What it takes to become a film composer. The story of NYU alumni
Matthew Wang is a film composer from New York City, who now works in Los Angeles, California, USA, as an assistant to composer Craig Wedren. Currently, he is in the process of writing additional music for shows including NBC's New Amsterdam, Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist, Hulu's Shrill, and the fourth and final season of Netflix's Glow, and he was still able to find time for the Composium interview.
Photo of Matthew Wang, provided by Matthew Wang
Matthew first realized that he wanted to make music during his time in highschool. "I started a [rock] band called The Neon Eyes", the composer begins. "We played around the city, and recorded our first album."

Their producer, who happened to finish New York University's Music Technology Program, recommended Matthew apply to the university. "I had a really tough time deciding between NYU and Berklee", Matthew laughs, remembering the struggle. "I saw a producer I knew at one of the admitted students' days at Berklee, where they had a small panel of alumni, and went to ask for his advice. Without doubt, he said to go to NYU."

Recalling his freshman experience, Matthew admits he hated it. "I thought that it would be a music production program, but it was more focused on technology than music", he says. At the same time, he discovered the university's Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music. Back then, Matthew didn't know he wanted to become a film composer, but the institution's unique holistic approach allowed him to grow as a well-rounded entrepreneur. "They almost overstress that at points", Matthew smiles. "Even if you just want to be a producer or a songwriter, you still have to take classes across different topics."

With the way the curriculum is built at Clive Davis, Matthew was able to begin the path of finding his voice as a musician. While at university, the composer also had a lot of time and freedom to experiment — for instance, he created a sampled Steinway piano, which later made its way into the studios of Academy Award winners and Emmy Award winning composers around LA.

When asked how well the music education at different universities prepares students for the realities of the music industry, Matthew responded quite frankly: generally, not well. Although Clive is an outlier, doesn't talk about music business from the days when CDs ruled how money was made like some do, and constantly improves its program, he still has friends who graduated from it and aren't too well educated about the music industry as a whole. "I think at Berklee they still mostly use Digital Performer", Matthew explains. "When in LA, in fact, if you want to work with a majority of composers, it would be more useful to be fluent in Logic or Cubase."
Although the university can give a very strong foundation, you will still have to work on your own. In his free time between lectures and classes, Matthew explored different courses on Linkedin Learning, and watched a variety of YouTube tutorials. "I could go up to teachers and ask them something that I learned in one of those courses and try to get their thoughts and perspective", he notes. "In one case, I asked a question and the teacher didn't know the answer. He spent a week figuring it out, and he did, and that answer turned into him teaching a whole new class based on the topic!"

Being in New York, there were a lot of composers around town. "I would just email someone if I heard his/her score and I really liked it", Matthew tells me. "Sometimes, that might lead to a coffee where I might've asked questions about their process, and that's how I learned a lot too."

On his journey as a composer, Matthew recalls how he started out when he interned at a jingle music house called Mophonics. As a big fan of Foster the People, and because Mark Foster from the band cut his teeth at their LA location (which is also where he wrote and recorded the first Foster The People album), Matthew "thought [that] if [he] can learn to write a jingle that gets stuck in people's heads in 30 seconds, [he] can apply that skill to pop songwriting."

The film composer also utilized his time at university by scoring student films. "The important takeaway from that was that I had told my friends in college that I wanted to score films even though I hadn't done any at that point in time." When describing how he got his first project, he says that "a friend of a friend happened to need a composer for their project and my name came up because I had told people that I want to be a film composer."

Looking back at those scores now, Matthew agrees that they weren't too great, but each score got better and better and each director pushed him to change his approach, which ultimately changed the outcome of the music. "I encourage composers to actively change their approach to music whenever they can now.. If you're used to virtual synths, buy a cheap analog mono synth and try to write a piece of music that sounds good with that. If you're used to writing in Cubase, go outside to a park with your phone and hum a great melody in your phone and see if anything useful comes out from that approach!"

"I met Craig through an agent I had talked to that summer named Amos Newman at WME," Matthew mentions, talking about how he met the composer he currently works with. "Amos had an assistant named Sean Wynn who really helped me a lot when I first moved to LA and Craig had just happened to email his agents when he was whittling down his choices for a composer assistant. Craig and I met in person and I nerded out with him about NY's music scene and guitar amps and I think the next day was offered the job."

Talking about his future, Matthew wishes to be doing more animated films. Based on the idea of a one-, five-, and ten-year plans, he figures the best thing to do at the moment is to set up a meeting at the animation department at Netflix for music, and meeting with the people at Skydance Animation. "It's not going to immediately lead to any scoring of any of those things", he says. "Starting the conversation, and preparing for it is my five-year goal."

Finishing the interview, it was about 12am Matthew's local time. Still, he was just as enthusiastic, a smile never leaving his face.
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