Kevin MacLeod on the Golden Globes Using ‘Fluffing a Duck’
Jo Koy’s hosting gig may have been an out-of-the-gate failure, but at least the Golden Globes had Kristen Wiig and Will Ferrell. The pair presented Best Actor in a Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy and tried their best to be serious about it. Then, the music started: a springy horn soon joined by some woodwinds. Wiig looked around puzzled. “Not sure what that was,” Ferrell told the audience. But a few seconds later, it came back. Soon, they were wiggling around the stage, and the room was in stitches — even the usually stoic Ben Affleck chuckled while his wife, Jennifer Lopez, did a shoulder shimmy next to him. “Guys, this song does something to us, as you can see,” Ferrell explained.
The song in question is a piece of royalty-free music called “Fluffing a Duck.” It’s by Kevin MacLeod, a composer who’s a bit of a legend in the space — his song “Monkeys Spinning Monkeys” recently became a TikTok hit, and he was even the subject of a 2020 documentary, Royalty Free. “I find problems in the world and I try to fix them,” says MacLeod, 51. “And if the problem is insufficient music, and I know how to make music, that’s the problem I’ll fix.” Nothing satisfies MacLeod more than when he sees a perfect use of one of his songs — and that’s exactly what Wiig and Ferrell did.
If you’re meeting someone for the first time, how do you explain what you do for work?
I pull up my phone and I play “Monkeys Spinning Monkeys” and say, “You know this? I’m that guy.”
I can’t explain it. “Oh, so you take commissions and you score video games?” Well, I used to. Used to score TV series, but I don’t.
How did you get into making music in the first place?
It goes so far back I can’t even remember. Just hanging out, banging on the piano as a 4-year-old or whatever it was. I went to college for music education. Well, I originally went for electrical engineering, but then they tried to make me learn chemistry, and I switched majors the first month. I never graduated, but I learned a lot about music. Then, I was a programmer in the dot-com boom and came out of that, and it’s like, Well, I still got music. Let’s go there. I knew some people who were in multimedia and how hard it was for them to find music. I started sharing it online, and then YouTube came out, and that changed the world.
So, what makes a royalty-free composition work?
Today, the thing that works is exactly one feeling. Exactly one emotion. It’s pretty common in music to take people on a journey. Your song starts out one way and maybe it’ll turn, and that’s the exciting part. But when you’re doing it for this, no, you got — I was going to say 20 seconds, but you got three. You’ve got to hit the emotion and then just keep it. Trust that the editors will cut it when they need to cut it. You’re just building a LEGO brick for a much bigger thing. So, clarity of thought in a single purpose. Not all of my music has it, and most of my music is not popular. The ones that are popular tend to be this way.
How did you find out that the Golden Globes used your song?
Calls from friends who were watching live.
What were they telling you?
I didn’t pick up. I was in bed, and then the next morning, I got a bunch of stuff on my Discord server. I watched it at seven the next morning. I’m like, Wow, this is really good!
Do you think they picked the right song of yours for the bit?
I absolutely think they did. And the writing: supreme. So good. Because it’s also making fun of the problematic delivery of a lot of the presenters, so they just brought in this chaos and it was actually beautiful.
Everybody in the room was laughing. It seems like to a lot of them, that was the funniest moment of the night.
Yeah, yeah. There was a reason that was the No. 1 trending and not the big, big awards.
That song, “Fluffing a Duck” — do you remember making specific songs?
Most of them, no. I can give you a time period. I can tell you where I was living, maybe. That one in particular, I had written that theme for a cartoon tie-in to the 2010 South African World Cup. They did an animated set called Zakumi, who was the mascot, and he was a soccer-playing South African animal. What was he, a lion? Zakumi is actually a leopard. I forget. And I wrote it for over-the-top comedic relief for that cartoon series. That one I do remember because it was part of a hell month that I was going through.
Have you heard anything about how the Globes found your song?
Nope. I just assume that the writers have heard that piece of music way too many times. They know how popular that piece is. I guarantee you not everyone got the joke, because I read the YouTube comments. I’m like, Clearly, you don’t watch YouTube or TikTok, right? It was written for an audience of, I’m going to say, 26 to 16, and I think they hit it.
But hey, Kristen Wiig and Will Ferrell got it, too.
They’re brilliant actors. Maybe they’ve never heard it before, but my God, did they sell it. Oh my God. And of course they did. That’s some high-caliber talent.
Since this happened at the Golden Globes, are there movies you’re rooting for this awards season?
I am so much not an awards person. Oh my God. It’s like, is it popular? Were people affected by what you did? It doesn’t matter if you win an award or not — and I’ve won a bunch of awards. Awards shows are great because fans need to be appreciated, and that’s what these shows are for. I don’t need to be appreciated. Invite me to whatever awards show you want, I’m not going to go.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.