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Richard Whynn McGuire

College Plans

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Hello all, although I've composed for a while I'm pretty sure this is my first post on this forum. I would like to hear your opinions and advice about college majors because I'm torn between them. I would like write music for visual media I.e. film composition. I was trying to explain to my parents that a music degree doesn't guarantee success in the music industry, but they still want me to go to college and also get a business degree with music degree I.e. double majoring (what business degree I have no clue, but that's beside the point). I'm asking if what you would think would best service me in trying to get into film composing. Should I major in composition, jazz composition, or audio engineering? Ideally, I would like a school that offers all and I'm able to experience a little bit of all three along with a strong business program, but this may be far fetched. I'm torn between the three and whatever advice you could provide would be appreciated. Thanks!

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Hello! This is only my 2nd post here as well, but I have a few thoughts that may (or may not) be of help.

 

In my opinion, undergraduate degrees in music are more about getting experience than about getting a piece of paper: the degree itself won't necessarily qualify you for anything besides graduate school, but the experiences you have might. If you're interested in film scoring, I think some of the most valuable experiences to make sure you are able to have in college are: composing in/getting comfortable with as many styles as you can, learning as much about music production (not always the same as audio production) technology as you can, and collaborating on as many film (or other media or theatrical productions) as you can. Here are a few of my rambling (but hopefully coherent) thoughts on how you might go about this.

 

First of all, double majoring in composition and business sounds like a great plan given your goals. I don't think it's necessary to study audio engineering: it is likely that a lot of the material would be irrelevant to your musical goals, and you wouldn't learn how to use the technology in a musical way. Instead, I would advise finding a composition department with a very strong music technology program and take all the music tech courses you can. It also helps if the composition profs are into electronic/electroacoustic music: this way, they can help you with the technology and teach you how to use it in musically convincing ways (since writing purely electronic music, which many directors seem to want these days, is very different from writing acoustic music.) I personally would go with general composition rather than jazz composition--the latter might sort of box you in stylistically (since most jazz composition programs, in my experience, are pretty narrowly focused on just one style). In film scoring, it's important to be fluent in a wide variety of styles--including jazz and commercial styles, of course, but many general composition professors will still be willing to help you explore these... at least in North American composition departments!

 

Second (since, as I imagine you've heard and will keep hearing, knowing the "right" people is extremely important in the film industry), it's a good idea to go to a university with a large/reputable film/media production program, and try to work with as many film students as you can. In my experience, film students are often very excited to get original music for their film projects--sometimes they will email composition professors looking for students to score their work; other times, there may not yet be a bridge between the film and composition departments, so you may have to build it yourself (by emailing film production professors, for instance). Even if you have to work on some pretty terrible films, this kind of thing is really valuable: it gives you experience scoring to picture, a better understanding of the dynamic of working with directors and production teams (which is often interesting, because a lot of the time they don't know anything about music), and, if you're lucky, some personal acquaintances who will keep you in mind as a composer if they keep working on films after graduation.

 

Lastly (and this is kind of speculation on my part, so please feel free to take it or leave it), I think the second degree in business is a wise choice--and not just because it will put your parents at ease :) For one thing, careers in film scoring don't generally happen overnight, so it's always good to be qualified for a "day job" you don't completely hate in order to pay the bills while you work on independent films, build your portfolio, etc. I think some business sense and marketing skills might also serve you very well in the film scoring industry, where building a reputation for your music as a "product" is so important (hopefully that doesn't sound too cynical. It's just that film studios seldom release job postings for composers--instead, they tend to hire someone whose work they are already familiar with, so knowing how to promote/market your work can be very valuable in making directors aware of you.) Again, this last point is just speculation, and it would be interesting to hear what someone else--who knows more about the industry than I do--thinks about this.

 

I know it might seem difficult to find a university with good business and composition programs, a strong emphasis on music technology, AND opportunities to collaborate with film students, but they are more common than you might think. For instance, even my undergrad college (Ithaca College in upstate NY) has very good programs in music and film and as well as a passable business school, and that is a fairly small institution... larger universities are likely to offer you even more and better options. Universities in cities with big film production scenes (or lots of film schools) may also be a wise choice. Many small film/visual arts academies don't have their own music programs, so students at such places are often willing to collaborate with composers from other local institutions (that's definitely the case here in Vancouver, for example... UBC composition professors sometimes get emails from film students at other schools in the area who are looking for student composers to write scores for them.)

I think those are all of my (long-winded) thoughts for the moment. All of these thoughts are based on my own (somewhat limited) experiences with film scoring, but I hope they are somewhat helpful. Good luck with your decision!

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1) Go to school in California, preferably in L.A. (UCLA is a good choice if you think you can make it in). The biggest thing about your undergrad is making contacts (and developing skills, but for movie-scores it is contacts, contacts, and more contacts), so living in THE movie city is your best choice. 
2) If you can't get into a good school in California, go to New York. You'll probably have to also do some (A LOT) of musical theater writing if you want to make contacts that can help you in the movie world if you go to New York.
3) Double majoring may be a good idea, but it is going to kick your butt (it'll kick anyone's butt). As a music major you will most likely be taking 18 credit hours every semester for your first three or four semesters.

4) Majoring in composition would probably be your best bet. Audio engineering will only teach you basic theory and then studio techniques, not anything on composing (at least not anything in-depth) and as a music major you will be able to take audio engineering classes and electronics classes as electives. Jazz composition is also a choice, but it is going to be more about progressions and melodies, rather than full orchestral scoring (which you will have to do in movie-scoring, even if you use a jazz style). 

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You can also look for schools that offer specifically what you are wanting to learn. University of Southern California, Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Miami University, UT Austin, all offer courses in scoring for visual media. It would be good idea to research what schools offer what and who can give you the most experience and help while you attend. 

 

What Michael says is also true, it might be better to attend a school in California. Once upon a time when I wanted to study film scoring, I really considered going to LA. However, I have changed my goals since then, so, oh well.

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Double majors might waste your time. 1 plus 1 does not necessarily equals 2. I remember reading a statistical article about it.

 

Audio engineering is out-of-scope. It is an engineering degree, which has nothing to do with music composition or business.

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Sure!  Do the double major.  But do it because it will help your music career AND give you a foot in the door for a part-time desk job while you get your music career off the ground.  There is enough room in most school programs to do that without taking 8 courses a semester.  It just means you will be taking two music courses and two business courses a semester when the rest of the music majors are taking two music courses and a philosophy course and badminton.  Or if you don't do a double-major, choose your elective courses, on-campus jobs, and extra-curriculars very carefully so they are all giving you extra skills you want and need.  Don't waste your time drinking beer and being hung-over.  Do the math to figure out how many hundreds of dollars each 9:00 to 11:00 Tuesday class is costing you.  You will never be late to class or unprepared again.  You have 4 years to build a foundation.  Use them wisely.  

 

I was an art major, not a music student, but my main gripe with majors in the arts is that they don't necessarily include courses in marketing and business as part of the major.  If you go into any sort of arts career and aren't a professor, you will be an entrepreneur.  You will need to know how to advertise yourself, identify the market for your work, do a cost-benefit analysis on any work that comes your way to be sure it is actually worth the money you will be paid...  The people I know who had those skills, or got them, are still in the arts and doing well.  The people who disdained that sort of business knowledge as unworthy of their attention have gone back to work for big faceless corporations as minor paper-pushers EVEN THOUGH THEY MADE WONDERFUL WORK.  It doesn't matter how wonderful it is if you don't know how to get it out there to people who would like to pay you for it.  

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I should have made these.

 

Then again, I wouldn't change any part of the path I've taken.

 

I'm glad I didn't make these.

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I was an art major, not a music student, but my main gripe with majors in the arts is that they don't necessarily include courses in marketing and business as part of the major.  If you go into any sort of arts career and aren't a professor, you will be an entrepreneur.  You will need to know how to advertise yourself, identify the market for your work, do a cost-benefit analysis on any work that comes your way to be sure it is actually worth the money you will be paid...  The people I know who had those skills, or got them, are still in the arts and doing well.  The people who disdained that sort of business knowledge as unworthy of their attention have gone back to work for big faceless corporations as minor paper-pushers EVEN THOUGH THEY MADE WONDERFUL WORK.  It doesn't matter how wonderful it is if you don't know how to get it out there to people who would like to pay you for it.  

 

Well said!  This is a valuable tool for the artisan.  We must be equip to handle out business because no one will do it for us!

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