If Toronto-born Matthew Tishler is feeling like a “Kid in a Candy Store,” it’s with good reason: the video of the song of that name – which he co-wrote for 14-year old singer, TV star and YouTube personality JoJo Siwa – has been viewed more than 74 million times.
But “Kid in a Candy Store” is only one of the latest of the L.A.-based Tishler’s accomplishments: over the course of his career, he’s been a writer, co-writer, or producer on projects that have sold a combined total of more than 15 million records, split between the Disney-saturated youth market and the foreign hemispheres of J-Pop and K-Pop.
“I’m unabashedly commercial and poppy,” says Tishler. “I’m able to work well with Disney because I’m able to fulfill a vision with them.”
He’s also able to write for youth. Tishler has worked with High School Musical star Ashley Tisdale, Liv and Maddie teen sitcom actress Dove Cameron, Girl Vs. Monster feature actress Olivia Holt, and Austin & Ally’s Ross Lynch, as well as penning the theme song for the TV series Girl Meets World (all Disney properties). Writing songs for TV is one of his niches.
“I met the Disney people when I was doing a lot of writing trips to Los Angeles in my early 20s,” says Tishler, now 31. “It was when Hannah Montana was really successful, and I always felt that those kinds of songs came natural to me. It works with Disney because our motivations are aligned: I really like what they do. I like writing songs for film and television, and I’m really compelled by that kind of storytelling and character-driven music. It’s been a natural fit.”
Tishler says that he does his job best when he gets into his collaborator’s headspace. “It goes back to that character. You have to put yourself in that mindset. You get a little silly and it helps just to talk to these artists and get to know them,” says Tishler, who recently completed 26 songs for a 52-episode Disney Jr. animated series that will air in the summer.
“JoJo Siwa, in particular, has such a strong sense of who she is. The more you talk to her, you learn about what drives her, what excites her, and you get a big sense of who she is. Of course, it helps to collaborate. JoJo contributes a lot to lyrics, so we make sure it conveys her voice from a lyrical perspective.”
“I’m unabashedly commercial and poppy. I’m able to work well with Disney because I’m able to fulfill a vision with them.”
Another market that Tishler has developed for himself is the J-Pop/K-Pop arena (of Japanese and Korean youth pop) , where he’s written for the likes of EXO, Taeyeon, BTS, AOA, Koda Kumi and retiring J-Pop legend Namie Amuro.
“We had three songs on her [Namie’s] album Finally, and it sold two million physical albums,” says Tishler. “That’s virtually unheard of. I can’t remember the last time anyone around here physically sold that, except maybe Adele.”
Tishler says he received his introduction to the Asian markets when he was still living in Toronto, via his manager, the late Brandon Gray. “He had some contacts in the market and sent my songs there,” says Tishler. “They just responded to the kind of music that I was making, in a way that I never would have expected. Analyzing it in retrospect, I think I know why. My strong suit as a writer is melody, and that’s the most important thing in that market. Lyric is my weakness, and it’s no surprise that my first success was in a market where they change all the words,” he laughs.
Despite his initial successes in those markets, Tishler didn’t visit South Korea until three years ago, and he’s scheduled to make his first trip to Japan this April. “For many years, we worked long distance,” he says. “I would write songs in Toronto and then, ultimately in Los Angeles, send them, and our contacts there would send us briefs and leads. We’d write and do revisions, and then send them the finals. I’d never meet anyone in person. Now we go to Korea every year: we do a writing camp with one of the big labels in Seoul.”
For Tishler, Seoul was an eye-opener. “Being there in person, you really understand how important music is to them,” he says. “It’s embedded in the culture. They’re genuine music fans. They care about the songs; they care about the artists and it’s reflected everywhere you go.”
The challenges of writing in a foreign tongue still exist, but Tishler says he’s learned some techniques to cope with interpretation. “You learn little tricks on how to write melodies that will translate well, and that certain kinds of phrasing will work better,” he says. “Certain syllable counts will also work – but certainly the act of collaborating and creating with the local writers is an exciting challenge.”
But Tishler says the true litmus test is quality. “Ultimately, the best songs win.”