Q&A: Composer of Netflix’s ‘American Vandal’ talks time at NU, scoring the show


Source: Darian Shulman

Darien Shulman (Bienen ‘03), the composer of Netflix’s “American Vandal.” Shulman said the experience has been “crazy” but “really gratifying.”

Greg Svirnovskiy, Reporter

When renowned musician and composer Darien Shulman (Bienen ’03) walked through the grounds of Northwestern for the first time as a student, he thought he’d be a theatre major. What followed in the next year turned him to his eventual future in music, spending his roughly 15-year career crafting and composing music for short films and commercials. Now, he’s composed the score for the first two seasons of Netflix’s popular show “American Vandal” which parodies crime documentaries by following two teenage students as they work to solve shockingly vulgar mysteries in their communities. Shulman shared how his time at NU prepared him for a future in music and how his work on the show came together.

The Daily: How did your time at Northwestern shape your desire to study music?

Shulman: I was a theatre major, and I was at the Jones (Fine and Performing Arts) Residential College. There were a lot of musicians and students in the school of music with me in that (dorm) and so as I went through my freshman year, I found myself more and more drawn to doing music. After freshman year of Northwestern I’d basically decided that I wanted to study music composition.

The Daily: How’d you get involved with the “American Vandal” project?

Shulman: After I finished at Northwestern, I was at grad school at The Juilliard School, and it was at that point that I decided to really focus on music for the screen rather than focus on concert music or classical music. Once I finished at grad school, I was at a party and a family friend approached me and said he had a neighbor whose son was attending Emerson College. The son that he was talking about was Tony Yacenda, the creator of “American Vandal.” I started corresponding with Tony that year. He introduced me to his friends and because I wanted to build a reel myself, I started scoring all of their student projects. I could tell that there was something special about those guys. When they managed to get “American Vandal” greenlit, they really went to bat for me as far as getting me on board.

The Daily: Tell me about the process for putting together music for the show.

Shulman: It’s a collaborative effort, which is really what makes it different from composing concert music or music that you’re just producing on your own. I’m constantly in touch with the director of “Vandal,” and during the prep stages, we’re sort of going back and forth with different possible directions. During filming, I was starting to put together musical ideas that were a minute and a half or two minutes long. I’d read the script, so they covered possible directions for different scenes or moods or even characters. So by the time post-production came around, the director and the editors had a decent chunk of music to work with when they were getting down to assembling the episodes.

The Daily: What’s it like to hear your music on the final product and get audience feedback?

Shulman: It’s crazy. I have people contacting me via Twitter. Like strangers. They tell me they love the music that I did for this one scene or that they love the title music. It’s really gratifying. When you’re a musician, it’s a struggle when you’re trying to build a career. It can really feel like you’re constantly pushing a boulder up a hill. When something like this comes together, it’s really amazing because you feel like what you’ve done over the past fifteen or so years is finally starting to pay off.

This Q&A has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @Gsvirnovskiy