Recently, I got to speak with the experienced and acclaimed composer/music producer, Matthew Tishler, who recently brought his musical expertise to the Disney hit, “Fancy Nancy” for which he was the resident songwriter and music producer. Matthew crafted over 60 original songs for the Disney Junior animated series, which was based on the best-selling children’s book franchise. His piece, “If You Have a Dream” was nominated for a Children and Family Emmy for Best Original Song.
Previously, Matthew has worked on a number of high-profile television shows and films, including; Sony Pictures’ “Lyle Lyle Crocodile”, “Sneakerella”, “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series”, and “Descendants”.
Could you give us a bit of an introduction to yourself?
Well, I’m Matthew Tishler. I’m a songwriter and music producer, originally from Toronto, Canada, now living in the not so sunny today, Los Angeles. But you really hit the nail on the head. I just love Disney so much, and I grew up being such a Disney geek, and now it’s just such a treat all these years later to actually be working on these projects. And I think it’s no surprise that it comes so naturally to me. I don’t even know why or how I ended up doing exactly this, but I’ve been writing and producing music for Disney, Disney Channel, Disney Junior, and now Disney+ and just having a blast doing it, so that’s cool.
How did you get involved in composing films and shows?
Well, I got into music at a very young age back in Canada, taking music lessons. I played in bands. And then, when I discovered songwriting, I also had a big love of musical theater and I accidentally fell into writing for film and television because I think it’s kind of the perfect crossroads of all of my passions all wrapped into one. I love pop music, I love classic Disney films, and I love musical theater. And really, writing for film and television is visual storytelling. You’re using music to communicate story and character, and themes. It’s kind of all my loves wrapped into one. So, that’s the existential reason for how I ended up doing this. The actual mechanics of how, I sent a couple cold emails, and people responded and said, “Hey, this is pretty good. Maybe we should give you a try and give it a shot,” and the rest is history.
How do you come up with the overall feel of the music for a show or film?
Well, it’s oftentimes a big collaboration, and it would be unfair for me to take the entire credit for that because oftentimes, these shows are pretty far down the line before I become involved. So, there’s an incredible team of creators and executive music producers… Sorry. Executive producers and network executives who’ve been developing these projects for years and years and years before it even comes time to making music for it. So, by the time I get involved, they often have a relatively clear direction. They know what kind of music needs to sound like this. These are what the characters would sound like when they sing. This is where it’s set. So that’s going to give a bit of a clue into what it should sound like.
And from there, once you’re armed with that kind of information, then you can add your spice to it. And I think that’s what gives certain composers an edge on certain projects because sometimes you just have a feel that’s going to give you… You’re going to unlock the code for what that show particularly sounds like, and I don’t know exactly how that happens. Sometimes it might just be a fluke, but I think it’s arming yourself with all the information that everyone else has laid out before you, and they didn’t just start playing around.
Which Disney project has been your personal highlight to work on?
Oh, I don’t even know how I could choose. They’re all so fun, and they’re all so different. And as a music lover like myself, each one, I get to do something a little different on each one, so it would be impossible to choose. I mean, I’ve loved, loved, loved working on Fancy Nancy, which is one of the first animated shows I ever got a chance to work on. And I wrote all the songs for that show, which was, I think, my first project where I really got a chance to oversee the entire music direction for a series. So, that was really fun because over the course of a few years, we wrote, I don’t know, 75 songs, and you really get to play around because you get to know the characters, you get to know the world and the settings so well that it really gives you the flexibility to be versatile and try different things. So, that was really a fun project.
I’ve also loved working at High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, I mean, the whole cast and creative team on that show is just so spectacular. I love everyone in front of the camera and behind the camera on that show, and again, it’s just been such a fun opportunity to write for different characters, and each one brings a different thing to the table. I just love what I do there so much that it’ll be hard to pick a fave.
What’s the difference between working on animated and live-action from your point of view?
Well, one big thing that comes to mind is the timelines. Animation takes so long to get made, and I get involved early on as a songwriter because you write demos to a script even sometimes, there’s no picture involved even yet, and you write a song and produce the music so that they can build animatics and do storyboards and ultimately build out the final animation to your song. So, you’re at the beginning of the process that could take a year or two years to finish one episode of animation. Whereas live action, sometimes you’re at the end of the process, they’ve cast the show, they have everyone locked down, ready to go, they’ve moved to location in four weeks, and they got to start shooting something, and now we got to green light all the music. So, then it’s a big scramble to write all these songs before everyone moves off to location, so I think timeline’s a big thing. Yeah, I think that’s what comes to mind.
What’s the biggest challenge of making music for films and shows?
To me, the biggest challenge is also the biggest excitement. It’s the figuring out how to make it right. It’s easy to write a song, you can sit down and write anything, but to make it truly right for the moment and to make it feel inevitable where an audience is watching it, and the song just washes over you, and it’s the perfect thing in the moment. And it could only be that, and that lyric is perfect, and the melody moves you, and it’s perfect for the singer. That’s the biggest challenge really, of all. But that’s what excites me and drives me to really get up and do it because you’re combining everything you know about this property and the singers and the characters and the story and the world and just fighting minute by minute to make the best song possible for that moment.
With musical films like “Zombies”, do you get the major songs in and then work out how to link between them?
Yeah, well, there’s a wonderful, wonderful music executive at Disney Channel who oversees all those big movies. A wonderful guy, Steven Vincent, who I credit for giving me, one of my first shots in the business. I love that guy to death. And in collaboration with the other Disney executives and the creators of these properties will sit down and map out a whole movie, and they’ll say, “Okay, these are the tentpole moments that are going to happen.” And then, they assign each of those to a different writing team, or you get to pitch for one of those spots. So, a lot of the time, that map has already been laid out, and we just get to plug in our songs.
Are there any Disney projects that you’re working on that you can tell us about?
Well, you did mention High School Musical, the musical. Oh, sorry. High School Musical: The musical: The series before. I have a couple things coming out in that, which is really fun. And there’s a new show I’m working on an animated series called Haley’s On It, which I’m writing all the original songs and doing underscore on that show with my partner Andrew Underberg, who is fantastic. He’s in New York, and that stars Auliʻi Cravalho, who did the voice of Moana, and she’s fantastic in this role, and it’s just been so fun. So, more to come on that in, hopefully, later this year, but we’ll see.
Is there any other Disney franchises that you’d like to work on in the future?
Disney franchises that I’d like to work on in the future. I mean, I’d love to be doing some features. I’d love to be working on the Disney features. Maybe Alan Menken is going to retire someday soon, and I can fill his shoes, that would be a dream come true.
What has been your favourite Disney+ Original so far?
I mean, I’m probably biased because I have a few horses in the race, but one thing that comes to mind that we haven’t talked about that I really do love was the movie Sneakerella, which was a gender flipped version of, and contemporized version of Cinderella’s at New York City. And I think I love it because as a music person, it was just such a great movie musical for the young teen space. Songs were all great. The underscore was wonderful. It actually just won Children’s and Family Emmy for outstanding music direction and composition, which is so wonderful for the underscore composer who did the underscore on that. And I think it’s just a testament to great music being well executed in a movie musical format. So, I was excited to have played this tiny, tiny piece in the music of that movie, but I do think that’s probably my favorite.
“Fancy Nancy”, “Sneakerella”, “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series”, and “Descendants” are available to stream now on Disney+.
Roger has been a Disney fan since he was a kid and this interest has grown over the years. He has visited Disney Parks around the globe and has a vast collection of Disney movies and collectibles. He is the owner of What's On Disney Plus & DisKingdom.