Whimsy, New York, and that damn bassoon: How 'Only Murders' composer Siddhartha Khosla created the show's musical language

Although Murders in the Building is over, we still have plenty of time to watch the series on Hulu and listen to the evocative score by Siddhartha Kosla (no relation).
Khosla states that one of the greatest compliments I get on the main title theme is that it "slaps." It's not a word I've ever used. I'm too old to use that word. But, it's a good feeling when people say, "Oh, that main theme slaps ...'"

Khosla is best-known for This Is Us. He started his career as a singer/songwriter. He considers the Only Murders theme the most personal piece of music he has ever written.

"On an emotional level, and not about the music. I love living in the space of music. Feeling equal parts. It's kind of funny as it is dramatic. He says that he finds this to be a strange balance to strike. It's my personality. It's absurd that Only Murders is a piece of mine. It's dramatic and emotional. It's all these things combined.

Khosla spent his childhood in India and was raised on classic Bollywood music by R.D. Burman, and many more. Although he isn't classically trained, he finds inspiration in classical-adjacent composers such as Philip Glass and Eric Satie.

It had an element of [whimsy], emotion, quirkiness, drama, and comedy all sorts of built into it. It's just perfect and also very romantic. The main title of Only Murders hits all the emotional spots.

The title theme of the show is actually a small part of it. James McAllister, a percussionist, plays the opening drums on Home Depot buckets. This is akin to street performers in New York City. The show's rest is a grand orchestral piece that reflects the grandeur of Arconia and its residents. The title theme had everything the producers wanted: Whimsy and magical realism, mystery and the spirit of New York. Khosla quickly discovered that the same musical palette buckets were not working within the show.

He says, "The show is as dramatic and comedic as it is funny." Selena, who is a master of comedy, said that he would not allow himself to score the comedy of any project he works on. The comedy can stand on its own if you have the performances they have. So instead of leaning into the drama, I decided to focus on the comedy. The show was scored by me as a prestige drama.

This is evident in the series’ more introspective or emotional moments. Khosla uses chords from the rest, but distorts them to make them almost unrecognizable. The first version bounces like a waltz, while the second is so high that it's almost unrecognizable.

James McCallister, percussionist, has a very professional setup for recording the intro drums to "Only Murders". Credit: Siddhartha Khosla

Khosla's work is well-known to those who have been around for years. They will recognize his sparse and strategic use vocals.

Khosla elaborates, "This was something Dan Fogelman recognized in This Is Us." He wanted me to do a lot. I would hum on the score, turn it in, and then Dan would be like, "Nuh-uh! They're gonna leave that."

Khosla sings the Only Murders theme, not Selena Gomez.

He says, "When I'm singing it almost feels like I'm in the same space as another character, that's just hanging around." The voice is also very emotive. It is so poetic. It doesn't take me long to feel the emotion. I don’t even need to touch an instrument.

These guys are the comedians. Credit: craig blankenhorn / HULU

Khosla was challenged by the show, and he said that he can often complete score pieces in just hours. Some of the Only Murders scores took Khosla days or weeks to complete.

He says, "There is a piece called Vantage'. It took me two months. It's the most difficult piece I've ever written, and I wrote it like every day. I kept writing until I had it. It was something I had never done before. It was a great exercise for my musical muscles and a way to think about music in a new way.

"When I hum it almost feels as if I'm in the same space with these people, it almost feels like my heart is beating faster."

Khosla had hinted that the score contained clues to the show’s central mystery: who killed Tim Kono. The bassoon is the key to the mystery. Khosla's frequent use of the instrument is purely coincidental. He loved the sound, especially when playing the main theme, but didn't realize how important it was to the story. He leaned in once he had made the decision.

The murder of Tim Kono is solved. However, the Arconia's favorite true-crime podcast will return for a second series on Hulu. Khosla will cherish Season 1, especially the voice memo from Jamie Babbitt, who shared her theme demo with the stars.

He says, "At one stage we thought maybe we have them singing on the main title. But we didn't know." "So they were learning it together on set. I have this recording of Marty singing in a certain manner, Steve saying "No no, he's coming up to here", and Selena singing the song and commenting on each others.

It sounds like every day at Arconia.

He said, "It was really unique." "That was like a pinch me-myself moment."

Only Murders in the Building Season 1 streaming on Hulu