A photo of a person standing in front of sound mixing equipment.
A new degree dedicated to music composition for various mediums begins this fall at VCUarts. (Getty Images)

VCU to introduce undergraduate concentration in media scoring as part of its B.A. in music degree in fall 2024

For aspiring film composers and students interested in games, advertising and other motion media, the new program concentration will offer technical skills and project-based learning.

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Virginia Commonwealth University is introducing a Bachelor of Arts in music degree with a concentration in media scoring this fall.

The program concentration for aspiring film composers has been in development since 2019, when Filipe Leitão, DMA, assistant professor of composition and sound design for cinema, games and motion media, joined the VCU School of the Arts.

Numerous projects require original music to enhance and support their narratives, and the new media scoring concentration includes composition skills that can be applied beyond movies. Media composers have a variety of job opportunities across the industry, including feature films, documentaries, television, advertising, video games, animated films, trailers, corporate videos and other motion media projects. Students who pursue this degree can also pursue careers as arrangers and composer’s assistants.

The program’s courses will offer comprehensive access to the tools and skills necessary for a successful career as a film composer and other roles. This includes in-depth training in music theory, arranging, orchestration, music production, composition and film scoring. Students will demonstrate competence in composing effective music for varied media projects while collaborating with filmmakers and media content producers.

“Film composers should focus on building a strong portfolio, networking within the industry and continually honing their craft,” Leitão said. “In the new program, students will learn essential business skills while developing their professional portfolio.”

Filipe Leitão presented the new media scoring program to prospective music students at the VCUarts Open House, where he also composed an action score in about 10 minutes.

Last year, after seeing strong enrollment and student success in the courses he developed and taught, Leitão — with the support of VCUarts colleagues and Department of Music Chair James Wiznerowicz — proposed the new concentration. Course reviews highlighted their positive impact on students.

“Dr. Leitão gives the students a plethora of resources to expand their skills in film scoring while still allowing them creative freedom,” one student wrote. “He’s particularly focused on how the content will serve the students beyond their time in the classroom during their careers, and touches on the business/client relation side of film scoring in addition to the actual artistry.”

Leitão will continue to collaborate with faculty from across VCUarts, particularly from the departments of Cinema, Photography and Film, and Kinetic Imaging, to create opportunities for his students and theirs.

“While developing this new curriculum, I envisioned the media scoring program offering a comprehensive path to equip students with the skills and knowledge essential for thriving as media composers, including collaborating with visual creative endeavors in the School of the Arts and across the university,” Leitão said. “Through a blend of theoretical understanding and hands-on practice, students immerse themselves in various facets of music production and composition for media.”

Music scoring concentration courses will start with Digital Music Production, in which students learn contemporary techniques using digital audio workstations to create and arrange music. Next, in Orchestration, students explore the intricacies of combining different instruments.

Austin Sellick is a student of Dr. Filipe Leitão at VCU.

Following this, MIDI Orchestration focuses on advanced techniques for creating realistic orchestral mockups using industry-standard virtual instruments. In Dramatic Scoring, students elevate their skills by analyzing the aesthetics behind mood music and learning to combine musical elements such as scale, harmony, instrumentation and more to evoke genre-specific emotions.

The cornerstone of the program, Film and Media Scoring, offers a project-based approach through which students score various media formats, such as movies, animations and advertisements. Finally, Directed Study in Media Scoring lets students further develop their portfolios, collaborating with filmmakers and producers to create music for media projects and receiving feedback to hone their skills and shape their demo reel.

For more information about the degree and to view students’ work, visit Leitão's student project webpage.