Top 25 Music Schools for Composing for Film and TV, Ranked

8:30 AM 11/7/2019

by THR Staff

The Hollywood Reporter surveyed members of the Society of Composers & Lyricists to find the best of the best for its annual rankings — and also found out where Danny Elfman snuck in for gamelan classes.

Courtesy of Subject

For years, music schools could be divided into two camps: conservatory-style programs that concentrated on classical training, and others that focused on media scoring degrees for film and TV work. Lately, however, those lines have been blurring, with even the esteemed Juilliard School branching out into the cinematic arts (or at least offering a spring seminar).

In some ways, that blurring makes picking a music school even harder. So, to help, THR once again presents its annual Top 25 Music Schools list, ranking the best of the best. To calculate the rankings, the magazine relied on the results of a survey sent to more than 1,500 members of the Society of Composers & Lyricists.

  1. 1

    The Juilliard School

    New York

    Richard Termine/Courtesy of Juilliard

    Juilliard has been training musicians since 1905 — long before it moved to Lincoln Center in 1969 — but until very recently its curriculum had been limited to mostly pure music study. If you wanted to learn media scoring, you needed to look elsewhere. This year, though, president Damian Woetzel announced the first of a series of spring mini-courses, like introduction to music for film and television, taught by composer Nicholas Britell (Succession). It also has expanded its global reach, opening The Tianjin Juilliard School in China.

    TUITION $41,310

    NOTABLE ALUMS John Williams, Henry Mancini

  2. 2

    USC Thornton School of Music

    Los Angeles

    USC remains the go-to college for budding film composers looking to get into film scoring — and not just because of its Hollywood-adjacent location. Its graduate programs have students laboring on 100-plus projects a year, offering them opportunities to work at professional facilities, like the Clint Eastwood Scoring Stage on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank. "The mere fact that I went to USC has opened a lot of doors for me," says composer Leanna Primiani (The Bad Seed). "There's a simpatico with other Trojans, a big network that is so amazing."

    TUITION $57,256

    NOTABLE ALUMS Jerry Goldsmith, Christophe Beck

  3. 3

    Columbia College


    Eron Rauch/Courtesy of Columbia

    Upon graduation, students leave campus with a demo reel that showcases their professionalism and artistry — and after a two-year master's program that includes training in film, TV, advertising, video games and other interactive media, those reels tend to be chock-full. Students also spend a five-week semester in L.A. interning with professional composers.

    TUITION $26,090

    NOTABLE ALUMS Paul Broucek, Kid Sister

  4. 4

    Berklee College of Music


    Craig Bailey/Courtesy of Berklee

    The school offers a smorgasbord of graduate-level classes — dramatic scoring, video game music, post-romantic scoring, interactive scoring — but its strength is in its real-world business training. "From my first day at Berklee, they talked about what to do when you're out of school, what you're going to do in L.A., how you're going to carry yourself, how should your website be, things like that," says composer Arturo Cardelús (Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles).

    TUITION $44,360

    NOTABLE ALUMS Quincy Jones, Alan Silvestri

  5. 5

    UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music

    Los Angeles

    Juan Tallo/Courtesy of UCLA

    It's got a new dean (Eileen Strempel), a new professor (Terence Blanchard, who'll be teaching global jazz studies) and a new undergraduate course in music history. The master's and Ph.D. programs, meanwhile, offer specializations in composition or composition for visual media.

    TUITION $11,502 (undergrad); $13,226 (grad)

    NOTABLE ALUMS Eric Gorfain, James Horner

  6. 6

    San Francisco Conservatory

    San Francisco

    Its proximity to Silicon Valley means a close relationship with the video game industry (grad and undergrad students alike can hone their skills at the Sony PlayStation Studios in San Mateo), but it also has deep ties to the film community (they get to score movie scenes at George Lucas' Skywalker Sound).

    TUITION $43,410 (undergrad and grad)

    NOTABLE ALUMS Isaac Stern, Terry Riley

  7. 7

    Eastman School of Music

    Rochester, New York

    Emmy-winning House of Cards composer Jeff Beal and his wife, Joan, established the school's Beal Institute for Film Music and Contemporary Media in 2015 with a $2 million grant. The two-year master's program, now directed by composer Mark Watters, accepts only about half a dozen students a year, and they compose 12 to 16 hours a day.

    TUITION $46,150

    NOTABLE ALUMS Chuck Mangione, Alexander Courage

  8. 8

    New England Conservatory


    The oldest music school in the nation is also one of the most old- fashioned. It still refuses to offer a music in film concentration. Still, it's a pipeline for instrumentalists looking to join the Boston Symphony and has played a role in the formation of other institutions like the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and the Boston Chamber Music Society.

    TUITION $49,580

    NOTABLE ALUMS Sean Callery, Ralph Burns

  9. 9

    Indiana University Jacobs School of Music


    In January, the school announced it is expanding its already celebrated music scoring for visual media program, run by Larry Groupé, to include a master's degree, undergraduate and doctoral minors and two certificate degrees. Classes range from orchestration for the screen to licensing and performing rights.

    TUITION $38,255

    NOTABLE ALUMS Joshua Bell, Leonard Slatkin

  10. 10

    New York University Steinhardt

    New York

    The only school on this list with its own label — Village Records — it's got a venerable reputation for teaching concert music. But it's also not a bad place to pick up a master's in scoring for film and multimedia.

    TUITION $51,828

    NOTABLE ALUMS Elmer Bernstein, Alan Menken

  11. 11

    Oberlin Conservatory

    Oberlin, Ohio

    Torn between pursuing a liberal arts degree and studying music? Oberlin lets you do both, with joint master's and undergrad degrees. Students are steeped in music history, with courses on conducting, ethnomusicology and opera, but there are also more modern programs like technology in music and related arts.

    TUITION $55,976

    NOTABLE ALUMS James McBride, Liz Phair

  12. 12

    Curtis Institute


    If you can squeeze past the school's brutal admissions standards (only 4 percent of applicants make it into the graduate and undergrad programs), Curtis offers a tuition-free ride, with all students receiving merit-based scholarships that cover the full cost of their education. The result is a small student body (about 175 students, just enough to fill out its symphony orchestra) and a high teacher-student ratio.

    TUITION Free

    NOTABLE ALUMS Leonard Bernstein, Nino Rota

  13. 13

    Royal College of Music


    RCM offers an undergrad degree in music as well as a range of master's degrees (music performance, composition, chamber music). Although it's not well known for its media scoring curriculum, it has started offering postgraduate classes in composition for screen, which take advantage of London's plentiful film, TV and advertising production studios.

    TUITION $31,510

    NOTABLE ALUMS Leopold Stokowski, Richard Addinsell

  14. 14

    Musicians Institute

    Los Angeles

    What was originally founded in 1977 as the Guitar Institute of Technology, a training ground for aspiring rockers and session musicians, has evolved into a full-fledged music school that offers master's and bachelor's degrees, even as its Hollywood and Highland campus retains some rock 'n' roll swagger.

    TUITION $24,030

    NOTABLE ALUMS Mimi Page, Shane Alexander

  15. 15

    Columbia University

    New York

    In addition to its famed Computer Music Center that attracts artists from around the world, the school boasts a two-year sound arts MFA program that admits only three or four students a year. Last year, it hosted a spring film scoring workshop tied to Columbia's Film Festival, with four films selected to be scored by student composers.

    TUITION $54,400

    NOTABLE ALUMS Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein

  16. 16

    University of North Carolina School of the Arts


    Year one of this two-year master's program includes lessons in technical and composition skills, postproduction and the dramatic function of music. In the second year, students create 90-second main title cues, study music theory and learn the business side of the music biz.

    TUITION $23,203

    NOTABLE ALUMS Eddie Barbash, Randy Jones

  17. 17

    Yale College of Music

    New Haven, Connecticut

    Yale offers a conservatory approach — for both undergrad and grad students — focusing on art and concert music, but it also has a media production department that gives students access to state-of-the-art recording studios. The acceptance rate is pretty rough — less than 10 percent — but those that make it in receive full tuition.

    TUITION Free

    NOTABLE ALUMS Marco Beltrami, Martin Brody

  18. 18

    Sundance Institute

    Park City, Utah

    Rob Williamson/Courtesy of Sundance Institute

    You don't earn a degree, but Sundance's two-week Film Music & Sound Design program might be just the crash course you're looking for. Eight fellows live and work together, collaborating with filmmakers before putting on concerts during the festival. "Being around directors is what you get from Sundance," says composer Tom Howe (Early Man). "It's a bit like making a connection rather than just being in music."

    TUITION Free

    NOTABLE ALUMS Tyler Bates, Larry Goldings

  19. 19

    Pacific Northwest Film Scoring Program


    The program at Seattle Film Institute might offer the only one-year music master's degree in the country, but it squeezes in a lot during that time: applied music composition, language in film, audio recording and songwriting for film, among other courses. Only 12 students are accepted each year.

    TUITION $40,040

    NOTABLE ALUMS Brendon Williams, Bobby Brader

  20. 20

    University of North Texas


    Getting in here is relatively easy (a 61 percent acceptance rate), and it's pretty affordable, with the lowest tuition on this list. But that doesn't mean the school is skimping: It offers 101 different undergrad degrees, 82 master's degrees and 38 doctoral degrees. Plus, U of NT houses one of the world's largest music libraries.

    TUITION $25,680 (undergrad); $22,568 (grad)

    NOTABLE ALUMS Kristopher Carter, Michael Daugherty

  21. 21

    Frost School of Music

    Coral Gables, Florida

    Frost offers master's degrees in arts presenting and live entertainment management; music engineering technology; and media writing and production. Clearly it's doing something right: It places 90 percent of its grads in music industry jobs.

    TUITION $63,000

    NOTABLE ALUMS Ben Folds, Joel McNeely

  22. 22

    California Institute of the Arts


    Danny Elfman didn't officially go here, but when he was a young composer he used to sneak in for gamelan classes. For those who actually register, CalArts offers a music BFA as well as a master's in composition and experimental sound practices.

    TUITION $50,850 (undergrad and grad)

    NOTABLE ALUMS John Adams, John Debney

  23. 23

    Guildhall School of Music & Drama


    It has been training musicians since 1880, but it also does its best to stay up to date, with its electronic music department offering graduate and undergrad degrees in areas ranging from sonic art to film scoring.

    TUITION $19,673 (undergrad and grad)

    NOTABLE ALUMS Harry Gregson-Williams, George Martin

  24. 24

    Cleveland Institute of Music


    It's all classical music all the time at this nearly 100-year-old school affiliated with Case Western. It's also highly selective, accepting only 8 percent of applicants. Bonus points for recently lowering its tuition.

    TUITION $42,006

    NOTABLE ALUMS David Diamond, Donald Erb

  25. 25

    Manhattan School of Music

    New York

    Some 1,000 students from around the world learn composition, jazz arts, conducting and a variety of other skills at this Lincoln Center-adjacent campus. MSM grads have premiered operas at Carnegie Hall and sung on Broadway.

    TUITION $48,280 (grad)

    NOTABLE ALUMS Dave Grusin, Elliot Goldenthal

    This story first appeared in the Nov. 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.