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Interview: Matthew Tishler Emmy Nominated Music Producer & Songwriter Behind Hit Disney Series, Films & More

Matthew Tishler is an Emmy- and Annie Award nominated, 25x multi-platinum songwriter and music producer, with a specialty in K-Pop, J-Pop and family entertainment for film and television. His songs have been featured in hit TV shows, movies, theme parks, and on dozens of #1 albums around the world.

Matthew has written and/or produced hundreds of songs for Disney, Nickelodeon, Netflix, Dreamworks and beyond, including music for High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, Descendants 3, ZOMBIES, Teen Beach 2, Freaky Friday, Lemonade Mouth, Shake It Up, Austin & Ally, Liv & Maddie, and multiple songs performed by Ashley Tisdale in High School Musical spin-off Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure.

He produced the platinum-certified, breakout hit “All I Want” by Olivia Rodrigo.

Matthew’s songs have been recorded by numerous teen stars, including Dove Cameron, Zendaya, Sabrina Carpenter, Sofia Carson, Joshua Basset, Bella Thorne, Ross Lynch, Laura Marano, China Anne McClain, Olivia Holt, Rowan Blanchard and Jordan Fisher.

Continuing his long-standing collaboration with JoJo Siwa, Matthew co-wrote and produced all original songs for her Nickelodeon/Awesomeness live-action musical, The J Team, also serving as Executive Music Producer. The pair’s history can be traced through dozens of original songs and projects, from 2017’s breakout “Kid in a Candy Store” to Matthew’s role as Musical Director for her sold-out, 130+ date arena tour from 2019-2022.

Matthew’s international songwriting placements are ubiquitous. In Asia, he has worked with a who’s-who group of A-list artists, including BTS, TWICE, EXO, NCT DREAM, Taeyeon, Red Velvet, TVXQ, SHINee, BoA, Namie Amuro, Kumi Koda, EXILE Atsushi, Tohoshinki, AOA, Taemin, Seohyun, Joey Yung, LuHan, Ailee, P1Harmony, FTISLAND, and Stray Kids.

He co-wrote and produced the theme song “Take On The World” for Girl Meets World, the enormously successful spinoff of 90’s favorite Boy Meets World.

For Disney Television Animation, Matthew has produced and co-written the original songs for Disney Junior’s Fancy Nancy, an animated musical series based on the best-selling books of the same name. As well, Matthew writes and produces the original songs for Disney Junior’s Mira, Royal Detective, original songs and underscore for the new animated series Hailey’s On It, and the Mickey Mornings series of interstitials featuring Mickey Mouse himself!

Disney Plus Informer recently had the opportunity to chat with Matthew about his work on the new animated series Hailey’s On It!, the fourth and final season of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, his career and more.  Read on for the full interview below.

First off, could you briefly tell us a little bit about your musical background and how you got started in producing and writing music?

Well, I got started in music super young. My dad was a music teacher in the public school system back in Canada where we’re from and he was my very first piano teacher when I was 5 years old. I grew up in a very musical house. We had the vinyl record player on 24/7, The Beatles, musical theater, jazz, pop music…anything you could imagine was on in the house. So I always had a love of music and it wasn’t until I was in my teens that I was in a band.

A different music teacher had put me in a rock band and we’d been playing covers and we looked at each other like I guess we should probably have originals right? That’s what all the real bands do.  They have originals. So me and one of the guys in the band kind of taught ourselves how to write songs…just by messing around and studying the greats. And then figured out how to produce just by virtue of having to arrange the songs for our own band and trying to record them.  And without even really realizing it, I was teaching myself songwriting and production. So I really cut my teeth in my teens and I always liked to joke that I put in my 10,000 hours by the time I was 18.  I didn’t really have much of a social life. I just would hide out in my parent’s basement writing songs and producing music and sure enough, word got around town that I was the guy doing that, and young artists from around town would call me up and hire me to produce their demos.  Before too long I started meeting other professional writers who wanted to write and songs started to get released professionally and the rest is history.

You’ve worked on a variety of projects, but have a long history working with Disney on some very high-profile series and films.  What are some of the projects you’ve done for Disney?

Well, my first experience working with Disney… it was kind of a one-two punch of excitement when I first met them which are 2 of my favorite projects that I’ve worked on with them.  I met them back in like 2010. They were working on a movie called Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure and I had written a song for one of the scenes and found out I didn’t get it and they said, oh, can you write another song for the finale?  And we wrote a song for the finale and then we got a call a couple weeks later saying oh, everything changed they actually want your first song and the finale song.  So, in a matter of weeks, I went from basically being an amateur writer to having 2 songs in a spin-off of High School Musical starring Ashley Tisdale and she came in and sang both of my songs and I got to produce her vocal. I got to meet her and that’s been one of my favorite experiences with Disney.

Right around the same time I worked on a movie that they made called Lemonade Mouth and I wrote a song called “She’s So Gone,” which still all these years later, is one of my favorites that I’ve done with Disney.  I just have great memories of writing that song, working with everybody on that movie and the singer of that song was a girl named Naomi Scott, who just a few years ago, famously played Jasmine in the live-action remake of Aladdin. It’s funny to see everyone you’ve known, kind of grow and evolve over the years and she’s now a huge star and I got to say I knew her way back when. But those are some of my favorites from the olden days.

Now I’m so excited about the show I’m working on now called Hailey’s On It! which I’m sure we’ll talk about a lot.  I love working on High School Musical: The Musical: The Series which I’ve been fortunate to work on all 4 seasons. The latest season is coming out this summer.  I just love working with Disney because their projects are all so different so they give me an opportunity to kind of flex a different muscle, in a sense.

Let’s talk about Hailey’s On It! because you wrote the original songs and underscore for the series.  The soundtrack EP is out now which I listened to. The songs are so vibrant and fun and you want to sing along with them.  What was your initial creative process for creating these songs when you were first attached to the series?

Well, it’s interesting you asked that because when you’re working on an animated series, the timeline is so long that the music kind of gets separated into 2 phases.  There’s all the pre-production which consists of the songs that get performed on camera because they need them in advance in order to get the singers to sing them and get the animators to do the lip sync.  So the process for our pre-production songs started years ago for season one. Years ago. There’s a song in the pilot that we wrote. It was the song that got us the gig in the first place.  We wrote it in June of 2020 and then once the series was greenlit, we did a whole bunch of music all in the summer of like, 2021.  So a lot of the songs that you’ve heard were written long in advance.

And then the second phase is once the episodes are basically complete and the picture is locked.  That’s when we start the underscore phase, which is all the other music that you hear.  The majority of the music in the episode is underscore which we do after the picture is done.  So, they can be years apart but the process…they’ll give us a script…they’ll have an idea.. in the pilot episode there’s a song when Hailey is on a ride at a county fair with her best friend who, spoiler alert or not spoiler alert, I think it’s the crux of the whole show, is that she has to kiss her best friend in order to save the world. But she doesn’t want to because it’s her best friend.  And it was an idea she had years ago and forgot about and then now she realizes, oh my goodness, I have to cross off every item on my list and that’s one of them. So she finds herself stuck on this ride and the creators of the show said why don’t we come up with the cheesiest most romantic awful song you could ever imagine if you were a 14-year-old girl stuck on a ride next to someone that you wanna kiss but don’t wanna kiss. So we ran off to the races with that idea and we came up with a song called “Kiss Your Friend” which is on the soundtrack and it’s this 90s, 80s soul pop… you know Luther Vandross style… Boyz ll Men style… love song that captures the cheesiest most awful sentiment that you would ever want to hear if you’re a teenage girl stuck on a ride with your buddy.  So that’s kind of how the process will go. They’ll oftentimes give us the kernel of an idea and we’ll brainstorm what makes it the best and the funniest and go off and write it.

Also, during the post-production process, we’ve found opportunities for songs.  There’s also a song on the soundtrack called “Born for This.”  We love that song. That song came about in post because we knew we wanted a big kind of confident act-like moment for Hailey because the joke is she’s going to this county fair and she’s gonna ride all the rides no matter what and she knows she can do it so she bursts in with all this confidence. And it’s a little tongue in cheek because, well I don’t wanna give the spoilers, but it doesn’t go exactly as planned.  We thought why don’t we write a song for this moment instead of it just being like an action scene let’s write a pop song and then we were thinking, well, who should sing this?  Then we thought about a kind of meta twist. Why don’t we have Auli’i [Cravalho] sing it, who’s the star of the show and plays Hailey.   We got her to come in and sing the song.  So now, on the soundtrack, there’s a full-length version of the song.  There’s only a short piece of it used in the episode itself. But now we have this really fun song that stands on its own as a pop song but it also functions in the episode dramatically and was kind of a fun backward way of making a song for a show.

Last time we talked, you were working on Season 4 of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series which you mentioned earlier.  The entire season releases on Disney+ on August 9th. First of all, how many songs did you write for this season, and did you know that it was going to be the final season?

No, I don’t think anybody really knew that it was going to be the final season by the end of it,  One of my songs kind of felt like this could be the conclusion of something, and I suspected, and I think everyone really suspected, this is just for the last episode of the season.  So this is a nice finale for the season. But now hearing that it’s the final episode of the show, it kind of holds extra weight for us and I’m going back listening to it like oh my goodness, this is the sweetest send off you could ever imagine and I’m so proud to have written it.  So that’s one of the songs that I worked on for the season. I won’t leak the title but it definitely comes up in the last episode.  There are a couple of others that I worked on with my fantastic co-writer, Cozi Zuehlsdorff who is a fantastic songwriter and screenwriter and actress in her own right.  She’s done a lot of stuff and we were put together by Disney several years ago and got to know each other really well and have written a lot together since.  So together, the 2 of us have written a bunch of songs for the show. And I think we have 3 in Season 4.  We wrote them so long ago that you kind of forget all the details so I’m actually very excited now as a fan when the show comes out. I’ll definitely be binging it on August 9th just to see how it all came together.

Do you have a different mindset or a different approach whether you’re writing songs for something that’s animated or something that’s live-action?

To some degree, yes. At the end of the day, we’re all just trying to write great music that conveys the story and the heart of the characters.  So in that sense, no.  It’s the same. But of course, practically, live-action tends to be a little bit more realistic.  Certainly thinking about High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, there’s an element of realism where they really want to make it sound like there’s a bunch of teenagers in a room singing to each other.  Whereas on an animated show, you can kind of suspend disbelief a little bit and be a little more theatrical.  We can kind of tap into some of our musical theater roots and do things that are a little wackier or funnier.  But that’s not always the case. So to answer your question, there’s a yes and there’s a no.

You have really crafted the art of creating catchy melodies. What’s your secret?

Oh, that’s a great question. What’s the secret to creating catchy melodies?  I think one of the biggest tools any songwriter has in their arsenal is repetition and variation.  That’s kind of a magic tool for how to create things that feel catchy and memorable and that you want to sing over and over again. employing your use of repetition in smart ways so that it’s not boring and so that you’re not overusing things. And then using variation to kind of twist things up and make things feel new and fresh.  But as far as how to actually do that, I don’t really know that there’s an answer.  I think you just mess around. I think you just sing some stuff and maybe you figure it out as you go along. We go into the songwriting process… no matter how you get a song started… if there’s a track first, if you’re sitting at a piano or with a guitar…I think once you have a bit of a bed going of some kind of music then you can kind of just riff.  You kind of write and edit at the same time. You think is this good enough, is this catchy enough, does this feel like a motif?  Does this feel like our statement that’s worthy of repeating? So I think there’s a lot of trial and error.

 Can you tell us any upcoming projects that you’re working on?

I’m not sure that I’m able to speak about that. But I will say that I’m very excited about Season 4 of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.  Very excited to see the continued rollout of Hailey’s On It!, which were just at the start of.  So there are still a ton of episodes and music coming for that. Hopefully another season of that. We’ll see. We’re all keeping our fingers crossed.

(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)

Many thanks to Matthew for sharing his time with us.

New episodes of the animated comedy-adventure Hailey’s On It! air Saturdays on Disney Channel and Disney XD, and are currently streaming on Disney+.

The fourth and final season of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series premieres on Disney+ on August 9, 2023.

You can check out the trailers for both shows below:


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