Only Murders in the Building may be over for now, but that just means we have unlimited time to watch and rewatch the breakout Hulu series — and to listen to the criminally catchy score by composer Siddhartha Khosla (no relation).
“One of the biggest compliments that I keep on getting on that main title theme is that it ‘slaps,'” Khosla says. “It’s not a word that I’ve ever used, I’m too old for that word, but like, I feel good when people are like, ‘Oh, that main title theme slaps…’ For the record, I feel very weird saying that it slaps but it also feels good.”
Khosla, best known for This Is Us, started out as a singer/songwriter and considers the Only Murders theme to be the most autobiographical piece of music he’s ever written.
“Strictly on an emotional level, not even about the music, I love living in this space of the music, feeling equal parts, sort of humorous as it is dramatic. I find that to be such a weird balance to strike,” he says. “It’s just my personality. That Only Murders piece is exactly my personality — it’s silly. It’s dramatic, it’s emotional. It’s all of those things together.”
Khosla spent his early years in India, and grew up on the classic Bollywood film music of Kishore Kumar, R.D. Burman, and more. He’s not classically trained, but finds inspiration in classical-adjacent composers like Philip Glass and Eric Satie.
“It had this element of [whimsy], of emotion, of quirkiness, of drama, of comedy all sort of built into that music. It was just all there — and it’s also incredibly romantic. So the Only Murders main title hits all those emotional places.”
In fact, that title theme is a bit of a microcosm of the show itself. The opening drums are percussionist James McAllister hitting sticks on Home Depot buckets, much like street performers in New York City. The grand, orchestral score in the rest of the show mirrors the majesty of the Arconia and its residents. The title theme hit every note the producers wanted: Whimsy, magical realism, mystery, and spirit of New York. But Khosla soon learned that that same musical palette — buckets included — didn’t work within the show.
“The show is as dramatic as it is comedic,” he says “I always stay away from scoring the comedy of stuff that I work on, especially when you’ve got Steve Martin and Martin Short, and Selena who just crushes it… I think the comedy can do the work on its own when you have the performances like they do, so instead, I leaned into the drama. I scored the show like a prestige drama.”
That’s evident in the series’ more emotional or introspective moments. For those, Khosla draws on chords from the rest of the score, but distorts them so they’re almost unrecognizable. One version of the theme bounces like a waltz; another is so high on the piano that it becomes “haunting.”
Percussionist James McCallister's extremely professional setup to record the “Only Murders” intro drums. Credit: courtesy of siddhartha khosla
Those familiar with Khosla’s work will also recognize his spare and strategic use of vocals, a result of those years of singing.
“This was something that Dan Fogelman recognized on This Is Us,” Khosla elaborates. “And he wanted me to do a lot of it. I would hum on score and turn it in and be like, ‘Well I’m eventually going to replace that with blah, blah, blah,’ and then like Dan was like, ‘Nuh-uh, they’re gonna leave that.'”
As it happens, Khosla is the one singing the Only Murders theme (not Selena Gomez).
“When I’m humming it almost feels, in a weird way, like I’m sort of in the space with these people — like another character that’s just hanging out,” he says. “There’s also something very emotional about the voice. It’s so lyrical. I don’t need to use my hands on an instrument to create the emotion, it can literally just come out of me very instantly… and so it does add a whole layer of emotionality to the to the music.”
Leave the comedy to these guys. Credit: craig blankenhorn / HULU
The show challenged Khosla, who said he’s often completed score pieces in a matter of hours. But some of the Only Murders score took him days and weeks to complete.
“There’s a piece called ‘Vantage’ that is something it took me two months to write,” he says. “It’s the deepest piece I’ve ever had to write, and like every single day I was writing like another bar or two and getting longer and longer and longer until I finally had it. I’d never done that before… I liked that it was an exercise of my musical muscle, and thinking of music in a different way that I never thought of before.”
“When I'm humming it almost feels like I'm sort in the space with these people.”
Khosla hinted previously that the score contains clues to the show’s central mystery: Who killed Tim Kono? For the answer, one need only listen to the bassoon. Khosla’s prominent use of the instrument is actually pure coincidence; he loved how it sounded, especially playing the main theme, and didn’t know how pivotal it would be to the story. Once he did though — he leaned in.
Tim Kono’s murder is solved, but the Arconia’s favorite true crime podcast will return for a second season on Hulu. Khosla will treasure working on Season 1 — especially a voice memo from director Jamie Babbitt after she shared his theme demo with the stars.
“At one point we were thinking maybe we have them sing on the main title, but we didn’t know,” he says. “So they were learning it on set and I have this recording of the three of them — Marty singing is a certain way, Steve saying ‘No no he’s going up to here, now he’s going down to here,’ and then Selena getting into singing it and them commenting on each other.”
Sounds like every day at the Arconia.
“It was really special,” he says. “That was like a pinch-myself moment.”
Only Murders in the Building Season 1 is streaming on Hulu.