May 20, 2019

‘Modern Family,’‘A Million Little Things’ Composer Gabriel Mann on Goals and Songwriting

Gabriel Mann; Photo courtesy of Mann's team.

Whether or not the name “Gabriel Mann” immediately rings a bell, I am almost certain that you have heard his music. Mann is not only the composer for the hit ABC series “Modern Family,” but has also written music for ABC’s new drama “A Million Little Things” and Nickelodeon’s “School of Rock,” to name a few. Mann is also a member of the Los Angeles-based band The Rescues and a solo artist. And as if that was not enough, he has also contributed to recordings and/or live performances by Adele, Sara Bareilles and Muse.

The Original Series Soundtrack for “A Million Little Things” as featuring music by Gabriel Mann just got its release via Hollywood Records. I had the pleasure of interviewing Mann himself about his past, present and future as musician.

Jewish Journal: You are a solo artist and part of The Rescues beyond your composing. Was the goal to always be a composer?

Gabriel Mann: My goal was not always to be a composer. I wanted to have a career as a musician, whether that was as an artist or composer or producer or whatever. I just wanted to be in that world, after falling in love with studios and arranging and composing while I was in college. So when I graduated, I moved to Los Angeles and pursued music from all angles, writing songs and producing albums while also trying to stay close to the world of composing for media.

JJ: When did you realize that you had a proper career as a composer? Was it during a particular project?

GM: I felt like my career was on decently solid ground a few years into “Modern Family.” That was the first major project with my name on it, and it took some time for me to feel comfortable with that idea, and to not be afraid that it was going to disappear. I was getting more work, and it seemed like it wasn’t going anywhere. I don’t know if I would have considered it a career at the time, but in retrospect I suppose it was certainly the beginning of one.

JJ: When you composed the theme to “Modern Family,” did you have any indication that it was going to be a long-running hit show?

GM: There was no indication to me, at least that “Modern Family” was going to be a hit until after it had aired a few episodes. It was a hit right out of the gate, but I wrote the theme earlier that spring, well before it aired on ABC. Then once it landed, it landed with a bang.

JJ: When it comes to writing music, is it something you do every day, like someone would do at an office day-job? Or do you need to feel inspired to write?

GM: It is definitely a job, like something someone would do at an office. That said, it is highly specialized, and I try to get as much inspiration as I possibly can for those critical moments. Some music is very functional we need something to take us from one place to another, give us some energy, etc. but in other cases the music really has to take the audience to a higher plane, so I need to dig deep sometimes. The job is demanding, though, in terms of schedule, so I don’t really allow myself the space to be uninspired.

JJ: When you are writing, do you specifically know that something is going to be a cue or a theme as opposed to a proper song?

GM: I am usually writing with a purpose. When I need or want to write a song, I will usually have more time to think about it, and often come up with stuff away from the studio in the car, on a walk, something like that. Cues the more functional, specific ones I write at the studio, but an overarching theme can happen anywhere, anytime, and then get incorporated practically when I’m back at work. So yes, I usually know, but sometimes a theme becomes a song, or a song becomes a theme, or a cue becomes one or the other or vice versa!

JJ: What does the rest of 2019 look like for you? Any current or future projects you’re allowed to talk about?

GM: The one thing I can probably mention is that I’m working on” High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” that’s the real title for Disney+, the new streaming service. It’s hilarious, although I’m just getting started on the music. Then in the fall, I’ll start on the second season of “A Million Little Things” and the final season of “Modern Family.”

JJ: As this is for the Jewish Journal, I feel compelled to ask: What was theme of your bar mitzvah? Or any memories you can share from that event?

GM: Honestly, I don’t think I really had a theme to speak of. I can tell you that I did a lot of singing, as I attended an orthodox shul in San Antonio, Texas, where my father was the cantor, and it was one of those rare moments where kids from my school saw me in a different light. The other main memory I have is that I spent all of my bar mitzvah winnings on a Casio CZ-5000 synthesizer from the local music store. It had an onboard 8-track sequencer, and the first time I experimented with multitrack recording was when I used it to program “Axel F” by Harold Faltermeyer, the theme from “Beverly Hills Cop.” Life changing.

JJ: Finally, Gabriel, any last words for the kids?

GM: Follow your dreams. Yes, that is a silly thing to say, but in an era where we’ve seen the total collapse of industry after industry, bubbles that burst and careers changing every few years, why not go after what you want?

More on Gabriel Mann can be found online.