2013 Livingston High School Grad Garners Musical Success During COVID Year

Photo credit: Ilana Dunn


By Steve Sears

2020 was a year that Livingston native Austin Zudeck didn’t see his family for ten months due to COVID-19.

Challenging, yes; but towards year’s end, he had some big news. He and his partner, Justin Thunstrom, both known as the musical group Parkwild, had written a song selected by Disney Music Publishing to be used in their year-end holiday ad. The duo will also be working with DMP in 2021.

The song, called “Love Is a Compass,” was devised from the word “compass” which Zudeck had on his phone. “The one thing we realized we were all missing during quarantine was the connection to family,” he says. “Even though you’re not with them in person, it’s connection to family and it’s that guidance. Literally the word guidance came up (in discussion) and I don’t know who said it, but someone said, ‘It’s kind of like a compass.’ And I said, ‘I actually have the word ‘compass’ in my phone. Why don’t we just go with a title like, ‘Love Is the Compass’? Because it’s so true. It always shows you the right path in the right direction.”

Friend and co-writer Sofia Quinn provided vocals for the initial offering which DMP selected. “Unbelievable,” claims Zudeck of Quinn. “We work with her on a regular basis on a lot of different stuff. And we just so happen to get paired that day to write for this project.” Performing artist, Griff, ended up doing a final version for the actual DMP video. 

Per Zudeck, even more than the ad’s 99% approval rate is the fact that the video contributes a lot to the connection with the Filipino culture. “More so than anything is it was genuinely truly represented in a very realistic and appropriate manner, especially for this (2020) year. With everything that’s going on, it really connected people to those roots. And they, the animators, did an amazing job of honing in on the realness of that culture and the richness of that culture. They also made it a wide enough scope that people outside of the Filipino culture could connect to it as well.”

2020 was certainly a far cry from 2016, when just two days after Thunstrom graduated college, he ventured to the New York City area with Zudeck’s encouragement, where the team wrote for a host of people. “There was something that was really, really fun about the uncertainty at that age,” Thunstrom says. “There’s something that’s just fine about that risk. You’re fighting through it and you’re doing something you love, and your mind is chasing this dream, and just building that up to a point where you can actually start making it real, and you can start working at something that doesn’t feel like its work.”

“The key thing is perseverance,” says Zudeck, who encourages being focused on your own work and career, knowing that what you are creating is meaningful to yourself and others. “And just know that that’s what you’re meant to do.” 

Zudeck also sings the praises of the Livingston school system. “They always promoted the creative aspects of life, and I think there are a lot of school systems that want to do away with the arts because they don’t feel like it’s a priority. But I think you need the arts in order to be a well-rounded individual,” adds Zudeck, who entered musical theater when just 10 years old. “Fortunately, Livingston  definitely promoted that. I have a lot of teachers at that age range to thank, like Paul Stephany. The fact that I had a teacher that taught me, that was willing to spend time with me after school, and help me prep for Broadway auditions, and TV and film auditions. Even though they didn’t go where I wanted them to, it gave me that backbone to really be able to understand that this is something that you can do.” 

The Parkwild website is www.parkwildmusic.com.


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