In his four years in Hanover, singer-songwriter Matt Haughey ’21 of Madison, New Jersey has been an active contributor to Dartmouth's music and performing arts scene. Since his freshman year, he has been a member of the Dartmouth Cords — one of three all-male a cappella groups on campus — as well as the Dog Day Players improv group. More recently, Haughey has made his emergence onto the national stage: In the last two years, he has released five singles that have garnered over a million streams on Spotify.
“My music has coincided completely with COVID,” Haughey said. “In my spare time, I just like to make music.”
Haughey has amassed a dedicated following online with his personal and introspective singer-songwriter style of piano ballads. Haughey cites Ed Sheeran’s “Divide” album, American rock band Train and his older brothers, Sean and Mike Haughey, as inspirations.
“Train was one of my favorite bands growing up. I loved ‘Drops of Jupiter,’ that was one of the first songs I learned on the piano,” Haughey said.
Haughey’s first song was a feature on “Know Her Better” by Nextlife — a Dartmouth producer duo comprised of Henry Phipps ’21 and Max Fuster ’21 — and was released in November 2018. Haughey admits that his first song left some lyrical genius to be desired, but said the tune was fun to make.
During his sophomore year, after performing an original song for a couple of friends who implored him to finish the tune and formally release it, Haughey released his debut single and breakout hit “Make You Happy.” Fellow musicians Jeffers Insley ’21 and Phipps helped Haughey with the piano and mixing process for the song, respectively.
Haughey released “Make You Happy” through DistroKid during his junior fall in 2019. He said he was hoping for 1,000 streams, but surpassed his goal within a day, ending up with over 100,000 streams on Spotify after only a few months. The song was picked up and played by The Pulse, a SiriusXM radio station, on a segment called “Train Tracks” by Pat Monahan that features new artists. “Make You Happy” was played three times during this segment, which propelled Haughey’s debut single as a breakout hit.
“After that, I was like, dang, I want to keep doing this,” Haughey said.
Haughey’s next single was “Heart of Gold” with Phipps, followed by “Movie Love” with Lila McKenna ’20 and “Ocean.” But his most successful single, “Sorry,” is his most recent. Phipps provided some insight behind the simple and catchy production of “Sorry.”
“It’s basically a one-take of two iPhone mics, and if you listen closely there are a few wrong notes, which I think is unusual for a produced pop song, but I rolled with it because I liked how the piano sounded and I liked how it was not perfect,” Phipps said.
Nextlife’s TikTok of “Sorry” reached a million plays within a week and, as of now, has almost 500,000 likes. Phipps said he did not realize how famous the song would become.
“If I had known how many people were going to hear it, I might have done another take on the piano,” Phipps said.
Phipps said that if you listen closely, the crackle of a fireplace is faintly audible on the piano intro. He later added some strings and percussion to round out the mix, but was careful to let Matt’s vocals shine through.
“The real magic of producing for Matt is not doing too much because his voice is incredible,” Phipps said. “When I sit down to produce one of Matt Haughey’s songs, the song is already there — it’s just my job to not ruin it as I convert it to its final form.”
Phipps, as part of NextLife, has worked with other Dartmouth artists like Insley and McKenna.
“There’s a little pod of singers, writers and producers in the ’21 Class that all know each other,” Phipps said.
Haughey’s informal manager and longtime friend Jack Mattson ’21 also spoke to the tight-knit and supportive community.
“You really see all of Dartmouth’s creative community come together — the producers, the cover art, the singer-songwriters,” Mattson said. “[Haughey] didn’t have to start playing music in bars and hoping somebody would pick him up. That sort of community is so special.”
An economics and theater double major, Haughey’s senior thesis for his theater major is an original musical, “Flourtown,” that he has been working on for four years. According to the theater department website, the musical, “tells the story of Eli Johnson as he navigates his senior year of high school in the town where he grew up … As he struggles to fit into a mold he's outgrowing, he develops new relationships, learns about himself, and begins to recognize what really matters.”
A performance of “Flourtown” will be streamed on the theater department’s YouTube channel on May 14 at 8 p.m.
“I’m really excited for more live performances,” Haughey said. “It’s way more fun to interact with a crowd — you can see people relating with your music there.”
Haughey’s upcoming song is titled “The Kid You Loved.” He said he wants to release an EP at some point, but is also focusing on releasing singles on streaming platforms like Spotify, which he said maximizes his exposure.
Sarah Colin ’23, who is friends with Haughey through the Dog Day Players improv comedy group, said she is a dedicated fan of his music.
“Matt will casually show me song lyrics that make me feel like my heart and soul have been steamrolled by an 18-wheeler driven by all the guys I’ve ever shown a romantic interest in,” Colin said. “I really love ‘Movie Love,’ and I look forward to seeing him collaborate with other artists in the future.”
The successes of “Know Her Better” and “Sorry” have inspired Matt to pursue his music full-time next year.
“I’ve never had full time to commit to it,” Haughey said. “The idea of having 24 hours a day theoretically open to write music is exciting.”
Sarah Colin '23 is a member of The Dartmouth staff.
Correction appended (May 7, 2021): This article has been updated to reflect that Sarah Colin is a member of The Dartmouth staff.