Before moving to Glendale, CA (suburb of Los Angeles) Andrews produced Gary Jules' first solo record Greetings from the Sidein a basement studio in a house where he rented a room from a drunk guy named "Ed" (who was often redirected from disrupting the creative process) in the Banker's Hill section of San Diego. Jules and Andrews rented equipment for this album from the band Counting Crows with engineer J. Bradley Crook; Cook had just finished work on their record Recovering The Satellites. Andrews also produced Gary Jules' next album Trading Snakeoil for Wolftickets.
Andrews also produced the Metarie EP for Brendan Benson in 2003, Metric's Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? (2003), Inara George's All Rise (2005) and played as a session musician on the Jason Mraz album Waiting for My Rocket to Come in 2002. He played bass on Brendan Benson's debut album One Mississippi and has worked extensively on DJ Greyboy's hip hop albums
Kelly relates on the Everloving Records web site that he was confident that Michael Andrews could do the job: "I met with Michael and I just knew right away that he was really, really talented and that he could come up with a really original score. He would allow me to be in there and be really kind of editorial with how I wanted the score to be."
Andrews considers himself primarily a guitar player, but Kelly told him he didn’t want any guitar in the movie. So, Andrews taught himself to play piano. It’s part of the reason that the score is, as Andrews describes, so simple. "The film was pretty low budget so my portion of the money was pretty thin. I couldn't hire anyone, it was just me. I played everything; piano, mellotron, mini marimba, xylophone, ukulele, organ. I also brought in two female vocalists Sam Shelton and Tori Haberman." “In a way,” he says, “your faults become your trademark.” Darko’s original score album went on to sell over 100,000 copies (in part because of Andrews’ remake of Tears for Fears’ Mad World, featuring Gary Jules), and Andrews became a composer to watch.
Like many of his role models for soundtrack composing such as John Barry and Ennio Morricone, Andrews wanted to put a song on his otherwise instrumental score. He chose the song "Mad World" by Tears for Fears (originally released in 1982) and got his old friend Gary Jules in to sing it while he played piano.
The music was not available on a soundtrack album until Andy Factor, a friend of Andrews, released it on his Everloving Records independent label in 2002. As Donnie Darko was not a hit at first, there was little interest in the soundtrack in the US. However, the film enjoyed more popularity in Europe especially in the UK where its total box office was greater than for the whole of the US.
This sparked interest in the soundtrack and the song "Mad World", taken from the original soundtrack, was a 2003 Christmas Number One in the UK singles charts. It has also made the charts in a number of other countries including Ireland, Denmark, the Netherlands and Australia in 2003 and 2004.
In 2005, Andrews' scored Me and You and Everyone We Know a film by Miranda July praised at both Sundance and Cannes film festivals. The score to the film was released on Everloving Records on July 12th.
Initially taking cues from the characters’ dialog, Andrews began writing the score. For example, when Richard, played in the film by John Hawkes, says he’s “prepared for amazing things to happen” and that he wants his kids “to have magical powers,” Andrews came to understand the film’s world as a kind of alternate reality where people believe in fate and chance—and this was the world he needed to paint with his music. He also saw the feelings July was trying to get across in her film as very primary. “She tries to break things down to very basic, simple shapes—the simplest shapes possible, and that totally influenced me in my music”.
Working out of his custom-built backyard studio in Glendale, CA, Andrews spent three months creating the score using an orchestra of obscure vintage synthesizers (a miniature hotwired Casio keyboard was unearthed at a garage sale for $10) and drum machines. His concept was to play what he termed amateurish, emotional, naïve, magical and simple music on highly unemotional, inorganic instruments—for example, a calculator with built-in twelve-note keyboard that lends a haunting portamento melody to one of the film’s motifs.
Other instruments used in the score include Andrews’ modified piano (rather than hitting the strings directly, the hammers first make contact with a piece of soft felt, creating a warmer, slightly muffled tone), as well as his Moog and Vocoder synthesizers. Despite all the electronic gear, no MIDI was used in the recording, so that all the humanness, all the subtle variations of rhythm, are intact. Inara George adds vocals in several climactic moments throughout the film. In some cases, cues were composed of only two or three tracks in order to attain the magical simplicity for which the film called out.
"Mad World" also appeared in the television commercial for the bestselling Xbox 360 video game "Gears of War."
He also posed for Rolling Stone Magazine in 1999 as a new up and coming artist.
According to an article in a Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf, the song Middlesex Times (originally written by Michael Andrews for the Donnie Darko picture) had been remixed by Dutch composer Björn de Water into a hip hop version. It is said that De Water rejected a lucrative offer from a broadcast company wanting to use the track, since he had received personal approval by Andrews creating the remix in 2004. "It did not feel right" De Water states in a reaction. "Mike is the original artist and I respect him very much. He is one of the nicest people I have ever met and consider him as a friend. Friends don't steal or make money behind your back."