Best Schools for Singer Songwriter & Aspiring Producer?

I was so happy to come across this forum - thanks to all of you for generously sharing your insights and helpful suggestions. My son (a rising senior at a private HS) wants to study music in college, but his skill set doesn’t neatly fit for many of the music major programs we’ve researched.

He is an amazing, prodigy-like songwriter, and writes both music and lyrics. He’s written hundreds of songs in the nearly 4 years since he started songwriting, and he is, by all 3rd party accounts, national-caliber in his songwriting talent. His genre is broad and span several categories – alt-rock, pop, underground/experimental music describes it best. It’s very accessible, catchy, appeals to a wide range of listeners and would certainly have broad commercial potential.

He’s not a “virtuoso,” though. He’s an excellent singer (although not operatically or music theater trained), and a good intermediate guitar player. He has taken music (studio band) throughout high school, which plays and performs frequently throughout the year. He also takes private guitar lessons and performs at open mic nights and recitals. He reads music passably, but is not a music theory maven. He is in a band (a duo) and they’ve released a fantastic EP and an album that they wrote, performed, mixed and produced entirely on their own. In his post-sophomore and current post-junior summer he is taking the Berklee Singer-Songwriter camp, where he’s done well.

He would like to do a college music major that allows him to pursue songwriting/ singing/ creative side of music, along with classes in music production. That way he would come out of college with both hard and soft skills, with an eye toward being able to work in the music industry in more than one capacity. With the pandemic and the difficult transition to online learning, he really struggled to allocate his time between academics and his music. He’s a very good (although not stellar) student, takes a college prep curriculum (although no AP’s at his school), gets A’s and B’s in traditional academic subjects, and he scored highly (1300’s-1400’s) on the SAT. We are in the suburbs of a big urban area, where his numbers are not good enough to get into Ivy League or very top tier schools based on traditional academics.

Before I started reading this forum my question to the parents in the know was going to be where can I find a college counselor who knows about music schools? (His school has good college counselors, but their knowledge is pretty much which schools have “good music programs,” but they simply don’t have the detail knowledge to distinguish between the programs offered by each school.)

Since it seems unlikely there is a magic music college counselor who can name the colleges that would be a good fit for my son, I wondered if any of you have kids who were similar, or if, through your own college research, you know of any colleges that you’d recommend we explore.

He is going to apply to Berklee because he loved it there, but that’s likely a crapshoot. We looked at Belmont, but they require you to choose between production and creative side from Day 1. His former music teacher – who went to Berklee – suggested he look into Musician’s Institute in LA, which now offers bachelor’s degrees. His college counselors have suggested NYU, USC, Michigan, and Northwestern (all of which look to be a stretch academically), as well as Middle Tennessee State, Bard, Loyola Marymount (LA), Full Sail, Columbia College Chicago, Northeastern, Occidental, The New School, Syracuse, and American. We are knee deep in researching all of those now.

Thanks for reading this far. If you have any thoughts or suggestions, we’d be very grateful!

Are you in or near NY? There are some great SUNY schools (State University of NY) that are known to be especially good; SUNY Purchase comes to mind.

You may want to check out the SUNY Purchase Studio Composition program. It sounds like a very good fit for your son’s talents and interests and has some impressive alumni. You can PM me if you want. The CCNY, (City College New York) Sonic Arts program is also good, with a balanced creative/technical curriculum.

I know you mentioned LA–UCLA has great music programs. So does NYU! Ultimately, it sounds like your son will succeed wherever he goes. Best of luck!!

I was going to suggest Belmont as D has a friend who will be attending and is quite good in both as well. Surprised they make you decide so early. Is that a formal wall created or do they let you take electives in the other interest? I would check on that as I imagine there’s a cross pollination of talent within the student body that supports one another. I know in many arts / film schools the student film makers cast student actors and develop long term relationships that way. This would fall “under the radar” of official programs but leads to great contacts.

Nashville would be a great place to explore the possibilities.

Columbia College in Chicago is a great program. But if he can get Berklee of course that is where it’s at.

My daughter went to high school here in Chicago with a musical theater track

Talk to them. See if their music teacher can give you some advice
Or their counselors. There are several of these schools across the United States with New York having the one in the movie “Fame”. They know. We had many students at Berklee, Columbia and beyond.

Justin went to school here then to Berlee. Really nice guy. Find a way and reach out. If you were an alum of the high school they would most likely put you in touch. Ask if they could give your number to him. Never hurts.

Also the song writers on Songland, the main ones are hugely known. See how they made it. They might have songwriting camps. Try to find a way to contact them and ask your questions could be through management,_2020)

Now that I am thinking about it the head of the school should be able to help you with suggestions. his name is Jason Patera.

First, it might help to read the Double Degree Dilemma essay closer to the top of this forum. The focus is a little more classical, but it still might be helpful in the way it details the various ways to study music.

Is your son focused on applying to BM programs? Those have 2/3-3/4 classes in music. Just want to mention in passing that some kids who are multi-faceted, may look at BA programs, often at liberal arts colleges, but in that case it would be more like 1/3-1/3 classes in music.

For music production, be aware, as you probably are already, that the terminology varies a lot from program to program with subtle variations. You really have to look at websites very thoroughly to tease out the details. (Music production, studio production, recording technology, many more terms.)

Also be aware that composition programs involve a lot with electronics and studio work. Electroacoustic work, acousmatic work are all in the realm of “classical” new music. TIMARA at Oberlin is an example, UNT is strong in this, many other composition programs have electronic studio work as a component (at liberal arts schools as well). The Sonic Arts and studio composition programs mentioned above are more in this world than songwriting or studio production.

So you are right- there tends to be a divide between creative work with technology, and a focus on studio skills. But a student can pick up both. I would say focus on the creative side and assume that some studio skills will be acquired along the way, unless he wants to really focus on the more vocational, technical skills of production.

But once focusing on creative, there is a difference between songwriting and composition, so he needs to use that difference as a filter as well.

As for schools…Miami Frost is a top choice. I would say the schools mentioned most often on this forum for singer/songwriter would be Frost, Berklee, USC Thornton and sometimes Belmont. But there are lots of schools.

Over the last decade or so I have compiled a list of music production programs and will PM you. Some of them will also have singer/songwriting. Hope it’s helpful.

this is not my area of expertise, but two other colleges come to mind that haven’t been mentioned yet. One is Ithaca and the other is Five Towns College

Take a look at the University of Rochester. They have an audio engineering program with classes in production plus the Eastman School of Music that has courses in composition and music theory. They have a pretty flexible curriculum and your son may be able to craft a major/minor or double major that interests him.

There are countless schools for production, but including songwriting/singing limits it a little, mainly to schools with programs in popular music, many of which also have production (or whatever they choose to call it).

Eastman’s composition is classical.

Two comments for you. Plz note that my D is a classical performer so I am NOT an expert on the contemporary side…but have hung around here too long so I’ve picked up a thing or two.

1.) The split bx classical and contemporary. There may be a few schools who mix (maybe Frost, USC and NYU)…but generally you will find schools lean one way or another. Berklee is contemporary. As @compmom says Eastman will lean classical…and still have wonderful production and/or composition programs…more for classical artists. It’s really about fit for your kid. Northwestern and Michigan (great names and great schools with great music programs) will lean classical (unless someone can correct me on that). So it is important to look beyond “great schools with top music school” to “great schools with the right fit music program”. There are many great music programs.

2.) I haven’t noticed Loyola in New Orleans on the lists above. Again I’m not an expert but have seen other singer/songwriter/contemporary performancers speak highly of it on here…and it seems like they give money (always good to have a financial safety). Probably worth checking out.

@ bridgenail mentioned Michigan. U of Michigan has the P. A. T. programs

Note there is a BFA (multifaceted, with production, composition, multimedia, etc. ), BM (Music and Technology, for classical and jazz performers) and BS (Sound engineering)

It is easy to find schools with technology and production in all its variants. In the next post I can share a long list.

The challenge is to find a place that also has programs for a singer/songwriter, which would seem, from this forum (not my area) to be Miami Frost (M.A.D.E.?), Berklee, Belmont, USC Thornton and probably a whole bunch I don’t know about in terms of songwriting.

Here is a list of production programs not organized very well (I got lazy)

Miami Frost
USC Thornton
Belmont includes contemporary writing/production, production/design, film etc. online only, of course they also have on campus includes internships-very well regarded nationally includes coop excellent conservatory w/music production, affordable excellent conservatory w/studio composition and studio production, just outside NYC, very affordable Clark has production elements and scoring etc. but NO AUDITION- the advantage of a college / university versus conservatory/music school (but you can submit work as an arts supplement)
Oberlin TIMARA and Peabody has a new tech. program, composition geared to new media they also have and audio arts
Carnegie Mellon
Ga Tech, Clemson (audio technology), Drexel, Middle TN, Univ NC Asheville. College of St. Rose

Thank you so much!!

Thank you so much!

Just to help anyone who happens upon this thread later, here are several articles that we found helpful in figuring out where to apply. (Note that McNally-Smith no longer exists.)

Hello, I would love to view this list of schools that you have. I am in a very similar situation to the son described in this post and that would be very helpful in my college search.

The lists posted are very helpful but they include the top schools and it is good to be aware that there are many many other good programs.

Of the schools in those links, Berklee, USC, Thornton, Miami Frost, NYU are frequently mentioned here on CC, as is Belmont. Also on the lists are Cal Arts, U. of Michigan, U. of Colorado Denver, Syracuse.

The different lists that are linked are pretty consistent in their top 10.

Other schools that might be worth looking at are Denver Lamont, Loyola New Orleans, College of St. Rose, New School which also come up on this forum.

But as I wrote before, there are many choices. You can also do a general music major for a BA if you have any other academic interests, or major in something else and do songwriting and singing. Some liberal arts colleges have music departments that allow some personalized approaches to the study of music.

For an example, look at Clark U. and other Colleges that Change Lives on that website.

I am late on this thread. My son is much like the student described. He goes to Belmont and is in the Mike Curb songwriting and music business track. Couple thing about Belmont that I think are important to note. There is one songwriting track under performing arts that is more suitable for students who appreciate classical training and intensive music theory. This was never my son. He plays multiple instruments by ear and took more theory then he wanted in high school.

Second track is which is under Curb school of music business is more for singer songwriter types. Has limited music theory classes and students take music business classes extensively rather then performance based classes. These student can usually play instruments, sing , and produce some coming in.

As far as decision to do producing upfront? In the Curb school, degrees are song writing, music business, and audio engineering. All three tracks have a lot of overlap. But the audio engineering like at some schools is very technical more for people who want to be behind the scenes. For people who want to understand the equipment and technical aspects. But based on classes offered, I don’t think it’s really geared to the singer songwriter type. You can see this difference in schools some programs are more engineering and other are more production. For this reason I suspect most people don’t go from singer songwriter and drift into audio engineering.

Lastly I think COVID has had huge impact on program. Majority of students stayed at hone this year. In person vocal classes whether one on one of group are cancelled. Student showcases are cancelled. I really thought Belmont was good for my son, but during the pandemic is has been the same program. I think we have to look at that for all schools now.

I’m also late to the party, but for anyone still checking this thread whose kid is not a singer-songwriter per se but is interested in music production with opportunities to play an instrument not at conservatory level and create music using DAW, these are the schools my son applied to this year. He is a good guitar player, not a virtuoso, likes making music using Ableton Live but is not at all into EDM. Compmom is right that there are many overlapping terms and many different kinds of programs. A place like Belmont would not be right for my kid, but at the same time, neither would Oberlin or CMU. If you are wondering why Frost is not on the list, while the program is top-notch, the school itself held no appeal for my son.

• Northeastern CAMD (top choice)
• USC Thornton (reach given how competitive the program is)
• Michigan PAT (also a reach and perhaps more emphasis on experimental music than he wants)
• NYU Steinhart
• Drexel (as with NEU, he likes the idea of a co-op program)
• U. of Rochester (probably more hard-core engineering-focused than he wants)
• Connecticut College (tiny program and an outlier but he loved the virtual tour)
• American
• possibly NO Loyola