Music composition for film and television has long been considered a notoriously homogenous field, exacerbated by the relative lack of data keeping track of gender and racial inclusion among composers. To address the void, NBCUniversal’s Global Talent Development & Inclusion group partnered with Universal Global Film Music (led by president Mike Knobloch) in 2018 to create the Universal Composers Initiative, a development program for composers from underrepresented backgrounds.
Originally conceived as a one-year program, the initiative quickly expanded to two years in order to give its participants more exposure to opportunities across NBCU (ViacomCBS recently did the same with its Emerging Directors program). All of the alumni from the Universal Composers Initiative’s inaugural 2018-20 class have since become credited production composers, with 75 percent of those projects coming from the NBCU portfolio. Highlights include Jermaine Stegall, who is attached to an upcoming Will Packer Productions movie; George Shaw, who is attached to an upcoming TV series from DreamWorks Animation; and Irish composer Amie Doherty, who scored the 2020 Tracie Ellis Ross-Dakota Johnson movie The High Note and this summer became the first woman to compose a DWA feature with Spirit Untamed.
The eight composers selected for the 2021-23 class (the Initiative will operate one cohort at a time) include five women and hail from around the world, including Costa Rica, Hong Kong and Korea. “We’re incredibly proud of the career momentum this initiative has generated with the support of NBCUniversal’s film and television music teams,” NBCU executive vice president of inclusion – talent and content Janine Jones-Clark said in a statement. “Along with our music partners, we are excited to welcome this talented and versatile group of musical multihyphenates, and we look forward to giving them access and finding production opportunities across NBCUniversal’s portfolio.”
Read more about the 2021-23 Universal Composers Initiative participants below, with links to Spotify playlists of their musical inspirations.
Jina Hyojin An
The Los Angeles-based South Korean violist and composer has worked closely for Oscar-winning composer Mychael Danna on features including The Breadwinner, On the Basis of Sex and Disney Pixar’s Onward. She won Best Original Score at the Nice International Film Festival for Jacqueline Grajales’ short White Ink, and her other composer credits include comedy feature Freelancers Anonymous and the documentary short A Letter for Sang-Ah. An’s honors and achievements include the George Delerue Award (the Berklee College of Music’s highest honor, participation in the 2020 Alliance for Women Film Composers’ mentorship program — through which she was mentored by Harry Gregson-Williams — and her concert music “Bla Bla Land” selected to be part of the Helix Collective and Composers Diversity Collective’s collaborative album. An also was invited to join the team of industry stalwart Audiomachine in 2019, through whom she has a multitude of releases.
The Austin native’s first orchestral piece, “My Heart,” made her the first woman and first Black composer to win the Texas Young Composers Competition. She won again the following year with “Paradise (So This is Love, My Dear).” At 17, she entered the composition program at UT Austin’s Butler School of Music and upon receiving her bachelor’s degree at 20 moved to L.A. to earn a graduate certificate in film scoring from UCLA. Over the past year, Chambers completed scores for the documentary short In Favor of Fetus and documentary feature Mama Gloria. She also has scored for Barking Owl and Found Objects’ advertising campaigns, and her concert work has been programmed and commissioned by ensembles including the London Guild of Horn Players, Reavis High School Choir, and Splinter Tongue Clarinet Quartet. In December 2020, she penned the article “#ScoringSoWhite: Examining Genre Bias and Representation as Composers Compassionately Advocate for Colleagues of Color” for the Society of Composers and Lyricists’ Score magazine and was featured in composer, author and educator Nate Holder’s book Where Are All the Black Female Composers? and on his The Why Music Podcast in February 2021.
The L.A.-based film composer and jazz pianist began studying piano at age seven, receiving classical training and then intense jazz piano training with mentorship from the likes of Ellis Marsalis, Dr. Ron Carter and Victor Goines. He won Outstanding Soloist Awards at New York’s Essentially Ellington Competition and Festival in both 2009 and 2012. After completing a degree in jazz studies from Michigan State, he attended USC to earn a master’s degree in the field while also studying film scoring. In 2017, Pierre released his debut album, Better, and two years later received the Belgian composers association SABAM’s award for Most Original Composition by a Young International Composer at the World Soundtrack Awards in Ghent. In addition to his own scores for Participant Media’s White Coat Rebels and Quibi’s Musicology, Charles currently works with Emmy-winning composer Kris Bowers on such productions as Showtime’s Black Monday, Netflix’s Bridgerton and Hulu’s United States vs. Billie Holiday.
The Hong Kong native’s film music journey began as a young boy watching films with his family. Upon his parents’ wishes, he initially pursued a medical career but continued composing orchestral music as a creative outlet, which led to studying film scoring and composition at Berklee. Since moving to L.A. in 2015, Hui has worked with Hollywood composers including John Debney, Marcelo Zarvos, Tony Morales, Toby Chu, Rob Cairns, Keith Power and Brian Tyler and contributed additional music on nearly 300 TV episodes and more than a dozen movies. He also has scored numerous projects on his own, including the feature Sway and the short Tsuyako. His most recent credits include additional music and/or music arrangements for Hawaii Five-0, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Furious 7.
The L.A.-based composer and pianist has been working with Emmy-nominated composer Blake Neely since 2017 and composes additional music on series such as The CW’s Supergirl, The Flash and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. For a 2019 episode of the latter show, she composed and orchestrated the music for the DC Universe’s first Bollywood-inspired musical. Kulkarni earned a bachelor of science degree in economics with a minor in music from The George Washington University, where she was a Presidential Arts Scholar and received the Barry Manilow Endowed Prize in Music. She then received a master’s degree in music from USC, where she won the Joe and Alice Harnell Scholar Award for Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television. In the past decade, Kulkarni has performed in concert tours across the globe and as a featured pianist at venues including the Shrine Auditorium, Kennedy Center, Smithsonian Museum, Patriot Center, Warner Theatre and Kodak Hall. A voting member of both the Television and Recording academies, her two independent music albums in 2018 and 2020 debuted at No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, on the iTunes World Music Charts.
The Korean-born, Wisconsin-raised composer, now based in L.A., scored Nijla Mu’min’s acclaimed 2018 drama Jinn and also was chosen to write the music for the Sundance Film Festival’s 2018 trailer. Her involvement with Sundance also includes receiving the institute’s grant with the Time Warner Foundation and participating in the Sundance Film Music & Sound Design Lab. Nelson also completed the ASCAP Composers Workshop with Richard Bellis in 2018. She assisted composer Michael Kramer from 2015 to 2017, during which she wrote additional music for Emmy-nominated series Lego Star Wars: The Freemaker Adventures and Lego Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu, and now co-composes with Kramer while also scoring her own projects, such as MTV’s “Save Our Moms” campaign. On Star Wars Day (May 4) this year, Nelson became the first female and BIPOC lead composer on a Star Wars project when Lucasfilm released Biomes and Vehicle Flythroughs on Disney+. Nelson received her BFA in Music Composition and Technology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Master of Fine Arts in Music Composition for the Screen at Columbia College.
Rojas grew up playing in bands and youth orchestras in the Costa Rican town of Heredia before deciding to pursue music professionally at age 15. He graduated summa cum laude from the University of North Texas, where he studied jazz guitar and arranging, then moved to L.A. in 2010 and began working as a freelance assistant and occasional guitarist at the studios of composers such as Klaus Badelt and Hans Zimmer. Rojas eventually began composing additional music under Badelt and later opened his own studio, 506 Music, in Culver City. Rojas has written music for more than 60 features, TV shows and video games, most recently Netflix’s DreamWorks Animation series Kipo and the Age of the Wonderbeasts. He also is the composer for Hulu’s upcoming Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K. series. Other titles featuring some of his music include Room, Money Monster and Downsizing. In addition to film scoring, he has produced and arranged tracks across genres for labels under Sony Music and Universal Music Group. In 2020, he received the ASCAP Foundation Harold Arlen Film & TV Award.
Taylor’s credits include Lionsgate’s Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar (co-composed with Christopher Lennertz), the action crime drama Echo Boomers, Netflix’s Bookmarks and the 2019 drama Colewell, for which she won a 2019 Hollywood Music in Media award. The Lockport, N.Y., native spent most of her formative years in gospel church choirs and school choruses, bands and musicals before attending Cornell, where she was drawn to composition and studied independently with Zachary Wadsworth and Pulitzer winner Steven Stucky. After graduating cum laude in music and psychology, she received a master’s degree in music at NYU, studying film music composition under Mark Suozzo. Taylor was selected for Women in Film’s Women in Composers in Media Concert and chosen as one the BMI Conducting for Composers Fellows and as a fellow for the Sundance Institute Composers Lab. Now based in L.A., she serves on the executive committee for the Composers Diversity Collective and is a member of the Television Academy, Recording Academy, Society of Composers and Lyricists, Alliance of Women Film Composers and Women in Media. Taylor is currently at work on the FX series Pride and the WB Animation series Little Ellen.