Today, we’ll be launching into another little mini-series of articles that will be looking at the music of some of the most popular running television shows. As opposed to the Exploring Soundtracks series, this will take a closer look at what’s going on behind the screen. We’ll look into why certain songs get chosen over others, how the composers work within the creative team, and what that process looks like.
I personally couldn’t think of a better show to start with than “Rick and Morty”. Not only has it captured the zeitgeist by the terryfolds, but its music is frequently weird, hilarious, and alien. From the simple sounds of “Human Music”, to the now iconic “Get Schwifty”, “Rick and Morty” continues to surprise and delight its viewers.
To start things off, we’ll first take a look at the composer behind most of the music we hear in “Rick and Morty”. That man is Ryan Elder, and he has one tough, fun job.
The Man Behind the Music
The story of how Ryan Elder got involved with “Rick and Morty” goes back to the early days of an online, monthly LA film festival called Channel 101. The ‘festival’ works as a sort of democratic television station, where the audience votes on shows they want to see again. Channel 101 was founded by Dan Harmon and Rob Schrab, who were both running it and submitting their own videos when Ryan Elder came into the picture. Justin Roiland also got his start on Channel 101, with a hit show called House of Cosbys.
In an interview with Collider, Elder goes into a bit more detail.
“I was working on commercial music at the time, a lot of advertising, and I just said, ‘Hey, if anyone needs any music, I’m free and I’d love to work with you,’ and Justin and Dan, over many years, took me up on that offer and we made a lot of shorts and little things, and I helped Justin with a lot of pitches to various networks and stuff, until when it came time for them to make a pilot for Rick and Morty, I think I was fairly high up on their list of composers, certainly ones they have worked with before. That’s how I got the opportunity”.
Balancing Tension and Comedy
One of the challenges from a composer’s point of view in writing the music for a show like “Rick and Morty”, is knowing when to lighten the mood with a funny song, and when to keep the tone more serious. “Rick and Morty” is a goofy, ridiculous show, but it still takes its action seriously. For the characters (except maybe Rick), there are real dangers and consequences to their actions. Therefore, the music needs to reflect the suspense and action the characters feel, along with getting schwifty here and there.
In the same interview with Collider, Elder discusses this unique challenge. “…there’s a lot of jokes in the action sequences that if I pointed them out in a way that was jokey, it would just ruin everything. There has to be this throughline of tension, drama, action, that really helps elevate the comedy in my opinion. All credit to Justin for having that vision of having the music be very classic sci-fi”.
By taking the sci-fi, action sequences, and stakes of the show seriously, Elder has managed to pull off a challenging balancing act. Even the silliest songs are treated with a good deal of respect during the writing process. As a result, the music of “Rick and Morty” has become one of the things that the show is best known for.
I hope you enjoyed getting a closer look at how the music behind “Rick and Morty” is made. We’ll close our discussion in the third part of this series by looking at the recently released soundtrack from the show, which Ryan Elder played a big role in.
Next time, we’ll take a closer look at some of the standout songs we’ve heard from “Rick and Morty” so far. If you want to know the origins of “Get Shwifty”, or how exactly “Human Music” was made, be sure to stick around.