Music Production Fundamentals
There is an extraordinary range of affordable tools that make it possible for most musicians to produce their own music at home. The goal of this course is to familiarize you with the basic tools and techniques used in electronic music production.
Since this course is an introduction, we’re assuming that students have no previous experience in music technology. In this course we’ll cover everything you need to know to get started.
From you, we are only expecting that you have some basic musicianship skills and a desire to produce your own music. Producing music is not a spectator sport, and for each lesson we’ll have projects for you to complete that will get you working with the topics presented.
In this course, you’ll explore topics that will get you started with setting up your production system and on your way to completing some basic production tasks. Each week, you’ll be actively engaged in activities and online discussions that will take you through the process of producing music on your computer.
By the end of the course, you will be able to:
- plan an electronic music production project
- identify common types of music production tools and their capabilities
- design and configure a personal studio that includes a variety of hardware and software tools
- create interesting musical sounds using software-based synthesizers and samplers
- record and edit MIDI sequences
- record and edit audio
- use a variety of digital audio production and editing techniques
- create a basic mix using the capabilities of a typical Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)
- use a variety of effects to enhance a basic mix, including compression, EQ, chorus, delay, and reverb
- prepare a finished work for distribution in a variety of audio formats
Lesson 1: Setting Up an Electronic Music Studio
- So What’s a Producer?
- The Music Production Process
- Developing Musical Ideas
- Audio Recording
- Digital Audio Workstations and Sample Loops
- Music Production Tools
- Audio Interfaces: USB and Thunderbolt
- Monitor Speakers and Microphones
- MIDI Performance Controllers
- Control Surfaces and Grid Controllers
- Configurations, Connections, and Connectors
- The Ableton Live Workspace
- Software Instruments and Effects in Live
- Effect Processing Tools
- Music Production and Mixing in Ableton Live
- Assignment 1.1: Desktop Production Project Plan and Toolset
- Assignment 1.2: Designing Your Studio
Lesson 2: Sound and Signals
- Sound Propagation
- Properties of Sound: Pitch, Timbre, and Loudness
- Analog Audio
- Standard Operating Levels: Reference Levels
- Analog Audio Connections
- Audio Specifications and Fidelity
- The Noise Floor and Signal to Noise Ratio
- Frequency Bandwidth and Response
- Distortion, Headroom, and Dynamic Range
- Measuring Dynamic Range
- Assignment 2: Sound and Signals
Lesson 3: MIDI Sequencing
- Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI)
- MIDI Messages
- MIDI Sequencing in Ableton Live
- Ableton Live’s Control Bar
- Transport Functions and Location
- The Song Position Display
- Getting Ready to Record
- Real-Time Recording
- Metronome Settings
- Viewing MIDI Recordings
- Record Modes in Ableton Live
- Assignment 2: MIDI Sequencing Project, Part 1
Lesson 4: MIDI Editing
- What Makes an Expressive Musical Performance?
- Editing MIDI Sequences
- Tempo and Keys
- Changing a Time Signature
- Setting the Clip Length
- MIDI Editing
- Bars, Beats, and Subdivisions
- Editing Note Length
- Event-Level Editing
- Correcting Durations and Dynamics
- Editing Pitch
- Editing Song Form: Cut/Copy/Paste Operations
- Ableton Live Editing Tools
- Assignment 4: MIDI Editing Project, Part 2
Lesson 5: Working with Synthesizers
- What's a Synthesizer?
- Hardware: Integrated Instruments
- Sound Modules
- Subtractive Synthesizers
- Physical Modeling
- FM Synthesis
- Synthesizer Architecture: Generators and Processors
- Properties of Sound: Pitch, Timbre, and Loudness
- Software Instruments: Standalone, Plug-In, or DAW-Specific
- Going Deeper with Digital Samplers
- Software Samplers
- Assignment 5: Electronic Orchestration
Lesson 6: Working with Time, Tempo, and Rhythm: Drum Programming, Pattern Devices, and Arpeggiators
- Patterns in Music
- Creating Drum Patterns
- Defining a Rhythmic Feel
- Groove Quantization
- Creating Variations
- Randomization and Chance
- Drum Racks
- Session View in Ableton Live
- Clip Launching
- Recording Clips into Arrangement View
- Adding a hardware drum machine
- Step Sequencers
- Assignment 6: Rhythms and Patterns Project, Part 3
Lesson 7: Audio Recording
- Digital Audio basics
- Sample Rate
- File Types
- Mass Storage Options
- Digital Metering
- Buffering and Latency
- Microphones Types
- Polar Patterns
- Preamps and DI’s
- Basic Mic Placement
- Audio Interface Configuration
- Monitoring During Recording
- File Management
- Assignment 7: Final Project MIDI Arrangement
Lesson 8: Audio Editing and Processing
- Non-Destructive Editing
- Defining Regions
- Using Clips in Ableton Live’s Sampler Instrument
- Launching Audio Clips in Ableton Live’s Session View
- Editing a Song Form
- Destructive Editing
- Using DSP to Edit Audio
- Using the Change Gain and Normalize Commands
- Fade In/Out
- Changing Tempo and Pitch
- Assignment 8: Final Project Audio Recording
Lesson 9: Loops and Digital Audio Production Techniques
- Making Audio Loops
- Editing a Loop
- Audio Tempo vs. Sequence Tempo
- Audio Clip Warping
- Matching Audio Loop Tempo to Sequence Tempo
- Rendering MIDI Tracks to Audio
- Beat Slicing
- Strengthening a Weak Performance
- Audio Quantization
- Assignment 9: Final Project Loops, Audio Editing, and Processing
Lesson 10: Mixing and Audio Effects 1
- Mixing in Ableton Live
- Audio Routing in Mixing
- Technical Issues in Mixing
- Aesthetic Issues in Mixing
- Effects Processing
- EQ and Filters
- Assignment 10: Final Project Mixing: Levels, Panning, and EQ
Lesson 11: Mixing and Audio Effects 2
- Dynamics Processing
- Typical Parameters of Dynamics Processors
- The Compressors in Ableton Live
- Types of Dynamics Processing
- Time-Based Effects
- Delay Effects in Ableton Live
- Doubling/Flanging/Chorus Effects
- Mixing and Automation
- Assignment 11: Final Project Mixing: Dynamics, Reverb, and Automation
Lesson 12: Cloud Collaboration, Mastering, Music Distribution, and Course Wrap-up
- Collaboration Via the Cloud
- Mastering Tools
- Audio Distribution Formats
- Audio File Compression Overview
- Distributing Audio Files
- Assignment 12: Final Project Mastering and Submission
Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements
Students should have:
- a basic, working knowledge of rudimentary music theory
- some basic keyboard skills
- None required
- Free audio-editing software Audacity
- Ableton Live 11. Although you will be able to complete the work for this course with Live Standard, all course materials will be developed using Ableton Live Suite. There is a free 90-day trial version of Live Suite that we recommend for those just getting started. If you are taking advantage of the trial, we recommend not starting it until the course has started, so you'll have access to the software for the duration of the course.
- MIDI keyboard controller
- Microphone with XLR connection
- Audio interface
After enrolling, please check the Getting Started section of your course for potential deals on required materials. Our Student Deals page also features several discounts you can take advantage of as a current student. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for any questions.
General Course Requirements
Below are the minimum requirements to access the course environment and participate in Live Chats. 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.
- Latest version of Google Chrome
- Zoom meeting software
- Speakers or headphones
- External or internal microphone
- Broadband Internet connection
Author & Instructor
Michael Bierylo is an electronic musician, guitarist, composer, and sound designer. He has been a faculty member at Berklee College of Music since 1995 and is currently Chair of the Electronic Production and Design Department where he led the development of Berklee’s Electronic Digital Instrument Program, the Electronic Performance Minor, and the Creative Coding Minor. Major projects include artist residencies with Suzanne Ciani, Nona Hendryx, Hank Shocklee, Richard Devine, Chagall, Robert Rich, and Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith. He is also active in Berklee Online, Berklee’s online school, where he authors and teaches music technology courses.
Bierylo has performed throughout the United States as a member of Birdsongs of the Mesozoic. As a solo electronic artist, Bierylo has performed with laptop computer and modular synthesizers in the US, Berlin, Shanghai, and Krakow including concerts with Grammy-nominated electronic musician BT and Terence Blanchard. As an active member of the Audio Engineering Society he has chaired the Electronic Instrument Design and Applications Track at national conventions, bringing together industry innovators such as Dave Smith and Dave Rossum, as well as design teams from Moog, Roland, and Korg. Read Less
David Mash is a guitarist, composer, producer, synthesist, author, educator, and futurist. He retired in 2017 as Senior Vice President for Innovation, Strategy, and Technology at Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA, where he had worked for over 40 years. David was the founding chair of Berklee’s Music Synthesis Department (now known as Electronic Production and Design). David has collaborated on development and artistic projects with leaders in the multimedia and music industries such as Kodak, Adobe Systems, Digidesign/Avid, Opcode, Kurzweil, Yamaha, Roland, Korg, Softube, Fishman Transducers, Godin Guitars, and many others.
David is past International Chair for Electronic Music for the International Association of Jazz Educators, was a founding board member of the Technology Institute for Music Educators (TI:ME), and recently retired as the Founding Executive Chair of the Avid Customer Association board. In addition to recently joining the Board for The Record Co., he is currently President of the board for the Bob Moog Foundation and chairs the Alan R. Pearlman (ARP) Foundation.
Today he is writing and producing music full-time, releasing his own music under the “Mashine Music” and “Stefan” personas, and you can find his work wherever you normally find digital music (Amazon, Apple Music, iTunes, Spotify, CDBaby, etc…). He’s also producing music for other artists with his long-time collaborator and friend Peter Bell, under the name “Bar Of 2 Productions.” Read Less
Peter Bell, Electronic Music and Production faculty at Berklee College of Music, is a producer, composer, and guitarist. His compositions and productions include the themes to This Old House, New Yankee Workshop, Victory Garden, the ABC After School Special, the award- winning film Radio Cape Cod, as well as countless jingles and production tracks. Peter has produced tracks featuring many world-class musicians, including Bonnie Raitt, Tracey Bonham, Livingston Taylor, Kate Taylor, Alex Taylor, Layla Hathaway, John Poussette-Dart, The New Kids On The Block, Rebecca Parris, Mick Goodrick, Mike Metheny, Mark Sandman of Morphine, Alan Estes, Patty Grifin, and others.
He has recorded with Bonnie Raitt on Warner Brothers and the James Montgomery Band on Capricorn and Island Records, among many others. His awards include two Emmys, seven NEBA awards, and six ASCAP awards. Peter holds a Bachelor of Music in Jazz Composition and Arranging from Berklee College of Music and a BA in Government from Harvard University.
Tony Schultz has been an audio engineer, music producer and composer for more than 28 years as owner & operator of Big T Productions in Boston. He is an assistant professor at The New England Institute of Art, where he has taught since 1997, specializing in MIDI and Audio Technology. He has been teaching for Berklee Online since 2016.
Tony has a bachelor’s of music degree in Music Production & Engineering from the Berklee College of Music and a master’s in Music Technology from the University of Newcastle in Callaghan, Australia. He has served three consecutive two-year terms as the chair of the Boston Section of the Audio Engineering Society and is currently serving his second two-year term as the AES VP of the Eastern Region of the US/Canada. He is also the current chair of Regions & Sections, overseeing all Pro and Student AES Sections Worldwide.
Past clients include RCA Records, Mercury Records, Virgin Records, WFNX, Filene's, Home Inc., EF Education, Schneider & Associates, Softskull Press Inc., Brand X Filmworks, Dudnyk Healthcare, Teatro de Marionettas de Venezuela, and the NAHB Production Group.
Tony has presented at a number of colleges including Berklee College of Music, Harvard University and the Royal College of Music in London.
He is a member of the Society of Professional Recording Services (SPARS), National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS), and the American Society of Composers, Authors & Publishers (ASCAP). Read Less
Carla Hassett is a Los Angeles based singer, songwriter, producer, recording artist, session singer, and music educator. Born in São Paulo Brazil, Carla was raised in Chicago and schooled in the city’s great recording studios where she learned to be a studio rat and jingle singer. Soon after moving to Los Angeles, Carla began touring with bands like Curiosity Killed the Cat, REO Speedwagon, and artists like Billy Idol, Sergio Mendes, Christopher Cross, Cristan Castro, and actor/musician Gary Sinise. Carla has backed up soul legend Solmon Burke, and performed with Brazilian artists Flora Purim and Airto Moreira, and Faith No More’s lead singer, Mike Patton. She sang on numerous albums for artists like Gino Vannelli, Spanish rock artist Enrique Bunbury, Brazilian country music superstar Paula Fernandes, Michael Bublé, and Mike Patton. At the Latin Grammy Person of the Year Show honoring treasured Brazilian artist Caetano Veloso, Carla sang for Veloso and other artists like Natalie Cole, Nelly Furtado, Seu Jorge, Lila Downs and other Latin music superstars.
Carla has performed on TV shows like The Tonight Show, Dante Night Show, The Grammy Awards, and Pee Wee’s Playhouse. More recently, Carla was featured soloist in the Sonorama project for Pacific Standard Time LA/LA at the Getty, The LA Tribute to Luiz Melodia, the Film Composer Collective concert at the Theatricum Botanicum for film composer Matthew Ferraro, and the rock opera Feast of Friends at the Rio Threatre in Santa Cruz. Carla sang on several feature films, including the Oscar nominated (for best original song) RIO for composers Sergio Mendes, Carlinhos Brown, and John Powell, and RIO 2 with Janelle Monae and her band. In Brazil, the song “Teu Olhar,” which Carla produced and co-wrote, became the lover’s theme song for the popular telenovela Amor e Ódio. Back in the states, Carla sang and contracted vocal sessions for numerous Disney recordings in Portuguese and Spanish, and on countless commercial jingles. Carla sang on the pilot for the Amazon original Mozart In the Jungle, and on the Netflix original film, Like Father.
Inspired by her work with Caetano Veloso, Carla explored tropicália and jazz for her self-produced 2016 album, +Blue (whose title, “More Blue” was inspired by Veloso’s song “A Little More Blue”). On +Blue, Carla explored the meaning of “home” and the complexities of growing up between two countries and cultures: her birthplace, Brazil, and her adopted country, the U.S. NPR featured +Blue and interviewed Carla on Weekend Edition with Linda Wertheimer.
In 2019, Carla released a vinyl single, Adriana, on the Burlacticus Recording Company label. Adriana, written by the great bossa nova guitarist and composer Roberto Menescal, was chosen by the label especially for Carla and her band for its exquisite groove in 5/4 meter, and intimate vocal style. During the recording session for Adriana, Carla tracked and produced an additional two songs of her own, Three Kings and Sempre Odara, which went on to win the John Lennon Songwriting Contest grand prize in jazz.
Carla graduated Summa Cum Laude with a degree in Music Production from Berklee Online and is currently a professor of commercial music at California State University, Los Angeles. She is on the songwriting team for the children’s web series, Outta The Books, and continues to perform, write, and produce music both in-house and remotely from her studio in Los Angeles. Read Less
Collin Russell is a composer and sound designer, as well as an Assistant Professor of Electronic Production and Design at Berklee College of Music. A specialist in modular synthesis and through-composed electronic music, he enjoys composing pieces for film and modern dance.
Russell has worked in the electronic music instrument industry for nearly a decade and is currently a product consultant and manual author for Instruō Modular, a modular synthesizer manufacturer. Additionally, he is an editor and contributing writer for Bjooks, a music technology book publisher.
He also founded Grainbow Sound and works with the post-production company Audiobrew as a composer, sound designer, and voice actor.
When taken for credit, Music Production Fundamentals can be applied towards these associated programs: