Quietly yet with plenty of noise, London-based boutique agency Elephant Music has turned into one of the rising stars of the trailer scene. I got to speak with its founder and CEO Vikram Gudi, also co-founder of Split Music Publishing and new experimental label Research. We spoke about what Vikram considers important to stay relevant in the ever-changing trailer business and how it all started six years ago.
One of the Elephants’ biggest placements this year was the Global Trailer for Blade Runner 2049 featuring Ciaran Birch’s DECAY: Possibly one of the biggest trailers of the year.
The story of the relentless approach Vikram took to win Blade Runner 2049 is an inspirational one for anyone working in the sync business: “To win Blade Runner was one of my goals for 2017 so I was determined to make it happen. I made countless Blade Runner playlists and sent them to everyone – whether they were working on the trailer or not. You never know when a trailer house might pick up a TV spot. It was an easy match for our catalogue, and I just put out our Moros Black album – futuristic, dystopian, aggressive, cool, and loud.”
Watch the Blade Runner 2049 TV Spot “Buckle Up” featuring ULTRA by Si Begg, published by Split Music, below:
Listen to Si Begg’s ULTRA that was also featured in the promotional campaign for Jason Bourne before:
“I really, really wanted it,” remembered Vikram, “And then one day it happened. Not just the main trailer, but three TV spots as well. It was an inspirational lesson for me and has made me believe that Elephant can compete at the highest level despite being relatively obscure. I’m very lucky to have really strong relationships with music supervisors and editors in LA – relationships that have become friendships, and have all revolved around our love of music.”
“Make really interesting and powerful music and it will get used.”While many say that luck plays a big role in the trailer music industry, Vikram doesn’t agree: “Trailers are still strange to me. Sometimes I have no idea who’s chosen the music. We’ve finished half a dozen trailers and I still don’t know who to thank for them. All you can do is service everyone the best you can and not prioritise one company or music supervisor. If you have the right music, the right project will come along. It really isn’t as complicated as people seem to think it is. I think it’s very simple: Make really interesting and powerful music and it will get used.”
Six years ago, Vikram Gudi, had just been promoted at Imagem Music, quit his job to start Elephant Music: “Everyone told me I was way too young and I didn’t have enough experience, and they were probably right. But I think I used my inexperience to my advantage. I wanted to make up the rules, not follow them.”
Back then, Vikram was a long way from the trailer business: “In the beginning, I didn’t know what Elephant Music was. The very rough idea was repping some bands that I knew – mainly friends. I didn’t want to put any strict definitions on what the company was, because I knew it would evolve. I knew film trailers existed but I was a total novice in this area. Like most people I thought they just used the movie soundtracks.”
Looking back on this time in LA, Vikram recalls “Immediate Music helped me out a lot when I got to LA. Yoav and Jeff gave me a desk and a job, and that’s where I learned so much in such a short time. I owe all the guys at Immediate a lot – Jeff, Kyle, John, Yoav, Toby, and Ali were all huge influences on me and continue to inspire me today.”
These nine months in LA turned out to be Vikram’s “big awakening” as he calls it: “I started to look at my composers a bit closer; Richard Schrieber in particular who had initially composed an album for me to put on MTV. So he made an album of minimalist piano music which ended up being PIANO WORKS 1. It did really well and so we did 2, 3, 4, and 5, we are now on Piano Works 9. This year we placed CELESTIAL on Collateral Beauty which was one of the first tracks we made together 5 years ago. It was a little emotional for us both. [laughs]”
Watch the official trailer for Collateral Beauty featuring Richard Schrieber’s CELESTIAL:
Vikram prefers to do business with industry professionals he knows well and who he can trust completely. Establishing a personal relationship with music supervisors and composers alike is key for him to drive the creative industry forward. Richard Schrieber he has now worked with for over ten years: “I don’t really scout composers. I like to be introduced to people and build relationships slowly. With most of my composers, our understanding of each other is so tight, I can give them a ten-word brief and they will know exactly what I want. The creative process is a constant dialogue between the composer and myself. Then I almost always use Toby Mason in LA for mastering, who I worked with at Immediate – he’s the best in the business and I’m not sure there would be Elephant Music without him.
“I value our company based on how much we innovate and evolve, doing cool work and not on numbers.”Asked what he thinks of his position in the industry Vikram tells me, ”I have no intention of being the biggest trailer music company. If you asked me how many placements I’ve done this year and how much we’ve learnt, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. I have no idea because it’s not important to me. I value our company based on how much we innovate and evolve, doing cool work and not on numbers.”
Get things done
As well as winning Blade Runner, another one of 2017 goals was to get back into the studio which he hadn’t done since moving out of LA in 2012. This year, he finally found the time to set up a studio and has been collaborating with Richard Schrieber.
The result can be heard on the upcoming Throat 2 album. THROAT 2 wasn’t really planned and it all started with a placement in the Mother! campaign:
Watch the Silent Trailer for Mother! featuring Richard Schrieber’s SYNDROME:
“The track SYNDROME didn’t even have an album yet,” Vikram told me, “It’s a good example of the sporadic creative process and our unplanned release schedule. Richard and I collaborated on a track three weeks before we got the trailer. I had an idea, loosely based on the aggressive staccato strings of Shostakovich’s 7th symphony. I really love Shostakovich, he’s had a big influence on me ever since my first job at Boosey & Hawkes. I wanted to do something completely different. We just bashed the track out really quickly, the next week I sent it out, and it ended up on the Mother! trailer.
“I believe in finishing tracks and getting things done. I’ve failed a lot by trying to plan a lot.”That’s why Vikram doesn’t believe in release scheduling: “It kills spontaneity and creativity if you have to restrict yourself to time boundaries. There is no need – we just make what feels right at the time, with a vague idea of what we want to do that year. Sometimes you know what you want to make as you’re making it. I believe in finishing tracks and getting things done. I’ve failed a lot by trying to plan a lot. If you lead with the music and your idea, I think you have to just finish the track while it’s still fresh and exciting, while you still have that primal energy. I prefer to do that and then make an album around it. That’s always been the creative process.”
This primal energy has won Split Music a Golden Trailer Award a few months ago when These Hidden Hand’s intense THESE MOMENT DISMANTLED turned the Red Band trailer for RAW into a visualsonic feast. The track supports the trailer’s beastly energy, grabs you, and then never stops crawling deeper until you seem to feel it scratching everywhere inside of you. “I’m really lucky to have a partner like Pete Saville at Split. He’s the perfect business partner being creative with him seems like second nature. I actually thought These Moments Dismantled was too weird to sign at first, and Pete convinced me otherwise. We created a unique place to work at Split Music – from our office in a disused train carriage to having flexible working hours. We are trying to blur the line between work and life, and encourage creativity”
Watch the RAW trailer featuring THESE MOMENTS DISMANTLED by These Hidden Hands:
Watch the NUDE trailer featuring THESE MOMENTS DISMANTLED by These Hidden Hands:
Listen to THESE MOMENTS DISMANTLED by These Hidden Hands:
For Vikram, it’s about keeping it simple and doing what feels right. “That’s why I don’t put out too many albums. Sometimes I feel I need to make an ‘epic orchestral’ or ‘hybrid metal strings’ album just because everyone else is. But it doesn’t feel genuine so I don’t do it. I want to focus on a few genres of music that I’m passionate about and do them well.”
With over 100 placements only in the first few years, Vikram Gudi’s strategy of not having a real strategy seems to have worked well so far. With his focus on candidness and spontaneity, Vikram has created a musical empire you should keep an eye on. Let’s end this rare glimpse into his world with the following motivating words of his:
I think that it worked out because I didn’t plan it. The focus has to be on working really hard on music that you love, then everything falls into place because then your intention is pure. I still have the curiosity and hunger that I had when I first started, and when that fades its time for me to try something new. In three years time I may not be making trailer music – I might be doing something completely different, maybe not even music related. The important thing is to be yourself, stay hungry and have as much fun as you can along the way.