Nick Phoenix and Thomas Bergersen of Two Steps From Hell, a duo of composers who write music especially for movie trailers, had no idea when they formed in 2006 that their music would someday gain a large and devoted enough following to create demand for a live performance. Their music was for advertising, and albums were available only to music supervisors within the entertainment industry, not for purchase among the public. But that has changed, and now Two Steps have gained enough public attention to perform their epic music live. Walt Disney Concert Hall, a Downtown Los Angeles venue, hosted the trailer music company’s first concert on Friday night.
While it was once frowned upon to release music to the public that was originally meant to be exclusive to trailer editors, Two Steps is now one of multiple trailer music libraries that have made their music available on sites like iTunes. In 2009, the third trailer for J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek put Two Steps From Hell on the map when it featured their majestic yet ethereal track “Freedom Fighters.” While most of the duo’s profits still come from licensing their tracks for use in advertising for films, TV, and video games, they now also have a lucrative business selling their music to the public.
“We were so focused on providing music for business that when we suddenly realized that the public was also interested, it was flattering and surprising,” recalled Russell Emanuel, CEO of Extreme Music, which distributes Two Steps From Hell’s music. “That said, with the quality of [Two Steps’] competition, in hindsight it seems that this is something that was inevitable.”
Once the online release of trailers for highly anticipated movies became an event unto themselves, the music composed for these previews gained more attention. Just as masters of cinematic music like Hans Zimmer and John Williams have earned their own fans, so too have the composers of movie trailer music.
Requests for Two Steps to sell their music to the public were followed by requests to perform their music live. For their first concert, Bergersen and Phoenix selected Walt Disney Concert Hall because the venue had impressed them when they had attended several performances of classical music there.
“It has a very deep, clear sound to it,” Phoenix explained. “It’s not like a lot of concert halls where there’s a lot of reverb washing around, where it sounds kind of muddled. It has a big sound, good for lots of bass, and that’s ideal for our kind of music.”
A 70-piece orchestra and a choir of 60 singers filled the Hall with Two Steps’ intense, dramatic music at Friday’s event. It didn’t quite feel like a night at the symphony, nor did it feel like a rock concert — the event had elements of both, as did its audience: Some were dressed in formal gowns, while others wore jeans and T-shirts. The orchestra and choir in uniform black, with adherence to traditions like the entrance of the first violin, lent a formal, dignified tone to the event. But it took on the vibe of a rock concert when multi-colored lighting — including strobe lights — filled the Hall and when Phoenix and Bergersen, wearing jeans and untucked button-up T-shirts, took the stage, each acknowledging the audience with a casual wave. Both composers performed throughout the show: Bergersen (pictured above) played the electric violin, Phoenix played taiko drums and sang, and both played piano and various percussion. The first few bars of popular tracks like “Freedom Fighters” and “Heart of Courage” (which was in advertising for The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and NBC’s Revolution) were met with cheers and applause from the crowd of fans eager to hear their favorite Two Steps tunes.
The concert even attracted a fan from Stockbridge, Ga.: 18-year-old Vincent Russomanno, who has thyroid cancer, selected the event as his wish granted by the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Bergersen dedicated the final number of the night — a sweet but powerful, steadily-building track called “Breathe” — to Russomanno.
Phoenix, Bergersen, and Emanuel told EW that they hope to organize more performances of Two Steps From Hell’s music in the future, possibly in Germany, Australia, and the U.K., three countries where there has been especially vocal interest in live concerts of Two Steps’ music.
Follow Emily on Twitter: @EmilyNRome