Culminating Experience in Music Production 1


Authored by Sean Slade


Course Code: OMPRD-693

Next Term Starts April 8

Graduate-level Course

All Master of Music in Music Production students complete a culminating experience or thesis project. This experience is meant to be exactly as named: the culmination of your work in the program, the experience through which you synthesize all you have learned. The culminating experience helps shape your next steps in the profession and in your career. In short, the culminating experience provides an opportunity for you to complete unique and original professional work. Through the culminating experience, you make a creative contribution to help solve a problem that exists in the profession. The work involved in the culminating experience represents the highest expression of your learning at the graduate level.

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In this course, you will review and finalize the proposal that was developed in OMPRD-690 Business of Independent Music Production/Proposal Development for the Culminating Experience. Additionally, you will review the culminating experience guidelines that you learned in the Proposal Development course. You will spend the semester developing your project, following your determined plan of action, and managing organizational and time management skills, to execute your research and work. You finalize your culminating experience committee, developing a plan to communicate with and receive feedback from each committee member. You will also learn to compute, interpret, and present data and results to support the project. By the end of the course, you will have completed a draft of your project. For recording projects, a draft generally means completion of recordings and rough mixes.

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

  • Develop a draft or substantial portion of your culminating experience project
  • Execute the research required for your project
  • Execute, revising if necessary, the planned scope of work and timeline for your culminating experience
  • Synthesize knowledge gained to develop an original contribution
  • Assess feedback and incorporate revisions as appropriate
  • Determine your culminating experience committee, developing a communication plan and process
  • Assess all culminating experience requirements in terms of plans of action, documentation, research, and more
  • Compute, interpret, and present data and results to support the project
  • Apply organization and time management strategies to master a long-term project
  • Examine the process of completing the culminating experience project
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Overview Syllabus Requirements Instructors Request Info


Lesson 1: The Recording Project and the Course

  • The Project: Recording a Four-Song Finished Master, and the Theory Behind an Extended Play (EP) 
  • Defining the "Average Listener"
  • Defining "Musical Taste"
  • The Dream World of the Record
  • Assignment 1: Master Recording That You Have Produced and Engineered for the "Average Listener"

Lesson 2: The Job of the Record Producer

  • Producer Responsibility #1
  • Producer Responsibility #2
  • Producer Responsibility #3
  • Producer Responsibility #4
  • Assignment 2: The Professional Record Producer Project Roles

Lesson 3: What Has Brought Us Here? (A Brief History of Popular Music from the Edison Cylinder to the Present)

  • Recording Technology
  • Pop Music: A Short Artistic History
  • Eternal Verities: Constants in Popular Songs
  • Where We Are Now (The Current Decade)
  • Assignment 3: Romantic and Novelty Song Aesthetic Qualities of the 1920s/1930s and 1950s/1960s

Lesson 4: Creating a Concept for Your Project

  • Choosing an Artist and Getting the Gig
  • Conceptualization Techniques
  • Genre: How Do your Artist's Songs Fit into the Marketplace?
  • The Concept of a Commercial Reference Disc (CRD)
  • Assignment 4: Project Artist/Band and Music Exploration

Lesson 5: Exploring Genres 

  • All Genres Are Created Equal
  • What Is Pop?
  • Electric Guitar/Bass/Drums Music
  • Hip-Hop
  • 21st Century Genres: EDM and CCM
  • Assignment 5: Project Genre Submission

Lesson 6: Songwriting and Song Selection

  • Do You Write Songs?
  • Songwriting Traditions
  • Songwriting Strategies
  • Creating Songs from Other Songs
  • Songs as Jokes
  • Assignment 6: Original Song Submission

Lesson 7: Components of Collaboration

  • What Is an Artist?
  • Exploring Options with Your Artist
  • Honesty and Communication/Common Studio Pitfalls
  • Life Outside the Studio
  • Assignment 7: Successful Collaboration with an Artist

Lesson 8: Demo to Master

  • The History of the Demo
  • Demo to Master Example: "Lady O" (The Turtles)
  • Demo to Master Examples: Rock Band Demos of "Mama Couldn't Be Persuaded" (Warren Zevon), "Even Flow" (Pearl Jam)
  • Demo to Master Example: "Thinking About You" (Radiohead)
  • Demo to Master Example: "Billie Jean" (Michael Jackson)
  • Assignment 8: Rough Demos Submission and Review

Lesson 9: Preproduction Part One

  • "What Are You Going to Do to My Song?" Defining Preliminary Preproduction
  • Song Selection/Song Analysis
  • Song Structure
  • "Hooks": The Work of Max Martin
  • Assignment 9: Submit Final Demos with Lyric Sheets Submission

Lesson 10: Preproduction Part Two

  • Lyrics, Melody, Prosody, and Chord Changes
  • "To Drum or Not To Drum?"
  • Tempo and Key
  • The Basic Arrangement
  • Creating a Blueprint for each Song with the Lyric Sheet
  • Assignment 10: Studio Schedule of Recording Project Submission

Lesson 11: Supervising Performances in the Studio

  • Identifying and Obtaining the Best Performances
  • Establishing Trust
  • Creating the "Vibe"
  • Strategies for Coaxing Uninhibited Performances from Musicians and Singers
  • Assignment 11: Initial Basic Sessions Rough Mixes Submission and Culminating Experience Essay

Lesson 12: Your Basic Session

  • What Is a "Basic?”
  • To Play or To Program? Live Drummers vs. Loops and Samples
  • Strategies for Recording Basic Tracks
  • Finished Basic,  Judging "Feel," and "The Pocket”
  • Principles of Creating an Effective Rough Mix


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 8 inputs (Apogee, MOTU, etc.)
  • Selection of diverse microphones (5 microphones recommended: 2 dynamics, 1 match-pair of condensers, and 1 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.)
  • 500 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)



Author & Instructor

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


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