Early in Joshua Crispin’s (a.k.a. Generdyn’s) career, his dad gave him an ultimatum: Earn money with your music in six months, or quit music forever to join the family business. It sounds harsh. But it was exactly the motivation Joshua needed to launch his career. “Without that challenge, this would have taken me a lot longer,” he told us. “And I doubt I would be doing it quite like I’m doing it now.” Since getting his first commission check (just three months after accepting his father’s challenge), Joshua has gone on to create trailer music for blockbuster films like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, and many more.
Earlier this year, Joshua traveled from his home in Australia to Nashville, to collaborate with Dustin Burnett (a.k.a. ZAYDE WØLF) on a project that would ultimately become the album Chronicles. They — along with Jessica Cole, owner and president of Lyric House — were trying to flip the traditional trailer music paradigm on its head. This mainstream album would be inspired by trailer music, not the other way around. “It’s a fascinating time for trailer music right now,” Jessica told us. “It’s starting to overlap so heavily with the mainstream world. That’s what we were trying to capture with Chronicles.”
We recently talked to Joshua Crispin and Jessica Cole about Chronicles, trailer music, and the greatest trailer of all time.
Joshua Crispin: I was obsessed with writing music and playing guitar. I was one of those guys who’d be sitting at the dinner table playing guitar. I’d be watching TV and playing guitar. At the time, my dad had a Web development company. He wanted me to come work for him. A family business, basically. My dad said, “I can see you love doing music, but I don’t see how you can make money. If you can show me how it can make money in six months, I’ll let you keep doing it. Otherwise, you have to quit completely and focus on the Web stuff, because I need you.”
Definitely. But I was like, “Oh, a challenge! I can do that.” So that’s when I discovered writing music for trailers and licensing. Two or three months down the line, I got my first check. My dad was like, “Wow, great. You can keep doing music.” Fast-forward five years, and he doesn’t do websites anymore. He helps me with the music.
Jessica: So… I was looking for trailer composers one day on SoundCloud, and I saw Generdyn on the side of the screen. I thought, This looks interesting. He immediately blew me away. I wrote him a cold email. The rest is history.
Jessica: Well, there is something called “The Trailer Shape.” Basically, in a trailer you have between 30 seconds and 2 minutes to tell your whole story. So a structure has kind of emerged. The shape starts off very minimal. It draws you in emotionally. It builds to a midpoint. And then it blasts off into a massive, percussive, cinematic finish. It can vary a bit, but that’s basically it.
Joshua: You can think of a trailer song in terms of the three-act structure. The same structure that great stories have. We try to replicate that on a much smaller scale. It’s like a mini-story of what the film is all about.
Joshua: I watched a lot of trailers. And then I talked with people who were making this kind of music successfully. I remember having long conversations with people like Tim Gedemer and Charles Deenen from SourceSound. They sent me pages and pages of notes about how to improve.
Joshua: “Make it sound better.” [Laughs] Mostly they talked about making intentional choices. Making sure each section was clear and distinct and there for a purpose. Making sure every instrument was there for a purpose. It’s difficult to think about those things when you want to be super creative and write whatever you think “sounds cool.” But you have to marry what sounds cool with what works for the medium.
Jessica: At the time — and still today — something called “dark covers” were in serious demand for trailers. It’s a sound Josh just nails.
Jessica: A dark cover is basically a reinvention of a classic song. It’s dark, cinematic, brooding, and massive. Dark covers have become such a popular request, they’ve pushed their way into mainstream genres. Which is how this album Chronicles came about. We were like, “There need to be more original songs that sound like dark covers.” It’s a fascinating time for trailer music right now, because it’s starting to overlap so heavily with the mainstream world. That’s what we were trying to capture with Chronicles.
Joshua: You go first, Jess.
Jessica: Well, I’d been wanting to get Josh and Dustin, who’s Zayde Wølf, into a room together for a long time. They’d been working with each other from a distance, but for this project we finally got Josh to come to Nashville and work in a studio with Dustin for — what was it? Two weeks?
Joshua: Two weeks. It was a brand-new experience for me. Living in Australia, I’m used to working in isolation and collaborating over Skype. I’m used to being able to fail in private and have really bad ideas that nobody knows about. Being in the same room with Dustin was daunting. But he’s really good at creating a safe space for creativity. It ended up being an amazing two weeks, and we were able to create something that is very personal and, at the same time, able to translate to a wide range of stories.
Joshua: I work as fast as possible. Once I get an idea, I get it into the computer right away. Ideas are like fruit. They have an expiry date. If I don’t get it out fast, it’ll go stale. So normally from the time I get a brief to the time I have a completed track is a day or two. I write the track on day one, mix it and master it on day two. I don’t tend to second-guess ideas. I worry that if I spent, say, a month on a song, I’d just destroy it. It would get overcooked. So, yes, Chronicles was fast, but not as fast as I’m used to working.
Jessica: Both you and Dustin are so massively talented. Putting you two in a room is like, “Oh my God.” It’s beyond anything I can explain. I think you guys created a new sound for the genre.
Jessica: Oh man! The pressure is on. I really love the Atomic Blonde trailer. And I love the Kingsman 2 trailer - not just because it’s a mashup of one of our songs - but because it’s so inventive and exciting - the sonic blend of a modern electronic / hip-hop song with The Who. It’s just so badass. Another one I love is Suicide Squad using “Bohemian Rhapsody.” I love the contrast. I love when the music supervisor chooses something a little left of center to create some kind of juxtaposition. Joshua, what do you think?
Joshua: One that blew my mind was the Mad Max Comic-Con trailer. I was so intrigued to see the movie after that. There are a lot of visuals and dialogue, but still this sense of mystery. I didn’t feel like all my questions had been answered, which happens a lot in trailers. That’s probably my favorite one.
Jessica: Okay, I have to hop off. Thanks, guys! Talk to you later, Josh.
Joshua: Bye, Jess!
When I originally got into music, it was because I wanted to express myself. And I still think expressing yourself is cool. But now I’m much more interested in making an effort to create music that communicates with people. I think that’s going a step further than just self-expression. I’ve learned the best music serves something greater than itself. It’s not just about writing cool music. It’s about serving a story, serving the picture, serving the image, serving someone else’s vision. I don’t think about expressing myself anymore; I think about serving. That’s been the big shift, and the most important thing I’ve learned so far.
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