ midway through the notes and then I’m going to cut it off at the end so, then I can drop it in any time (Music plays).  And then we can hear the cut off.  Tempted not to hear that.  (Music plays).  And then I need to add a volume drop on that.  Music plays).

(Laughs)  Yes.  (Music Plays).  Ok, so actually when you think about it guys I only really have three elements going on, got that pad, I’ve got that distorted braaam thing and I’ve got that sound.  (Music plays).  So there’s a couple of things, I’ve got the riser, so I feel relieved and relaxed, I’ve got a tiser in there.  (Music plays).  

What does it need now? So I could layer up some sticks with this Church Piano.  I could layer up more risers with these risers.  I could create a signature sound.  (Music plays)  And we’ve kind of got it there.  But it’s not quite doing it yet is it.  So perhaps what I’m going to do is take a little snipped from my previous piano pad sample (Piano note)  Yes I’m going to take that, bounce that in place.  So call it snippet.  Delete that, and then I’m going to move that.  Now let’s have a little play.  So I want that to become my signature sound.  I admit I’ve taken it from a sample of a piano. I’m going to reverse it, first step.  (Music plays).  Cool.  I’m also going to what’s the word move it down an octave I think. Adjust time and pitch. 

So this original, lets go minus 1200 cent, process and paste (sound plays).  Yes, yes, that’s the business.  Fade it in a bit, fade it out a bit.  (Music Plays).  This is kind of what Simon was talking about in his interview, how he kind of just like completely plays with everything and smushes it until he starts to get interesting sounds.  So let’s do the same thing here.  Again I’m going to take Sound Toys, lets try, what are you called?  Not Christopher, Christoper, Filterfreak, let’s take Filterfreak One shall we, have a little play (Music plays).  Let’s move it on to Freak Cue a little fatter.  (Music plays).  Yes.  Yes.  That’s the business.  

Now I’m going to add in an extra smushing thing, because I like the sound of it, but it’s not doing all the things I want, I want it to feel like crazy. Let’s chuck in a little distortion shall we.  I could smush it with some more sound Toys, but I feel like you guys are going to start to think I’m selling sound Toys.  Mercurial TSC, I think this is a free, yes it is, let’s turn the drive all the way up.  Tone all the way up.  (Music plays)  Yes, yes that’s right.

Ok, let’s add in a couple more things.  I’m going to compress this a lot, threshold all the way down, ratio all the way down, (Music plays).  Yes, I love that.  Now let’s give it a faster attack (Music plays) or maybe a slower attack (Music plays).  Yes.  Soft E.  (Music plays.  There we go.  Distortion on, threshold limiter on, (Music plays).  Cool.  Now let’s put it into a space and do some more smashing.

So I’m basically trying to take it away from the original sound of the piano.  So let’s put it into a space shall we, lets just go into Space Designer.  I want something not so much like a big space, let’s go into warped effects, not warped effects sorry, medium spaces, warped spaces, that’s what I want.  This ones called Jasmine.  (Music plays).  Yes.

Now this is where the fun starts, get Audio Units Apple Audio pitch, let’s send this back up an octave, see if it sounds, (Music plays).  Two octaves.  (Music plays).  Gosh that sounds so like (Music plays).  Weird.  Let’s swap it with the space designer see what happens.  (Music plays).  So I just put the pitch there at the start of the chain.

This is the wonderful thing about this type of stuff, it’s like you’re doing it, this is awesome, actually this works so let’s throw in a capacitor to save the day because so many times for me.  Let’s put it into. Actually not anger, blown speaker.  (Music plays).  Ok, cool.  

Ok, because when you take out the pitched up it doesn’t have any tonal information which it isn’t bad, let’s take out the space.  (Music plays).  You know what without the space designer it’s actually pretty good.  

So we’ve got this (Music plays).  Here it is.  And we’re going to bring this in every bar.  Here we go.  (Music plays).  Ok and I’m just going to add in one last thing I think.  I’m tempted to add in another high riser (Music plays).  But I want to add this in, I’m going to take the space out. I want it to be dry.  (Music plays).  There we go. Love it.  (Music plays).

Ok, cool.  Now it kind of starts to do the job but what it’s saying to me is Richard, give us some bigger drums.  (Music plays).  Which I think is totally right.  I think we need Cerberus. Where are you, Cerberus.  Cerberus has got these Keiron Birch put these onto me, put these on to me, he didn’t put them on to me, he recommended them as nice punchy drums and I adore them.  So many times I load up Tom samples and it’s like Boo, boo, boo, boo, like the sound of someone punching a punch bag. (Music plays).  Ok, that’s not a good example.  (Music plays).  Where are you. There it is.  (Music plays).  Here it is.  (Music plays).  Not going to bring them in so soon.  (Music plays). 

And I think I’m going to do the classic double time thing just because I love it, and let’s do the glue, glue these together.  (Music plays). Lets work in mono.  (Music plays).  Cool.  Smash it.  (Music plays).  There we go guys.

I’m happy with that.  There’s more I could do and probably would do, but its teaching you the basics of what I do and how you can too take a very, very, simple, idea, I haven’t gone crazy, I’ve basically just loaded up a piano, and a free drum samples, so a piano, Elisha’s keys, damage, my own church piano tapped, my own string riser and Cerberus. You could have done the Cerberus thing with plenty of other drums.  (Music plays).

Nice, see the Cerberus thing gives it that kind of military feel now, I feel like I’m going (Makes sounds) you know that type of thing right through.  

Anyway I hope you enjoyed this guys.  I really appreciate you listening. And if you enjoyed this type of podcast let me know because it’s really good for me to be able to show you guys exactly what I’m doing.

Music plays.

I’m tempted to load this up to YouTube anyway just so you can see exactly how I do it, because that would be fun.  And maybe I will, who knows.  Thank you, if you enjoyed this please leave a review and rating on iTunes and if you are watching this, if I did manage to upload it to YouTube, please subscribe to my channel;

Thank you very much you guys are absolute legends.

Music plays.