Top 20 Music Schools for Composing for Film and TV in 2020, Ranked

6:00 AM 11/10/2020

by Jeff Bond

Despite the disruption of COVID-19, schools are blending virtual and in-person classes plus performances to provide aspiring composers the training they'll need, according to a Hollywood Reporter survey of 1,700 industry professionals.

Top 20 Music Schools
JUILLIARD BUILDING: CHRIS COOPER/COURTESY OF SCHOOL. VIOLINIST: RICHARD TERMINE/COURTESY OF JUILLIARD. PIANIST: MATT DUNHAM - WPA POOL/ GETTY IMAGES. PERCUSSIONIST: BOB HANDELMAN/COURTESY OF YALE. SF CONSERVATORY: CARLIN MA PHOTOGRAPHY/ COURTESY OF SAN FRANCISCO CONSERVATORY OF MUSIC. CELLIST: COURTESY OF SAN FRANCISCO CONSERVATORY OF MUSIC.

Every year, THR surveys industry professionals to get their take on the world's finest institutions of musical learning, and in particular how they stack up in terms of positioning composers and musicians for jobs in media. This year, however, the focus is on COVID-19 and the challenges it has presented, including limiting the number of players who can perform student compositions.

"We're trying to find that compromise for the next incoming group so that they can still have a legitimate, unique experience," says USC's Daniel Carlin.

Nevertheless, with help from a survey sent to the roughly 1,700 members of the Society of Composers and Lyricists, the Alliance for Women Film Composers and the Composers Diversity Collective, here are the 20 music schools still thriving despite a year of sour notes.

  • The Juilliard School

    Juilliard's Center for Innovation in the Arts offers media scoring classes that include Composing for Visual Media, a Scoring to Picture Workshop and Independent Study in Emerging and Collaborative Arts, all taught by founding director Edward Bilous. Juilliard is using a hybrid model this academic year with remote learning and some in-person teaching. "While it has required extra planning time, our students are learning production skills that are common in professional environments with large creative teams working on different platforms and with different tools," Bilous says. "Fortunately, however, we have a large community of wonderful musicians, many of whom have become quite adept at recording from home."

    TUITION $47,370

    NOTABLE ALUM Laura Karpman (Lovecraft Country)

  • USC Los Angeles Thornton School of Music

    USC's Screen Scoring Department and its 20-student master's degree program have shifted their schedule from a September start to January (with a second semester in summer 2021) because many of the foreign students, who account for around half the program, faced visa and other travel issues resulting from the pandemic. The shift should still allow for the recording of student projects on Hollywood soundstages, a major part of the program's appeal. "What we're going to do is record as many people as we can on the stage and then do remote, [with] people sweetening at home or in another studio," says Carlin. Students are also getting a head start on five scoring projects with peers from USC's film school under program mentorship.

    TUITION $59,260

    NOTABLE ALUM Christophe Beck (Frozen)

  • The Berklee College of Music

    Boston's Berklee College of Music offers a bachelor's of music degree in Film Scoring, with classes that range from Scoring Technology to Post Romantic Scoring, Interactive Scoring for Video Games, Orchestral Mock-Up Production and more. Composer Pinar Toprak (Captain Marvel), who graduated in 2000, is confident the school's current hybrid approach is working well for students. "I taught at the Berklee online school for almost seven years and taught them scoring and orchestration. Everything was happening online, and they're so great with technology that whatever they're doing, they're doing it well."

    TUITION $44,360

    NOTABLE ALUM Alan Silvestri (Avengers: Endgame)

  • The San Francisco Conservatory of Music

    SFC offers a Professional Studies Diploma with a one-year course focusing on workflow technologies as well as courses in Composing at the Keyboard, Sound Recording and Sound Design, Production Techniques in Apple Logic Pro X and other disciplines. SFCM is offering students enrolled for the fall semester a 10 percent COVID-19-related reduction to their billable fall tuition and a mix of in-person and remote instruction.

    TUITION $47,560

    NOTABLE ALUM Isaac Stern

  • The Oberlin Conservatory of Music

    Oberlin offers a bachelor's of music degree in Technology in Music and Related Arts that prepares students for graduate study in electroacoustic music, interdisciplinary performance and digital media. To deal with the pandemic, Oberlin has shifted from a two-semester calendar to a three-semester, year-round schedule consisting of fall, spring and summer sessions in order to reduce the total campus population and allow for necessary social distancing.

    TUITION $58,649

    NOTABLE ALUM Liz Phair

  • The New England Conservatory of Music

    Founded in 1867, NEC has strong ties to the Boston Symphony, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, Emmanuel Music and the Boston Chamber Music Society. It offers degrees in Composition and Contemporary Improvisation as well as instrumental and vocal performance degrees; it also has dual-degree programs with Tufts and Harvard University. On campus, COVID-19 testing and social distancing procedures are in effect.

    TUITION $51,440

    NOTABLE ALUM Coretta Scott King

  • UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music

    UCLA Herb Alpert School's master of arts and Ph.D. programs offer a specialization in either Composition or Composition for Visual Media, with extensive study in music theory, orchestration and music analysis. The school recently received an endowment of $4.05 million from the estate of emeriti professors Bernice Wenzel and Wendell "Jeff" Jeffrey that will support undergraduate, transfer and graduate student scholarships in the Department of Music. Fall 2020 instruction is being offered remotely.

    TUITION $13,239 (in state); $42,994 (out of state)

    NOTABLE ALUM Randy Newman (Marriage Story)

  • Indiana University Jacobs School of Music

    Jacobs' Music Scoring for Visual Media program, run by director Larry Groupé, includes a master's degree, undergraduate and doctoral minors, and two certificate degrees. The program's Synthestration class instructs students in the creation of professional quality MIDI demos (mock-ups of acoustic or orchestral music created on computer); other courses include Orchestration for the Screen, Licensing, Contract Legal Practices and Performing Rights. Groupé says the school is handling the pandemic well with in-person classes and social distancing. "We have zero transmission rate here. The overall school of Indiana University had a spike in August for the first week when everyone arrived, and now the university is down to 0.001 percent, so very good compared to other schools. My scoring program continues robustly with the expanded master's degree and doctoral minor."

    TUITION $35,140

    NOTABLE ALUM Leonard Slatkin (Ready Player One)

  • Eastman School of Music

    "Like [most] schools, we are primarily online for classes," says composer Mark Watters, who directs Eastman's two-year master's program. "However, the Film Scoring class partakes in five recording sessions during the semester and the school is allowing us to do those live, I'm happy to say. They are the centerpiece of the curriculum." While it's challenging, Watters says remote learning has gone smoothly so far. "We invited percussionist extraordinaire M.B. Gordy to give an ethnic percussion master class. [Zoom] has been great to set up sessions with various composers and instrumentalists in Los Angeles."

    TUITION $57,420

    NOTABLE ALUM Alexander Courage (Star Trek: Picard)

  • Curtis Institute of Music

    Curtis offers bachelor of music, post-baccalaureate diploma and professional studies certificates as part of a tuition-free experience where all students receive merit-based scholarships that cover the full cost of their education, with additional financial aid available. The small size of the student body (about 175 students) gives the school an advantage in dealing with COVID-19. The pandemic has caused limited or canceled on-campus performances and recitals, but Curtis continues to offer new and "favorite" performances on its social media channels. Performance ensembles have been organized into mandatory "pods," and remote instruction, via Zoom and other platforms, has been made available.

    TUITION Free after scholarships

    NOTABLE ALUM Nino Rota

  • Columbia College

    Columbia offers a two-year master of fine arts program in Music Composition for the Screen headed by  Kubilay Uner, focusing on film, television, advertising, video games and other interactive media. Students also attend a five-week semester in Los Angeles, interning with professional composers (which they continue to do during the pandemic) and employing professional musicians and engineers in studio recording and mixing sessions. COVID-19 testing and contact tracing procedures are in use on campus.

    TUITION $31,500

    NOTABLE ALUM Paul Broucek (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring)

  • University of North Carolina School of the Arts

    UNCSA offers a two-year master of fine arts program in Film Music Composition as part of its School of Filmmaking, allowing students to score live-action drama, documentaries and animation produced by student filmmakers. First-year students have weekly lessons from a faculty mentor in composition and receive instruction in postproduction, spotting, the dramatic function of music, and different stylistic and instrumental approaches. The school is offering both in-person and online classes and encouraging mask-wearing and social distancing on campus.

    TUITION $23,040

    NOTABLE ALUM Eddie Barbash (The Late Show With Stephen Colbert)

  • Musicians Institute

    The Musicians Institute offers master's and bachelor's of music degrees as well as associate of arts and associate of science degrees. Its location at Hollywood and Highland is perfect for entertainment industry ambitions, and its bachelor's degree program in Music Composition for Visual Media provides classes in contemporary arranging, scoring, orchestration, music theory, ear training and music history. Remote learning is being offered, with certain classes and labs operating on campus using social distancing restrictions.

    TUITION $25,584

    NOTABLE ALUM Mimi Page (Dark)

  • Columbia University

    Columbia University's Music Performance Program instructs students in classical, pop, jazz and other contemporary forms, with concentrations in Composition, Ethnomusicology, Historical Musicology and Music Theory. During the COVID-19 pandemic, all courses have been moved online. The Department of Music has also elected to pause admissions for its doctoral programs for fall 2021, allowing the school to "provide our current students with additional support as they navigate the unanticipated needs that have arisen since the pandemic began."

    TUITION $61,788

    NOTABLE ALUM Ira Gershwin

  • Yale School of Music

    Yale School of Music offers conservatory training as well as a Media Production department with recording studios, training in audio and video recording and editing, content creation and live streaming. Yale is employing dual delivery of courses with an online block of academic courses followed by a residential block of performance courses each month. Private lessons and studio seminars will be taught throughout the semester, both in-person and remotely.

    TUITION Free after full tuition award and fellowship

    NOTABLE ALUM Marco Beltrami (Ford v Ferrari)

  • New York University Steinhardt

    Steinhardt has its own record label, Village Records, and a media scoring program that offers a master's degree in Scoring for Film and Multimedia with private composition lessons and classes that include Scoring Techniques, Screen Music: History, Analysis & Aesthetics, Music Editing for Screen Music and Contemporary Scoring. The program also features four summer workshops with concentrations in scoring for film, television, advertising and video games. Some or all instruction for academic year 2020-21 may be delivered remotely.

    TUITION $22,404

    NOTABLE ALUM Alan Menken (Aladdin)

  • Los Angeles College of Music

    LACM offers a 20-month associate of science and a 38-month bachelor of science Music Production Online Degree program covering three areas of study: composition, production and the business side of managing music. Fall 2020 classes will be offered remotely, and emergency financial aid grants are being made available to students to compensate for disruption of campus activities amid the coronavirus outbreak.

    TUITION $25,650

    NOTABLE ALUM Debi Nova (Mean Girls)

  • Royal College of Music

    The RCM offers bachelor's and master's degrees in Music and Music Performance and Composition, as well as postgraduate-level classes in Composition for Screen. "I did the licentiate degree, which is an equivalent to a pre-master's," says composer Ghiya Rushidat (40 Years and One Night), who attended the Royal College in 2005. "That experience just pushed me to my limit as a concert pianist back then. It crushed my ego in a very good way, telling me that this is not enough, you should be focusing on other areas as well." The RCM campus is currently open with COVID-19 protective measures in place.

    TUITION $31,558

    NOTABLE ALUM Leopold Stokowski

  • Pacific Northwest Film Scoring Program

    The Pacific Northwest Film Scoring Program, which offers a master's of music program in Film Composition (the only one in the U.S.) run by Hummie Mann, shifted to an online/low residency format this spring to deal with the pandemic. Says Mann: "Starting in the second quarter and continuing until the final quarter, if safe and allowed, we are adding one-week residencies when the students will meet on campus for any training that requires in-person instruction as well as the required recording sessions with live musicians where the students get to conduct and run the sessions."

    TUITION $40,040

    NOTABLE ALUM Bobby Brader (Trolls)

  • Sundance Institute

    Composer Peter Golub in recent years formed the institute's Film Scoring Program, which paired students with filmmakers from the Sundance Director's Lab in conjunction with the famed Sundance Film Festival, and has also offered a Film Music & Sound Design Lab at Skywalker Sound in Marin County, California. With much of its funding coming from live performance venues and the festival, Sundance has been heavily impacted by the pandemic and reduced its staff by 13 percent in July. The institute is restructuring its Theater, Film Music and New Frontier Lab programs into a single interdisciplinary program and launched the Sundance Institute Respond and Reimagine Plan, which offers grants directly to artists in order to compensate for the effect of COVID-19 on musicians and filmmakers.

    TUITION Free

    NOTABLE ALUM Tyler Bates (John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum)

    This story first appeared in the Nov. 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.