Composer Amanda August was swept away by the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack when she was 11-years-old. “I was so in love with it,” she remembers. “It’s really adventurous and epic and emotional. I was like, ‘this is what I want to do.’”
And do she did. As one of three recent hires at Comma Music & Sound, August is part of a newly formed trifecta that promises to help usher the venerable studio into the film and TV world. Joining her are Creative Advisor Alison Lieber in the company’s LA office and composer Matteo Neri in New York.
The daughter of a banjo, guitar, mandolin and harmonica-playing bluegrass musician, August “grew up going to festivals” and “started playing piano at the age of five.” She went on to study piano at North Central College, where she earned a BA in musical performance.
But when she was eleven-years-old, it was all about soundtracks, especially the ones attached to blockbuster fantasies. After being smitten by the “swashbucklin’” excitement of Pirates, she became extensively familiar with the work of John Williams — whose canon includes Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Jaws. She also developed a bona fide geek’s devotion to the work of Howard Shore, who scored her favorite film, Lord of the Rings.
“Howard Shore drew a lot from classical and romantic composers, like Wagner,” she explains.
“What Wagner did so well was a technique called the ‘leitmotif,’ where you connect a certain melody to a character or a place. The hobbits were supposed to be folk kinda people. They lived in the hills. Howard’s instrumentation was folk. His melodies were something you’d hear in a village pub.”
Comma took her on as an intern in October 2015 and, before long, allowed her to work outside the job description. “They gave me so many opportunities to try to write,” she says. “I couldn’t ask for better bosses than (cofounders) Larry Pecorella and Bryan Rheude. Super, down-to-earth, awesome people.” In June, 2016, she became a full fledged composer.
Among her recent projects is a 15-second McDonald’s spot set to “a lot of synth and stuff like that,” she says.
“It’s an 80s electronic thing,” she continues. “It’s always rewarding to tackle genres I’ve never written before.”
When she’s not creating new music, August enjoys hearing it. A classic rock aficionado who once wrote about the impact of author JRR Tolkien on bands like Led Zeppelin for a college thesis paper, she ranks guitar virtuoso John Mayer among her favorites.
“I’m going to see him at the United Center.” she says. “What better way to get inspired than listening?”