Critical Analysis of Music Production Techniques


Authored by Dan Thompson


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


Lesson 1: What Makes a Great Record? 

  • Introduction
  • Meet and Greet
  • The Song
  • The Arrangement
  • Vocals
  • Performance
  • Sonics
  • Mix
  • Benchmarks of Success
  • Assignment 1: Commercial Sound Recordings Analysis
  • Recap

Lesson 2: The Song

  • Introduction
  • Story - Language/Lyrics
  • Interesting Rhyme Schemes
  • Interesting Point of View
  • Tension/Release
  • Melody/Hooks
  • Discussion: Song Form
  • Assignment 2: Song Forms
  • Recap

Lesson 3: Arrangement

  • Structure
  • Parts, Counterpoint
  • Hooks
  • Arc
  • Discussion: Melodic Hooks
  • Assignment 3: Arrangement Options
  • Recap

Lesson 4: Vocals

  • Introduction
  • Great Vocalists
  • Vocal Sound
  • Delivery
  • Age
  • Discussion: Vocal Quality
  • Assignment 4: Vocal Performance
  • Recap

Lesson 5: Performance

  • Introduction
  • Communication and Interplay
  • Musicianship, Virtuosity vs. Sparsity
  • Timing, Groove, Tempo, Pocket
  • Construction vs. Ensemble
  • Discussion: Synthetic and Natural Music
  • Assignment 5: In the Snake Pit
  • Recap

Lesson 6: Space

  • Introduction
  • Sense of Space
  • Invoking an Era and Vibe
  • Place Where Recorded vs. Space Invented
  • Recording vs. Mix
  • Discussion: Dead Air
  • Assignment 6: Hearing the Room
  • Recap

Lesson 7: Sonics

  • Introduction
  • Individual instruments
  • Context
  • Compression/Distortion/Other
  • Ensemble vs. Construction
  • Discussion: Mix Engineer Styles
  • Assignment 7: Mix Choices
  • Recap

Lesson 8: Mix

  • Introduction
  • Balance
  • Imaging
  • Sonics/Frequencies/Envelopes
  • Arc, Managing Energy
  • Discussion: Mix Engineer Styles
  • Assignment 8: Mix Choices
  • Recap

Lesson 9: Classic Labels/Sounds/Production Teams

  • Introduction
  • Motown, Atlantic
  • Gamble & Huff, CTI
  • ECM
  • Bad Boy and Death Row
  • Discussion: Do You Have/Want a Sound/Approach/Identity?
  • Assignment 9: Overall Sound: The Sum of the Parts
  • Recap

Lesson 10: Under the Hood – Demos to Masters 

  • Introduction
  • Producers’ Tracks
  • Colin Hay
  • Will Knox
  • Seasfire
  • Phoria
  • Ben Swift
  • Discussion: Demoitis
  • Assignment 10: Producer Voice
  • Recap

Lesson 11: Pop Record Deconstruction

  • Introduction
  • Song
  • Arrangement
  • Performance
  • Vocal
  • Space
  • Sonics
  • Mix
  • Discussion: Pop Art
  • Assignment 11: The "Perfect" Pop Record
  • Recap

Lesson 12: Role of the Independent Producer 

  • Introduction
  • Collaboration
  • Non-Song-Driven Genres
  • Song or Music as Vehicle/Backdrop
  • Discussion: Your Next Steps
  • Assignment 12: Production Plans
  • Recap


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 ( to verify or download the Speedtest by Ookla app from your mobile app store)




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


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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