The music stop is, arguably, the most useful trick a trailer editor can ever learn.
It’s exactly what it sounds like: the stopping of the music to underline, highlight or draw attention to a particular line of dialogue, the punchline of a joke, or even an awe- inspiring visual.
It’s the most tried-and-true emphasis technique and can be seen (and heard) in all kinds of trailers across all genres. It’s the type of skill that takes a minute to learn but a lifetime to master.
“A music stop is the stopping of the music to underline, highlight or draw attention to a particular line of dialogue, joke or visual.”
There are many ways to utilize a music stop but here are some good general guidelines:
The music should stop at a natural beat in the music.
This is often (but not always) a down beat. The key here is that when you isolate your music (meaning play it in the clear without dialogue and sound effects) the stop should sound organic and natural to the song.
It is often useful to add a visual accent to accompany the music stop.
This is something that is timed out perfectly to land on the final beat. This could be a big moment, like a gunshot or a car crash, but could also be more subtle, like an ice cube landing in a glass of water or even just a close up of someone opening their eyes.
Frequently, creating your own stop in a song will sound abrupt and/or jarring. The instruments won’t “ring out” in a way that feels natural or real. The audio may sound clipped or cut-off.
To solve this issue, it is often a good idea to “sweeten” the music stop by adding outside drum beats, hits and/or cymbal crashes. These are sound effects you bring in that aren’t part of the original song.
This technique also pairs well with the visual component talked about above, increasing the intensity of the down beat.
Music Stops & Transitions
A great use for the music stop is to create the opportunity for smooth transitions. A way to easily move from one scene to another.
This means timing your music stop to a key point in the narrative, highlighting a change of some kind.
A common example, is the evolution (or arch) of the main character. When they go from unsure to determined or sad to happy, etc.
This type of moment usually necessitates a shift in the tone of the trailer and often requires a coinciding change in the music. If you continue with your original opening cue, it often won’t fit your character’s new world view.
The good news is that the music stop used to highlight this character change also provides you with a small gap of time, just what you need to release your old song and come in with the new one.
Choosing the Moments to Highlight
One of the great things about the discipline of editing is the fact that each person brings their own unique perspective and individuality to it. Choosing which moments to highlight, where exactly to place music stops (do you do it for only the punchline or the entire joke?) and all the decisions in between, this is where the science stops and the art takes over.
Good candidates for emphasis are the best moments of the movie. Where did you laugh the hardest? Where did you scream the loudest? Where did your heart beat the most? Let these feelings guide you. They are likely to be the main selling points of the film.
As we stated above, pay special attention to transitional moments. Places where the narrative of your trailer needs to shift or change. Times when characters make big life-altering decisions. Remember, stories are about people, so the big moments in your trailer are usually about people too.
“Time your music stop to a key point in the narrative, highlighting a change of some kind in the evolution of the main character.”
Caution: Don’t Overdo It
One last word of caution: music stops do come at a cost. They aren’t completely free. A trailer has a certain momentum to it. A gradual building of intensity. If you stop the music too often, it can be hard for the audience to find their rhythm and it can make your piece feel disjointed and sloppy.
It’s a powerful tool but, like most things, best used in moderation.