Critical Analysis of Music Production Techniques


Authored by Mike Denneen


Course Code: OMPRD-525

Accepting applications for the inaugural Sept. 2018 class!

3-Credit, Graduate Level Course

Improving the quality of your own music production projects necessitates strong listening skills. In much the same way that traveling to another country teaches you about yourself, listening to and analyzing other songs across genres opens you to different techniques and perspectives on how to achieve the best results for conveying the vision or emotional intent of a project and connecting with listeners. This course presents a framework and vocabulary for analyzing music that will support your work in the program, in addition to your professional career. Throughout the course, you will dissect music for its use of various production techniques, including arrangement, instrumentation, performance, and mix considerations. The underlying goal of engaging in such analysis is to strengthen your analytical abilities, increase your versatility as a producer, and enhance the overall quality of your work.

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By the end of this course, you will be able to:

  • Evaluate musical, emotional, performance, and arrangement techniques in top-charting music, in addition to music in diverse styles
  • Analyze key vocal production techniques, such as doubling, layering, distressing, tuning, compression, echo, and reverb
  • Perform high-level analysis of production elements used in songs across genres
  • Apply a professional-level framework and vocabulary for analyzing music production techniques
  • Apply findings from analysis to enhance their own music projects
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Overview Syllabus Requirements Instructors Request Info


Lesson 1: Does It “Sound like a Record?”/“I Know It When I Hear It”

  • What Is a Great Record?
  • Focus
  • Balancing Competing Forces
  • Attention
  • Assignment 1: Track Comparison and Analysis

Lesson 2: Understanding What You’re Doing

  • Live Performance vs. “Compositional” Production
  • Why Do We Need Record Producers?
  • Authenticity
  • Follow or Break the Rules
  • The Importance of Limits
  • Assignment 2: Genre Rules

Lesson 3: Art Over Time – The Primacy of Narrative

  • The Importance of Stories
  • Song Structure vs. Elapsed Time
  • Engaging the Listener
  • Follow the Song
  • Assignment 3: Improving a Track

Lesson 4: Balancing Repetition and Variation

  • Song Form
  • Arrangement vs. Orchestration
  • Clarity
  • The Importance of Restraint
  • Assignment 4: Song Form Mapping

Lesson 5: What Is a Hook?

  • Lyrical Hooks
  • Affecting Hooks
  • Cliches vs. Novel Approaches
  • Prosody and Melodic Discipline
  • Sonic Hooks
  • The Importance of the Intro
  • Assignment 5: Identify and Analyze Track Hooks

Lesson 6: The Four Pillars of the Professional Mix

  • Prioritizing the Vocal and the Beat
  • The Role of Each Pillar
  • The Spine
  • Examine the Spine of a Track
  • Everything Else Is Gravy
  • Assignment 6: Analyze the Use and Balance of the Four Pillars in Six Tracks

Lesson 7: Elevating the Chorus

  • What Is a Chorus?
  • Elevate the Chorus via the Song
  • Elevate the Chorus via Production
  • Building Choruses
  • Assignment 7: Describe the Choruses that “Pop”

Lesson 8: Dimensions of Recordings and the Relationship to Narrative

  • Levels/Dynamics
  • Frequency Distribution
  • Width and Panning
  • Ambience/Depth
  • Assignment 8: Analyze Methods and their Effectiveness

Lesson 9: Enhancing Intensity through Technology

  • The Element of Surprise
  • The Paradox of Compression
  • Compression, Distortion and Perceived Intensity
  • Scene Changes, Hard Edits, and Bold Mixing
  • Assignment 9: Extreme Scene Changes

Lesson 10: The March of Technology

  • The Impact of Technology on the “Sound” of an Era
  • Timelessness vs. Trends
  • Authenticity – Is Technology Cheating?
  • Enhancing Performance
  • Assignment 10: Analyze Similarities and Differences or Era-Specific Sounds and Authenticity

Lesson 11: Final Project - Does Your Track Sound like a Record?

  • Analyze the Song
  • Analyze the Arrangement
  • Analyze the Narrative
  • Analyze the Impact
  • Assignment 11: Does Your Track Succeed?

Lesson 12: Examples from My Work 

  • Demo to Master
  • Aimee Mann’s “That’s Just What You Are”
  • The Click Five’s “Just the Girl”
  • Howie Day’s “Life-Sized”
  • Sitting in the Producer Chair: Track Analysis


Required Textbooks

None required

Software Requirements

  • Any DAW (Pro Tools, Logic, etc.)

Mac Users

  • OS X 10.9 Mavericks or higher (click here for system requirements)
  • Latest version of Google Chrome

Windows Users

  • Windows 7 or higher (click here for system requirements)
  • Latest version of Google Chrome

Hardware Requirements 

  • High quality audio interface, with a recommended minimum of eight inputs (Apogee, MOTU, etc.)
  • Selection of diverse microphones (five microphones recommended: two dynamics, one match-pair of condensers, and one ribbon—Shure, Audio Technica, Rode, Neumann, Royer, etc.)
  • MIDI controller (M-Audio, Akai, etc.)
  • Professional pair of speakers (Focal, Dynaudio, etc.)
  • Professional pair of headphones (Sennheiser, AKG, etc.)
  • 50 GB free hard drive space
  • Webcam
  • Internet connection with at least 4 Mbps download speed ( to verify or download the Speedtest by Ookla app from your mobile app store)




Mike Denneen is a Boston-based music producer, mixer and keyboardist, and co-founder of the renowned Q Division Studios and its affiliated record label. He has produced albums for pop/rock bands Fountains of Wayne, the Click Five and Guster, singer/songwriters Howie Day, Patty Larkin and Aimee Mann and many others, including Hall of Fame baseball writer Peter Gammons. His tracks have appeared in such major motion pictures as Magnolia, The Cable Guy, Sky High, Fun with Dick and Jane, and Josie and the Pussycats, and in national television campaigns for LL Bean, Dr. Pepper and the National Football League. A graduate of Yale University, he recently joined the faculty of the Berklee College of Music as Associate Professor of Music Production and Engineering.


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