Alex Brinkley

Music Composition for the Screen (MFA) '21

What would you say has been the most surprising thing you learned at Columbia? 

I first came to Columbia in 2013 and graduated with my Bachelor of Music. Now wrapping up my master’s degree, I have learned countless life lessons and career-specific tools, but I think the most surprising lesson is this: there is nothing esoteric around music. Music is often overcomplicated with jargon or over-analysis that puts so much strain on the process that you forget the notes on the page. In other words, it becomes about studying the trees and not the forest.   

Our program director, Kubi, does an incredible job at boiling down the elements of music to get at the instinctual, emotional response to them. Within the first fifteen weeks of the MFA, my music became so much more effective because of this simplification. We certainly get in the weeds, but frequently the question you need to ask is, “Am I in the right forest?” 

What experiences or courses at Columbia do you feel have been most beneficial?  

The thing that drew me to Columbia in the first place was that it is run by working professionals who teach by doing. Perhaps the best example of this is in our scoring class where we score films alongside the original composers, be it Kubi or one of our artists in residences. Over my two years, we scored scenes from “Batman: The Brave and the Bold” alongside Dynamic Music Partners, “Hal” with Heather McIntosh, and “Letter for the King” with Brandon Campbell. In our final semester, we scored a feature-length film from start to finish. Each composer presented us with the same challenges they faced but gave us the opportunity to find our own solutions. In doing so, we honed our problem-solving skills and developed our own voices.  

What are your plans for after graduation?  

After graduation, I will be interning with Adam Gubman and his team at Moonwalk Audio in southern California. Moonwalk has done the music and sound design for over 600 video games and frequently collaborates with Walt Disney Imagineering for theme park attractions around the globe. After the internship, I plan to live and continue my career in southern California.  

Do you have any advice for current students? 

My best advice for current students is to look at everything with love. By “look at everything with love,” I mean you should show appreciation for the things presented to you and ask “how can I improve this thing and how can I be improved by it?” I guarantee you will get infinitely more out of your education if you simply go about it with love. It is not always easy, but I have found that taking care of my body, investing into meaningful people, and pacing myself helped me maintain a healthy baseline. With that consistency, it allowed me to go deeper in every aspect of my education. It gave me the curiosity to pick up a new instrument and learn how it really works. It gave me the energy to work till 4 a.m. on a project and feel lucky to do so. It brought collaborators into my life simply because they feel good around me.  

Attitude is the lens through which you live your life. If you don’t have the right lens, you won’t get the right shot.  

If you were going to sum up your experience at Columbia in one sentence, what would you say?  

If you put in the work, Columbia will give you the education, tools, and opportunities to tackle your most intimidating career goals.