Continuing my previous statements, I’d like to mention a technique I enjoy hearing being used when scoring a trailer. It’s when music written specifically for a product by a composer who scores the entire thing is used for presenting the game. That way has an advantage of a person who perfectly understands their source material because they were at it for past months or years and can potentially do the job way better than having stock music fit into the trailer. It can even be a piece from the soundtrack itself to present both the music and the game. Recent God of War used a selection of Bear McCreary’s pieces written for the game. It may have been because of Santa Monica’s pride to have a him as a film composer, or maybe it was a concious creative decision. That way or the other, having his music was a nice showcase of art made for the game, as it was lacking the pump of generic trailers and showed honestly what it has to offer.
Trailer music suffers from horrid conventionality, exists unbothered by critique in a disguise of art and keep serving the marketing practices that lead us to the infamous time of 2018/2019.
I would like to go back to songs, however, as some of trailer-making decisions, especially UbiSoft’s, are note worthy of creating something better, making many small masterpieces out of their cinematic trailers. As much as they are CGI directed action sequences, they present the game’s concepts and story really good. Some of them really need only a good piece to top it off, a good song to boost the action with good lyrics and good instrumentation. The goosebump factory that the Assassin’s Creed: Revelations trailer is, it uses Woodkid’s Iron with great percussion work going along Ezio’s slashes and lyrics matching Ezio’s quest and its nature:
A million mile from home, I’m walking ahead / I’m frozen to the bones, I am… / A soldier on my own, I don’t know the way / […] I’m ready for the fight and fate
This trailer has been an unmatched for me when it comes to execution, and only AC: Unity trailer with another of Woodkid’s songs comes close. What I love about those songs is that they are very modest when it comes to tunes and orchestration. They are subtle with the orchestral instruments (horns, trumpets, flutes) and don’t let the bombast spoil the Lemoine’s calm and soothing style. They are well-reserved and minimal, hinting the „epic”, yet not realizing it to the full extent, which is why they work great as a good scoring material for those trailers that approach their pathos sensibly and with a healthy restraint.
Choices and choices. Trailer producers should be cautious not to mess up the feel of the trailer (although I am aware that their job most probably requires them to overhype things). For me, overblown trailer is a bad trailer, and overblown trailer music is bad trailer music. It shows the publisher wants you to overload the game you worship in your head as the future purchase with (possibly) non-existing value and quality, lulling you into expecting another masterpiece. It is easily distinguishable as edible pathos in the entertainment marketing is scarce, even though it is doable. The most recent case being Battlefield V for me, the game used a folk song titled In the House of the Rising Sun produced by Audiomachine into a bombast rock song with strings, heavy beats and lofty singing. It is cool, yet so distastefully generic, being a piece of a song butchered to sound like other epic remixes. It is no more than cheap thrill — nothing matches the game here, even the trailer. It’s a bonanza of war-like action movie with the song reduced to its tune and intonations, serving nothing more than building excitement. But it’s not bad because it’s generic. It’s bad because it’s empty and devoid of meaning. It’s industry at its worst. But even I must admit the song itself is far, far better produced than the game I purchased on release.
That said, it is difficult to notice the line between art and programming with music, because it is a thing of big screens to present a reality way more colorful, emotional and amazing than the one we share. Trailer music suffers from horrid conventionality, exists unbothered by critique in a disguise of art and keeps serving the marketing practices that lead us to the infamous time of 2018/2019, when every major publisher turned out to had been advertising religiously an upcoming flop. And the music takes part in it, sadly. It may seem dystopian, but the notion of programming people with music is hundred years old, and was created when conveyor belt assemblers were played music to lull them into rhythmic and steady workflow for a long time. It isn’t inherently bad for music to affect us like that, but trailer music certainly is, especially now when we can’t trust big companies anymore.