Taught by the Composition & Songwriting department, the Songwriting degree program is designed to nurture your unique voice and equip you with the necessary tools to craft compelling songs that resonate with an audience. Through contemporary songwriting classes, you’ll develop essential writing skills through comprehensive study of musical styles, lyrics, traditional and popular song forms, and compositional techniques. Concepts are reinforced through private lessons, songwriting assignments and studio recording projects, which contribute to a portfolio of work that showcases your talent and highlights your abilities as a songwriter. This audio resume will help you promote and market yourself to industry professionals.
By combining a solid foundation of music theory, ear training and arranging with an understanding of music business practices, you’ll be prepared to succeed in a variety of career paths as a professional songwriter.
Ready For The Real World
In our Songwriting degree program, you’ll receive a hands-on education in a real world environment that directly mirrors the music industry. You’ll learn to produce professional-quality recordings using the latest music technology. You’ll have access to a deep talent pool of musicians and recording engineers who you’ll collaborate with on real projects. And by gaining an understanding of music publishing, royalties and performing rights organizations such as ASCAP and BMI, you’ll learn how to generate revenue by getting your songs placed in TV shows, films, commercials and other media.
You’ll get a head start on your music career by building your professional network while you’re still in school. With access to guest artists, internships and the thriving Twin Cities music and arts scene, you’ll be connected to the industry before you graduate.
Teaching For Tomorrow ℠
To succeed as a songwriter, you need a well-rounded education that prepares you for the dynamic future of music. That’s why our songwriting classes focus on developing your creativity while giving you the necessary technology skills to adapt and compete in the industry. You’ll also graduate equipped with the entrepreneurial concepts and business savvy you’ll need to reach your goals and establish your career.
If you’re looking for a contemporary songwriting school, our comprehensive program readies you to make and sustain a life in music by blending artistry, technology and entrepreneurship.
Your Career Path
Graduates of the Composition & Songwriting degree program are prepared for a variety of career options, including:
- Composer for media (film, TV, video games)
- Performing artist
- Recording artist
- Music producer
- Musical director
- Arranger, Orchestrator
- Music editor
Looking for a hands-on education with contemporary songwriting classes that enable you to build your professional network before your graduate? Request more information today to see how McNally Smith College of Music can help you discover your life in music.
Studios & Facilities
Our campus features 3 performance venues, 6 technology labs, and 11 recording studios where students learn to record, edit and mix music and audio.
There’s a lot to explore outside of class, including student organizations, free concerts, music ensembles, and the diverse music and art scene of Minneapolis-St. Paul.
Mary Jane Alm has toured internationally, been featured on national network TV and performed on stage for some of America’s largest corporations. Today, she continues a busy gig schedule with both her own band and with a show band called Synergy, which tours the corporate client world. Mary Jane’s first album, Prisoner of the Heart, was recorded in Minneapolis. Two more albums, Blue Earth and Too True, were recorded in Nashville and in various studios in the Twin Cities, including Paisley Park. Her latest album, Me and The Wild Blue, was produced and mixed by Grammy Award winner, Steve Hodge.
- Minnesota State University, Mankato
- General Mills
- Johnson & Johnson
Performed With or Opened For:
- Charlie Daniels
- David Byrne of the Talking Heads
- Jimmy Webb
- Marie Osmond
- Michael Johnson
- The Judds
- Willie Nelson
Worked Locally With:
- The Rupert’s Orchestra
- Women Who Cook
Honors & Awards
- One of only seven women inducted into the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame
- 15 Minnesota Music Awards, including “Best Female Vocalist” and “Artist of the Year” and “Best Country Song”
- Twice inducted into the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame as a solo artist and a member of City Mouse
- Grammy-nominated, Emmy Award winner and Parents’ Choice Award winner for one of her five albums with the Music Workshop for Kids
Brian Casey is an award winning multi-instrumentalist musician, composer, and producer. He is currently a creative director and senior composer at In The Groove Music, a Minneapolis-based commercial and television music house where he has composed for over twelve years writing original music for dozens of national campaigns and brands including ESPN, BMW, Coca-Cola, Enterprise Car Rental, and Health Partners. The recipient of a 2012 ASCAP Film and TV Music award for the theme to Discovery’s Alaska: The Last Frontier, his music has been heard on hundreds of television shows over the past decade. A graduate of the University of St. Thomas where he studied vocal and guitar performance and composition on his way to a BA is Music Business, he has augmented his busy composing career as an adjunct faculty in the music department at St. Thomas prior to arriving at McNally Smith. In addition to his commercial work, Brian has worked on records with artists such as Glorious Monster, Man is Doomed, Blue Blazer, Becky Shaheen, and most recently released his own experimental material under the moniker Brian Casey the Destroyer in 2015.
Daniel Coe has composed music that has had many placements on major networks and cable channels around the world, including Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show, NASCAR - Daytona 500, WWE, Axe Cop, Kroll Show, and The 2014 Winter Olympics. He has composed scores for various films, including Who Shot Mamba? (2009), and documentaries, including Genius On Hold (2013) and Gardeners of Eden (2014), contributed sweetening and production to numerous recording artists, including Aerosmith, Yoko Ono, The New York Dolls, David Johansen, and many others. He frequently collaborates with record producer Jack Douglas (John Lennon, Aerosmith).
He has also orchestrated films and a Golden Globe-winning television drama (Flesh and Bone, Dave Porter), prepared music for films such as Pete’s Dragon, Star Trek Beyond, Dr. Strange and Sully, varied Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailers and video games such as Halo Wars 2 and Star Wars: Battlefront. He also navigated current musical and technological demands of the film and TV industry assisting film composers Marcelo Zarvos (Too Big To Fail, You Don’t Know Jack, Brooklyn’s Finest) Angelo Badalamenti (Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks) and Ted Masur (Bad Milo).
Daniel studied music education at Ithaca College, graduating with honors, and then earned an MM in music composition at the University of Florida.
Hans Erickson has worked as a commercial composer, music producer, band leader, songwriter and audio post engineer for the past 16 years. He has performed nationally and his music has appeared nationally and internationally in commercials, films and television shows. Hans graduated from Berklee College of Music in Music Production and Engineering with a minor in Songwriting. He began his career working for Hest and Kramer music (Minneapolis) where he wrote and produced music for commercial clients such as Target, Best Buy, and Toyota. He went on to front two bands, Hanzsolo and Hanz Erik and the Hims, which toured regionally and garnered heavy college radio play.
In 2007 Hans moved to New York City and continued performing at some of city’s premier singer-songwriter clubs such as The Living Room, The Cake Shop and The Rockwood Music Hall. He also began his own commercial music and audio post company, completing work for multiple networks (ABC, Nickelodeon, The History Channel, CNBC). Upon returning to his native Minneapolis in 2015, Hans continues writing and producing music professionally, as well as working in audio post production.
Department Head, Music Theory
Dr. Jay Fuchs is a prominent music educator and a popular entertainer, music director, singer, piano player, composer, author and bandleader. Dr. Jay holds a Ph.D. and M.A. degree in Music Theory and Composition from the University of Minnesota (studied composition with Pulitzer Prize winning composer Dominick Argento), along with a B.A. degree in Vocal Performance from Minnesota State University in Moorhead, MN.
Jay is very active as an entertainer, performing over 100 gigs each year. He founded and directed the popular Twin Cities’ band Metro Jam. Jay and his dynamic partner Erin Schwab, entertain audiences all over the world. Jay is also a “first call” music director for many productions in the Twin Cities, including major awards shows, theater productions and corporate events.
Dr. Jay is a popular author of music education materials. His series Doctor Jay’s Music Lessons are used at a number of colleges across the country (including McNally Smith College of Music) as well as with individuals learning music on their own.
Jay is a veteran music educator. He began teaching at McNally Smith College of Music in 1991.
Jeff Harrington toured the Midwest with various pop/rock groups before settling down as a staff writer for CBS (Los Angeles), Warner Bros (Nashville), and Wrensong (Nashville/St.Paul). He has written hits for various artists including Petula Clark, Leif Garret, Susan Anton, Heart and many others in the country, pop, and children’s music fields. Harrington's movie and television credits include Follow That Bird (Sesame Street), The Dukes of Hazard, Capitol (Daytime TV), Lonely Lady and Longshot. Alongside Reyn Guyer, he has also produced family entertainment projects and musicals for Reyn Guyer Creative group.
Tim Helisek has composed music and sound effects for TV including Survivor, CBS News, VH1's Behind the Music, The Mentalist, NCIS: Los Angeles and feature films Welcome to Me and Garage Dwellers. He was the orchestrator and copyist for Garry Schyman on the video games BioShock and Destroy All Humans. Tim has worked alongside William Goldstein, arranged for Dionne Warwick and has been music copyist for several of John Rodby’s modern classical works. When he is not working with music for media, he is writing music that pushes the boundaries of 21st-century orchestral music through algorithmic composition and microtonality.
Through his label, Helisek Music Publishing, Tim has released three solo piano albums containing classical works including Beethoven, Chopin, Philip Glass and John Cage. Another two albums include original compositions of avant-garde electronic music in the 21st-century classical style. He has also released over 250 ringtones and 40 children’s music albums.
In 2008, Tim graduated with a Bachelor of Music Degree in Commercial and Media Writing from California State University Northridge. He obtained an Associate of Applied Science degree in Guitar Performance from McNally Smith College of Music in 2004. Tim has been teaching since 1999 and is the author of a book for educational guitar, ‘Reading Studies for the Beginning Guitarist.’
Mark Henderson is a graduate of North Texas State University where he performed with the famous 1:00 Lab Band, which toured the U.S.S.R. on a State Department tour in 1976.
Since 1978, Mark has been a musician in the Twin Cities, working as a freelancer and as the resident woodwind player at the Chanhassen Dinner Theaters from 1988 to 1993. He performs regularly at the Guthrie and Children’s Theaters and is an affiliate member of the Minnesota Orchestra. He was also an original member of the Jazz MN Big Band.
Mark completed a Masters Degree in Saxophone Performance at the University of Minnesota in 1995, and was a member of the University’s Faculty Jazz Quintet. He taught privately at MacPhail Center from 1980 to 1989 and has worked as a jazz clinician for festivals from Alaska to Germany.
Since 1996, Mark has been composing music and sound design, as well as engineering for television and radio commercials. In 2003, Mark and his wife Mary started a new company, Dirty Dog Productions, which is producing ad music, as well as corporate video and DVD’s for small business clients in addition to many orchestrations and arranging endeavors. In 2006, Mark arranged all the live orchestrations for the Robert Robinson Christmas Tour, featuring a 12-person orchestra and a 100-member choir.
“Blair eschews typical hip-hop self-aggrandizement in favor of an honest, plain-spoken rapping style that owes more to contemporary literature and a healthy regimen of NPR than it does to the posturing of his musical forebears.” – City Pages
Before choosing the stage name Eric Blair, it's no surprise that Twin Cities-based emcee and fiction writer Joe Horton turned to one of his favorite writers for inspiration. Eric Blair is the given name of the author better known to the world as George Orwell. Horton's lyrics reflect the explorative tone of Orwell's work, following an often shaded and winding path through the trappings of social, emotional and intellectual conformity.
Early in his career, Horton wrote and performed spoken-word pieces at coffee shops in his native Milwaukee. While studying Psychology at the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire, Horton began transitioning to songs, longer poems and short stories.
After moving to Minneapolis/St. Paul, Horton began seriously writing prose and enrolled in the MFA program at Hamline University. He is currently working on an experimental novella entitled "Gods of Mischief." Horton is also currently working with the Loft Literary Center as a Youth Mentor.
Horton is best known as the emcee for alternative hip-hop trio No Bird Sing, whose debut LP (self-titled) received local and national attention for its unique approach to the genre.
Horton has performed with acts such as Saul Williams, P.O.S., Peter Wolf Crier, Heiruspecs, Derrick Brown, Kill the Vultures and Lookbook.
Discography: Careless Talk (2008, Hyder Ali), No Bird Sing (2009, No Bird Sing)
John Krogh is an award-winning composer (ASCAP), engineer, producer, sound designer, and multi-instrumentalist who writes music and provides audio production services for advertising, TV, film and new-media clients. John has produced music for national and international brands such as Fox Sports, Microsoft, Verizon, Ubisoft, and Adidas, and has garnered two Telly Awards for his original compositions. With over 300 music placements to his credit, Krogh’s music can be heard on programs from such networks as The History Channel, MSNBC, Tru TV, Bravo and National Geographic.
John Krogh is also a published author and music technology authority, having written hundreds of artist interviews, feature articles, and product reviews for Keyboard and EQ magazines. During his tenure with these publications, John served as Technical Editor, and later held the position of Editor-at-Large (Keyboard). He has been cited in numerous industry periodicals and books, including The Guide To MIDI Orchestration (Gilreath). He remains an active contributor to the music technology publishing world.
In addition to his studio work and music publishing experience, John Krogh has toured the globe as a music programmer and playback engineer for live concerts and television performances with such artists as The Eagles, Don Henley, Whitney Houston, Jennifer Lopez, Christina Aguilera, Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, Leona Lewis and Jennifer Hudson, to name a few. Notable performances include the 2006 Winter Olympics, Good Morning America, Ellen, Jimmy Kimmel Live, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and The David Letterman Show.
Department Head, Composition & Songwriting
Sean McMahon has worked in various roles on film scores for major motion pictures including Spider-Man 3 and Dreamgirls, and most recently composed the score for The Grudge 3. Originally from Toronto, Sean lived and worked in Los Angeles for six years prior to joining the McNally Smith faculty. While in Los Angeles, much of his work on film scores was under the direction of prominent Hollywood composer Christopher Young, whom McMahon first met while completing post-graduate work in Film Music at the University of Southern California.
In addition to Spider-Man 3, McMahon’s work for Christopher Young included orchestrations for the film Ghost Rider (on which he can also be heard playing guitar) and the DreamWorks picture The Uninvited, score coordination for Beauty Shop, and much more. He also worked with successful film composer John Ottman, orchestrating films including Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer and The Invasion.
Gary has been writing music for a wide variety of applications since his early teens. Recording credits include LOST IN THE SHUFFLE performed by Helen Reddy on the European release of her greatest hits compilation, and EVERYONE, recorded by Nick Lowe on his Columbia Records release THE ROSE OF ENGLAND (the song found its way to Nick via pop idol Elvis Costello, a fan of Rue's band, RUE NOUVEAU).
Mr. Rue has over 70 theater musicals to his credit, among these, PAINTING IT RED by Steven Dietz (author of the Pulitzer Prize nominee LAST OF THE BOYS), which enjoyed wide exposure nationally, including a very successful 6 week run at BERKELEY REPERTORY THEATER’s Second Stage in Berkeley, California. Gary is also composer-in-residence at SteppingStone Theatre of St Paul. One of these commission, THE STINKY CHEESE MAN recently completed a national tour (including a series of performances in Shanghai, China) with the Dallas Children’s Theatre.
Gary had also served since 1986 as conductor and arranger in North America for ‘60’s pop star Gene Pitney (“The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”, “Town Without Pity”) and his 15 piece orchestra until Mr. Pitney’s death in 2006.
David Singley is a professional guitarist who has shared the stage with such jazz luminaries as Bob Brookmeyer, George Shearing, James Moody, Bob Mintzer, Phil Woods, Ernestine Anderson, Paquito d'Rivera, Bob Florence, Tal Farlow, and Buddy DeFranco. His work as a professional guitarist has also taken him across North America appearing with Perry Como, Debbie Gibson, Gene Pitney, Mary Wells, Debbie Reynolds, Shari Lewis & Lambchop, and many others. He has worked in the orchestra pit of many a touring Broadway musical including, most notably, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat starring Donny Osmond, The Lion King, Chicago, and Sweet Charity. He has also performed with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, the Minnesota Orchestra, the Minnesota Opera, and has appeared on National Public Radio's A Prairie Home Companion. His playing has graced countless commercial jingles, and he has appeared on over a dozen jazz recordings produced in the Twin Cities, including his debut recording as a leader, How My Heart Sings. David is also a published composer and arranger with pieces for Jazz Ensemble available in the catalogs of the Neil A. Kjos Music Co., Increase Music, and reallygoodmusic.com.
David Singley also holds the position of Lecturer of Music at Carleton College in Northfield, MN where he teaches Jazz Guitar and Jazz Improvisation and also directs the Jazz Ensemble and Jazz Combos. When he’s not making music, David is also an avid long-distance runner.
Arranging Courses Program Director
Israeli-born composer, arranger and pianist Adi Yeshaya is internationally renowned for his arranging and orchestration work. His recording credentials include some of the world’s top artists, such as Aretha Franklin, Lena Horne, Burt Bacharach and Roberta Flack. He has also arranged music for live performances by Whitney Houston, Donny Osmond, Michael Bolton, Jack McDuff, Doc Severinsen, The Minnesota Orchestra and The Milwaukee Symphony. In the Twin Cities music scene, Yeshaya is active as a jazz pianist and arranger and has produced many recording projects, including releases by Debbie Duncan, Bruce Henry, Prudence Johnson, Irv Williams, Beth Yeshaya, Cookie Coleman, Lifescapes, as well as the Adi Yeshaya Big Band.
Yeshaya has a special passion for music education. His 20 years experience in teaching include four years as an associate professor of contemporary writing and production at Berklee College of Music in Boston, three years of instruction at The University Of Minnesota School Of Music and thirteen years at McNally Smith.
Students explore the art and craft of songwriting in the tradition of contemporary American popular music, with an emphasis placed on compositional techniques and songwriting fundamentals including form, lyric writing, melody, harmony and chord progressions.
Students explore principles of song arrangement. Form, voice-leading, traditional and computer notation, chord symbols, and melodic development are all addressed. Students write arrangements for small ensembles consisting of rhythm section instruments and one or two horns or vocalists.
Sound Capture and Production
Students learn the basic processes of recording, producing and mixing music using a computer-based recording system. Special emphasis is placed on audio signal flow and digital audio recording techniques. Topics covered include microphones, signal chains, multi-track recording, digital editing, signal processing, sampling and mixing.
$12,870 per semester for full-time attendance (13-17 credits)
- Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree: 60 credits
- Diploma: 45 credits
$990 per credit for part-time attendance More info »
On average, more than $1 million in College-funded aid is awarded annually in the form of merit-based scholarships and need-based grants. More than 85% of our students receive financial assistance to help cover their educational costs.
Click here to learn about the many resources available to help pay for college.
McNally Smith College of Music is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM). More info »