When you’ve helped prolific composers such as Hans Zimmer and Danny Elfman write film music, it’s probably safe to say you know a thing or two about what it takes to create a memorable and fitting score in Hollywood.
You also know how challenging it is.
Sam Estes (MM ’05) is hoping that expertise—along with a healthy knowledge of composition technology—will help him and his colleagues find success with Amper Music.
“My co-founders and I had been working in LA for quite some time, and we decided to create a tool for music and media professionals who were having a hard time getting music put together for videos.”
Two years ago, Estes, Michael Hobe and Drew Silverstein started working on an algorithm-based program that creates a unique score based on musical attributes selected by the user.
Essentially, it would make the process of scoring music for a video more seamless and precise.
“Right now, music editors have to go to music license clearance sites and sort through hundreds of thousands of songs to find one that might suit their video,” Estes explains. “Even then, it probably won’t work out just right.”
Estes brings his expertise in music technology, recording and acoustics to use in his position. While he was in Boulder, he worked under College of Music Recording Engineer Kevin Harbison hooking up microphones and recording different kinds of instruments in different settings.
“My specialty is in the performance of the instruments and recording in a way that makes the music sound more realistic when we play it back.”
As Estes and his team started to flesh out the idea, they knew they needed more help from musicians who knew their way around SuperCollider, the coding language they were using to build the program. Estes reached out to Associate Professor of Composition Michael Theodore.
“I asked if he knew anyone who was a pro and he suggested Cole.”
The suggestion led to a Skype call to the other side of the world. Cole Ingraham (DMA ’13) was living in China, teaching music composition and theory at a private music school in Shanghai.
Ingraham says he knew this was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. “I enjoyed what I was doing, but I wanted a chance to do something else. This combined my passions for music and technology, so I took the job.”
Ingraham was an ATLAS fellow as he earned his composition degree from CU Boulder. Focused on music technology, he says he was always encouraged to explore new outlets for his music. “I had immense freedom and ability to try things and be self-directed. I never felt like it was out of place,” he says.
With Ingraham on board leading a group of composer-developers, the Amper Music team has grown to nine employees and six interns. The biggest requirement for everyone working on the project is a background in music.
“I’m a composer first,” says Ingraham. “And that goes for all of the programmers here. Everyone is a composer or a high-level musician.”
“That’s why we will never set out to replace the composer or the musician,” Estes adds. “There’s always going to be a human component to composing that’s more intelligent that the computer, and our users will be able to manipulate the sounds to make them work.”
The innate understanding of the technological and musical side of their industry has been a benefit to both Estes and Ingraham.
“My music background gives me a different perspective on things,” Ingraham says. “As I become a better programmer, I become a better musician and vice versa.”
“In the movie music industry you have to be a jack of all trades,” says Estes. “You have to do sound design, be an orchestrator, a copyist, a music editor. That’s really where the value of dabbling comes into play.”