Creative Music Production Skills
Authored by Stephen Webber
Course Code: OMPRD-475
Producing music on a professional level involves a number of skills: leading a creative team, collaboration, employing appropriate interpersonal communication skills, budgeting, scheduling, time management, using technology in a variety of production and engineering tasks, listening, arranging, and striving for and achieving professional standards of fidelity and musicality. Creative Music Production Skills is a fast-paced, experiential course designed to teach you these skills and take your productions to the next level.
The course begins by exploring the key concepts of listening, conveying emotion, artist identity, vision, and intention. It then introduces the LRA (Listen, Respond, Act) technique, which you will put into action while producing a sound-alike project, an effective cornerstone of Berklees award-winning Music Production and Engineering curriculum. The project involves remaking an important, pivotal or hit recording entirely from scratch, note for notereplicating the sounds, performances, feel, and especially the emotional impact of the original. Through this process, you will learn strategies to achieve professional standards and effectively convey emotion.
During the course, you will be required to assemble personnel for two large-scale production projects: a sound-alike of a hit recording, and a single for an original recording artist. The recording artist can be a singer-songwriter, rapper, or band. Note that you will need to pitch your artist(s) to your instructor, who will be playing the role of a record company A&R representative. It is up to you to ensure that collaborators are available for required sessions-you should make it clear that a significant amount of time may be required.
Authored by Emmy-winning composer, producer, and engineer Stephen Webber, the course presents exclusive interviews with hit-making producers, engineers, songwriters, and artists from the top of the rock, pop, country, bluegrass, hip-hop, R&B, and Latin music charts, such as Gloria Estefan (Grammy-winning artist), Todd Rundgren (legendary artist and producer), Kathy Mattea (Grammy-winning singer), Ricky Skaggs (Grammy-winning artist and producer), Tommy Torres (artist and producer: Juan Luis Guerra, Alicia Keys, and Ruben Blades), Makeba Riddick (songwriter/vocal producer: Rihanna, Beyonce, and Jennifer Lopez), Emilio Estefan (producer: Gloria Estefan, Mark Anthony, and Miami Sound Machine), John Shanks (producer: Van Halen, Bon Jovi, and Melissa Etheridge), Tom Lord-Alge (Grammy-winning mixer: Green Day, Steve Winwood, and U2), Eddie Bayers (session musician: Vince Gill, The Judds, and Reba McEntire), Jeff Rothschild (engineer/mixer: Kelly Clarkson, Take That, and Sheryl Crowe), Gustavo Cellis (Grammy-winning engineer: Shakira, Beyonce, and Ricky Martin), Carlos Paucar (engineer/producer: Enrique Iglesias, Chris Brown, and Jewel), Gary Paczosa (producer/engineer: Alison Krauss, Dolly Parton, and Chris Thile), and Vance Powell (Grammy-winning engineer: Jack White, The White Stripes). Each week, as you set out to accomplish specific production goals, these chart-topping pros reveal how they approach the same issues and craft their own projects into successful recordings that shine with emotional impact.
You will be required to record a session with three musicians playing simultaneously, using headphones. You should own or have access to a recording system with the capacity to record a minimum of four microphones simultaneously to four discrete tracks, eight inputs or more would be preferable.
Your system should be capable of executing a professional-sounding mix. Your monitoring environment should be accurate and meet baseline professional standards.
Suitable programs include Pro Tools, Logic Pro, Digital Performer, Cubase, or other professional level DAWs.
Your recording system must support playback of at least 24 tracks of audio with plug-ins and/or outboard gear that include equalizers, compressors, limiters, de-essers, reverbs, delays, and other effects.
During the course, you must personally accomplish some specified engineering tasks, but it will be permissible to use studio facilities other than your own, and work with an engineer other than yourself. If you plan to use studio facilities other than your own, refer to the production calendar and make scheduling arrangements as soon as possible.
The course provides a crucial foundation for those pursuing studies in music production, songwriting, artist management, or a career as a recording artist.
By the end of this course, you will be able to:
- Recognize the concepts of critical listening, conveying emotion, and artist identity, vision, and intention
- Perform pre-production tasks including casting personnel, budgeting, scheduling, charting, DAW session strategy, and microphone selection
- Edit, rewrite, and employ arranging techniques to enhance emotional impact
- Assess an artist's strengths and weaknesses, and employ strategies to accentuate the positive and minimize the negative
- Lead a creative team in the studio by engendering good session flow and pulling the best performances out of your players
- Demonstrate strategies to clean up tracks, de-ess, utilize parametric EQ and compression while mixing and mastering
Lesson 1: Overview of Projects
- Music Production Analysis: Listening, Conveying Emotion, Artist's Identity, Vision, and Intention
- Putting Concepts into Action: LRA—Listen, Respond, Act
- Selecting a Record for the Sound-Alike
- Execute an Emotional Timeline for the Chosen Recording
Lesson 2: Pre-Production for Sound-Alike
- Pre-Production: Casting Personnel, Budgeting, Scheduling, Charting, and Other Musical Preparations for the Sound-Alike Project
- Engineering Pre-Production: DAW Session Strategy and Prep, Tempo Mapping, Research on Original Engineering, Microphone, and Instrument Selection
- Execute Pre-Production for the Production and Engineering Aspects of the Sound-Alike Project
- Early Pre-Production for the Original Recording Artist Single (ORAS) Project: Identify Possible Artists
Lesson 3: Recording the Sound-Alike
- Session Flow and Leading a Creative Team, Pulling the Best Performances Out of Your Players
- Recording Drums, Bass, Other Instruments, and Vocals, with an Ear towards Capturing a Specific Sound
- Record the Bulk of the Sound-Alike Project, Including Rhythm Tracks, Overdubs, and Vocals
- Rough Mixes of the Week's Work and a Session Report
- Pre-Production for the Recording Artist Single Project: Select Artist
Lesson 4: Editing/Mixing the Sound-Alike
- Utilizing Editing to Make the Most of What You Have
- Employing the Technology at Your Disposal to Accomplish Specific Mixing Goals
- Finish Last-Minute Recording for the Sound-Alike
- Edit and Mix the Sound-Alike
Lesson 5: Seeking Repertoire: Pre-Production for the Original Recording Artist Single Project
- Assessment of Artists' Strengths and Weaknesses, Strategies for Improvement
- Care and Feeding of Your Artist, Developing Your Own Production Style
- Review the Elements of Compelling Material
- Analyze Form, Lyrics, Melody, and any Other Pertinent Aspects of Your Artist's Original Material
- Analyze Artist's Strengths and Potential Challenges
- Record Demos of Three Songs for the Original Recording Artist Single (ORAS) Project
- Emotional Timelines and Lyrics for the Three Songs
Lesson 6: Digging In on the Material and Arrangement
- Accentuating the Positive and Minimizing the Negative to Maximize Emotional Impact
- Strategies for Experimentation and Retaining Objectivity in a Creative Endeavor
- Choose the Best Song for Your ORAS Project
- Strengthen as Appropriate (Form, Lyrics, Melody)
- Pre-Production, Plan Sessions, Cast Personnel, Charts, Scheduling, and Budgeting
Lesson 7: Basic Tracking
- Discovering a Song's Sonic Footprint
- Effective Instrumental Arranging for Recordings
- Running the Creative Basic Tracking Session
- Execute Basic Tracking for ORAS Project
- Edit Rhythm Recorded Tracks
- Post Rough Mixes of Edited Basic Tracks and Session Report
Lesson 8: Vocal and Instrumental Overdubs
- Vocal Session: Effective Strategies
- Adding Instruments: Keeping Perspective
- Vocal Session
- Instrumental Overdubs for Recording Artist Project
Lesson 9: Final Overdubs
- Keeping Perspective, Keeping Inspired
- Background Vocals: Possibilities and Techniques
- Vocal Comps (Making the Vocal Composite Track)
Lesson 10: Editing and Pre-Mixing
- Making It "Sound Like a Record"—Creative Editing and the Big Picture
- Inspiration in the Post Production Phase
- Setting Up the Mix Session
- Review of Nuts and Bolts: EQ, Compression, FX, Level Automation
- Execute All Final Edits
Lesson 11: Mix
- Final Tweaks That Make the Difference
- Focal Point, Vocal Level, Low End Foundation, Making Room in the Middle
- Keeping Perspective and Making Sure Mixes "Travel Well"
- Final Mix
- Checking the Final Mix on at Least Three Different Systems
Lesson 12: Final Analysis/Mastering
- Mastering the Final Mix for Maximum Emotional Impact
- Taking Stock of the Entire Journey
- Pull Out the "Pivotal Moments" in the Process
Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements
Prerequisite Courses, Knowledge, and/or Skills
Completion of Critical Listening 1 , Music Production Analysis, Microphone Techniques, and a DAW course such as Pro Tools 110, Producing Music with Logic, Producing Music with Cubase, Mixing and Mastering with Pro Tools, Art of Mixing, or Ableton Live Fundamentals; or equivalent knowledge and experience is required. You should have intermediate experience with the Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) you plan to use in the course, in addition to experience with microphone selection and use, recording, and mixing.
During the course, you will be required to assemble personnel for two large-scale production projects: a sound-alike of a hit recording, and a single for an original recording artist. The recording artist can be a singer-songwriter, rapper, or band. Note that you will need to pitch your artist to your instructor, who will be playing the role of a record company artist-and-repertoire representative. It is up to you to ensure that collaborators are available for the required sessions schedule.
- No textbooks required
- Students will need to complete the following projects during the course:
- The Soundalike project requires a minimum 3-piece rhythm section, recorded together at the same time. The soundalike needs to be as an exact copy of the original song as possible (same feel, arrangement, key, tempo, sounds, balance etc.) You should find a vocalist first and then see what they can sing, rather than just choosing a song you like to recreate. Research is key to this project. The more you can find out about the original track, the easier it should be to replicate. You will need to submit a demo of your artist singing your soundalike choice in week 2 of the semester.
- For the Original Artist project, you will be recording a new original song (no covers or previously released records), by an artist other than yourself. This can be in any style, as long as it includes vocals, and live instruments. It can have beats/sequencing but it still needs to include a "substantial grouping of live instrumentation" so plan on adding instruments to whatever sequencing and sampling is contained in your beat. You will need to pitch 2-3 artists (with music) in week 2 of the semester.
- You must start looking for artists before you take this class.
- You cannot be the main performer, singer, songwriter, or musician on either of these projects. You can contribute, but you cannot perform the majority of the parts. The idea is for you to get experience working in a creative environment, with creative people. Ideally you will find musicians who are excited by the prospect of recording, committed to the project, and finishing it on time.
- You will need to pitch your artist to your instructor, who will be playing the role of a record company artist and repertoire representative. It is up to you to ensure that collaborators are available for required sessions. You should make it clear that a significant amount of time may be required.
- You must personally accomplish some specified engineering tasks in the course, but it will be permissible to use studio facilities other than your own for some sessions, if you do not own a space suitable for the types of sessions required.
- Full-featured DAW, such as Pro Tools (Studio or Ultimate), Logic Pro, Cubase Pro, Ableton Live (Suite or Standard), Reaper, Reason, or FL Studio (Producer or Signature). Note that GarageBand is not acceptable.
- A multi-channel headphone amplifier or system that can accommodate headphones for at least 3 performers (and a producer/engineer, if they are in the same room), as well as the necessary closed-back headphones, such as Sony MDR-7506 or better
- Audio interface with at least 4 mic preamps
- At least 4 XLR microphones and cables
- Studio monitors (pair), such as JBL 305Ps or better, as well as necessary cables
Important Technical/System Considerations
- At least 3 storage drives for backing up projects
General Course Requirements
Below are the minimum requirements to access the course environment and participate in Live Chats. Please make sure to also check the Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements section above, and ensure your computer meets or exceeds the minimum system requirements for all software needed for your course.
- Latest version of Google Chrome
- Zoom meeting software
- Speakers or headphones
- External or internal microphone
- Broadband Internet connection
Stephen Webber is an Emmy-winning composer and professor of Music Production and Engineering at Berklee College of Music. In three decades as a record producer, engineer, session player, music director, recording artist, DJ, and studio designer, Stephen has recorded with Ivan Neville, Meshell Ndegeocello, the Manhattan Guitar Duo, and the Turtle Island String Quartet, and performed with Bela Fleck, Mark O'Conner, Grandmixer DXT, and Emmylou Harris. A writer for Electronic Musician, Remix, and Mix Magazine, Stephen is also the author of Turntable Technique: The Art of the DJ, the first book to teach the turntable as a musical instrument. Stephen performs and presents clinics and master classes throughout the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Australia, and has been profiled on the Today Show, CNN, and NPR's All Things Considered, and in the New York Times and Rolling Stone magazine.
Matthew Ellard is an Associate Professor in the Music Production and Engineering Department at Berklee College of Music. Over the course of his 25-year career in the music industry as an independent record producer, engineer and mixer based in London, Los Angeles, Boston, he has produced, engineered, and/or mixed well over 250 albums. This includes many world famous and popular artists at world-class studios, where the level of expectation and performance is extremely high. He brings that experience and those standards to Berklee. He has extensive experience with not only guitar driven rock, indie rock, metal, punk, hardcore, and power pop bands, but also with programmed and sequenced, beat based pop, hip hop, remixes and dance music. In addition, he utilizes both “old school” analogue recording and the latest digital recording techniques and formats, bringing a depth of technical and creative knowledge in both the analog and digital realms and a wide breadth of professional music industry experience to the instruction of music production and engineering.
When taken for credit, Creative Music Production Skills can be applied towards these associated programs: