Acclaimed composer Matt Bowen has experience in a wide variety of projects, from TV to film, to scripted to documentaries. Most recently, Matt composed The Binge 2: It’s A Wonderful Binge. A sequel to The Binge, the story follows Hags, Andrew, Sarah, and Kimi who face the realities of adulthood as the annual Binge Day is moved to Christmas Eve.
Past projects for Matt include The Binge on Hulu, a feature-length R-rated comedy starring Vince Vaughn and Skylar Gisondo. His work can also be heard on Blood Road, an emotional and gritty Emmy Award-winning documentary, as well as Amazon’s The Boys and Netflix’s Best Worst Weekend Ever, a TV series about comic-book-obsessed teens, both of which he co-scored with Chris Lennertz.
In addition to composing, Bowen has contributed as an arranger, orchestrator, and composer of additional music on a wide variety of projects for all mediums.
PH: Professionally, what are you looking forward to this year?
Matt Bowen: Professionally, I’m really looking forward to working on a couple of TV series, one of which will be released this year as well. It’s nice to have a good chunk of my professional calendar already filled. But at the same time, my favorite aspect of working as a composer is the vast variety of genres, so I look forward to whatever exciting projects may not be on my radar just yet.
PH: Can you share your background and a bit about your journey in the production industry thus far?
Matt Bowen: Sure thing! Music has absolutely always been a part of my life, but it was quite a while until “composing” specifically became my focus. I started playing the violin when I was 3 (I asked for one!), and have been at it in various capacities ever since…picked up other instruments along the way, and had a good mixture of experiences between orchestras and rock bands.
But my first inkling that I wanted to “do music professionally” was when I decided I wanted to be a record producer. I loved the behind-the-scenes nature of it, the excitement of collaborating, and the combination of technical and creative (what I did NOT know is that also describes composing). So dreams of becoming a record producer are what actually brought me to Los Angeles (and for no good reason, mind you).
As a budding record producer, I wanted to improve my recording/engineering skills, so I took an internship at a music house that had an in-house studio and engineer. My job was technically stocking the fridge, making coffee, etc, but my goal was to help their in-house engineer whenever possible and learn along the way (which very much happened). But it was at that music house that I first saw what being a composer really entailed…and I was immediately hooked.
I had mentally pivoted to composing as my new dream, but my momentum was carrying me into record production. I managed to hook up with a very talented and successful producer named Matt Wallace (he’s one of those pivotal people you’re thankful came into your life), and started working as an engineer for him on various major-label albums. The work was grueling but fun, and that’s really where I started learning invaluable skills that I’d ultimately apply to composing. Technically, creatively, and collaboratively, it was really the perfect boot camp to get my composing skills off the ground.
In between album projects, I was able to start composing on my own, working on teams, taking any and every writing or arranging opportunity I could…and somewhere along the way, opportunities built up enough where I had to start turning down work between my dual lives in composing and record production. When I first turned down an opportunity to work as an engineer on another album is the moment when I really started referring to myself as a composer.
PH: What have been some of the biggest lessons you've learned working a career in the production industry?
Matt Bowen: There is a LOT of minutiae to learn (still learning!), but just to zoom waaaay out…I’d say the biggest lesson is to be the solution. Don’t be the problem, be the solution. Yes, we work in a creative field, and that is inherently subjective…but you’d be surprised at how much of the overall process is objective. It’s dizzying how many moving parts there are on a production, and you want to consistently be known as a problem-solver. And better yet, solve a problem before anyone even knew there was one.
PH: How excited were you to come back to work to create The Binge 2: It's A Wonderful Binge?
Matt Bowen: LOVED it. I don’t take for granted that I was invited back for the sequel, and was thrilled I was. Initially, I thought I’d get to work with Jeremy Garelick again (he directed Binge 1, and we also worked together on a Netflix series), which I was really looking forward to. But due to shifting dates creating schedule conflicts, Jeremy needed to bow out as director, which was a bummer for me…but my frown was immediately turned around when I found out the writer of both Binges (Jordan VanDina) was going to direct the sequel. I’m happy to report Jordan created a bonafide Christmas Classic, and I got to help in my own little corner of the creative process.
PH: Can you share your composing process for this project? When you land a new project, what's the first thing you do to prepare?
Matt Bowen: I’d say step one is to get on the same page as the director, see what they’re thinking first, and then share any of my thoughts with them.
For It's A Wonderful Binge, I knew I wanted it to have a very strong musical theme that I could hit hard over and over again throughout the movie. I know that might seem like Composing 101, but the sensibilities in scoring have shifted a bit, and that’s not always a given when creating a score. But I can whistle the main theme to Elf right now (I just did), and I wanted It's A Wonderful Binge to have a prominent theme like that too. Jordan (director) agreed wholeheartedly, and that sparked a conversation about how we’d handle the score in general, which was: let’s pretend this is a PG movie, make the score really earnest and pure and Christmassy…and in doing so, the juxtaposition against what’s really happening on-screen will help push the comedy forward, while simultaneously being able to support the subtle but tremendous amount of heart the movie has.
So the next step was of course…what is that theme? And that was just a lot of time at the piano, lots of voice memos, lots of walks, lots of listening to voice memos while on walks. Luckily I had a lot of time between this conversation with Jordan and the time I needed to actually start scoring, so this marble was able to roll around in my head for a while, which was a tremendous luxury.
PH: What were some of the challenges you encountered?
Matt Bowen: I’d say the biggest challenge was self-inflicted. When Jordan and I were talking about an earnest score worthy of a Home Alone sequel, I proposed we should use the same theater pipe organ John Williams used when he scored Home Alone (that organ has been relocated and refurbished and is in pristine condition at Bandrika Studios). This felt outlandish at first, and then suddenly quite practical, and once I had nailed down some studio dates, it became a reality. The only problem was, I had never written for a theater organ before and had a lot to learn in order to best implement it into my score.
I ended up having an exploratory session early in the writing process, where I tracked the organ on a handful of sketches but also spent some time figuring out what the instrument could do, and how exactly I wanted to utilize this beautiful and incredibly versatile instrument.
By the time the follow-up organ session happened (about a month later), I had a clear focus on what I wanted to get out of that session, and the mark it would have on the rest of the score.
PH: You also worked on Amazon's The Boys and Netflix's Best Worst Weekend Ever, both of which you co-scored with Chris Lennertz. What's it like collaborating with him?
Matt Bowen: It’s a lot of fun, and for lack of a more exciting word, it’s really seamless. I spent a long time working as a team member on Chris’s scores earlier in my career, so I know how he likes to approach things, and we’ve ‘been in the trenches’ so to speak for a long time, and there’s a sort of shorthand that comes with that. On top of that, I think our production sensibilities are inherently very similar, so we’re very quick to get on the same page. And of course, to be working with someone who has served as one of my biggest mentors is abundantly rewarding.
PH: How is co-scoring different from scoring by yourself? Can you share some of the positives/negatives?
Matt Bowen: Writing a score is hardly a singular event, it’s done by making a million small creative decisions that eventually add up to the score. Making those decisions on your own can be overwhelming at times (particularly when self-doubt inevitably creeps into the process), so co-scoring can be a much more liberating creative process, knowing you have a trusted set of ears to bounce ideas off of before they go to the production team.
And meanwhile, your co-writer is writing something for the project you’d never have written yourself, and then their creative decisions inform your next creative decisions…and all of a sudden, you’re writing something you might have never written yourself had you not been co-scoring.
As you can tell, I’m a big fan of co-scoring. I think the only argument against it is the need to figure out the added logistics that wouldn’t be there if there were only one composer.
PH: Are there any general rules of thumb for composing? Can you describe your process and approach when working on something new?
Matt Bowen: There are SO many questions that need to be answered before I write a single note. Composers come on projects at all different stages, so it’s just a matter of familiarizing yourself with the project as best as possible (this may mean just reading a script, it may mean watching a nearly locked cut, and every possibility in between).
Even though a composer works on their own while actually writing the music, it’s absolutely a creative collaboration with the director, showrunner, or whoever else might be involved with establishing the vision of the project. So we all start brainstorming what world we want to live in musically, what’s the overarching purpose the score will serve, and things like that.
Once I have an idea what the spirit of the score should be, I just start writing sketches…sometimes against picture, but most often just standalone pieces. And this serves as a great launch point to talk more specifically with the director about where we’ll take the score creatively.
PH: Throughout your time in the industry, what have you learned about yourself (both personally and professionally?)
Matt Bowen: Well really, it’s a personal and professional lesson, and it’s that hard work and a great attitude can really get you most of the way there. (honestly, this goes somewhat hand in hand with a previous answer about “always be the solution”).
PH: You also have experiences working as an arranger, orchestrator, and composer of additional music on a wide variety of projects? Can you share some of those experiences and how they differ?
Matt Bowen: Absolutely! I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have had various experiences throughout my career, particularly earlier in my career. It turns out these are all facets of being the lead composer on a project, and I was really just going through a Jedi training of sorts. I draw on the experiences from those varied jobs every single day.
PH: Do you have any other upcoming projects you're excited to share?
Matt Bowen: I do!... but I’m not sure what the level of shareability is at this point. I’ll just say I’m collaborating with Chris Lennertz on the score for a tv series that will be released sometime in 2023 (sorry the vagaries!).
PH: What's something (personally or professionally) you're working towards this year?
Matt Bowen: I’ve been a member of a composer’s team for the vast majority of my career, but I’m starting to work more and more as the lead composer. And doing so, means creating my own team of people, which is a big adjustment. So I’m just working on trying to be as good (and hopefully inspiring) a leader as possible.
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