The Top 25 Music Schools for Film and TV

8:00 AM 11/6/2017

by Jeff Bond

From USC's Thornton to Berklee, THR's annual list of the best institutions to attend if you want to be a world-class musician (and make a living) in Hollywood.

Illustration by: Jean de Wet

For students hoping for a career in music for film and television, L.A. still holds a big advantage on THR's annual list of the world's best music schools. As Mark Watters, currently running the Beal Institute at upstate New York's Eastman School of Music, puts it, "Having a film scoring program outside Los Angeles is like having an oceanography department in Kansas." But with college tuitions varying wildly — Cleveland's Music Institute costs almost $50K a year while Paris' Conservatory is free — knowing what you're getting for your money is key. So whether you're hoping to stand behind a conductor's podium or actually earn a living playing music, this list will help you find the program with the best culture, curriculum and, yeah, cost.

This story first appeared in the Nov. 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

  • USC Los Angeles Thornton School of Music

    Thornton offers the rigorous approach of a conservatory along with an equally strong focus on contemporary media music. The school recently added five new graduate programs, including arts leadership, community music, contemporary teaching practice, music industry and screen scoring, which teaches students the ins and outs of scoring everything from motion pictures to video games and even virtual reality systems. Daniel Carlin, director and chair of the screen scoring department, says Thornton's film scoring program is geared to prepare students for the jobs they'll likely get well before any real scoring gigs. "When students graduate now, you're going to have to earn a living primarily as a composer's assistant, and that is primarily technological duties — copying with notation software, programming, updating computers and doing stuff that composers are too busy to do."

    TUITION $47,562 (in state)

    NOTABLE ALUMNI Thomas Newman, Bruce Broughton

  • The Juilliard School

    This 112-year-old New York institution remains world-renowned as the school that produces some of the world's most famous instrumentalists and composers, with a student population of approximately 600 from all over the world. Juilliard houses its music, dance and drama programs in the same building, allowing for cross-pollination among disciplines, and its student-to-faculty ratio is 3-to-1, so students can count on a lot of face time and direct instruction from teachers and musicians.

    TUITION $38,228

    NOTABLE ALUMNI Yo-Yo Ma, Philip Glass

  • Berklee College of Music

    With a strong film scoring program and an emphasis on production, engineering and recording technology, Boston-based Berklee positions students to make the leap into the music business quickly. Despite the large number of students and a generous acceptance rate of 34 percent, class size at the college is relatively small, at around 11. The school offers the opportunity to join more than 350 student instrumental ensembles, as well as student-run record labels.

    TUITION $41,530

    NOTABLE ALUMNI Ramin Djawadi, Melissa Etheridge

  • UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music

    With departments in ethnomusicology, music and musicology, the Herb Alpert School boasts a progressive, multicultural approach to learning as well as high-profile public concerts and lectures that have become an integral part of the vibrant Los Angeles cultural scene. The school also offers a manageable total student population of fewer than 500, a 20 percent acceptance rate and affordable in-state tuition of $13,260, and students can take courses in jazz, techno and even heavy metal, along with media music.

    TUITION $13,260

    NOTABLE ALUMNI Randy Newman, John Williams

  • San Francisco Conservatory of Music

    Founded in 1917, this private institution manages to blend the grand traditions of a classical music education with an influence — and a generous infusion of cash — from Silicon Valley and its video game businesses. "San Francisco Conservatory is getting very noticeable and good and should be looked at if you want to get into gaming" notes composer Larry Groupe (Line of Fire).

    TUITION $43,700, including fees

    NOTABLE ALUMNI Isaac Stern, Yehudi Menuhin

  • Eastman School of Music

    Located in Rochester, New York, Eastman takes a liberal arts approach to education in order to fit music students' experience into the broader context of the humanities and other art studies. Emmy-winning composer and Eastman alumnus Jeff Beal (House of Cards) and his wife, Joan (also an alumna), helped establish the school's Beal Institute for Film Music and Contemporary Media with a $2 million contribution, and composer Mark Watters currently runs the program. "We want to produce composers that are well-rounded and not just grounded in the technology," he says.

    TUITION $51,440

    NOTABLE ALUMNI Laurence Rosenthal, Alexander Courage

  • Royal College of Music

    If you've always had a yen to perform at Royal Albert Hall, London's Royal College of Music affords you the opportunity to live and train among its 750 students and follow in the footsteps of such famed composers as Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst and Benjamin Britten. The school's Woodhouse Professional Development Centre helps students mold themselves into world-class instructors and find employment in academia.

    TUITION $12,200 to $17,800, depending on the degree program

    NOTABLE ALUMNI Leopold Stokowski, James Galway

  • New England Conservatory

    With a five-year program in partnership with Harvard, it's possible to get degrees from not one but two of the nation's most prestigious schools. Boston-based NEC offers courses in jazz as well as classical, contemporary improvisation, world and early music. Its performers are former students and faculty of the school, but for students looking to leverage their education into the business side of music, the school offers an entrepreneurial musicianship program.

    TUITION $46,100

    NOTABLE ALUMNI Sean Callery, Cecil Taylor

  • Curtis Institute of Music

    Here's the good news: Philadelphia's Curtis is free. The bad news: The school is picky, taking only around 5 percent of applicants per year. There's no age limits on auditions, so whether you are a child prodigy or discovered a talent late in life, Curtis can hone your skills to a professional level.

    TUITION Free, plus $14,363 room and board

    NOTABLE ALUMNI Leonard Bernstein, Lang Lang

  • New York University Steinhardt School of Music

    Steinhardt's Scoring for Film and Multimedia program gives students the opportunity to have their written music performed by soloists, ensembles and a full symphonic orchestra. NYU's music business program enrolls 160 undergrads and 80 master's students to work with NYU's Stern School of Business to prepare themselves for the financial side of the industry.

    TUITION $24,900

    NOTABLE ALUMNI Alan Menken, Wayne Shorter

  • Oberlin Conservatory of Music

    Oberlin, Ohio's 184-year-old conservatory, combines the old and the new with conservatory training, a strong media program and one of the most progressive college campuses in the U.S. In conjunction with Oberlin College, the school offers a five-year double-degree program, which allows students to earn a bachelor of music and bachelor of arts degree.

    TUITION $52,762

    NOTABLE ALUMNI James McBride, Liz Phair

  • Yale School of Music

    Yale is the only Ivy League graduate school exclusively devoted to music, and with an acceptance rate of around 10 percent, it is as exclusive as you might expect. Starting this year, high school seniors applying to Yale College can apply for a joint degree with the School of Music, something previously available to only Yale College juniors. The New Haven school's focus remains on art and concert music, with limited study for media or commercial approaches.

    TUITION $40,500

    NOTABLE ALUMNI David Lang, John Mauceri

  • Jacobs School of Music, Indiana University

    IU's Jacobs School of Music, based in Bloomington, is one of the largest in the country, with well-funded facilities and a thriving environment for opera with numerous yearly productions. Visiting professor of composition Larry Groupe runs the film scoring program, which collaborates with the university's film school. "They've asked me to create a master's degree and a doctoral minor and two certificate programs, so we're expanding and I'm hiring some adjuncts," says Groupe. "The intention is to compete with Berklee and USC."

    TUITION $12,533 (in state), $36,845 (out of state)

    NOTABLE ALUMNI Joshua Bell, Leonard Slatkin

  • University of North Texas

    One of the first American music schools to offer programs in jazz, UNT — located in Denton, just outside Dallas — houses a music library that's among the most impressive in the nation, with more than 1 million sound recordings as well as eight performance halls, 26 ensembles and 300 practice rooms.

    TUITION $19,000

    NOTABLE ALUMNI Christopher Young, Norah Jones

  • Manhattan School of Music

    With around 250 instructors, the school's 900-plus students can enjoy one-on-one interaction with their teachers, and MSM's 700 performances a year — both at the school proper and Lincoln Center — give young musicians ample opportunity to hone their craft on a world stage.

    TUITION $58,000

    NOTABLE ALUMNI Herbie Hancock, John Corigliano

  • Columbia College Chicago

    The school's MFA program in music composition for the screen teaches students the integration of acoustic, orchestral instruments with electronic samples, employing cutting-edge recording, production and mixing technology in an MFA music lab. Budding composers work with experienced professionals in three seven-week workshops and eventually attend a five-week semester in Los Angeles.

    TUITION $63,106 (total for two-year MFA)

    NOTABLE ALUMNI Paul Broucek, Kid Sister

  • Pacific Northwest Film Scoring Program at Seattle Film Institute

    Established by composer Hummie Mann in Seattle in 1997, the program merged with the Seattle Film Institute in 2011 and was accredited to deliver a master of music in film composition. "In the one-year program, the students have nine recording sessions," says Mann, "everything from three musicians and electronics — like they may have in a TV show — all the way up to a 52-piece orchestra."

    TUITION $33,600

    NOTABLE ALUMNI Brendon Williams (game composer), Bobby Brader

  • University of Miami Frost School of Music

    With an enviable record of 88 percent of its graduates finding a full-time job or going on to graduate school within six months of graduation, Frost offers courses in improvisation, arranging, composing, critical thinking, keyboard performance, engineering and digital recording. It broke ground in offering degrees in music business and music engineering technology.

    TUITION $21,520

    NOTABLE ALUMNI Ben Folds, Bruce Hornsby

  • Colburn School of Music

    Originally a division of the USC Thornton School of Music, the school split from Thornton in 1980, and on the strength of an endowment from namesake Richard D. Colburn, it continued to thrive. The downtown L.A. school, which in partnership with the dance school is known as Colburn's School of the Performing Arts, recently received a $1 million bequest from the estate of Iona Benson, a donor and former board member, which will support need-based scholarships.

    TUITION $13,000

    NOTABLE ALUMNI David Fung, Eric Reed

  • University of North Carolina School of the Arts

    Winston-Salem's UNC boasts a film scoring program that is integrated into the School of Filmmaking, which gives students the opportunity to work with student directors on scores for up to 20 projects a year.

    TUITION $6,497 (in state), $22,240 (out of state)

    NOTABLE ALUMNI Eddie Barbash, Randy Jones

  • Columbia University

    New York City-based Columbia's music performance program provides hundreds of students with courses and practical experience in classical, jazz, pop and other music forms, and graduate students are prepared for careers in academia, criticism, technology and composition.

    TUITION $45,290

    NOTABLE ALUMNI Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein

  • Guildhall School of Music

    With an acceptance rate of 18 percent, London's Guildhall houses over 850 students and 376 staff for a student to teacher ratio of 7.8 to 1. Students have the opportunity to perform at famous venues around London, including the London Symphony Orchestra St. Luke's and Wigmore Hall.

    TUITION $18,600 to $32,100, depending on the program

    NOTABLE ALUMNI Sir George Martin, Dido

  • California Institute of the Arts

    Long on the cutting edge of filmmaking, Valencia's CalArts is equally progressive in the field of music, sporting its own division of the Herb Alpert School of Music. The school's MFA experimental sound practices specialization allows advanced students to explore a range of unconventional musical approaches, such as circuit-bending, modifying, breaking down conventional instruments and a wide variety of other techniques.

    TUITION $41,700

    NOTABLE ALUMNI Gabrial McNair, Ravi Coltrane

  • Conservatoire de Paris

    With a revered program that has produced such artists as Ravel, Saint-Saens, Debussy, Boulez and Berlioz, the Conservatoire takes only 30 new students a year. Its brutal 3 percent acceptance rate (admission is through competitive exams) makes it one of the most exclusive programs in the world, but the student population is relatively sizable at more than 1,300 students, and the school's 410 instructors allow for a great deal of personal attention for budding musicians.

    TUITION Free

    NOTABLE ALUMNI Arthur Honegger, Georges Bizet

  • Cleveland Institute of Music

    After two years of better-than-average fundraising, CIM has announced that it will reduce its tuition for incoming students by 15 percent and hold tuition flat for students already enrolled. CIM is in line with some of the East Coast's tonier schools, so the price cut should help draw students from a wider range of economic backgrounds.

    TUITION $48,671, including fees

    NOTABLE ALUMNI David Diamond, Shelly Berg

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