Music Composition for the Screen (MFA)
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Time to degree: Two years (54 credits)
To succeed as a media composer, you need to be ready to adapt to an ever-evolving music-for-media landscape. Columbia College Chicago's two-year Music Composition for the Screen Master of Fine Arts program is designed to give you the in-depth training, professional connections and hands-on experience you need to develop your own voice, launch your career, and succeed in the industry.
The MFA composition program covers composing for a wide variety of genres in film, TV, video games, and augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR). Beyond the art of dramatic scoring, you'll master rapidly developing technical industry standards in media music production and gain hands-on experience with everything from programming cutting-edge digital instruments to conducting professional live musicians. You'll learn how to adapt your music to different contexts in courses on the unique processes of film, TV, and interactive media. Our faculty of working professionals and our visiting composers-in-residence mentor you by providing practical advice and candid feedback.
The program culminates in a five-week capstone in Los Angeles. With the guidance of the program director, you’ll choose a composer to intern with based on your interests and aspirations. You'll also lead a recording session of your thesis project with a full live orchestra in a professional studio.
“I wish I had something like this when I was starting out. The students are really getting the maximum exposure. It’s one-of-a-kind.”
-Miriam Cutler, Composer-in-Residence (2017)
Our composers-in-residence are professional composers at the height of their careers who come to Columbia to workshop with our students for seven weeks at a time. You will work with these composers to rescore one of their original projects from start to finish. Think of this as a flight simulator: the composers recreate real challenges they faced on the project, teaching you how to anticipate problems and adjust to them. It’s a safe space for you to make mistakes and learn from them without risking your career. You’ll experience how a project comes to fruition in the real world.
Recent composers-in-residence include 2021-Emmy-winner Brandon Campbell (The Letter for the King), Ronit Kirchman (The Sinner), and Chance Thomas (The Lord of the Rings Online).
Columbia’s program is unique because it is structured around scoring full-length projects. Instead of working on a few isolated scenes, you will deal with entire feature films, TV shows, video games, and other full-length visual media projects. These projects allow you to practice scoring as it is done in the real world, learn how music evolves to tell a complete
Internships and Networking
Professional preparation is an important aspect of the Music Composition for the Screen MFA program. The program’s capstone is a five-week term in Los Angeles. You'll intern with a composer in your preferred style and genre. During this experience, you'll also gain insight from industry professionals and conduct a recording session with a full professional studio orchestra, mixed by a leading scoring engineer.
By the time you graduate, you will have developed a body of work and a professional network that will help propel you into the industry with confidence. You’ll take advantage of Columbia’s interdisciplinary environment and find collaborators in Chicago’s world-class music scene. Columbia is home to one of America's largest film and TV departments, which has produced a number of Oscar, Emmy, and Spirit Award winners, and the college also trains future game developers in its Interactive Arts and Media department. Through collaborations facilitated by our MFA program, you’ll have many opportunities to score student films and student-produced video games and make lasting professional partnerships with emerging visual media creators.
Recording Sessions and Portfolio Development
In today’s media music industry, a successful composer portfolio has to showcase impeccable compositional craft and an original voice in a variety of styles, while displaying mastery in production techniques and the use of fully electronic sounds and samples. Exclusively live-recorded scores are exceedingly rare. Therefore, our recording sessions are optimized to allow you to learn and practice the various ways live musicians are currently integrated into today’s hybrid, electronic/acoustic score production process, from solo overdub and sweetening sessions through chamber-sized ensembles enhanced with samples, all the way to the thesis project in LA, where you will record your composition for a full live orchestra.
Listen to samples of recent work by our alumni.
Most MFA composition alumni work in the field of music for media, primarily in Hollywood. Established alumni are the backbone of the program’s success, helping today’s graduates and students make connections in the field. Recent alumni have worked on films from Warner Brothers and Universal; TV series on Syfy, ABC, and TBS; PBS documentaries; and best-selling video games.
Markus Siegel (MFA 22) works as a studio assistant for John Powell (“How to Train Your Dragon”)
Santiago Amezquita (MFA 21) works as technical assistant for Jeff Morrow (“George Carlin’s American Dream”)
Brandon Stanley and Brian Herald (both MFA 21) orchestrated the live version of Jonny Greenwood’s score to “The Power of the Dog”, for a 2022 live-to-picture performance at the Ace Hotel in Los Angeles preceding the 2022 Academy Awards.
Alex Brinkley (MFA 21) works as technical assistant for Nathan Barr. He also mixed Cindy O’Connor’s score to the Hallmark film “Christmas Sail”, assisted Adam Schoenberg on the realization of his cello concerto involving a holographic soloist, and wrote additional music to Jacques Brautbar’s score for the documentary “Lovely Jackson”.
Catherine Nguyen (MFA 20) works as composer assistant for AAA game developer Blizzard Games.
Miranda Su (MFA 20) works as assistant for Ronit Kirchman (“The Sinner”)
Caleb Cuzner (MFA 20) works as assistant to composer Benjamin Wallfisch (“It”)
Bingchen “Epson” Wu (MFA 19) runs his own composing studio in Beijing, China. Credits include numerous feature and TV projects as lead composer, plus collaborations with composer Nathan Wang (“Detective Chinatown”) and Nathan Furst (“Snafu”).
Khamani Hagood (MFA 18) wrote additional music for the TV series “Bridgerton” and wrote the score for the documentary feature “The Smell of Money”.
Thomas Chabalier (MFA 18) acted as synth programmer for composer Jeff Grace on the Netflix series “Sweet Tooth”, and scored the feature drama “Meeting Boone”.
DeAndre Allen-Toole (MFA 17, BA 15) wrote the music for the 2022 feature film “God’s Country” starring Thandiwe Newton, released by IFC.
Katrina Zemrak (MFA 17, BA 15) acted as music editor and composer assistant for Nickelodeon Animation’s “The Loud House”.
Jason Deran (MFA 17) has now dozens of credits as score technical engineer in his role as assistant to Marcelo Zarvos (“Ray Donovan”).
Miguel Benzanilla (MFA 16) wrote additional music for Michael Abels’ score to “Nope”.
Emer Kinsella (MFA 16) has numerous feature and TV credits to her name, including the RomCom “I Hate New Year’s” and music for Disney+ . She is also an in-demand session violinist.
Jesi Nelson (MFA 15) wrote additional music for Dino Meneghin’s score to the TV series “DOTA: Dragon’s Blood”, and, as the composer to “Star Wars Vehicle Flythroughs” and “Star Wars Biome”, is the first female and person of color selected as a composer in the Star Wars universe. She was also one of only eight composers included in the inaugural class of NBC Universal’s “Universal Composers Initiative”.
Program Advisory Council
The program maintains close relationships with a number of working professionals who provide ongoing feedback on the program curriculum and its alignment with the always-changing landscape of visual media composition. Advisory Council members are: Harry Gregson-Williams, Miriam Cutler, Blake Neely, Heather McIntosh, Garry Schyman, Germaine Franco, Nathan Wang, Theodore Shapiro, Joel Douek, Peter Golub, Jeff Rona, and alumni DeAndre Allen-Toole ’17, Jesi Nelson ’15, Jim Lordeman ’13, Allison Cantor ’11, and Andrew Edwards ‘09.