We Talk Scoring The Binge With Composer Matt Bowen

Recently I got a chance to speak with Composer Matt Bowen about the Hulu Original comedy THE BINGE and his career.

How did you start out composing?

I stumbled into it, to be honest. When I made “the move” to Los Angeles, it was to be a record producer and engineer. At the time, I had no idea composing existed in the form it did. One of my first stops in town was an internship at a music house that made music for commercials. They had a beautiful tracking/control-room setup and were constantly having live players. And they were dealing with a different genre literally on a daily basis, so these sessions ranged from full rock bands to string ensembles to bluegrass quartets to glass harmonicas. So I was excited to assist their in-house engineer any way I could, and I learned a ton from that process. But that’s really when I saw what composing in its modern form looked like, and I knew immediately it was something I wanted to do.

By the end of that internship, my focus had shifted completely from the producing/engineering work of making albums, to becoming a composer. And really, composers need to be good producers and engineers, so it’s not that I was leaving that skillset behind, I was just applying it to a new creative field.

MIM session pic - photo by Ric Serena

Did you have any influences going into this project?

Always! I’ve been a member of Christopher Lennertz’s music teams on a number of comedies, so when it comes to the overall approach, I’ve absolutely incorporated Chris’s sensibilities, just as an overarching influence.

Genre-wise, the score is pretty all over the map, so it’s hard to say where each inspiration came from. There is one particular sequence in the latter part of the movie called The Gauntlet, where (I’m trying to keep it vague for spoiler purposes) there’s a “sports event” of sorts. What’s happening on screen is absolutely ridiculous, but in order to support the comedic nature of it, I knew the music needed to take the whole event completely seriously, like it’s Game 7 of the World Series and the Super Bowl and Muhammed Ali’s final match all wrapped up into one. So I absolutely channeled my inner Jerry-Goldsmith/Randy-Newman/Bill-Conti as best as possible…which was a ton of fun.


Did you face any challenges while creating the score for The BINGE?

Jeremy (Garelick, director) really wanted to live without temp music altogether on this project. Temp music has its pitfalls (eg “temp love”), but it serves an important role – it allows production to quickly and efficiently express their ideas on what sort of emotion should be happening in certain scenes. So working without temp music presents an extra challenge of communicating those ideas.

On the flip side, it was incredibly liberating to not have temp music, and it definitely allowed me more creative freedom. I’d like to think it resulted in a score that’s unique, and more importantly, ingrained in the movie’s fabric. So while I’d consider it a challenge to not have any temp, it was certainly a welcome challenge.


As the film has two different tones of classic Americana and all-night ragers, how did you balance that for the score?

Absolutely! It became clear from the outset the genres in the score would follow our heroes on their escapades, so there isn’t as much continuity palette-wise as a typical score. Because of this, I really pounded home a few of the central music themes. Because the sound of the score was continually evolving, I was able to be a little more overt about these themes than I normally would have. You can hear the themes very clearly stated as the score goes from quirky-indie, to rock, to bossa nova, to emotional-piano-based, etc., which was a ton of fun in and of itself.

As for The Gauntlet, which I mentioned previously, I decided to make this its own thing altogether. For this sequence, I felt I was no longer scoring the arc of the journey, but was scoring this singular event. So it has its own palette and its own theme (which gets eluded to a few times earlier in the film).


Do you have a favorite genre of film or TV you like to compose for?

I hope this answer doesn’t feel like a cop out, but what I absolutely love most about composing is the assortment of styles I get to work in. No matter what my favorite genre may or may not be (and honestly, I’m not sure what that answer is), I hope my career continues to allow me to work on a wide variety of projects.


What went into creating a piece for a scene in the film? Do you have your own developmental process?

Every project is different. I’d say a lot of times the ‘process’ is dictated to (not ‘by’) the composer, based on how the director likes to work or at what point in the project you’re brought in. Similar to my answer to ‘favorite genre,’ I quite like the variety project-to-project; it helps keep things fresh.

Because there was a musical number in this film, which I was also involved in, I was on the project before they even started shooting. I flew out to Syracuse, where they were filming, to record the cast singing on the musical, and was able to visit the set for a few days, and also sit down with the director, Jeremy Garelick. So when it came to the ‘developmental process,’ it was as old-fashioned as Jeremy and I sitting down and saying “So….what do we think?” It was an incredible luxury to have that time with Jeremy, and for it to be that early in the movie’s production schedule.

I came home from that trip and immediately wrote some sketches. Because they didn’t want to use any temp music, they were going to need sketches from me as soon as it came time to assemble even the earliest editor’s cut. And from those sketches, most of the main themes for the movie were born.


What type of research goes into creating a score for a project like The BINGE verse a show like The Boys?

Haha…yes, those two projects are quite different! For starters, the score for The Boys is done by Christopher Lennertz. I’ve been on Chris’s music team since the very beginning of the series, back when he was coming up with the sound for the show. But the process of being the project’s composer and being on someone else’s music team is inherently different.

Even still, I’m not sure I’d call it “researching,” so much as “exploring.” The two projects were similar in that both of them wanted a totally fresh take on things, not another version of something that’s already out there. It’s refreshing to get this direction, but it does involve some throwing things up against the wall and seeing what sticks. Some ideas are going to be a swing-and-a-miss, but those are just as informative in creating the ‘sound’ as the ideas that hit.


Do you have a favorite piece from The BINGE?

Is it lame if I have two favorites? I’m going for it.

“Suck It Down Pipe” is a favorite because it’s an example of the supportive and collaborative feel throughout the project, as well as an “anything goes” mindset. I fired off an mp3 of this cue to Jeremy, and he responded with this perfectly ridiculous vocal idea he’d tracked as a voice memo on his phone. And when I say ‘perfect,’ I mean…I knew immediately that was “the” take. (I actually asked him to do it a second time, so it would sound like a duo on the track, which is what you hear.) I love geeking out on gear just as much as the next composer, but I do take a great deal of satisfaction from those vocals being voice memos done by the director on a whim.

Another favorite is “Victory.” I knew exactly what this cue needed to be for a long time, and so I saved it for the very end of the writing process. The scene was a culmination of a lot of things, and I wanted the score to reflect that… so it’s a grand presentation of the three main themes within a very traditional orchestral setting. It was one of those cues that wrote itself, which is such a fun feeling artistically.


If one wanted to learn more about composing, what are a few suggestions for an amateur composer to start?

Start listening! A majority of scores these days get released as standalone albums (including The Binge), so check out what’s out there. Your goal is ultimately to find your own voice artistically, but for someone in the starting gates, listening to what’s currently being done would be very helpful.

Secondly, the number of amazing Youtube tutorials out there is staggering. Dive in, learn it all. And remember recording/producing/mixing advice is just as important as writing/arranging/harmony/etc.

Finally but most importantly… just start creating. Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour-rule is quite pertinent here. Don’t let your lack of gear or samples or whatever deter you; you can still be creative with whatever tools you have (and sometimes a lack of tools promotes greater creativity). Whether you have a project to work on or not, hold your feet to the fire, and force yourself to write something once a week, or even once a day (depending on your availability). Your future self will thank you so much. I’ve seen a lot of budding composers spend a lot of time and energy working theoretically, be it in school, or creating their perfect template; just start making music, and start NOW.


Are there any projects you are working on currently that you are excited about?

There are! At the risk of being vague, I can’t give much info on them. But there’s a documentary short that will definitely come out in 2021 that I’m particularly excited about.