Critical Analysis of Music Production Techniques


Authored by Dan Thompson


Course Code: OMPRD-525

Next semester starts September 23

12 Weeks

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


Are you prepared to enroll in this graduate course?

Take the Record Makers and Collaborative Record-Making self-assessment to check your readiness for this material.

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
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Lesson 1: What Makes a Great Record? 

  • Production
  • Song
  • Arrangement
  • Vocals
  • Space
  • Sonics
  • Assignment 1: Commercial Sound Recordings Analysis

Lesson 2: The Song

  • Song Structure
  • Rhyme Scheme
  • The Story: Language and Lyrics
  • Drama, Arc
  • Melody and Hooks
  • Assignment 2: Song Forms

Lesson 3: Arrangement

  • Song Structure Revisited
  • Parts/Counterpoint
  • Hooks
  • Arc
  • Assignment 3: Arrangement Options

Lesson 4: Vocals

  • Great Vocalists
  • Vocal Sound/Timbre: 1930s-1940s 
  • Vocal Sound/Timbre: 1950s-1960s 
  • Vocal Sound/Timbre: 1970s-1980s 
  • Vocal Sound/Timbre: 1990s-2000s+
  • Key/Tempo
  • Age/Gravitas
  • Assignment 4: Vocal Performance

Lesson 5: Performance

  • Communication and Interplay
  • Musicianship: Virtuosity vs. Sparsity
  • Groove: Timing, Tempo, Pocket
  • Construction vs. Ensemble
  • Assignment 5: The Performance on the Record

Lesson 6: Space

  • Sense of Space
  • Invoking an Era and Vibe
  • Natural Recording Spaces vs. Invented Spaces
  • Recording vs. Mix
  • Assignment 6: Hearing the Room

Lesson 7: Sonics

  • Recording: Individual Instruments
  • Recording: Context
  • Compression/Distortion/Other
  • Ensemble vs. Construction
  • Assignment 7: Sonics Analysis

Lesson 8: Mix

  • Balance
  • Imaging
  • Sonics/Frequencies/Envelopes
  • Arc, Managing Energy
  • Goodies
  • Assignment 8: Mix Choices

Lesson 9: Classic Labels/Sounds/Production Teams

  • Motown
  • Atlantic
  • Gamble & Huff/Sigma Sound (PRI)
  • CTI (Creed Taylor Incorporated)/Van Gelder Studios
  • ECM
  • Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis (Flyte Tyme Records)
  • Antonio "L.A." Reid & Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds (LaFace Records)
  • Max Martin/Dr. Luke/Serban Ghenea
  • Stargate
  • Daptone Records
  • Choosing a Sound/Approach/Identity
  • Assignment 9: Overall Sound: Label and Production Team

Lesson 10: Under the Hood: Demos to Masters 

  • The Demo
  • Colin Hay/Men at Work: "Overkill"
  • Beatles: "Come Together"
  • Producer Approach: Ross Hogarth
  • Producer Approach: Larry Klein
  • Final Project Preparation

Lesson 11: Pop Record Deconstruction

  • Song Choices
  • Dore Straits: "Brothers in Arms"
  • Song
  • Arrangement
  • Performance
  • Space
  • Sonics
  • Mix
  • Billy Joel: "Goodnight Saigon"
  • Assignment 11: Final Project: Analysis Project

Lesson 12: Role of the Independent Producer 

  • The Independent Producer: Where Do I Go from Here?
  • Know Your History
  • Los Angeles
  • NYC
  • Nashville
  • Other Noteworthy Studios
  • Producers, Engineers, Mixers
  • Know Your Community
  • Non-Song-Driven Genres
  • Song or Music as Vehicle/Backdrop
  • Collaboration
  • Your Next Steps


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

Prerequisite Courses, Knowledge, and/or Skills
Completion of Critical Listening 1 or equivalent knowledge and experience is required. In order to be successful in this course, you should have the following background prior to enrolling:

  • Multi-track production experience.
  • Access to basic, high-quality equipment for listening to hi-fidelity music playback (audio interface, monitors, headphones)
  • Experience collaborating on projects as a music producer/engineer
  • Ability to write effectively and clearly when conveying information and ideas


Media and Subscriptions

  • Tidal subscription


  • Full-featured Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), such as Pro Tools (Studio or Ultimate), Logic Pro, Cubase Pro, Ableton Live (Suite or Standard), or Reaper


  • Audio interface
  • Professional-quality studio monitors (pair), such as Dynaudio's or Focal's, as well as necessary cables
  • Professional over-ear studio headphones, such as Sennheiser HD 600, beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO, etc.

Student Deals
After enrolling, be sure to check out our Student Deals page for various offers on software, hardware, and more. Please contact with any questions.

General Course Requirements

Below are the minimum requirements to access the course environment and participate in Live Classes. 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. 

Mac Users

PC Users

All Users

  • Latest version of Google Chrome
  • Zoom meeting software
  • Webcam
  • Speakers or headphones
  • External or internal microphone
  • Broadband Internet connection


Dan Thompson


Daniel M. Thompson is assistant chair of Music Production and Engineering (MP&E) at Berklee College of Music, where he has taught advanced production, recording, and mix techniques, as well as music technology for more than two decades.

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An independent writer/producer and Latin Grammy Award-winning recording engineer, his credits include work on records, feature films, and numerous network and cable television series and movies, including ER, The Sopranos, Melrose Place, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Touched by an Angel, NCIS, and Monk, to name just a few.

Dan has authored articles on music technology for EQ and Electronic Musician, and has been a presenter and clinician on music production topics in the US, Europe, and Central and South America, including at the Panama Jazz Festival.

His book Understanding Audio: Getting the Most Out of Your Project or Professional Recording Studio (Berklee Press/Hal Leonard) is a required textbook for Berklee College of Music's MP&E classes, as well as for numerous other music production and engineering programs throughout the US and abroad. Read Less

Sean Slade


Sean Slade is an associate professor in the Music Production and Engineering (MP&E) Department at Berklee College of Music. After graduating from Yale University in 1978, he moved to Boston, playing guitar and saxophone in various beat combos before co-founding Fort Apache Studios in 1985.

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Slade has produced, engineered, and mixed records for Radiohead, Hole, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Warren Zevon, Lou Reed, Joe Jackson, the Dresden Dolls, and many more artists. When not teaching at Berklee, he can be found recording music at Quarry Recorders, his studio in rural Maine. Read Less

What's Next?

When taken for credit, Critical Analysis of Music Production Techniques can be applied towards the completion of these related programs:

Related Degree Majors


Contact our Academic Advisors by phone at 1-866-BERKLEE (U.S.), 1-617-747-2146 (INT'L), or by email at

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