University Deep Dive: NYU Steinhardt Songwriting

Located in the heart of Greenwich Village in New York City, New York University takes advantage of the art, culture, and history that surrounds it and offers it back. Because of its prolific arts programs, NYU attracts the most talented creative people in the world. One program that NYU offers, adorned with award-winning faculty and renowned alumni, is its Songwriting Program in the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development

I had the great opportunity to speak with Director of the Songwriting Program, Music Associate Professor, and Faculty Songwriter-in-Residence, Phil Galdston. Mr. Galdston is a world-famous songwriter/producer who has worked with everyone from Celine Dion to Chicago to Beyonce, and whose incomparable talents have landed his songs on almost every major Billboard chart. He was nominated for a Grammy as Song of the Year in 1993 for “Save the Best for Last,” sung by Vanessa Williams.

When I asked him about Steinhardt’s stance on collaboration, he told me that he often tells his students, “if the only thing you learn after you immerse yourself in rigorous collaboration is that you don’t like to collaborate, you’ve still been exposed to its benefits. You’ve seen how other creators think and what they think of your ideas and process. And you’ve gained the most important intangible for a creator: perspective.” 

“If the only thing you learn after you immerse yourself in rigorous collaboration is that you don’t like to collaborate, you’ve still been exposed to its benefits. You’ve seen how other creators think and what they think of your ideas and process. And you’ve gained the most important intangible for a creator: perspective.” 

Phil Galdston

As with any creative discipline, NYU Songwriting requires students to collaborate, both within the program and throughout the Steinhardt school. Songwriting students will collaborate with performers and singers from NYU Steinhardt’s Vocal Performance program, students in the Music Technology, Jazz Studies, and Instrumental Performance programs.  

In addition to being collaborative, Mr. Galdston says NYU Songwriting’s students have shown themselves to be talented, curious, disciplined, and fearless. Talented in their ability to create music meaningful to themselves, curious to learn more about music and songwriting, disciplined in their ability to do the necessary hard work, and fearless both in their self-expression and rights to their work. 

Capitalizing on these qualities of Songwriting students, in this truly holistic bachelor of music program, students not only use their talents in one-on-one private lessons with acclaimed faculty and in workshops, but students also learn about the business structure of the music industry. As Mr. Galdston says, “We’re helping our students to see their interaction with and pursuit of business success through the all-important prism of ‘rights for the rights-holder.’ We encourage our students to understand ‘both sides of the desk’ and to understand that, whatever the traditions of the music business, every successful recording depends on a strong song/composition. And that song is owned by its creator, until and unless they decide to delegate the rights to another entity.” This advice extends to all forms of musical work including film scoring, recording technology, and studio production, which are also part of the Songwriting curriculum. 

Photo taken from NYU’s Twitter

Of course, being located in New York City, NYU Songwriting uses what the city has to offer as part of its curriculum as well. Combining New York City’s internationally unmatched musical theater scene, dance scene, roc, hip-hop, jazz, and pop scenes with NYU’s classroom, faculty, and students, Songwriting students are consistently at the edge of historical, current, and upcoming music. As such, students will also have their works performed in concerts and residencies, and by the NYU Orchestra and NYU Percussion Ensemble. Students will work one-on-one with world renowned composers and performers and attend concerts during the New York City concert season. 

Given all the collaboration and outside-the-classroom experience NYU Songwriting offers, the primary goal the program teaches its students, as written in its Goals and Focus manifesto, is “to help our students develop their own voice, thereby becoming the best songwriters they can be — in ways they define.” At NYU Songwriting, it’s focus is not learn how to write the next big hit; rather, what’s most important is to equip its students with the tools necessary for them to communicate to the world, through their music, their deepest truths. 

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Video taken from NYU Steinhardt’s YouTube Channel

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