VCFA interviewed MFA in Music Composition faculty member Ravi Krishnaswami about his career scoring for everything from Super Bowl ads to best-selling video games for the 2023 edition of the alumnx magazine, in residence. Read our interview with Krishnaswami, as it appeared in the magazine, below.

Note: Since the publication of this article in 2023, VCFA announced an affiliation agreement with California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), the new home of our residencies. Read more about our work with CalArts here.

MFA in Music Composition faculty Ravi Krishnaswami

The Score of a Decade: A Conversation with Ravi Krishnaswami, MFA in Music Composition 

If you’ve ever been to a VCFA Music Composition residency, it’s more than likely you’ve bumped into Faculty Co-Chair Ravi Krishnaswami—whether he was on his way to a rehearsal, a one-on-one meeting with a student, or a master class. As a founding faculty member of the MFA in Music Composition, Ravi Krishnaswami has been mentoring students in scoring for media and songwriting at VCFA for over a decade. 

If you don’t know Krishnaswami from VCFA, you might know him as an award-winning composer, songwriter, and sound designer who has scored everything from Super Bowl ads to top-rated apps to iconic television themes. He has written and recorded three albums with his longtime band, Charming, and is a founding member of the highly acclaimed Smiths tribute band The Sons & Heirs. In his professional portfolio, you can find brand names such as HBO and ESPN, and video games such as Fallout, Dishonored, and Tetris. Alongside his projects are awards from Cannes Lions, the Association of Independent Commercial Producers (AICP), Association of Music Producers (AMP), London International Awards, Hollywood Reporter Key Art Awards, and the Game Marketing Awards.

But like many of the musicians and composers who have come through VCFA, Krishnaswami’s musical journey didn’t start with a chock-full portfolio. It started with passion, and maybe even a bit of hope. As a young person, Krishnaswami didn’t begin his studies in music but in electrical engineering at the University of Virginia (UVA). “I started on an alternate path as a mediocre engineering student,” recalls Krishnaswami. “I always dreamed of being a musician, but at the time, I could only imagine being a rock star. … I was a hobbyist in high school, writing songs for myself on a cassette four-track. … At UVA, I spent my first three semesters as an electrical engineer, thinking my vocation might be making guitar pedals rather than using them. All within my second year, my father died, I was diagnosed with cancer, and I transferred out of engineering. At some point, I had started a band, and amid the chaos of getting a bunch of musicians to move in the same direction and write songs, I realized that I was very comfortable with that particular chaos. I thrived on it. When my medical leave was over, I had a sense of purpose and sense of who I was. I graduated with a music major.”

Upon moving to New York after graduation, he landed a role with the advertising-focused music production studio Sacred Noise. For the next 10 years, Krishnaswami would go on to score national spots for brands such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi, GE, Pfizer, Volvo, and Cadillac before starting his own creative studio, COPILOT, in 2008 with his longtime producer, Jason Menkes. As founding partner, creative director, and lead composer at COPILOT, Krishnaswami’s client list expanded into names such as Visa, Verizon, and the World Wildlife Fund. 

At VCFA, he has brought his years of experience in the industry into his mentorship. “One thing I’ve always tried to do is give students a bit of a feel for what it’s like working in industries such as advertising and games, where feedback is relentless and revisions make or break projects,” explains Krishnaswami on what he brings to his educational philosophy. “That means giving feedback and asking for it to be executed, whether they agree or not. There is always space for students to push back or follow their own muse, but I think my experience in collaborative, high-pressure projects is the most unique and honest thing I can offer students. And related to that perspective, I often ask students to articulate what exactly they wanted the listener to feel or think of. This sounds fairly simple, but for some process-focused artists, it can be really transformational to be asked this question and have to answer it.”

MFA in Music Composition faculty Ravi Krishnaswami teaching at residency These practices have informed and shaped years of Music Composition current students and alumnx. This year alone, Oscar Suh-Rodriguez (MC ’22), Vanessa Littrell (MC ’19), and Steven Sanford (MC ’17) all mentioned Krishnaswami and his influence on their work and process in their Class News submissions for in residence. When asked about the impact Krishnaswami had on their time studying at VCFA, Bradley Turner (MC ’17) and Garrett Steele (MC ’16) jumped at the chance to share a few words about Krishnaswami’s mentorship.

“A majority of the time, in the world of commercial music, the composer receives raw, unfiltered (and highly subjective) criticism from clients. … And the composer, if they want to be successful, has to figure out how to then revise their work to address that feedback,” says Turner. “Working with Ravi got me prepared for so much of the work I do now and got me comfortable with receiving honest feedback without getting defensive. And over time, as Ravi became one of my strongest advocates and supporters, it really meant something to me to know I could believe what he was saying.”

“[Ravi] excels at meeting his pupils where they are and drawing their best work out of them in a way that’s unique to their strengths and perspective,” adds on Steele. “After I graduated, Ravi helped me find an incredible opportunity as a composer—a song that the client still uses to this day. He said: ‘It just feels like your kind of nonsense.’ And he was right, because he knows me, and he knows exactly what my kind of nonsense is.”

In his own study, Krishnaswami is, as of the writing of this article, a PhD candidate at Brown University. “My current research isMFA in Music Composition Ravi Krishnaswami performing in automation and AI in music for media,” says Krishnaswami. “What I want people to know is that these new tools are neither completely beneficial nor completely harmful to professionals.” In addition to investigating the evolving relationship between technology and music, Krishnaswami has a background from his undergraduate days in ethnomusicology, and is currently looking into the roots of rock. “My other interest in South Asian music and its interactions with the West has led me to a specific line of inquiry about the unacknowledged role of Hindustani music in rock,” explains Krishnaswami. “I think previous scholarship has focused on the easily made arguments about exoticism while ignoring the fact that people actually did learn from each other.”

Whether he’s working on his own music or thinking over a composition with a current student, Krishnaswami makes a mark on the MFA in Music Composition year after year. As the college looks toward our first winter residency at the Susquehanna University campus, Krishnaswami’s focus will be, as it always is, on fostering community in the MFA in Music Composition program. 

“The Music Composition program has a really strong sense of community, and I feel that my biggest job is to do whatever I can to protect that as we get repotted into new soil,” concludes Krishnaswami. “There will be new gear, new people, and new musicians. The ensemble process, where students write for resident musicians, leading to a concert during residency, is the most sacred experience for our program. It’s invaluable. So I’ll be extra vigilant to make sure things go smoothly.”

Learn more about Ravi Krishnaswami, his music, and his previous works at

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