Popular Music

Bachelor of Music (BM)

The Popular Music Performance program is open to instrumentals, vocalists and songwriters pursuing studies in contemporary pop/rock, folk-rock, R&B/Urban, country, Latin/Salsa and other popular styles with a concentration on small ensemble performance, live performance, studio sessions and film scoring sessions.

Applicants to Popular Music must submit both a Pre-screen audition recording and lyric sheets where appropriate (when submitting original music) for review by the faculty. The results of this pre-screen will determine whether an applicant will be invited to perform a live audition on the USC campus in Los Angeles, and a live audition is REQUIRED for admission to the program. Prescreen recordings must be received by the December 1st deadline. Any application not completed by December 1st may be removed from consideration.

Pre-screen recording information

A video audition is required. This is commonly referred to as a “pre-screen” audition recording. Faculty review of the pre-screen audition will determine which candidates are invited to come to the USC campus for a live audition.

Note: Prescreen recordings will not be accepted via mail or email. Video Recordings must be submitted online through the “Fall DecisionDesk portal” by the December 1st deadline. Any application not complete by December 1 may be removed from consideration.

To access the Fall portal to submit your recording click on the following link:

USC Thornton Fall Portal (Available Sept 1)

The pre-screen video recording should contain performances of three to five selections. Selections may be original songs or chosen from existing popular music repertoire from contemporary pop/rock, folk rock, R&B/Urban, country, Latin/Salsa/Samba, or from the “Great American Songbook” tradition. Songwriters, drummers and wind applicants see below for additional information.

The pre-screen video recording should best demonstrate the applicant’s performance, artistic and creative abilities. Videos do not need to be highly produced and should accurately represent the candidate’s abilities – avoid using studio effects such as AutoTune.

The pre-screen video recording performances may be self-accompanied, accompanied by other musician(s) or by a band (as long as the applicant is prominently featured). Pre-recorded accompaniment is acceptable. A capella vocal performances are discouraged.

The Popular Music program will consider applicants auditioning on most instruments found in the popular music world. Applicants playing instruments considered unusual or playing in musical styles not specifically indicated on this website may contact the USC Thornton Admission office to determine suitability for the program and audition requirements.

  • Songwriters must submit all original materials on the pre-screen recording. Typed lyric sheets should also be included for all original songs.
  • Drummers should also include several bars of a rhythm pattern in each of the following styles: blues shuffle, swing, latin, funk and rock. Drummers may be asked to demonstrate their knowledge of basic rudiments.
  • Saxophone, Trumpet, Trombone and Doubles: should also include several scales covering the range of the instrument at quarter note = 120. Repertoire performed may include classical (concerto repertoire or technical etude) and jazz (performing the head of the tune and two choruses of improvisation).

Optional Supporting Materials: Applicants may submit supporting materials in addition to their pre-screen video recording. These materials may include audio CDs, press materials, additional videos, website examples, etc. Applicants are asked to be selective when choosing such materials. It is not advantageous to overwhelm the faculty committee with optional supporting materials. Any supporting materials should be mailed to the Thornton Admission office. To ensure that your materials are matched with the correct application, please be sure to clearly indicate your name and degree program that you are applying to.

Live audition information

Based on the result of the pre-screen video recording, the faculty will invite a select group of applicants to the USC campus in Los Angeles for a live audition. If invited, it is REQUIRED that you audition live in person (It is not possible to be admitted to this program by recording).

Live auditions are typically 15 minutes long. Applicants should prepare three to five selections for the faculty to choose from. These selections may be the same as submitted on the pre-screen video recording or entirely different selections. The faculty panel may wish to hear selections in their entirety or excerpts. The faculty also reserve the right to modify the audition format at any time to evaluate the potential of each individual candidate.

The following equipment will be provided at the live auditions: microphones, piano, keyboard, audio play-back equipment (CD and iPod inputs), amplifiers for bass and guitar, 5-piece drum kit with crash, ride, and hi-hat cymbals.

Accompanists will not be provided. However, applicants are welcome to accompany themselves, bring accompanying musicians with them to the audition, or bring recorded accompaniment on CD or iPod. A capella vocal auditions are discouraged.

If your instrument is not listed, please contact the USC Thornton Admissions office for audition details.

Bass Guitar:

A drummer from the program may be present to assist with your audition. In addition to the prepared selections, the audition may include: two octave scales in various modes/keys/rhythms, improvisation, and demonstration of various forms and grooves (blues, shuffle, funk, etc.)

Drums:

A bassist and a guitarist from the program may be present to assist with your audition. There will be a 5-piece kit with crash, ride, and hi-hat in the room. Please provide your own sticks. You are welcome to bring your own pedal, snare, etc., but keep in mind that any additional setup will cut into your audition time. In addition to the prepared selections, the audition may include: rudiments, sight reading, and demonstration of grooves in various styles (rock, blues shuffle, funk, disco, pop ballad, etc.) with the bassist and guitarist.

Guitar:

A bassist and a drummer from the program may be present to assist with your audition. Amps will also be provided. Please bring your own instrument cable and tune your instrument prior to entering the room. You are welcome to bring your own pedals, but keep in mind that any additional setup will cut into your audition. In addition to the prepared selections, the audition may also include: sight reading, improvisation, two octave scales in various modes/keys/rhythms, triads, inversions, and demonstration of various chord progressions in a variety of styles (blues, funk, etc.).

Keyboards/Piano:

In addition to the prepared selections, the audition may also include: sight reading, improvisation, two octave scales in various modes/keys/rhythms, and demonstration of various accompaniment styles(blues, funk, etc.).

Saxophone, Trumpet, Trombone, and Doubles:

In addition to the prepared selections, the audition may also include: scales, improvisation, and sight reading. Students may provide their own accompanist and/or back up tracks via CD or iPod if desired.

Singer/Songwriter:

In addition to the prepared selections, students may also be asked to perform a brief songwriting exercise such as setting a lyric to music.

Strings:

In addition to prepared selections, the audition may also include: scales, improvisation, and sight reading. Students may provide their own accompanist and/or back up tracks via CD or iPod if desired.

Voice:

Vocalists (unless accompanying yourself) will need to provide their own accompaniment, whether with CD tracks, iPod, or accompanist. A capella auditions are not recommended. Your audition may also include scales, sight reading, basic theory exercises, etc.


Important note

Applications for spring admission are not accepted for this program.