Video Game Music and Sound Design Schools
Updated: Aug 4
Getting a Degree in Video Game Music or Sound Design
It’s one of the most common questions, and can be the hardest to answer:
“Will a music degree help me get a job in game audio?”
The last few years have seen several colleges and universities offer programs with degrees and minors in video game composition or sound design. Berklee has a new Bachelor of Music in Games and Interactive Scoring degree. DigiPen Institute of Technology created two Bachelor’s Degree programs in sound design and music for games. Traditional music schools such as USC and UCLA have added minors in video game scoring. Other schools offer courses on video game sound design or composing music for video games as part of their music degree programs. So, there are more options than ever for those wishing to study video game music or sound design. [Article disclaimer: I teach part-time at DigiPen]
It's true that game companies don’t necessarily focus on your resume and credentials when hiring. An audio director will be far more influenced by your demo reel than where you went to school. As a composer, it will be all about your music.
But as evidenced by the job postings below, many studios are starting to look for or even expect their applicants to have formally studied, or require the skills and knowledge taught in these programs.
Below are a few recent job postings for game sound designers from a few major game companies:
From a recent Sony PlayStation Job Posting
From a recent Riot Games Job Posting
From a recent Planet Interactive Job Listing
From the Riot Games audio internship
What to look for in a game music or sound degree program
Game music or sound design is an inherently multidisciplinary field. Many sound and music jobs at game companies prefer candidates with at least some training or experience in most of the following disciplines:
Sound Design: Specifically putting sound to visuals, such as short animations
Musical knowledge: you don't necessarily have to be a top-shelf composer, but in order to work with other members of the audio team, a school should ensure students understand terms and foundations of music
Programming or other technical skills. As reported, half or more game audio job openings have some sort of technical skills, typically programming or 'scripting' (a kind of simpler programming) skills, or familiarity with game engines such as Unity or Unreal.
In addition to individual skills, look for a school that has a multi-disciplinary, team-based project or projects are part of their standard course sequence. These 'game project courses' typically involve creating teams of programmers, artists, game designers and composer/sound designers, either at the same school or in partnership with other universities offering game degrees in other disciplines, and often span semesters.
Benefits of a degree in video game music composition or sound design
In addition to the direct benefits (knowledge, experience, mentorship, practice, etc.), going to school to study game music or sound design can offer several advantages when it comes to getting a job:
Many game sound job postings include "Bachelor's degree a plus" Many companies are explicitly stating that a degree in music or a related field is “required” or “a plus” when posting job listings. That’s something that was virtually unheard of just a few years ago.
Companies may count education as a substitute for experience when hiring A few companies state on their job postings that having a formal degree may act as a substitute for experience in the industry when considering your job application.
You will start building your professional network One of the biggest benefits to formally studying may not be directly related to your coursework. You fellow students will themselves have careers in the game industry, laying the foundation of your professional network. As you work with your classmates, you will make relationships and friendships that may last for decades. This is particularly true if your college program includes work in multi-disciplinary game teams as part of its curriculum. In these programs you will be working closely with classmates across the widely differing disciplines in game development: artists, programmers, producers and designers. In an industry where networking is crucial, the ability to start building your career network while in school can be a big plus.
A degree may help put your resume on 'the short list' A hiring manager may receive a stack of perhaps a hundred or more resumes for one sound design job. How do they decide which dozen to pass on to the audio director for follow-up? For better or worse, a degree in music may help you onto the ‘short list.’
Game Music or Sound Design Internships One relatively recent development is the advent of game audio internships. Virtually unheard of only a few years ago, many of the larger game companies are taking interns in their audio departments. More often than not, these require enrollment in a post-secondary program in music, sound design or audio technology. Companies such Microsoft, Valve, Nintendo, Riot, Blizzard have offered game audio internships to qualified college students seeking a degree
Paul Lipson, Sr Executive VP at Formosa Group, and former head of Microsoft Games Central Audio has more than two decades of experience in video game music and sound design and was recently asked to give his thoughts on the value of a college degree (he was speaking specifically about composing):
There is a debate going on about academia and music colleges that saturate the industry with hordes(!) of degree bearing composers. As a graduate yourself, how useful do you think is a degree in music?
I absolutely think a degree(s) are essential, and I personally use my education almost daily and in ways that are totally unexpected or out of the ordinary. I think there are lots of ways to educate ourselves beyond traditional academia, although I believe in it – especially for players and composers.
When I hire people, it is a clear advantage and does speak to their ability to finish things or go through a process to completion vs someone who hasn’t. I remember I was having a particularly doubtful day back in school, and a great professor of mine once reminded me that “this is only a handful of years of your life, why not invest in it now and give it all you’ve got while you can. There is plenty of time to worry when you get out lol!”. I still take that to heart, and that idea helped me excel in college.
I’m not sure there are “hordes” of young composers with degrees, but what I think young graduates need to do is apply their degrees more creatively and find a path to success that isn’t expected or straight ahead. I also think there is a time for going deep into academia, and then a time for going three times as deep into the private sector. School is important, but nowhere near as important as how you apply yourself outside of school. Say hello to school, and then definitely say a big goodbye haha – get out there make an impact for real!
We haven’t discussed the elephant in the room: the rising cost of tuition. As with any major expense, it’s important to weigh costs against benefits, and to try to avoid loading up on too much student debt. That’s a topic beyond the scope of this article (and my expertise!). There are many resources on the financial side of paying for college, one of my favorite is by CBS business analyst and financial author, Jill Schlesinger. I encourage you to study up. The average salary of an entry level job in game audio in 2021 was in the US was $62,235 ($42,500 worldwide), so keep that in mind when doing your financial planning.
If you do decide to take the plunge and formally study game music composition or game sound design, be sure to take full advantage of your school's resources. I can tell you first-hand that as often as not, students don’t avail themselves of all the resources their institution has to offer to help them find employment after graduation.
Video game composition and sound design are an extremely competitive fields, so take advantage of everything your school has to offer, in and out of the classroom.
Where to study to become a video game composer or sound designer
Below is a non-exhaustive list of some of the larger programs that offer specific degrees or minors relating to video game music composition or game sound design. If you don’t see your program here, please contact us and we’ll add you to the list!
Australian National University
Has a degree in Composition for Film & Video Games
Berklee College of Music:
Berklee offers those interested in game music and sound several options. Students in the Berklee’s Bachelor of Music in Game and Interactive Media Scoring program study modern approaches to video game scoring, compositional techniques and creative development. Like the video game industry itself, students will gain real-world experience through collaboration with both Berklee students and partner universities that offer top video game development programs. These collaborations provide professional opportunities, business practices and technological skills as students explore and cultivate career opportunities, self-discipline, musicianship, and storytelling. For students looking to study remotely, Berklee Online offers an undergraduate degree with a focus on music composition & production for games, film and TV.
Bachelor of Music in Game and Interactive Media Scoring (launching Fall 2022)
Specialization (minor) in Video Game Scoring through their Film Scoring Department
Specialization (minor) in Sound Design for Video Games through their Electronic Production and Design Department
Master of Music in Scoring for Film, Television, and Video Games
Online degree in Music Composition for Film, TV, and Game
Champlain offers a Bachelor of Science in Game Sound Design
Champlain Game Sound Design majors learn to work with audio and game engine software to create original sound mixes, sound effects and music. Students work on a game development team every year and hone their sound design skills as well as their soft skills in communication, teamwork and leadership. They also have the opportunity to study abroad in Montreal, an international city known as one of the meccas for game companies. And yes, we have many sound design professionals who teach in our Montreal classes. Champlain College Game Sound Design majors are challenged to create and to thrive, and learn in an environment that very closely replicates the studio work of the game industry.
Clarke offers a Game Audio Track as part of its Bachelor of Arts in Interactive Media
Cnam-Enjmin (France) offers a Masters Degree n Digital and Interactive Games and Media with a specialization in Sound Design
Columbia College, Chicago
Columbia College (Chicago) offers a two-year Music Composition for the Screen (MFA)
The Music Composition for the Screen MFA program at Columbia College Chicago is an intensive, full-time graduate program. At 54 credits over two years it features substantially more in-classroom instruction over a wider range of subjects than other comparable degree programs, including a strong focus on music for games. Standout features include our Composers-in-Residence - professional composers work with our students to rescore their past projects for seven weeks at a time; plus referred LA internships with professional composers, multiple professional recording sessions, and facilitated collaborations with students in Columbia College Chicago’s Interactive and Film/TV programs.
Columbia also offers a Bachelor of Arts in Game Design with a concentration in Sound Design
DigiPen Institute of Technology
DigiPen Institute of Technology offers two 4-year Bachelors degrees in game audio
The Bachelor of Arts in Music and Sound Design focuses on the creative and technical aspects of video game music and sound design, production, and implementation. Students study composition, theory, performance, audio recording, mixing, and technical sound design for video games. Students work on no less than two multi-semester game projects during their studies. The multi-disciplinary game teams include programmers, artists, and designers from the other game degree programs at DigiPen
The Bachelor of Science in Computer Science: Digital Audio is for students who want to become audio programmers for either games or other fields in audio technology. In addition to a rigorous computer science curriculum, students study the science and mathematics of sound, digital signal processing, and audio research.
Film Scoring Academy of Europe
Film Scoring Academy of Europe offers an online Graduate Diploma in Film & Game Scoring and a 1-year MFA in Film Scoring
Johns Hopkins/Peabody had a degree in Music for New Media
Leeds Beckett (UK)
Leeds Beckett offers a Masters of Science in Sound and Music for Interactive Games dedicated solely to video game audio, and allows students to specialize in either interactive music or sound design
New York University (NYU) Steinhardt
Steinhardt's Bachelor of Music in Music Theory and Composition: Concentration in Screen Scoring includes video games
Northeastern offers a Bachelor of Science in Game Design with a concentration in Music Technology
The Game Design and Music combined major with a concentration in Music Technology prepares students to manage all aspects of music and sound design integral to the creative process in Game Design. Students focus on the digital sound technologies, audiovisual integration techniques and collaborative skills, grounded in real-world experience, that are necessary to apply one’s musical imagination effectively in a game design environment. Also emphasized are the aesthetic, expressive, psychological and social perspectives essential to meaningful engagement across a broad range of applications in the game industry.
Pulse College (Ireland) offers a 1-year Master of Arts in Scoring for Film, TV and Interactive Media
San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM):
SFCM provides three options for interested students:
A Bachelor of Music in Technology and Applied Composition
A Professional Studies Diploma in Technology and Applied Composition
A Master of Music in Technology and Applied Composition
San Francisco State
San Francisco State University offers a either a Bachelor of Music or a Bachelor of Arts with a focus on Scoring for Games.
The SF State Composition Studio envisions a world of art without boundaries or borders. We recognize that music—whether intended for a game, the screen, or the concert hall—has the same basis in invention and creativity. We offer a Bachelor's in Music with a focus in Scoring for Games (BA or BM). Our award-winning faculty have years of experience working in the industry and classroom. Join us and develop your creative vision, learn industry-standard tools and work with game design teams on real games. Students also receive additional benefits such as private lessons, portfolio reviews, internship opportunities, and studio access.
Savannah College of Art and Design
SCAD has Bachelors and Masters Degrees in sound design, which include courses in sound design for games
B.F.A. in Sound Design
M.F.A. in Sound Design
Thinkspace Education provides two degree programs
MA Composing for Video Games MA Sound Design for Video Games
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
UCLA offers a Master of Arts: Composition for Visual media which includes video games
University of Southern California (USC)
USC has two programs for those interested in game music or sound design:
Minor in Video Game Audio through their Interactive Media and Games Division.
Masters of Music: Screen Scoring including courses on Advanced Game Scoring and Integration