The rules and requirements of scoring sitcoms according to Cormac Bluestone

The It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia composer talks about his musical journey

Cormac Bluestone is in the house.

Having worked on the long-running comedy series It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia for over a decade, award-winning composer Cormac Bluestone has taken the musical reins of Fox sitcom The Cool Kids. But alongside TV Bluestone has worked in independent cinema as well as contributing to a number of immensely popular online comedies. We chatted with the busy composer.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia was your biggest break in the world of TV. How did you get it?
I moved to Los Angeles with a small theatre company that I’d be writing comedic musical one-acts for five or six years previously in New York. We did a show in Los Angeles and Charlie Day came, who’s an old friend of mine and someone I’ve played music with for years. When he saw the show and what I was doing with musical theatre he told me they were about to do a musical episode [on Sunny] and that I should be hired as the composer. My first TV job was on that episode, which was called The Nightman Cometh. That was how I got in and that’s been how I’ve stayed.

The Nightman Cometh – (L>R) Danny DeVito, Kaitlin Olson, Glenn Howerton and Rob McElhenney

Charlie Day is a producer on The Cool Kids. Did he come to you straight away with the gig?
I’d been working on Sunny for those years and when The Cool Kids got picked up to go to pilot we started talking about me potentially doing music for it and I started doing demos.

What do you think are the main requirements for small screen compositions?
Where comedy is regarded – and this has just been through the process of doing and learning – I think the challenge is really just leaning into the given circumstances [in the narrative] rather than the comedy itself. The scripts and the cast are already funny so you’re just trying to lay the groundwork for them to run off. I think it’s the challenge is trying not to wink at the comedy – really sticking with the actual story.

With something like the Cool Kids, how far in advance do you get a script to work from?
We get the script maybe two weeks before it shoots. Then I give it a read and then we’re just waiting to see how that episode cuts together. Due to the great cast and the talented writers, the script really evolves through the rehearsal week until they shoot it on Friday. I’m really waiting until that first cut to see what the editors and showrunners have chosen to go with. Once we get to that point, I start putting ideas forward.

Ultimately, because it is a multi-camera sitcom, we also have to really honour the template we’ve laid out musically. I lot of it is really just trying to make the audience feel like they’re at home. We’re not shocking them with something new. We’re offering them a new flavour of what they already know. There’s a level of consistency there. The episodes of a multi-camera sitcom almost all take place in the same spot and same location. They second they turn the show on, we want to give the audience a familiarity.

The Cool Kids cast member (L>R) Martin Mull, David Alan Grier and Leslie Jordan

Your IMDb page is peppered with a lot of short comedy sketches and YouTube work. Has that been a training ground for you?
The majority of those came about years ago. I met some YouTube content creators who were so easy to work with and funny. One of things they were working on with something called a react series. It became a huge hit. I really just did the source music for the episodes. A decade or so later, the episode have tens of millions of hits now.

How did you get into the business?
I always loved film and TV and wanted to be part of it. I started in theatre in New York producing my own work with a group of friends and that was the beginning of it.

Did you veer naturally into comedy? 
It’s a double-sided coin. I always wanted to get into comedy and I love working in it, but I also think I got a little lucky. In this business we don’t always get to choose what we end up doing. I’ve been extraordinarily lucky that my hard work has met up with potential, which has also met up with a little good fortune and kept me on a path that I had always wanted to be on. I think there’s a big element of luck getting to do the thing you grew up wanting to do.

Are you a classically trained musician?
I’m not necessarily classically trained, but I took a lot of music lessons when I was growing up and music was always in my house. My instrument when I was younger was a guitar. I really focused on blues and rock. The film scores I always loved listening to were those by Harold Faltermeyer and John Carpenter. I really loved John Williams and Danny Elfman, too. I was particularly into the latter via his band Oingo Boingo. I thought there was a place for me in the business seeing the likes of Elfman and Devo’s Mark Motherbaugh stepping up to score films.

It’s funny you should mention both Elfman and Motherbaugh because their style and sensibility is always right there in the compositions. It hasn’t really been watered down and they haven’t compromised at all, really.
Oh yeah. Who they are. Their personalities. It’s a continuing thread. It makes them so authentic. You know a Danny Elfman score when you hear it.

You’ve done a couple of indie features during your career. Would you welcome the challenge of scoring a big Hollywood feature?
I love working in film. The very first indie I worked on, I really just wanted to do a feature. I was at the point where I just wanted to get one under my belt so I could say I’d done it. It was such a great experience so after that I was able to network and that’s how a did Tenured, which went to the Tribeca Film Festival. I’m always trying to jump into movies. I would love to be doing them, but I gotta say, I love doing TV right now. I just want to be doing as much as I can. I welcome any new opportunities that come my way.

  • Watch Cormac Bluestone in action on Sunny set:

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