Critical Analysis of Music Production Techniques

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Authored by Dan Thompson

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Course Code: OMPRD-525

Next Term Starts January 14

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

Syllabus

Lesson 1: What Makes a Great Record? 

  • Introduction
  • Meet and Greet
  • Production
  • Song
  • Arrangement
  • Vocals
  • Space
  • Sonics
  • Quiz 1.1 Required Reading
  • Mix
  • Ear Training
  • Ear Training Drill 1, Level 1 Review: Pink Noise +24 dB
  • Ear Training Drill 1, Level 2 Review: Pink Noise +6 dB
  • Assignment 1: Commercial Sound Recordings Analysis
  • Recap

Lesson 2: The Song

  • Introduction
  • Song Structure
  • Rhyme Scheme
  • The Story: Language and Lyrics
  • Drama, Arc
  • Quiz 2.1: Required Reading
  • Melody and Hooks
  • Ear Training Drill 2, Level 1 Review: Program Material +12 db
  • Ear Training Drill 2, Level 2 Review: Program Material +6 dB
  • Assignment 2: Song Forms
  • Recap

Lesson 3: Arrangement

  • Introduction
  • Song Structure Revisited
  • Parts/Counterpoint
  • Hooks
  • Quiz 3.1: Required Reading
  • Arc
  • Ear Training Drill 3, Level 1 Review: Pink Noise -24 dB
  • Ear Training Drill 3, Level 2 Review: Pink Noise  -6 dB
  • Assignment 3: Arrangement Options
  • Recap

Lesson 4: Vocals

  • Introduction
  • Great Vocalists
  • Vocal Sound/Timbre
  • Key/Tempo
  • Age/Gravitas
  • Ear Training Drill 4, Level 1 Review: Program Material -12 dB
  • Ear Training Drill 4, Level 2 Review: Program Material -6 dB
  • Assignment 4: Vocal Performance
  • Recap

Lesson 5: Performance

  • Introduction
  • Communication and Interplay
  • Musicianship: Virtuosity vs. Sparsity
  • Quiz 5.1: Required Reading
  • Groove: Timing, Tempo, Pocket
  • Construction vs. Ensemble
  • Ear Training Drill 5, Level 1 Review: Pink Noise +/-12 dB
  • Ear Training Drill 5, Level 2 Review: Pink Noise +/-6 dB
  • Assignment 5: The Performance on the Record

Lesson 6: Space

  • Introduction
  • Sense of Space
  • Invoking an Era and Vibe
  • Natural Recording Spaces vs. Invented Spaces
  • Recording vs. Mix
  • Ear Training Drill 6, Level 1 Review: Program Material +/-12 dB
  • Ear Training Drill 6, Level 2 Review: Program Material +/-6  dB
  • Assignment 6: Hearing the Room
  • Recap

Lesson 7: Sonics

  • Introduction
  • Recording: Individual Instruments
  • Recording: Context
  • Compression/Distortion/Other
  • Ensemble vs. Construction
  • Ear Training Drill 7, Level 1 Review: Program Material +/-12 dB
  • Ear Training Drill 7, Level 2 Review: Program Material +/-6 dB
  • Assignment 7: Sonics Analysis
  • Recap

Lesson 8: Mix

  • Introduction
  • Balance
  • Imaging
  • Sonics/Frequencies/Envelopes
  • Arc, Managing Energy
  • Ear Training Drill 8, Level 1 Review: Pink Noise +/-12 dB x2
  • Ear Training Drill 8, Level 2 Review: Pink Noise +/-6 dB x2
  • Assignment 8: Mix Choices
  • Informal Group Chat Topic Proposal
  • Recap

Lesson 9: Classic Labels/Sounds/Production Teams

  • Introduction
  • 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
  • Ear Training Drill 9, Level 1 Review: Program Material +/-12 dB x2
  • Ear Training Drill 9, Level 2 Review: Program Material +/-6 dB x2
  • Assignment 9: Overall Sound: Label and Production Team
  • Recap

Lesson 10: Under the Hood – Demos to Masters 

  • Introduction
  • The Demo
  • Colin Hay/Men at Work: "Overkill"
  • Beatles: "Come Together"
  • Producer Approach: Ross Hogarth
  • Producer Approach: Larry Klein
  • Ear Training Drill 10, Level 1 Review: A/B Drills
  • Ear Training Drill 10, Level 2 Review: Program Material +/-6 dB x2
  • Final Project Preparation
  • Recap

Lesson 11: Pop Record Deconstruction

  • Introduction
  • Song Choices
  • Dore Straits: "Brothers in Arms"
  • Song
  • Arrangement
  • Performance
  • Space
  • Sonics
  • Mix
  • Billy Joel: "Goodnight Saigon"
  • Ear Training Drill 11, Level 1 Review: A/B Drills
  • Ear Training Drill 11, Level 2 Review: A/B Drills
  • Assignment 11: Final Project: Analysis Project
  • Recap

Lesson 12: Role of the Independent Producer 

  • Introduction
  • 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
  • Ear Training Final Drill
  • Ear Training Final Exam, Level 2: Pink Noise and Program Material  +/-6 dB
  • Recap

Requirements

Required Textbooks

The History of Music Production by Richard James Burgess, Oxford University Press


Software Requirements

  • Any DAW (Pro Tools, Logic, etc.)
  • A subscription to the streaming service TIDAL 

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
  • 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 (http://www.speedtest.net to verify or download the Speedtest by Ookla app from your mobile app store)

Instructors

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Author

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

Questions?

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

We can also answer basic questions in the comments below. Please note that all comments are public.

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