As a student that studied at Leeds Beckett twice (BSc Honours in Music Technology and MA in music composition for the moving image), I thought that I would share my experience of the MA in Composition for the moving image course at Leeds Beckett University.
There are loads of composing courses available, and this is review for those thinking about enrolling on the course so that you choose the right path for your future career and to make an informed choice in university.
In short, I wouldn’t recommend The MA in composition for the moving image course. I think that the course isn’t worth the fees, and I didn’t gain anything substantial from being on the course.
From my personal experience, if you’re looking to complete an MA in composition for TV or film, other universities provide better courses and have better facilities. I would suggest that you don’t enrol at Leeds Beckett.
While the location, atmosphere, and general student life are great. I felt that the MA in composition for the moving image lack substance and didn’t live up to expectations.
I think that Leeds Beckett (LBU) over-sold on the course, and made promises, such as having opportunities to work on projects for TV and film with award-winning composers that never happened.
LBU also made promises of working with their partner universities, but once the course started, it was clear that there wasn’t a relationship between them.
There are a few main studios that you can hire out to work on projects, but there was a lack of software-based facilities. Other than Logic and the Kontact factory package they had little else to compose with and learn on. While this might be good for other courses, this is not good enough for the composition for the moving image MA.
False promises & course misrepresentation
Leeds Beckett clearly states on their website, talks about this as part of the open days and in their course offering that:
- “You will work on projects with award-winning composers from the film and television industry”.
- Their “links with local and national music, arts and festival organisations will ensure you have plenty of opportunities to sharpen your practical skills”.
- “You could find yourself working alongside student filmmakers from our University’s Northern Film School.”
None of the above happened, and the lecturers for the modules didn’t have links with the Northern Film School, or ability to provide any type of projects with other composers. This, in my opinion, is a clear misrepresentation and very misleading.
All the introductions and doors that we’re opened all came from my efforts. I signed up to the course based on these statements, as gaining practical experience is essential for career progressions and to develop a portfolio.
I’m thoroughly disappointed that the university fabricated information to get me to enrol, and it’s misleading that this is mentioned in their digital, print material and on the open days.
The university does have a few good studios that you can hire out, and you will have a small amount of time in these studios as part of lecture time. The studios are good, they have good acoustic treatment and the live rooms are great.
I believe that if you’re on any of the MA courses, you get priority in hiring out the studios, including possibly at the weekend (although I never did at the weekend so not 100% sure on this). The help desk isn’t open 24 hours, so if you do hire the studios after hours, you’ll need to bring everything you need with you and obviously plan ahead.
I also didn’t receive any orientation for using any of the studios or the equipment, so I found I was just left to figure things out for myself. Now, learning from doing is great, but I think a little bit of time investment from Leeds Beckett should have been considered.
There was one great lecture on mastering with one of the lecturers in the studio, where we covered the basics of mastering and looked at some released records. To be honest, this could and should have been extended beyond one lecture.
The workstations that you have available in the university are:
- Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 interface
- MIDI keyboard
- Minimal Kontakt instruments – which I think are the basic factory ones and sound pathetic.
I found that the limited investment in composing tools a ridiculous and embarrassing decision from the university.
I think that it’s essential that we learn and have access to professional, industry-standard packages. Even purchasing something like the EastWest packages at £20 per month (could even be less for educational centres) would be better than what they had. Also having this in just one-room would be better than nothing.
LBU had no packages like Kontakt Ultimate, Spitfire, 8Dio etc.. in any of the studios or labs. You get Logic, and that’s it.
Now, as a Cubase user, I couldn’t make use of the labs because I couldn’t take things home, and to be quite blunt, I wouldn’t want to use them given the little investment in software because I had better facilities at home.
I found that I ended up doing all my composing from home, as did many other people on the course.
For a university that professes to offer a course that will set you up for a career as a composer, they have invested very little, and have very little to offer. I spent little to no lecture time doing practical work, and most of the time taking notes from powerpoint presentations.
The working environment at The Coach House
I spent pretty much all my time in a building called the coach house, which is an outbuilding at the bottom of the campus.
There are a few studios and rehearsal rooms in the building, but this isn’t open 24 hours like other parts of the university. I worked part-time as well as being on the course, so only having access 7 pm Monday – Friday meant that I couldn’t hire space out to collaborate or get together with other students at the university.
They have a few rooms with Slate installed, but again, they could have done a much better job in their inductions and orientated people correctly.
The lack of this did leave me wondering if any of the lecturers could use the studios themselves.
I had 4 hours of continuous lectures in the same room of this building on one afternoon a week. There were no tables, and the chairs weren’t exactly ergonomic. Balancing a notepad on your lap, and sitting like this made for an unpleasant seating arrangement. I found myself having to put my feet up on another chair and sitting on a coat to make myself a little more comfortable.
In the following sections, I’ll breakdown each of the modules offered and what was covered on the course.
This was the most poorly run and managed module on this course. Lecturers often didn’t turn up, and there was no real direction as to the actual objects from the university. The one “guest” lecture came from the medical department and had no relevancy on my course.
I found that the lack of preparation from the Leeds Beckett extremely frustrating. As part of a justification to issues I raised over this module, one lecturer explained that this has to be included and “bolted on” to fulfil some requirements from the examination boards, which to me summarises the module and investment from LBU.
This module mainly covered two research papers on any topic that you want. It’s good that I could take any subject that I’m interested in that’s not included in the course, and spend time researching this. But, due to the lack of time with lecturers, I felt that I didn’t benefit from their experience or input.
I was left pretty much to my own devices. I would have preferred to have my work, research and ideas regularly reviewed. I would have found that much more inspiring and challenging than just writing a paper to meet the examination boards requirements.
Audio Visual Practice
Audio Visual Practice looked at the sonic design, and it covered how we interpret the meaning of sound. It looked at theories from people like Sonnenschein and Chion. Generally, I found this very interesting.
However, the overall management of this module was poor. You essentially set yourself a project, and have this agreed with the lecturer.
But, from my perspective, I found that grades we’re given bases on the taste of the lecturer and not marked against the course grading system.
There are two to choose from, and being on the composition course, I selected orchestration arrangement and programming.
In this module, I looked at how to compose for things like strings, drums, brass and then a complete composition.
This is the only real compositional element on the course. Now, all the lecture time was all theory-based, and I spent no time sitting at a computer. Which to me is a little weird, to me it would have better and more beneficial to learn in one of the studios or on a workstation.
If Leeds Beckett had correctly invested in their facilities, they could have created a fantastic module. But, instead, we had a two-hour lecture sat on uncomfortable chairs and no tables taking notes to a PowerPoint presentation. What’s worse is the presentation didn’t even show things like expression and dynamic programming in Logic or Cubase.
I think that the course information misrepresents this module because all the practical work is to be done outside of the lectures. In actual fact, I learned more from watching YouTube videos than I did attending the lectures.
Analysis of music for the moving image
This is more of a discussion in the class about some of the things that you’ll need to consider when composing for TV or film. It covers things like emotional narratives and what audiences expect from the music.
I found this quite interesting as it covered things like our internal programming, and how we interpret music/sounds against the film narrative.
This is mostly theory-based, and I think that it would have been good to look at more examples of how composers use music against the picture and dig deeper into their compositional processes.
It covered theories outlined by Tagg and Chandler.
This was the best module on the entire course. I teamed up with other people on the other MA courses to develop a project of our choosing. The other MA courses are:
- MA Sound design
- MA Music production
- MA Sound and music for interactive games
- MA Popular music and culture
I composed the music for a story-based game, which would be suitable for primary school reading development.
I had regular meetings each week with the lecturers to catch up on our progress, and we had regular feedback on our performance.
I was part of a fantastic team and found that you can develop a range of skills. The final deliverables were a presentation of our product as a sales pitch and a product demonstration.
Negotiated Skills Development
This is a great module to have as part of the course. I had to look at the skills I have, and ones that I want to develop for my future career. This module allows you to develop missing skillsets and what you need to develop.
But, there wasn’t any inspiring input from the university. This was all self driven, and to be honest, at the time I didn’t know if what I was working on for my personal development would help me in the future, or if I could utilise the time better.
This is anything that you want it to be and agreed with your tutor. I chose to make the most of a lead that I generated though myself from a student in Leeds.
The film was how film has progressed through time. The film starts in black and white and then moves through to recent times. The challenge for me was composing music in a variety of styles, and also simulated a real-world project.
Now, all the above is based on my own experience. But, I think Leeds Becketts have a long way to go to provide a serious composition for the moving image course. I feel that they need to look at all the modules and write a course that’s in fitting with the real world.
If Leeds Beckett was serious about the composition course, they should revamp it and invest in it.
There were no guest speakers that specifically related to music for TV or film composition at any point on the course. They do, however, offer at an additional cost, a Pro Tools course.
However, if you’re looking for a mainly theory-based course and a piece of paper with MA and your name next to it, then this is the course for you.
Other than the friendships I’ve made, there was one good thing about the course—a lecturer called Robert (Bob) Davis. I would say that his enthusiasm, knowledge and friendliness was the only part of the course that was good.