Doing Trailer Full Time

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    Hi Everyone,

    I know there was a “full-time income” thread recently. I had a question related to it….
    Is it possible to do only Trailer music and make a full-time income?

    I’ve been accepted to a few libraries, Trailer and non-trailer libraries. I have only seen placements from the non-trailer stuff. This makes sense to me as it seems to me that there are far more “reality contestant” shows then trailers released.

    I’m trying to find a direction in my career. I was told by the owner of one trailer library that my “sound” s really top notch, but am I limiting myself as there are a lot of “top notch” sounding composer in trailer?….

    I LOVE trailer it’s the perfect combination of my classical training as a composer and my mis-spent youth as an electronic musician. I’ve heard stories of big paydays for some tracks, but is the time it takes turn out those tracks combined with the number of high-quality tracks out there too great to concentrate on just Trailer?

    Is anybody here making a significant amount of money with this genre?



    Art Munson

    I believe Mark Petrie is doing well with trailer music. Hopefully he will see this thread and jump in.


    The trailer music business for a composer is high risk / high reward

    There are two main ways composers make money from trailers:
    – getting an existing track licensed (we often lightly ‘customize’ these for trailers too, when they’re being cut to by an editor)
    – writing custom music / arranging or overlaying material (over a song) for a trailer.

    The latter seems to be much more common than it was when I started out in trailers about a decade ago.

    Getting an existing track licensed means you have a good library repping the music.
    This means the library almost certainly owns the music… and this is where the ‘high risk’ side starts to pop up.
    What I mean is, there’s a good chance a great track might NEVER get used. The competition is so fierce for trailer placements that a veteran composer is lucky to get a hit rate of about 80% for high fee placements (like tv spots, trailers) for the shelf life of a track (over about five years or so).
    A newcomer (speaking from experience here) is likely to get less than a 50% hit rate… maybe WAY less.
    As composers are rarely paid upfront AND get any of licensing (it’s usually one or the other – with a few exceptions I know of), it’s a huge bummer to spend a week or more on a track to get it up to the standards of trailers, and have it never get a big placement. There are smaller fees a track can make – promos, streaming trailers etc… but you’d need a lot of those to make up for the time we can end up spending on these tracks.

    There is a second life trailer music can have which can mitigate some of that risk – tv placement (reality shows etc). Still, it’s usually a fraction of what you’d hope for from a significant sync fee.

    Working on ‘customs’ is arguably more risky – there’s often no way to know if the assignment coming from a library is a cattle call where you’re one of 20 submissions, or it’s a very specific request going just to you.
    Customs often involve working with a theme or song, and the material you come up with is usually difficult to salvage / re-purpose for something else.
    Customs are stressful – often with overnight or even same day deadline.
    Another crazy thing about customs – not only are you potentially competing with other composers, the editor you’re submitting the music for is likely competing with other editors for the same trailer!
    From the various composers I’ve talked to about this, most that do customs fairly regularly are lucky to get one in 20 land. The most successful have it down to about one in 10.

    Oh, did I mention customs are usually UNPAID unless you win?! Demo / ‘kill’ fees are rare for trailers.

    So why do people do it at all?
    – the music is fun to write
    – the addiction of getting the occasional big placement
    – the money can be really good if you’re consistently putting out high quality music, and it’s getting used on promotions with high license fees

    What’s the money like?
    Fees from which the composer usually gets 50% –
    – TV Promos: about $100 – $400 license fee and also good royalties (I think around $180 – $300 a pop for network placements)
    – game trailers: anywhere from $1000 – $20,000
    – streaming trailers: seem to range widely from $2500 – $20,000
    – TV spots for theatrical releases: $5000 – $30,000
    – Theatrical trailers: $10,000 – $70,000 (usually in the realm of $30 – 40k)
    – Customs: these can be A LOT, with a huge range – depending on the length and project, it could be anywhere from $5000 for something super short to $70,000+.


    Hi Mark,

    Thanks so much for this information!

    I really appreciate it!
    This is exactly the information I was looking for.

    I have to say that there is a level of addiction to the stuff for me!
    When the orchestration is working, the mix is dialed in, and it’s finally hitting right, there’s no feeling like it!
    I think I’m just gonna keep doing it because it’s taken me so long to put all the pieces together to even get tracks
    that get signed, that I almost feel like I would be throwing away the years it took to get to this point.

    Thanks again,


    I have to thank you for that too Mark. That was one interesting post and I don’t even do trailers (unless I count the placements I get from reality shows or sports as you mentioned which to me would be trailer “light”) but you sure got me thinking.Very informative and helpful.


    Mark nailed it. It’s a “sexy” side of the library business, but honestly it can be so depressing and exhausting, especially if you’re chasing after customs. I would never advise anyone to pursue only trailer music full time. But it’s a nice thing to have going alongside a more normal library career.

    B Halfyard

    Thank you for the excellent inside info! I agree doing one genre is not a good business model. Ive just been invited by a big library for custom cues. The first one (for a trailer) I spent 12-15 hours and was rejected, but a few days later they sent me another. Maybe they liked my style but not right for the brief? I did have fun and agree we do it for the love of composing not the money!


    Writing for trailers and hoping that they will be placed is kinda like saying I want to play for the top National league team, starting pitcher in the World Series – and that’s the only position I’ll play.

    Yeah, it’s a possibility for a few guys. If that’s your ONLY acceptable position, you odds are not good.

    As has been mentioned, versatility, and a broad range of composing skills is demanded for most who attempt a “career”.

    I know career composers who are writing solid B level $3-5M films consistently with solid music budgets on every film, who have been “trying” to get trailers with small, very well connected companies for years. No success yet.

    – Mark is a rockstar! 🙂

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