What was it that initially drew you to writing music?
My first real forays into writing music were with bands, so I’d say what initially drew me in was the sense of collaboration. I just loved creating with a friend, or a group of friends…and working together to piece these puzzles together felt like we were alchemists in our own magical musical lab. Kind of a funny answer, considering a composer spends a majority of their time in solitude (even outside of a pandemic). But even when I’m logging long hours composing in my studio, I still consider that a collaboration, since I’m constantly responding to someone else’s art.
Writing a score still feels like friends creating something in that secret lab
I’m not writing music for myself in a vacuum, I’m writing music in response to the script, the acting, the directing, the way the scene was edited…and the long list of other creative decisions that were made along the way before picture ever got in front of me. And of course there’s the collaboration with the director, between the brainstorming, spotting, and refining processes. I’ve been lucky enough to work with directors where writing a score still feels like friends creating something in that secret lab.
At what point did you feel like you’ve “made it?”
Have I “made it”…? I’m not sure. And at the risk of getting overly philosophical, I’m not sure that’s a feeling us composers feel, haha. But there are definitely some moments where I’ve thought “I can do this.” There’s so much self-doubt that’s just inherent to working in a creative field, those “I can do this” moments are what really stand out to me.
One of those first moments had nothing to do with actually writing music, but just getting the ball rolling at all. When I moved to LA, I was primarily interested in working as a music producer with bands and artists. My favorite album at the time was Maroon 5’s breakout album “Songs About Jane,” so I cold-emailed the producer on that album, Matt Wallace, and sure enough he responded. Jump to a year-ish later, and I was working as an engineer on various albums being produced by Mr. Wallace, one of which brought in James Valentine (Maroon 5’s guitarist…who can absolutely shred) on a session. There I was plugging in his 1/4″ cable etc, when not too long ago I was listening to him play on “Songs About Jane” and dreaming about someday ‘working in LA.’ I did my best to ‘be cool’ throughout the session (which I did)…and then again when we were saying our goodbyes (I most definitely did NOT…James, if this passes in front of you, sorry for going fanboy on you when you thought you were in a safe zone).
One of the first composing moments was when I first heard my music on TV, and I can picture it like it was yesterday. A friend of a friend needed some last-minute additional-music help on a show, and I got to work on a couple of cues. I had absolutely no idea what the process was between “me” and “airing,” but since this was HOLLYWOOD, I just assumed they’d take my stems and rework them to their liking, or maybe they’d re-perform everything with in-house professional musicians (that were just constantly at the ready?), or take my track and run it through some magic pixie dust machine before it aired. My wife and I had to go to a friend’s house to watch the show because streaming wasn’t a thing yet, and we didn’t have a TV at the time…and when the scenes came up, there was my music, hot off my computer. It almost felt like “So, that’s it? You’re just going to take my audio file and broadcast it??” That experience demystified a lot the process, and I had the overwhelming feeling of “I can do this.”
What are your hobbies outside of composing?
I’m actually a part-time zookeeper…but since I don’t get paid for it, I’m going to go ahead and list it as a ‘hobby.’ I have two animal-loving girls, and our roster of non-human family members can really ebb and flow. It turns out the “…sure we can get one, but you have to take care of it” deal is not iron-clad. While a hobby isn’t technically something you *have* to do, I do quite enjoy zookeeper responsibilities in a hobby-like way as a break from my studio.
What’s something really important that you’d like the world to know about?
One of my favorite pieces of advice given to me was: be the solution, not the problem…and better yet, be the solution before anyone knew there was a problem. Of course there’s a great deal of creativity in what a composer needs to do, but there’s also a lot of problem-solving within the process. My undergraduate degree was in mechanical engineering, and while I hardly use that technical info as a composer, I regularly use the methodical approach of an engineer over the course of a composing project.
You need to be someone who can be relied on without question
The director, producers, et al have *so many* moving parts on a project…it’s not enough to just write (hopefully!) great music, you need to be someone who can be relied on without question, and keeps the project moving forward seamlessly.
Matt Bowen is an ASCAP award-winning composer based in Los Angeles. A classically trained violinist from the age of three and later a member of a touring youth symphony, he went on to play various instruments in poorly-named rock bands. He ultimately shifted to working behind-the-scenes, writing music for various tv shows while also producing and engineering albums with bands. He teamed up with record producer Matt Wallace (Maroon 5, Faith No More) and worked as an engineer on projects such as Michael Franti & Spearhead’s “All Rebel Rockers” and O.A.R.’s “All Sides”…both of which had RIAA-certified platinum singles. Bowen soon pivoted to composing full-time, and his desire to constantly try new instruments and approaches in his composing work is very much rooted in these varying musical experiences.
Always looking for fresh creative outlets has resulted in Bowen’s involvement in a wide variety of projects, from TV to film, scripted to documentaries. He recently completed work as the composer for THE BINGE (Hulu), a feature length R-rated comedy starring Vince Vaughn and Skylar Gisondo. His work can be heard on BLOOD ROAD (Red Bull Media House), an emotional and gritty Emmy Award-winning documentary. Bowen also teamed up with Christopher Lennertz to co-score BEST WORST WEEKEND EVER (Netflix), a TV-series about comic-book obsessed teens.
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. He frequently works on Christopher Lennertz’s music team on projects such as THE BOYS and BAD MOMS.
When he’s out of the studio, Matt enjoys performing the latest Disney songs with his two daughters, doing crossword puzzles with his wife, and patrolling a very limited range at shortstop for the local dads softball team.
You can find Matt at mattbowenmusic.com.