Even music schools aren’t immune to the impact of Hollywood’s labor disputes. The WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes have led to the delay of some apprenticeship programs at the USC Thornton School of Music over the summer. A major element of those strikes — artificial intelligence — has also been on the minds of students and faculty working in media scoring and other programs around the country. For Sean McMahon, chair of the screen scoring program at Berklee College of Music, AI isn’t “there” yet, and he sees it relegated potentially to generating library music in the near future. Jeanine Cowen, professor of practice and chair of the screen scoring program at USC Thornton, likewise sees AI as both a threat and tool for composers. “I think AI is a concern and we need to be actively involved in the conversation to mold this technology to be what we need it to be,” she says. “From my perspective, AI is going to be a tool set that helps us get the music that is in my brain into a system that I can then manipulate.”
To achieve THR’s school ranking this year, we polled the members of Hollywood’s Society of Composers and Lyricists, the Composers Diversity Collective, the Alliance of Women Film Composers, and music branch members from the Motion Picture Academy and Television Academy.
Columbia College Chicago
This year, Columbia’s two-year master of fine arts program in music composition for the screen, headed by Kubilay Uner, welcomes a new full-time addition to its faculty in Lee Sanders, lead composer for CBS’ long-running reality series The Amazing Race. Also joining the school as composer-in-residence is Jongnic Bontemps, of Transformers: Rise of the Beasts,“so our students get to work on big blockbuster material with a guy who knows how to score big blockbusters,” Uner says. The program will continue its focus on full-length film, television, advertising, video games and interactive media, with students attending a five-week semester in Los Angeles and thesis projects that involve leading a professional studio recording session with a full orchestra. In the wake of the decline of COVID-19, the program has largely eliminated remote learning. “We came to the conclusion that it shortchanges the composers in the program,” Uner says. Uner also says that Columbia is striving to stay on top of the burgeoning issue of AI. “One of our upcoming guest speakers is Lucas Cantor Santiago, who’s done a lot of work for NBC’s Olympics coverage over the past 20 years. He actually completed Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony with the help of AI with a British orchestra a few years ago. He’s coming to speak about the challenges of AI, which are obviously more on the business side of things with issues of copyright and things like that, but also about the opportunities and the promises in this technology.”
Notable Alumni Jonathan McReynolds (recording artist), Frank Waln (hip-hop artist)
USC Thornton School of Music
USC Thornton blends the disciplines of a conservatory education with an unbeatably close working relationship with the motion picture, television and music industries in Hollywood. In January, USC Thornton named a new dean, musician and scholar Jason King, whose background includes everything from classical to R&B, jazz and rock. The school’s master’s degree program in screen scoring is run by Jeanine Cowen. “We have this ability to collaborate interdisciplinarily, even within music,” she says. “The other day, one of my students was working on a score for a Celtic piece, and we have a faculty member whose focus is Celtic music. These kinds of collaborations are very necessary, especially in 2023, as film scores are becoming more aware societally and culturally of what they’re doing.”
Notable Alumni Ludwig Göransson (Oppenheimer), Benjamin Wallfisch (Blade Runner 2049)
The Juilliard School
New York City
Juilliard has always boasted some very powerful connections to the world of movie music, from alumni including Michael Kamen and John Williams, who recently endowed Juilliard with his collection of written scores in the form of a John Williams Library at the school. More recently, Juilliard has offered a robust media scoring program that provides 20 to 30 students with courses in composing for visual media, a scoring to picture workshop and independent study in emerging and collaborative arts, all under the direction of program director Edward Bilous. “We’ve doubled the number of students in classes that are taking media scoring, which is exciting for us,” Bilous says. “The students who are taking these classes are composition majors, jazz majors, also students who are instrumentalists but who also compose. So we have pianists and cellists and violinists and jazz musicians and composers involved.”
Notable alumni Laura Karpman (The Marvels), Michael Dean Parsons (Pain Hustlers)
Berklee College of Music
Berklee offers bachelor’s degrees in film and media scoring and game and interactive media scoring, as well as options to minor in screen scoring or take a specialization in video game scoring. Sean McMahon is in his fifth year as chair of the screen scoring program. “I would say one of the major initiatives we’ve achieved is that we’ve launched what I believe to be the first video game scoring program,” he says. “I don’t believe we have any other peers: Our students can get a full-blown bachelor’s degree in video game scoring, as opposed to film scoring or media scoring. It’s very specialized.”
Notable Alumni Geoff Zanelli, (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales), Pinar Toprak (Captain Marvel)
UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music
UCLA’s College of Fine Arts established departments of art, dance, music and theater arts going back to at least 1960, with full-fledged programs in musicology and ethnomusicology developing by the 1980s. In 2007, famed musician and co-founder of A&M Records Herb Alpert gifted the school with a $30 million endowment to form the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music. “I was impressed by the UCLA music teachers who inspire and work with students as individuals,” Alpert says about his decision today. Film scoring classes are taught by Peter Golub, who connects his students (usually around eight per class) with UCLA filmmakers and often works with them privately as well. The school’s L.A. location allows for A-list composers to frequently guest lecture, and the small class size also makes it possible for Golub to bring his students into the studios of working composers such as James Newton Howard.
Tuition $15,804 in-state
Notable Alumni Don Davis (The Matrix), James Horner (Titanic)
Oberlin Conservatory of Music
This year, 2004 Oberlin graduate Courtney Bryan was awarded a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship for her work in exploring the African American experience “through a range of musical and sociopolitical influences.” Five members of Oberlin’s faculty have been granted tenure-track positions, including associate professor of technology in music and related arts (TIMARA) Steven Kemper. The Ohio school’s TIMARA degree program, chaired by Tom Lopez, trains students for graduate study in electroacoustic music, interdisciplinary performance and digital media. TIMARA majors can join faculty-organized ensembles like the Oberlin Improvisation and NewMusic Collective, the Oberlin Synthesizer Ensemble and the Creative Music Lab, or join other majors to form their own ensemble.
Notable alumni Fred Steiner (Star Trek), Jonathan Sacks (orchestrator on Marriage Story)
San Francisco Conservatory of Music
SFCM has long leveraged its Silicon Valley-adjacent locale to cement a productive working relationship with the video game industry that provides the school with funding, technology and talent. This offers students a direct line to work in the gaming world, which year after year has eclipsed the more traditional venues of motion pictures and television. SFCM composition chair David Conte teaches the school’s music for film class, which instructs students in the history, style and technical approaches in film music composition, how music enhances a film’s dramatic structure, its sense of time and geography, and how it expresses ideas and themes that may not be spelled out explicitly in a motion picture’s narrative. SFCM’s technology and applied composition program’s “mother ship” recording studio is one of the most sophisticated in the state, Hollywood competition notwithstanding.
Notable Alumni Isaac Stern (violinist), John Adams (Nixon in China)
Eastman School of Music
Rochester, New York
Eastman’s Beal Institute for Film Music and Contemporary Media offers a highly exclusive two-year master’s program limited to no more than six students a year. Mark Watters is in his sixth year as director of the program, which was established by composer Jeff Beal. “I designed the curriculum to take advantage of what Eastman was known for, and that is its excellent instrumental program,” Watters says. “We had a record number of applicants, but I’m happy to say that the school endorses our small class sizes, so only five were admitted.”
Notable Alumni Angelo Badalamenti (Twin Peaks), Jeff Beal (House of Cards)
New England Conservatory of Music
NEC balances its reputation as one of the oldest and most revered conservatories in the country with an embrace of new technology through its music technology concentration and the Robert Ceely Electronic Music Studio. Last year, the school even dipped its toe into film music composition with an online class in film scoring taught by Lautaro Mantilla, which focused on the fundamentals of scoring, including orchestration, arranging, improvisation and creative writing, with no previous experience required of students. The school’s established curriculum — conducting, composition, contemporary musical arts, jazz, music history and musicology — maintains its stellar rep along with its prestigious Boston location near Symphony Hall, and its long-established collaborations with the Boston Symphony, Emmanuel Music, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and the Boston Chamber Music Society.
Notable Alumni Sean Callery (Jessica Jones), Stephanie Economou (My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3)
Indiana University Jacobs School of Music
Jacobs’ music scoring for visual media program offers a master’s degree, undergraduate and doctoral minors, and two certificate degrees under the direction of professor Larry Groupé. Composers team up with IU Media School filmmakers and student musicians for live score-to-picture performances during the annual Double Exposure screenings at the Indiana University Cinema. Students compete for the annual Jon Vickers Film Scoring Award, with the winner receiving a commission to score a full-length silent film, which also receives live-to-picture treatment at the IU Cinema on the Bloomington campus. The program’s Project Involve provides the opportunity for six composers to work in Los Angeles for three weeks over the summer, collaborating with budding L.A. filmmakers on films that premiere in Hollywood and potentially air on HBO services. Tuition $38,075
Notable alumni David Baker (jazz composer), Alexandra du Bois (violinist, composer)
Film Scoring Academy of Europe
Established and run by former Disney music executive Andy Hill, the Film Scoring Academy offers a one-year master’s degree program set in Sofia, Bulgaria, as well as an eight-month online graduate degree and a three-and-a-half-week summer program in Sofia. The program attracts Hollywood veterans like Conrad Pope, Mychael Danna, David Arnold and Christopher Young, who have contributed as guest lecturers. “Without a doubt, the European Academy of Film Scoring is the best of the yearlong programs on the other side of the Atlantic,” Young says. “Andy Hill is one of the few program leaders who’s had actual experience in the Hollywood film scoring business through his years in the Disney music department.”
Tuition 36,950 euros ($39,246)
Notable alumni Florence Sabeva (pianist), Henrik Lindström (State of Prey)
University of North Carolina School of the Arts
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
UNCSA offers a two-year master’s of fine arts in film music composition as part of its school of filmmaking, run by Chris Heckman. Film music composition students are given priority in scoring more than 30 shorts produced by student filmmakers, with works ranging from live action to animation, video games, virtual reality and documentary, as well as commercials and advertising. The program’s 16 students take advantage of a one-to-one ratio of students to instructors, resulting in deeply personalized training and experience, and the program’s working relationships with Wake Forest University and the University of Central Florida provide additional opportunities to score documentaries and animated shorts. “In the past year, we have started an exchange between UNCSA and IFS Cologne [a top-ranked film school in Germany],” Heckman says. “UNCSA’s film music composition program has always stressed the importance of collaboration directly with filmmakers in the creation of original films, and this exchange with IFS opens up new opportunities for our students to network with filmmakers in Europe as well as in the U.S.”
Tuition $24,231 (out-of-state)
Notable alumni Debbie Allen (actress, choreographer), Keith Horn (Muppet Babies)
New York University Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development
New York City
Steinhardt offers bachelor of music and master of music degrees in its music theory and composition: screen scoring programs, which are co-directed by Ron Sadoff and Mark Suozzo. Students learn to analyze screen music and get a detailed background on the history of film and television music. With the chance to engage in up to 25 recording sessions per year, students learn the ins and outs of running a studio session, from composing to orchestration skills, part preparation, music editing and production, and music composition on a computer using or creating their own sample libraries. Sessions involve everything from orchestral ensembles to soloists and sampling sessions for library creation. The New York City school offers several readings with the NYU Symphony as well as residencies and an animation film scoring competition. Steinhardt’s mentorship programs provide advisers to help guide students both academically and professionally, assisting in preparing portfolios, networking and collaboration in weekly, hourlong private lessons during their first three semesters.
Notable Alumni Elmer Bernstein (The Magnificent Seven), Barry Manilow (recording artist)
An actual School of Rock, the Musicians Institute in Los Angeles is best known for prepping the next generation of electric guitar soloists, pop vocalists and DJs aiming to hit it big in the music biz, but the institute’s central location in Hollywood and a curriculum of more serious as well as media-oriented degree programs make for an excellent launchpad for composers eager to make it in motion pictures, television or video games. Master and bachelor of music degrees, along with associate of arts and associate of science degrees, give students a grounding in the basics, but there’s a wide gap between degree costs, with the music master’s degree boasting yearly tuition in the relatively affordable $25,000 range but the visual media master’s pricing heading upward of $90,000.
Notable Alumni Ray Luzier (drummer), Brooke White (singer-songwriter)
Columbia University in the City of New York
New York City
Columbia takes an unusual approach to music and media, with its visual arts program in the School of the Arts collaborating with the computer music center in the department of music to create a two-year sound art MFA program, winnowing candidates down to around four students a year for a highly focused exploration of the integration of sound with other media. Successful candidates explore new media, performance and conceptual strategies and also have the option to work in sculpture, video and ceramics and can look forward to interacting with a rich community of artists and musicians. Columbia CNY’s music performance program offers concentrations in composition, ethnomusicology, historical musicology and music theory.
Notable Alumni Béla Bartók (composer), Tan Dun (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon)
Royal College of Music
For the ultimate Hogwarts-style education, you could do a lot worse than the Royal College of Music and its cozily cosmopolitan location in South Kensington, London, which was conceived in 1850 by Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, as a premiere cultural center for the city. The London surroundings contain over 113,000 media companies, ranging from movie and television studios to advertising agencies and ad production hubs. RCM Studios is a state-of-the-art recording studio boasting cutting-edge audio, video and composition technology and support for electroacoustic music, and broadcasts many RCM performances worldwide. The school’s prestigious reputation and locale attracts plenty of talent from Hollywood and the world at large, with visiting artists ranging from Michael Giacchino to Hans Zimmer.
Tuition 27,300 pounds ($33,799)
Notable Alumni Leopold Stokowski (conductor), Benjamin Britten (The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra)
Yale School of Music
New Haven, Connecticut
This year, Yale’s dean, Robert Blocker, retired after 28 years in the position. Replacing him is José García-León, a pianist who graduated from Spain’s Conservatorio Superior de Música, earned a doctorate in musical arts from the Manhattan School of Music, and previously served as dean of academic affairs and assessment at Juilliard. The school continues its reputation as a traditional conservatory, empowering students to pick and choose among the impressive faculty for the teachers they will study and work with. While it doesn’t boast a media scoring degree program, the school’s media production department and recording studios do provide the opportunity to study electronic music, technology and recording, as well as classes in audio/video recording, editing, and live streaming and content creation.
Tuition $38,000, but full-tuition scholarships are available to all students
Notable Alumni John Mauceri (conductor), Andrew Norman (The Companion Guide to Rome)
Los Angeles College of Music
Debuting on this list, LACM offers a master’s in composing for visual media that aligns with the objective and goals of its master of music program. Applicants must hold a bachelor of music or bachelor of arts in music, must submit an essay on their goals in pursuing a career in music, and students must pass an audition and entrance exams that demonstrate competency at the baccalaureate level. Course highlights include Composer Entrepreneur 1: Collaboration & Communication, which focuses on enhancing the composer relationship with directors, producers and editors, as well as pitching scores. Writing for sync focuses on songwriting and composition for visual media; film score orchestration for live orchestra recording sessions teaches advanced orchestration techniques; and film score mixing explores stereo, surround and immersive mixing and the use of sample libraries.
Notable Alumni Debi Nova (singer-songwriter), Shaun Huberts (bassist-songwriter)
Frost School of Music at the University of Miami
Coral Gables, Florida
The Frost School’s “Frost Method” strives to give students a grip on the technological and business side of a career in music, as well as the skills to excel as an artist. The approach emphasizes instruction in improvisation, arranging, composing, music history and music video production, along with other skill sets. The school offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in media scoring and production. The MSPD major is a four-year program that allows students to focus on their preferred strengths and target their chosen career, then broaden their approach to different areas of the music school or the University of Miami in general. It doesn’t hurt that the school’s location, in Coral Gables, Florida, happens to be in the middle of the red-hot Miami art scene, giving students opportunities for what the school describes as, “Gigs, gigs, gigs!”
Notable Alumni Ed Toth (drummer), Steve Morse (guitarist)
Pacific Northwest Film Scoring Program — Seattle Film Institute
Pacific Northwest’s film scoring program offers a master’s of music in its film composition program, run by Hummie Mann. Students work on 10 scoring projects with student directors, conduct live studio recording sessions, and produce electronic and synth scores, earning a master’s degree in 40 weeks. If the idea of spending 40 weeks in scenic Seattle for some reason doesn’t appeal to you, the program offers a two-week summer intensive program that provides a lot of the same training and experience in a fraction of the time frame, serving students from around the United States and Canada, as well as Australia, Brazil, Dubai, Italy, Japan, Romania, Scotland and the United Arab Emirates.
Notable alumni Brendon Williams (Call of Duty), Bobby Brader (Don’t Forget Them)
This story first appeared in the Nov. 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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