Artist Spotlight, Pro Tips

Breaking Down the Sounds of ‘Broad City’ with Music Supervisor Matt FX

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If you’re a fan of Comedy Central’s breakout success Broad City, you may have wondered who selects those bouncy, fun bursts of music that often soundtrack co-stars Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer’s offbeat adventures. Meet Matt FX — DJ, producer, musician, and the music supervisor behind the show, as well as Hulu’s Difficult People, among other film and TV projects. We spoke with Matt to get some insight into Broad City’s broad musical palette, as well as background on his foray into the field.

After a brief stint in college, Matt decided to drop out and return to New York to pursue music full time. His first experience in music supervision was on MTV’s Skins — through a friend, he found his way into a focus group to help formulate script ideas for the US version of the popular UK series. He gave a mix CD to co-creator Bryan Elsley, who then encouraged him to jump on as a full-time music supervisor. After a few years of introducing acts like Blood Orange and Phantogram to the teen drama, the show was cancelled, but amid weekly DJ gigs, Matt was contacted by an assistant editor who was in need of music for another upcoming series — Broad City. Seeing how arriving at his current gig was a matter of networking and timeliness, Matt recommends anybody interested in getting into the business “accept all side quests,” going on to add, “Make new friends. Listen to things you never would have before.”
 

Choosing Songs Through the Edit

“I’m of the personal belief that a show only uses too much music when they’re insecure about their product,” says Matt. “It’s something to be confident enough in the dialogue to not bury it under music.” Broad City opts to include short bursts of songs in between dialogue-heavy scenes typically with no background music, which contrasts the more grandiose musical moments — like cashing a check in a dream sequence featuring Drake’s “Started From the Bottom.”

Through each edit, Matt will typically sit down with the director to go over different song choices. Each episode goes through multiple renditions — an editor’s cut, a director’s cut, a producer’s cut, and finally one where showrunners Abbi and Ilana take the final crack. Matt prefers sitting with the director and going over different songs together. Sometimes some scenes are better without music at all. “I’ll be the first person to be like, ‘Well, what does it sound like without music?'” he says. “Sometimes we’ll put a song in, they’ll cut the scene, and they’ll tighten the scene around this song. We’ll still not be sure about it, and I’ll be like, ‘Take this out, and oh – it’s fine! Cool, moving on.'”
 

How to Find the Right Tracks

Broad City‘s musical language speaks many dialects. “I think at the end of the day, I’m looking for something that’s brand new,” says Matt. “Something that’s inspired. Something that isn’t afraid to be out of the box a little bit.” You can hear a spectrum of genres and sounds, ranging from hip-hop to electronica, on the show; the newest season includes everyone from Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon to electronic artist Photay. Synch licensing can hit a number of hurdles, including budget and time constraints, and un-clearable samples are also a problem, which Matt circumvents by rejecting submissions that include any.

With Broad City‘s growing popularity (and thus increasing budget), the opportunity to use songs from bigger names like Gordon and Mac DeMarco has presented itself, with labels and publishers reaching out directly with fair rates. However, Matt strives to continue seeking and licensing unknown and unsigned acts. “Ultimately,” he says, “I see now more than before that it’s an obligation that a majority of the music in the show be from unsigned artists. I think, in many ways, it speaks to the soul of what it is we’re trying to do. The priority is making sure the songs work perfectly for the scene. I don’t care where it comes from, if I can afford it and there are no samples.”
 

A Difficult Scene to Soundtrack

One scene that took several rounds of back-and-forth was in season two, when Abbi and Ilana try to steal an air conditioner from a group of college students. The director called for a “crazy, stoned, trippy jam,” but after nearly 60 songs, nothing appeared to be working.

As a joke, Matt tried “Infinite Daps” by RL Grime and Bauuer. He tells us that as soon as he sent it over, the response was, “‘That’s the one!’ Sometimes it’s trying to figure out the XY axis and just throwing down wild cards, because maybe that wild card is exactly what they were looking for.”
 

The Music Behind That Hillary Clinton Scene

“I actually didn’t even know about the cameo until the day they shot it,” Matt reveals. “I remember coming back into the room from the bathroom and seeing a whole crowd of people around one of the edit bays, and seeing the cameo and being like, ‘Oh wow. I wasn’t expecting that.'”

The song eventually used is Sweater Beats’ remix of Kastle’s “Anything’s Possible.” “The particular synths that this remix used have trumpets, and it has this very political feel.”
 

Scooter Island and Future Plans

In addition to his work on Broad City, Matt writes and produces for his own 20-person supergroup called Scooter Island. The group’s sunny and upbeat tunes found their way into Broad City.

Besides continual DJ gigs and Scooter Island, Matt also recently handled supervision duties for his first feature-length film, Dirty 30, written by Mamrie Hart and starring Katherine Hughes.
 

Advice on the Industry

Matt juggles a number of projects and works alongside some of the TV and music industry’s best. The weight of handling so many different endeavors, particularly in an industry so competitive, could be a lot for many to handle. As far as navigating the business’ sometimes murky waters, he reminds aspiring artists to “stay true to yourself. The more successful you get, the crazier things will be, and the most important thing to remember is yourself.”

For more from Matt FX, check out his own music and mixes on Soundcloud.