There have been many iconic moments of music in sitcom history: everyone remembers the twangy electric guitar between scenes in Seinfeld, no one telling you it was going to be this way, or the whistled prelude to every episode of The Andy Griffith Show. Much akin to something like the Windows bootup noise, these bites of music become part of our culture without most people knowing who created them (the Friends theme song was The Rembrandts, and the Windows thing was Brian Eno, just FYI,) or appreciating their art.
Ludwig Goransson is changing that. Ludwig is the composer for Happy Endings, Community, New Girl, and Animal Practice. And people are noticing: with Community’s brilliantly varied and evocative score, Ludwig’s name has become household for TV comedy nerds and/or aficionados.From transitional music, to evocative genre music, to funny incidental songs, Goransson’s sitcom scores are streets ahead.
While his music perfectly slips into the background, just mentioning “the music on Community,” will bring praise from its fans, and the same is true for Happy Endings and New Girl. Like a film editor or shy high school student, Goransson’s art lies in being unnoticed.
We spoke with Ludwig about his work in the sitcom world, as well as some of his other upcoming projects with Childish Gambino…
Portable: Hi Ludwig. Have you been working on anything in the past few weeks that we, you know, the public, might not’ve heard about yet?
Ludwig Goransson: I’m actually working on a little Pixar short.
Portable: Oh wow, that’s awesome. One of those great bits that gets attached to a feature?
Ludwig Goransson: I’m not totally sure. It’s like a 90 second movie.
Portable: Their films always have great music. The music is always very attached to the images. I think that’s a legacy you’ll be able to uphold
Ludwig Goransson: Yeah, what I’m doing is sort of a hip-hop beat.
Portable: So how does that work? Did you see the completed film first, or did you show them the music first? Is it based on an existing bit of your music?
Ludwig Goransson: It’s a totally new beat for an Italian car getting a wheel.
Portable: Awesome. Very excited to see it. So how do you spend most of your artistic time? Do you consistently work on sitcoms, is that where most of your time goes, or do you work on your own stuff?
Ludwig Goransson: Yeah, I wish I had more time to make my own stuff.
Portable: But most of your time goes to the soundtrack type work?
Ludwig Goransson: Right now I work on four shows a week, so that takes a lot of my time right now.
Portable: And that’s New Girl, Community, Happy Endings, and…
Ludwig Goransson: Animal Practice.
Portable: I think most people who know your soundtrack work would be Community fans; they’ve got these rabid fans who’d go and put in the effort to find out about every bit of the production.
Ludwig Goransson: The music on Community is very important, a big part of the show.
Portable: Something you do very well on Community is making musical themes that are evocative without being derivative, like making something sound like a famous theme song without copying it outright.
Ludwig Goransson: In a lot of episodes of Community we’re trying to do something like that. One episode is the Dungeons & Dragons episode, where I wanted to spoof Lord of the Rings music, and one Nintendo episode where I tried to emulate music from Nintendo games.
Portable: I always felt the music was instantly recognizable and evocative, even though its new music.
Ludwig Goransson: Even though I try to sound like something, its very important to have my own voice in there.
Portable: Yeah, that’s what’s so incredible; how it’s so evocative while adding your own personal art to it. How do you do that? What’s your process?
Ludwig Goransson: It’s just a matter of… you can tell I’m having a very fun time scoring the show, because I’m enjoying it so much and having such a great time. It comes very easily, I don’t have to overthink copying or emulating. And as a composer, I just think of what I would do in the same kind of style.
Portable: That’s what’s so great. You’re watching that, going on this adventure, and the music really brings you along with it, and it create the epicness, then in the next episode you’re switched back to just sitcom transition music, or that theme that is used whenever something inspirational happens or the gang gets back together (Community fans will know the one).
Ludwig Goransson: I’m basically just really lucky. Community was my first big project under my own name, and I’m lucky to get the most fun and interesting comedy show you could ever write music for.
Portable: The way it switches genres every episode lends a lot of freedom and fun to a composer!
Ludwig Goransson: Dan Harmon was always very supportive, letting me record w/ an orchestra or just do whatever to make the music as good as possible.
Portable: How do you think the show’ll change now that he’s gone?
Ludwig Goransson: I’m not gonna change my music. The actors won’t change how they act. Sure, the story and writing’ll change. We’ll see.
Portable: So your first big show was Community? And you got the other jobs from there?
Ludwig Goransson: One show led to another, led to another.
Portable: And New Girl and Happy Endings are some of the most critically-praised comedies on TV, after Community. Before I even knew you were involved I always admired Happy Endings’ music.
Ludwig Goransson: Thanks, thanks. It’s kind of crazy that my first three shows all got renewed and were successful. I’m very lucky with that. But also Happy Endings and New Girl are totally different, I treat Happy Endings like me going into the studio with my band and just jamming. It kind of sounds like there’s a band standing next to the actors and playing music.
Portable: So what’s your process like in general, from start to finish?
Ludwig Goransson: For every show I have a meeting, meet the producers, writer, creator, editor. We sit down and watch an episode, we talk about what kind of music we want for the show, what themes we need scores for, where the music comes in and goes out, then I go back to my studio and they give me about five days.
Portable: That’s something your average TV viewer might not appreciate, that process, when the music blends in so well.
Ludwig Goransson: If I do my job well, I don’t expect people to pay notice. It’s supposed to be seamless.
Portable: It should slip in so well you don’t notice it.
Ludwig Goransson: Even I don’t notice good scores on TV, but I notice shows with terrible scores, I can’t watch them.
Portable: Once you start working on a specific thing like that, it ruins enjoying other people’s work: you notice all the mistakes. Like a film editor might notice each jump cut. Let’s move to your personal projects, what are you working on?
Ludwig Goransson: I haven’t had time for any personal projects since my EP (How to Find a Party, released as Ludovin) a year ago. That was a lot of fun, took me like three years to find time to finish that. When I don’t score I work with lots of artists, Childish Gambino and a lot more.
Portable: A record exec comes up to you and offers you infinite money to do whatever you want, what do you make?
Ludwig Goransson: That would never happen… But if I found the time to sit down and create music for myself, I would probably make a Ludovin #2, which would be totally different than the first, but with the same kinds of melodies.
Portable: What has writing music for TV taught you about music writing in general?
Ludwig Goransson: It taught me about not overthinking. It’s impossible to overthink on tv; you have 5 days for 12 minutes of music. If you overthink you won’t get the job done, you’ll get fired. I always start with an idea, and never look back. I still learned a lot about tempo and speed, I don’t really doubt myself that much. I never wait for inspiration. A lot of people just sit around at home waiting to be inspired, then go to the studio and maybe work. I don’t see it that way. I just sit down and… start.
Portable: Deadlines help artists. That’s why writers do journalism, artists do graphic design. So what’re you working on with Gambino?
Ludwig Goransson: We’ve started sitting down in my studio to come up with some new ideas for a new album. Donald’s starting to really think about concepts and it’s gonna be a bigger album with more people involved. I hope to be part of it.
Portable: I don’t have a lot of experience with Animal Practice, any word on that?
Ludwig Goransson: Well, it’ll probably be cancelled.
Portable: Ah, well more free time to work on your own stuff.
Ludwig Goransson: Yeah, I need it. I just started working on a new movie called Fruitvale. It’s the name of this train station in Oakland where this guy got shot in 2008, there were big riots because he was shot by a cop even though he was unarmed.
Portable: Yeah, I remember that story well. I saw video, brutal.
Ludwig Goransson: Yup, people on the train were filming with their cell phones. It’s starring Michael B. Jordan from The Wire and Friday Night Lights, and Octavia Spencer. I’m scoring the whole thing, my best friend’s directing, it’s his first feature. It’s a very heavy movie, a drama, and its my first experience with drama. And he’s my best friend so I can do whatever I want and experiment, and dive into my own world of drama. It’s my second feature after 30 Seconds or Less. And in November I’m scoring We’re The Millers, this big comedy starring Jennifer Aniston and Jason Sudekis.
Portable: Sounds great, thanks a lot Ludwig.