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The Sound of New York City

Music as a Character in ‘Broad City’

If you’ve ever lived in or around New York City, you know that Comedy Central’s series Broad City is legit—the Treeman, the dumpling spot, the guy with that cat on his head, the trapeze school on the Hudson River, pop-up designer clothing sales, using “bridge and tunnel” as a derogatory adjective, taking no notice of public urination because finding a bathroom is an epic quest…need I go on? Comedians Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, the series creators and stars, deliver all of New York City’s quirks in their veracious tale of two Millennials trying to make it in New York City.

To bring felicity on the music front, they picked a member of their own ranks to handle music supervision. As a lifelong New Yorker, 24-year-old Matt FX Feldman is more than a mere representative of NYC’s musical subculture; he’s a shaper of it. He’s spent years DJing, throwing sporadic dance parties with fellow DJs in the Tribes NY crew, and producing his own music.

“Even before I started working on Broad City, I’ve been embedded in a lot of what is going on with Brooklyn dance music. I’m able to get a degree or two away from [mainstream] just through friends and people telling me to check different artists out,” says Feldman, who cut his music supervision teeth at the age of 19 on MTV’s controversial series Skins (2011). Through that show, he gave young TV audiences their first introduction to off-the-map indie artists like Phantogram and Blood Orange, and dubstep artists Rusko and Aquadrop—groups too sidestream for MTV’s main flow of musical offerings.

Despite strong viewer numbers initially, MTV pulled the plug on Skins after one season due to a loss of advertising support. But the show wasn’t a loss for Feldman. Even though his first experience as music supervisor was a brief one, it was ultimately his stepping-stone to Broad City.

“The assistant editor on Skins calls me out of the blue one day and says they’re working on a show that goes to air in a few weeks. Since their music guy wasn’t working out, could I come in and find some music for them? That show was Broad City,” says Feldman.

After meeting with Glazer and Jacobson, Feldman learned that there were many parallels between their worlds, including their tastes in music. “I came in on a Tuesday and by the end of the day they told me to stay the rest of the week. That Friday I had a DJ gig, and Ilana [Glazer] and her friends came to check it out. I think that might have been the final test because the next morning I woke up to an offer from their boss.”

Max FX Feldman. Photo: Jelena Aleksich

Broad City’s view of New York is a far cry from the vanilla-frosted “I’ll Be There for You” Friends portrayal, and it avoids being the spiky sitcom that Seinfeld was (captured perfectly by composer Jonathan Wolff’s synth sample slap-bass theme song). Broad City’s theme song, “Latino & Proud” by Chilean music producer DJ Raff, sets the tone for the show with its bouncy hip-hop dance music vibe.

“We all love hip-hop. We all love dance music. We like a lot of music that skirts the line of genre, especially with soul-style vocals on it,” says Feldman, whose track selections harmonize with the show’s street-level comedic direction, flitting around the fringes of society where small-scale drug use and promiscuity are acceptable norms. “There is a very unique sound that you get from the transitions between scenes, those interstitials with shots of New York. Tonally, that’s going to be what people know and love, that almost silly Missy Elliott vibe; that off-the-wall, club-fun type sound.”

Because Broad City is all about New York culture, Feldman likes to maintain the flavor by culling cues from local artists. Some of Feldman’s favorite NY-made tracks for Season 3 are Bruce Smear’s “Junktion” that plays during the basketball match in Episode 2: “Co-op”; Jarina De Marco’s “Tigre” that punctuates the dramatic entrance of Vanessa Williams in Episode 3: “Game Over”; and Zebra Katz & Kashaka’s “Marijuana,” and AceMo’s “On the Low,” which plays while Ilana and Hannibal put a gift basket back together in Episode 4: “Rat Pack.” Feldman reveals, “There is probably no less than 60 percent of New York-based artists at any given time, if not more. When the artists aren’t from New York, I actually try to look internationally, although I’ll use any artist with a great track.”

Now that Broad City is on Season 3, Feldman says opportunities for music on the show are opening up, with more “headlining” artists willing to license their songs, and more indie artists reaching out to him directly to offer up their work. “I’ll open an email and I will check out any song, but I can’t guarantee I’ll use it,” he says. “The artists that we go for are ones that could really use it, or are working with someone who is smart enough to say, ‘Take the low fee because the exposure is worth it.’”

The music is opening up from a genre standpoint, too. Broad City’s sound has always leaned heavily on electronic beat-based songs, but Season 3 incorporates more guitar-driven tracks, like “Buttercup” by Toronto band Weaves, and “A New Wave” by Sleater-Kinney of Washington State. “That is something that people wouldn’t have expected in Season 1, but it’s something that we are happy to do as we grow,” says Feldman. “With guitar music, we have all agreed upon the sort of stuff that really revs up to 11. There is a lot more of that this season especially.”

In seeking out music for Broad City, Feldman believes in serendipity, and so far opportunity has not failed to present itself. For example, during production on Season 3 last summer, Glazer and Jacobson emailed Feldman to request some “baller hip-hop” tracks to use for scenes they were shooting at New York’s 40/40 Club, an upscale sports bar owned by Jay Z. 

Jacobson and Glazer on ‘Broad City.’

Feldman notes: “In the licensing world, hip-hop is generally one of the most difficult things to license, if not for the crazy use of samples, then for the fact that all the big rappers are locked into big labels and big publishers. More so than electronic music, I think that rap is something that really does benefit from a big budget in terms of just the quality of sound. Obviously low-fi rap is great but when you’re talking about the 40/40 Club, it needs to sound expensive. It needs to sound big.”

Feldman says he had no idea where he was going to find “baller hip-hop” songs he could afford on the show’s budget, but that night, as he joined some friends, albeit reluctantly, at a popular club called Up & Down, fate gave him a reward. “It’s not really my scene but I was convinced to go,” he says. “As soon as we got downstairs I saw this vision in a cowboy hat and assless leather chaps and a bikini top, and she’s rapping. She has this Nicki Minaj/Lil’ Kim/Christina Aguilera-type vibe, and she is just crushing it. When she was done performing, I ran over to her and said, ‘I’ve been looking for you all night!’” The artist was K Rizz, and her song “YES Bitch” worked so well for the shoot that the director contacted Feldman to say that people on-set were asking whether or not that song was written for the show. “It was such a serendipitous moment.”

Feldman’s biggest challenge as music supervisor on Broad City is working within the budget, but it’s a hurdle that hasn’t slowed him down. “It’s something that I’ve been able to overcome,” he says. “I wish the paradigm shift would happen with cable TV where I could start paying artists more money, but I don’t know if that’s going to happen anytime soon.”

As for the big name tracks written into the show, like Lady Gaga’s “The Edge of Glory” playing under Abbi’s naked dance of celebration for having the apartment all to herself in Season 2/Episode 2: “Mochalatta Chills,” or this season’s lip-sync rendition of Sister Act 2’s “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee” performed by the Deals, Deals, Deals office workers after Ilana’s exit in Episode 3: “Game Over,” Feldman says the funding for those come from a separate budget.

Broad City is mixed in 5.1 surround at Parabolic NY by owner/re-recording mixer Lewis Goldstein via Pro Tools 11 on an ICON D-Control. Post-production for Broad City is provided by New York’s Running Man. Feldman typically pulls 20 to 50 potential tracks for each episode, and depending on the edit, anywhere from 2 to 25 tracks make it in. While Feldman doesn’t edit the music himself, he does work with the picture editor to ensure the tracks sync perfectly to the cut. “If a track doesn’t make it into a certain episode and I know that it is perfect for the show, I will find somewhere else for it eventually, hopefully,” he says.

Creatively, Feldman feels that he has quite a lot of freedom on the show. While Glazer and Jacobson are very involved with the music, and provide Feldman with a short list of artists and songs they’d like on the show, Feldman decides where to fit them in. “That is very much up to me,” he explains. “It’s a dream job. It’s something that I am so grateful to be doing. I’m so grateful that the girls trust me. It falls so in line with what I’m already passionate about, so even if I had never heard of Broad City I’d still be looking and searching for all of this music!”