Amanda Jones is a Los Angeles-based composer and songwriter. She made Primetime Emmy® history as the first African-American woman to be nominated for Outstanding Music Composition for a Documentary Series or Special (Original Dramatic Score) for her Apple TV+ ‘Maine’ episode of Home.
Jones previously worked on OWN’s anthology series Cherish the Day, produced by Ava DuVernay; BET’s Twenties, produced by Lena Waithe; HBO’s A Black Lady Sketch Show, produced by Robin Thede; and Shitty Boyfriends with executive producer Lisa Kudrow.
She is also the acclaimed frontwoman of the LA-based Indie rock band The Anti-Job. Jones holds a bachelor’s degree from Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, in music composition and studied both film scoring and orchestration at Berklee College of Music Online, Boston, Massachusetts.
We reached out to Jones to discuss her recent nomination and her advice for up-and-coming composers.
SSM: The Apple TV+ series Home is an architectural work of families living in some of the most innovative spaces. But more than that, it delves into the homeowners’ lives. Can you speak about your experiences with home and family and how they shaped your career today?
AJ: In my personal experience and upbringing, home and family are everything. Annual and cultural traditions that are centered around a family members’ home are special moments that are easily taken for granted and you really don’t realize how impactful they are in one’s own life until you’re getting married and building a family of your own. Career-wise my parents were always supportive but slightly skeptical of my pursuit of a career in music — their traditional values led me to initially pursue a more stable career path in the STEM field but ultimately my heart led to music.
SSM: What was the creative process like for you while scoring the ‘Maine’ episode for Home? What instruments did you use to create such beautiful sounds?
AJ: It all started with creative conversations with the Apple TV+ Music team and executive producers Doug Pray and Collin Orcutt. They really wanted me to lean into a songwriter sensibility and because of that we arrived at a score that was very much inspired by band instrumentation. The score incorporates my voice, acoustic and electric guitars, bass, piano, analog synths, drums and string players.
There are also two distinctive sonic universes – the Maine setting and Japan setting. At the onset of the project we really wanted to make sure there was a clear separation of sound between the two spaces. The Maine setting is more folk-inspired, with warm pads and softer drum and guitar arrangements while the Japan setting featured more angular and aggressive drum parts, and brighter guitar and synth tones.
SSM: You’re originally from Virginia but attended Vassar College for music in New York. While composing the ‘Maine’ episode, set in Spruce Head, Maine, was there anything from your time living in the upper East Coast that you drew from while creating the tone of the score?
AJ: The east coast / northeast hold a very special place in my heart. I was born in Columbia, Maryland, grew up in Virginia, we often visited my grandparents who lived in upstate New York (Binghamton, NY and Niagara Falls, NY) and we often enjoyed summers around Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The seasons are so special and Winter on the east coast is really a magical wonderland to behold – especially as a child.
I definitely tapped into those memories when approaching the wintry settings in the Maine episode of HOME, especially with the cue “A Day in the Life” which is an ode and lullaby really to the most beautiful wintry day spending quality time with family.
SSM: You’ve worked with some amazing composers, including Hans Zimmer, Henry Jackman and John Powell. Is there a person that has specifically inspired you throughout your career?
AJ: I’d be remiss to not include a few folks! My classical guitar instructor Terry Champlin at Vassar College was such a guiding light and incredible teacher. In addition to classical guitar he also taught me how to record music which was a priceless tool. There’s also composer Michael A. Levine who I worked with around the same time as Hans Zimmer, Henry Jackman and John Powell. I learned so much from working in all of their studios.
Michael was especially helpful with growing my instrument library, introducing me to the Television Academy and we would have very candid conversations about how Hollywood “works” – definitely a groundbreaking and eye-opening experience.
SSM: You and composer Michael Abels founded the Composers Diversity Collection. Can you speak about what that is and how it came to be?
AJ: Michael Abels founded the Composers Diversity Collective and I’m a co-founder along with a handful of other incredible composers. The organization exists to eliminate the entertainment industry’s challenge to find culturally diverse music creators, music supervisors, sound engineers and musicians, to increase our own awareness of each other, and to dispel misconceptions about the stylistic range of any minority composer.
We’re an organization of music creators who are achieving a workplace environment in the entertainment industry as diverse as our society. We offer a variety of memberships that accommodate everyone
SSM: You have worked with some great voices in entertainment from Lena Waithe on Twenties, Ava DuVernay on Cherish the Day to Amanda Krieg Thomas on Twenties! What importance do you think forging a supportive community of women in the composing world holds?
AJ: Having a supportive community of women in the composing world makes ALL the difference. In general having more women in the room (recording studios, editing bays, sound stages) it just feels so much more natural. Those spaces feel more inclusive. Groups like the Alliance of Women Composers have done so much for creating opportunities and spaces for female composers to thrive.
The composing world is a male-dominated field so it’s nice to have forums where women can feel safe while building relationships, and asking certain questions ranging from hardware, equipment, gear, music workflow to motherhood, managing stress and keeping a balanced family life.
SSM: You stated in previous interviews that activism and mentorship are important with guiding the next generation of composers. What advice do you have for up-and-coming women composers?
AJ: I think first and foremost, learn your craft. Hone your skill-set whether it’s with classes or putting it into practice and make sure you know how to create a beautiful cue! Also make sure you know how to use your equipment (DAW, VSTs, hardware, software, any instruments, etc). Then see if you can work with or shadow (internships / mentorships) some of the best composers.
Don’t feel bashful about reaching out to your favorite composers and seeing if they have positions available in their studio. Alongside all of this you should be continuously reaching out to any friends, creatives, up-and-coming directors, producers, etc to see if they need a composer for their next project and then finally keep updating your website, socials, visual and audio composer reels with your latest and greatest work.
SSM: What’s coming up next for you?
AJ: There’s lots in the pipeline I’d love to share — but the most recent is the limited series “Love in the Time of Corona” from Freeform which is now streaming on HULU.