Online Master's Degree Course

Professional Film Scoring Skills 1: Collaboration and Communication

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Authored by Jeanine Cowen, Alison Plante


Course Code: OCOMP-577

Next semester starts January 8, 2024

Level 5 - Degree Only

Level 5

This course focuses on maximizing the composer’s relationship with a director or producer. We’ll explore different collaboration and communication styles, as well as how to manage the process of a collaboration from being hired through the final delivery. You will work with student filmmakers to gain experience collaborating directly with a client and managing a working relationship. Business skills for film composers are also covered, focusing on contracts and rights, and working within a budget.

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By the end of the course, you will be able to:

  • Present a director with suitable demos
  • Revise and rewrite themes for a director
  • Present cues to a director and receive and interpret feedback in a positive spirit
  • Anticipate the steps of being hired to score a studio picture
  • Develop strategies for how to aesthetically and stylistically approach a film
  • Negotiate fees and contracts
  • Interview and take a meeting successfully
  • Navigate power struggles between producers and directors
  • Make effective use of a budget for a package deal
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Overview Syllabus Requirements Instructors Request Info


Lesson 1: Seeking Work

  • The unique value of music
  • Seeking work
  • Understanding what a filmmaker is looking for
  • Curating and presenting demos that get attention
  • Assignment 1: Create a Demo Streaming Playlist

Lesson 2: Demoing for a Gig

  • Communicating with a potential client
  • Working to a script
  • Generating a score concept
  • Assignment 2: Create a Demo Piece to Respond to a Given Script

Lesson 3: Developing Your Business  Mindset

  • What is a business mindset?
  • What is the value of my music?
  • Business types/structures
  • Developing an Entrepreneurial Mindset
  • Assignment 3: Research and develop a film composer business case study

Lesson 4: You’re Hired! What’s Next?

  • Working with temp tracks and references
  • Working with a workprint
  • Managing meetings with the filmmaker
  • More than a handshake: how to put a frame around the work with a deal memo
  • Assignment 4: Complete a Deal Memo

Lesson 5: Starting the Collaboration

  • Writing to your resources
  • Themes and textures
  • The first delivery
  • Contracts: part 1
  • Assignment 5: Produce an Initial Set of Thematic or Textural Concepts

Lesson 6: From Spotting to Scoring

  • Spotting: a dramatist’s approach 
  • Spotting: roles and process
  • Starting to organize and keep track of your score
  • With so many people in the room, who do I work for?
  • Assignment 6: Submit a set of spotting notes and cue matrix for your short film

Lesson 7: The Complete Sound and Music Canvas

  • Sound collaboration
  • Working with dialogue
  • Working with SFX
  • Source music & songs
  • Assignment 7: Score a scene from your film

Lesson 8: Finalizing Cues

  • Responding to critiques
  • Conforming cues
  • Budgeting for package deals: live, in-the-box, or hybrid
  • Session planning
  • Assignment 8: Budget for a full-day recording session

Lesson 9: The Scoring Session

  • Session best practices
  • Rough mixes
  • Contracts: part 2
  • Musician paperwork: union/non-union 
  • Assignment 9: Do the paperwork for the session in the week 7 assignment

Lesson 10: Other Professionals on the Music Team

  • Orchestrators and copyists
  • Music editors and music supervisors
  • Attorneys, agents & publicists
  • Networking
  • Assignment 10: Research three or more networking events

Lesson 11: Final Steps

  • Stems and delivering to spec
  • The dub stage
  • Revenue Streams: Performing Rights Organizations (PROs) and Royalties
  • Cue sheets
  • Lesson 11: Final submission of score

Lesson 12: Wrapping Up

  • Taking stock of your self-care
  • Archives/backup
  • Billing & taxes
  • Maintaining and leveraging connections
  • Final Discussion: next steps


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

Prerequisite Courses, Knowledge, and/or Skills
Must be admitted to the MM in Film Scoring degree program. Specific prerequisite skills for this course include:

  • Ability to connect with a film director’s vision and speak fluently in the language of film.
  • Readiness to take creative direction.
  • Openness to collaborate on interdisciplinary projects.
  • Critical thinking skills in approaching contracts and other business proposals.
  • Ability to score a complete media work using a home studio setup.
  • Foundational understanding of copyright concepts.

Students are expected to source a short student or independent film to score for the class project. Anyone unable to find a project on this term's timeline may use a film provided by the instructor, who will also pair up students in this situation within the class to serve the role of director or composer on each other’s projects.


  • No textbooks required


  • Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), one of the following:
    • Cubase Pro (recommended option)
    • Logic Pro (recommended option)
    • Reaper
    • Digital Performer (limited support)
    • Pro Tools 2018.12 or higher (First, Intro, and Artist editions are not sufficient)
      • Note: While Pro Tools is required in certain Film Scoring Master's courses and can serve as your single primary DAW for the program, we recommend using Cubase or Logic for sequencing.
  • Notation software, one of the following:
    • Dorico Pro
    • Sibelius Ultimate
    • Finale (full version)
  •  High-quality algorithmic reverb, such as:
    • LiquidSonics Cinematic Rooms
    • iZotope Exponential Audio R4, Symphony, or Stratus
    • ValhallaDSP Room
    • Lexicon Native PCM Reverb Bundle
    • Note: Altiverb (industry-standard convolution reverb) can be used in lieu of an algorithmic reverb. 
  • Orchestral sample libraries (click here for list of approved options)
    • Note: Orchestral Tools' Berlin Orchestra Created with Berklee is strongly recommended.


  • MIDI keyboard controller with at least 49 keys, mod wheel, and additional MIDI CC knobs/faders, such as Novation Launchkey 49
  • Audio interface
  • One of the following studio monitoring options suitable for mixing (both recommended):
    • Studio monitors (pair), such as JBL 305Ps or better, as well as necessary cables. Monitors with 8-inch woofers are recommended, such as JBL 308Ps or better.
    • Professional over-ear studio headphones, such as Sennheiser HD 600, beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO, etc.

Important Technical/System Considerations

  • Your computer must be powerful enough to run large film scoring sessions smoothly. You should consider:
    • At least 32 GB memory. 64 GB or more recommended.
    • Recent Apple M-series Pro (e.g. M2 Pro), Intel Core i7, AMD Ryzen 7, or better processor.
      • Note: The entry-level M-series Apple Silicon (e.g. just M1 or M2) is not sufficient, but we highly recommended a Mac equipped with an M-series Max or Ultra chip for this program.
    • NVME M.2 SSD primary internal drive (or Apple Silicon)
  • We recommend storing sample library content in a secondary internal or external SSD with 1 GB/s or higher read rates. Alternatively, you may opt for a Gigabit network solution, such as Vienna Ensemble Pro and secondary computer.

Student Deals
After enrolling, be sure to check out our Student Deals page for various offers on software, hardware, and more. Please contact with any questions.

General Course Requirements

Below are the minimum requirements to access the course environment and participate in Live Chats. Please make sure to also check the Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements section above, and ensure your computer meets or exceeds the minimum system requirements for all software needed for your course. 

Mac Users

PC Users

All Users

  • Latest version of Google Chrome
  • Zoom meeting software
  • Webcam
  • Speakers or headphones
  • External or internal microphone
  • Broadband Internet connection


Jeanine Cowen


Jeanine Cowen Professor of Film Scoring at Berklee College of Music, is a frequent lecturer on the topic of music technology and new media industries. She is an active composer, music producer, and technologist, working primarily with sound and music for visual media. Jeanine studied at Northwestern University as a classical percussionist and graduated with a dual degree from Berklee College of Music, in film scoring and music production and engineering. Her graduate coursework focused on interactive design and game development at Savannah College of Art and Design. Jeanine has worked on development teams at the Education Development Center, Inc., Turning Point Software, and Turbine Entertainment. Her compositions can be heard in a wide variety of art and media, in works that include the documentary The Life and Times of Frida Kahlo, the critically acclaimed off-Broadway play Rapt, and Midway Games’ MMORPG Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar. Her work as a percussionist can be heard on fellow Berklee composer and music technologist Stephen Webber's Stylus Symphony. Jeanine served as an active advisor to the Alliance for Women Film Composers during its founding.

Alison Plante

Author & Instructor

When Alison Plante was appointed Chair of the Film Scoring Department at Berklee College of Music she became the first female chair of a collegiate film scoring department, before moving on to head up the online program. Her scoring credits range from documentaries for PBS and the History Channel to national television ads, independent films, live action and animated shorts, theater, and multimedia museum installations for the Smithsonian Institution and the Harvard Museum of Natural History. She is also the founder of her scoring business, Treble Cove Music.

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Plante’s composition honors include the Janet Gates Peckham International Award for Excellence in the Arts and the Olga and Paul Menn Foundation Prize. 

A native of Concord, Massachusetts, Plante studied at the University of Chicago and the University of Cambridge. She also plays keyboard and wind instruments; performed for three years in a gamelan, a traditional ensemble of Indonesia; and has conducted for both orchestra and choir. Read Less


Contact our Academic Advisors by phone at 1-866-BERKLEE (U.S.), 1-617-747-2146 (INT'L), or by email at

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