Composer and pianist Matthew Hollingsworth wonders if his music bosses somehow know when he has a day off.
Often, that’s when they want something from him, and they want it fast.
In response, Matthew rearranges his life and works through the night to finish or revise a piece of music.
It’s all good, though.
Matthew is obsessed with music and doesn’t mind the pressure.
“His passion is what allows him to work so hard,” Matthew’s wife, Hannah, said. “That and coffee.”
Matthew is a Janesville-based composer who creates music for both television and film and who often works under tight and highly competitive deadlines.
His clients are heavy-hitters.
Because of nondisclosure agreements, Matthew said he cannot say what major brands are involved. But he is working on ads for the Golden Globes next month and the Super Bowl in February.
If his music airs, it won’t be the first time he gets such mega-exposure.
In 2015, Matthew got his first big break when he composed ad music for T-Mobile, a wireless communications giant.
His directions were to create serious piano music for the commercial, which featured none other than Kim Kardashian.
And—can you believe it?—the spot played during the Super Bowl.
A new direction
Matthew has always composed for fun.
When his mother, Carol, died in 2011, he considered it a wake-up call to do what he really wanted.
He put together a demo tape and reached out to dozens of music professionals to see if they would pitch his work.
Hannah recalls a time when she sent upwards of 50 emails a day trying to get someone to pay attention to Matthew’s talent.
“It takes a lot to break through,” Matthew said. “After the Super Bowl ad, people took me seriously.”
At 36, Matthew has an impressive resume.
His work has appeared on TV networks, including Oxygen, Esquire, TLC and the Science Channel. He also has scored independent films and documentaries, which include all three of Wisconsin Public Television’s “From the Air” programs.
Laurie Gorman is an executive producer at WPT and has produced all the “From the Air” programs, including the recent “Wisconsin Water from the Air.”
When WPT created the first program, producers searched for and auditioned different composers by sending them a 4-minute to 5-minute clip of the program. They asked the composers to create music for it.
“What Matthew created was far above and beyond any of the other composers,” Gorman said. “He was the only one that could take a seemingly random selection of visuals and give it cohesion and emotion through music.”
The aerial programs have little narration and rely heavily on the music score to tell the story.
“Our programs have been hugely successful with our viewers,” Gorman said. “I know that is due in large part to Matthew’s music. Working with him on these programs has been a true honor and delight.”
When composing the score for “Wisconsin Water from the Air,” Matthew sat in front of computer screens and an 88-key keyboard. As he watched the movie, he composed melodies and recorded his musical ideas using a Digital Audio Workstation.
Eventually, he sent his music—in 5-minute sections—to the directors and others for review.
For commercials, the composing is much the same.
He gets a brief telling him what kind of music the creators want and what the music is supposed to accomplish emotionally.
Often, he is told what types of instruments to use.
“The commercials are sent to me without any music or with temporary music, so I can see what the story is or the scenes they’re talking about in the brief,” Matthew said.
From there, he tends to get ideas easily.
“I just know what I’m going to do,” he said.
Many times in the commercial world, supervisors want the music overnight or in a couple of days.
In the case of ads for the Golden Globes and the Super Bowl, Matthew will submit his original music along with 10 or so other composers.
Then he has to wait and hope his pieces are selected.
“We do everything we can to make sure the music is perfect the first time,” Matthew said. “It is a lot of pressure to put on someone.”
Sometimes, Matthew works up to 110 hours a week meeting deadlines for a mega-commercial.
“He’ll have these super crazy times,” Hannah said. “My job is to make sure he eats.”
Hannah, who is trained as a classical singer, also is the business manager and accountant for Matthew Hollingsworth Music LLC.
In years past, Matthew would need to live in a music city such as Los Angeles or Nashville to do the kind of work he does. But technology now allows him to record music in his small studio.
“I don’t like the hustle and bustle of the big city,” Matthew said. “I can do some awesome things from Janesville.”
For now, he chooses to remain in his hometown.
Born and raised in Janesville, Matthew was introduced to piano at age 2 or 3 and began playing when he was 6.
He began studying with teacher Renato Premezzi at Beloit College while he was still a student at Craig High School. Later, he took a master class with him in Italy.
From an early age, Matthew wanted to compose film scores.
“I was always listening to soundtracks of films as a boy,” he said. “There’s something fundamentally different about movie music. Its only intention is to make you feel something. That’s why I am drawn to it.”
In the future, he wants to compose more music for films.
“It takes an amazing amount of time,” Matthew said. “But in films you have more freedom to experiment. You can accomplish more in a film than in a 60-second commercial.”
When Matthew gets stressed, he stops and remembers how lucky he is to earn a living by composing music.
“I realize what a miracle it is,” he said. “This is what I always wanted.”
Anna Marie Lux is a Sunday columnist for The Gazette. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264 or email email@example.com.