By David Perry
Since its debut in early 2011 on Fox, “Bob’s Burgers” has taken its place among the most beloved animated sitcoms, twice winning Emmy awards and developing a dedicated audience. Two UMass Lowell alumni, brothers and Spencer natives Tim and Pat Dacey, are linchpins of the show’s distinct musical soundtrack. They joined the show in 2017 – Tim ’07, ’09 (sound recording technology) as music editor and Pat ’09 (music business) as music coordinator. Tim is also married to a double River Hawk, Jessica Crisci ’08, ’09.
“Bob’s Burgers” tells the story of Bob and Linda Belcher and their kids, who run a burger restaurant. Music is a key component of the show, often funny and poignant, but always tied closely to the plot.
As the show was wrapping up its 10th season, Tim connected with us from his home in California to discuss his work, tips for breaking into television and the lasting influence of his UML education.
Q. California is under a stay-at-home order due to COVID-19. How is that affecting your work?
A. Our studio has gone remote, and we intend to finish production on the current season. It's been an inconvenience, but as far as I know, it hasn't affected our delivery schedule at all. We're lucky to be in animation, where the majority of what we do doesn't absolutely require a physical presence, though I think we all miss seeing all the great people we work with.
Q:How would you describe Bob’s Burgers to someone who has never seen it?
A: Bob's Burgers is an animated comedy about a lower-middle-class family who run a burger restaurant. It's character-driven comedy, so everything from story to jokes is driven by who the characters are. The more you watch, the more they feel like real people. I think they are real to [series creator] Loren [Bouchard].
Q. How would you describe the show’s music?
A. One way to describe the show’s musical style might be playfully amateurish. We want the songs to be good, but we're always chasing that feeling of experimentation when something weird but great just happens. It would be awesome if all the songs felt like they were beautiful accidents. The biggest challenge is figuring out how to forget what you know about music, in a controlled way, so that you can let things be driven by how they feel, and then come back and look at it more analytically. But if the music is silly and fun to listen to, then we're pretty happy.
Q. What does the job of a music editor entail?
A. Our show composers deliver original music for each episode, and I check for any technical or sync issues and make sure everything is a reasonable level to deliver to the mix stage. I also handle any creative notes that can be done editorially. That part of the job involves both helping to finesse things in a way that achieves what the producers are looking for, but also protecting the musicality of our composer’s original delivery. If there is something that can't be done editorially, then we'll send it to the composer to make adjustments. I'm on call during the episode mix to make any last-minute changes. I also cut in the temporary music for pre-production screenings.
Q. How’d you get the Bob’s job?
A. One day, I was wondering what the comedian from “Dr. Katz” was up to (“Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist,” the computer-animated comedy series about a psychotherapist, created by actual therapist Jonathan Katz), and found that he lived in Newton and was making a web series. Their website said if you're talented and live in the Boston area, shoot us a message, and that led to (Katz) hiring me as his personal assistant. When my wife took a post-doctorate position in Los Angeles, Jonathan introduced me to Loren (who worked with Katz on “Dr. Katz” and “Home Movies”). Loren originally hired me to help put the first “Bob's Burgers” music album together. If you don't have any connections and want to get into television, look for production assistant jobs to meet people and get in the door. Don't be afraid to cold-message someone for advice. If you're respectful of their time, they'll probably want to be helpful. We all remember what it's like to be just starting out.
Q. Loren Bouchard, who is from Medford, has said he grew up among “working-class creatives” and hadn’t seen such folks portrayed on TV. Do you agree? What were your own TV favorites growing up, and why?
A. One of my favorite shows growing up was “Home Movies,” which Loren created, and I'm guessing that's what he was referring to. “Home Movies” was a show about three young kids with a passion for making movies. They didn't always know what they were doing, but they were always doing it. I can't think of anything else that was like that on TV, but my life was kind of like that.
Q. Music seems more important in “Bob’s Burgers” than in a lot of other shows, which makes your job pretty important. What particular skills do you bring?
A. We always try our best to make sure the music is following the story, no matter what. If the producers are feeling like something is close, but not exactly what they want, I'll try an edit or offer up some other options from our library. Since I started out working directly for Loren, I'll also sometimes find myself doing weird things like getting straws from Taco Bell to make a virtual instrument. If you've watched enough of the show, you'll be able to find that one. My brother and I also helped with the design of our in-house studio spaces. We have a record room with a control room that is good for both ADR (the post-production automated dialogue replacement) and music, and we have our own mix stage.
Q. What’s it like working with your brother? What does he do there?
A. It's great! He is the music coordinator. He manages communication for all things music and makes sure everything is getting done when and how it needs to, but it's really more than that. He's the glue holding this big crazy music machine together.
Q. Why did you come to UML, and what did you get here that led to your success?
A. I knew I wanted to do something with music, and I was also interested in computers and psychology. I looked at a lot of music therapy programs, but when I visited UML, the SRT program just felt like a really good fit.
Q. Was there a particular professor or mentor who taught you something special or particularly practical during your time here?
A. Absolutely – I find myself referring to Alex Case, John Shirley and William Moylan often.