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Interview: ‘Childrens Hospital’ composer Matt Novack on comedy music

Music fans tend to think of composers as people who create massive sounds, but Matt Novack is an example of how versatile music can be. Novack has created music for a number of popular comedies, most notably the Adult Swim comedy series "Childrens Hospital", and AXS conducted an email interview with him to find out how comedy music is different from the average sound and how he became a successful composer. You can also sample some of his work in the "Childrens Hospital" trailer by using the media player included with this article.

AXS: First of all, how did you get into the music business? Did you come to composing on its own or from a previous career elsewhere in music?

Matt Novack (MN): For as long as I can remember I’ve been obsessed with film scores. As a kid, I would hum the great John Williams themes like "Star Wars," "Superman," "Indiana Jones," etc. all the time, even drumming the rhythms and accompaniment as best as I could, which tended to drive my parents nuts. Soundtracks were always my go-to music purchase growing up. I love film in general, so I was attracted to how great music can enhance a great story. I studied composition and percussion performance in college, but I didn’t really get involved in scoring until I went through USC’s Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television program. From there I got my first gig working as a composer’s assistant for Steven Stern, who I worked for about three years or so before working on my own.

While working for Steven, I helped out on a short-lived TNT drama called “Wanted” along with a bunch of different projects for Selectracks, the music library he co-founded. Mostly movie trailers, but also commercials, documentaries, a lot of different things, with different styles done at a quick pace, so it was a great training ground for a young composer. I then moved into feature films by working as an assistant for Craig Wedren on “Role Models", and I’ve been lucky to build a career in the comedy world since then, especially with “Childrens Hospital” which I scored for its entire seven year run and [is] probably what I’m most well known for.

AXS: You recently worked on the comedy film "How To Be A Latin Lover." What can you say about the music of that movie?

MN: I was brought onboard “How To Be A Latin Lover” through Craig Wedren. He and I continue to work together off and on since "Role Models," and while co-scoring “They Came Together” we found a good dynamic scoring rom-coms as those scores can have a very eclectic balance of pop/quirky score and orchestral so we continued that with "Latin Lover." Scoring the film was great. The director, Ken Marino, loves the sound of big Hollywood scores, so I got to really go for it and overall it was a fun experience collaborating with the filmmakers and Craig. We all put a lot of heart into it and I think it shows on the screen.

AXS: What’s the process you use when composing music for these comedies? Does it differ depending on the project?

MN: It does tend to vary depending on the project, mostly due to how much time there is to write the score. Ideally, I like to watch the film a few times, without [the temporary] score if possible so I can get some fresh ideas germinating, and then have conversations with the filmmakers about the story and any thoughts they have about music before I get started writing initial concepts. If time allows, I like to try out a few different concepts and themes before I find one that feels right and then work with the director on that concept before writing the full score. When working on individual scenes, I do the same thing, even when I have a full concept ready. It helps to get the story in my head first before trying to score it.

AXS: What are some of your favorite tracks that you’d recommend the most to music fans?

MN: Since I’m most known for "Childrens Hospital," that’s the best place to start. The final episode was this big sci-fi epic, and I’m a huge sci-fi fan, so I’m pretty proud of the final cue from that episode. I’ve done a couple Indie scores, "Spare Change" and "A Better You", that showcase my style pretty well. And for something completely different, I just had a new album of trailer music released.

AXS: Do you think there’s a greater awareness of film and TV music among mainstream music listeners?

MN: I think so. Although the music of great composers like John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith have always seemed to live beyond the films they were written for, there does seem to be a greater interest in scores and composers, especially the scores for TV. I think TV has evolved as a whole to feel more cinematic, so it’s not uncommon to hear a TV score that could fit right at home in a major feature film. There also seems to be a much greater interest in live concerts of film, TV and game scores in recent years, which is fantastic.

For more on Matt Novack, visit his official website.

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