Even if you don’t know Andrew Ecklund’s name, there’s a good chance you might know some of his music.
Ecklund, a 2013 Elmhurst graduate, is a composer at Comma Music, a Chicago-based company that creates original music for ads for national brands like Coca-Cola, Netflix, Allstate, AT&T and McDonald’s. Among Ecklund’s compositions are a syncopated, Salsa-tinged dance number for a Kellogg’s Special K commercial, a contemplative solo piano piece for a spot about the joys of recreational-vehicle vacations, and a song influenced by traditional Irish music for a McDonald’s ad, to name a few.
“One of the things I love about this job is that I'm doing something different every day. Different genres, different influences, all ranges of emotions and writing techniques,” he said. “It’s always changing. That’s what makes it challenging, and that’s what makes it fun.”
Ecklund comes well prepared for the demands of his job. At Elmhurst, where he was a jazz studies and music business major, he played trumpet and sang for the College’s Jazz Band, sang in several choirs and played guitar in the Gretsch Electric Guitar Ensemble.
“Andrew was one of the most multi-talented people we had at Elmhurst,” said Mike Pinto, director of the Gretsch Electric Guitar Ensemble. “In whatever ensemble, he always displayed a sense for the big musical picture, how everything fits together. That’s not something that every musician gets.”
Ecklund has been writing songs since he was a high school student in Lake Villa, splitting his time between school concert bands and a ska band called This Could Be Dangerous.
“That’s where my love for music really took off and I decided that I wanted to do this for a living,” he said. “I found out that I was pretty good at it. I was constantly writing songs in my head.”
Ecklund’s high school teachers urged him to check out Elmhurst’s music program, so he arranged for a visit to campus. He loved the look of the campus and the friendly welcome he found at the College, but he also liked his encounters with the music faculty. “[Jazz Band director] Doug Beach and the other faculty really took an interest in me. They wanted to talk about what I wanted to do and how Elmhurst could help make that happen. During my college search, Elmhurst was the only place where that happened.”
A tireless worker and a self-described perfectionist, Ecklund thrived among the demanding ensembles he found at Elmhurst. “The first day the Jazz Band gets together to rehearse, Doug tells everybody, ‘Excellence isn’t an option here, it’s a requirement,’” Ecklund said. “You feel how important it is to play your best, not just for him but for your peers in the band.”
While at Elmhurst, Ecklund also found some extraordinary opportunities off campus. He spent several summers working as a counselor at Grammy Camp, a music-industry experience for high school students run by the Grammy Foundation. It was while working at a New York City Grammy Camp that he learned about an internship opportunity at Comma Music, a go-to resource for national advertisers and agencies looking for original music for commercials, promotional videos and movies. With offices in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, the company maintains a staff of nine in-house composers. But Ecklund admits that he knew little about this corner of the music industry.
“I had no idea that this kind of job existed,” he said.
He learned fast. Ecklund contacted the company, impressed management in a phone interview and accepted an internship offer in Comma’s Chicago office for fall 2012. The job included what Ecklund calls “a lot of unglamorous duties.” He fetched coffee, he washed dishes, he cleaned up around the office. He also made sure he got to know Comma’s staff composers, learning whatever he could about the business. Soon the company was sending a few composing assignments to the intern. His employers were impressed with the results, and especially appreciated Ecklund’s jazz chops, honed during his time at Elmhurst. He joined the company as a full-fledged staff composer last summer.
Ecklund is learning to navigate the unique challenges of creating music for clients on demand. It’s a job that requires a commitment to craft and professionalism. Comma’s composers work quickly on tight deadlines and sometimes must subordinate their own musical agenda to meet the needs of the client. When the composer’s tastes fit the specifications of the assignment, the results can be particularly satisfying. That’s what happened on the McDonald’s commercial Ecklund scored. He calls it one of his favorites. “It had a really memorable melody and was fun to listen to,” he says. “I was really happy with how it turned out.”
Ecklund continues to work on his own music, playing in small jazz groups on the side. But among the other composers at Comma, Ecklund says, he has found a new kind of ensemble, one that is helping him develop as a music pro.
“We really are a team, and I love that. The other employees are super-talented and they’ve been so helpful,” he says. “I just want to become as valuable to the company as possible. Every time I do a job, I want it to be as good as it can possibly be.”