Music Production Fundamentals for Songwriters


Authored by Erin Barra


Course Code: OSONG-150

Next semester starts September 23

12 Weeks

Level 1

Level 1

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


You are a songwriter of the twenty-first century, which means you have more options for writing songs than just you and an old acoustic instrument. You’re using your computer to read this course description now, but what you may not realize is that this same computer can be a powerful compositional tool! In Music Production Fundamentals for Songwriters, you will use your computer to compose, produce, refine, and share your music. 

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Whether this is your first foray into using technology tools to make music, or you’ve had some experience working inside a Digital Audio Workstation already, the main goal of the course is to put you in the driver’s seat when it comes to your music and your content. You’ll learn more about DAWs, MIDI technology, and all of the modern recording techniques that will help your songs sound the way they’re supposed to sound. You’ll bolster your writing skills with the technical skills to engineer and produce your music. With the skills learned in Music Production Fundamentals for Songwriters, you’ll be able to become more involved in the process when collaborating with engineers, producers, and other collaborators. Note that in this course you will be required to write songs—meaning there needs to a lyric set to a melody, sung by a vocalist or vocalists.

By the end of the course, you'll be able to:

  • Choose the DAW that meets your songwriting needs
  • Use a MIDI controller
  • Edit your MIDI sequence
  • Quantize your sequence
  • Create melodic and harmonic MIDI sequences using virtual instruments
  • Record audio into your DAW
  • Sequence your entire arrangement using MIDI and audio
  • Create a compositional relationship with your computer
  • Record audio into your sessions via an audio interface and microphone
  • Capture the best vocal recording possible
  • Open up new pathways to creativity
  • Use refinement and editing techniques
  • Effectively use file management and troubleshooting techniques
  • Produce a song inside a specific genre
  • Complete critical preproduction tasks
  • Actively turn moments of inspiration into complete songs
  • Add audio effects to vocals
  • Use dynamic effects such as compression on vocals
  • Use time-based processors like reverb and delay
  • Add texture and dimension to your mixes
  • Compose and produce an entire song in your DAW
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Lesson 1: Creating a Percussive Foundation

  • MIDI Controllers
  • MIDI Drum Programming and Editing
  • Creating Sectional Contrast with Rhythmic Patterns
  • Exporting and Bouncing
  • Assignment 1: Create Drum Loops for Verse and Chorus

Lesson 2: Adding Melodies

  • Audio Interfaces and Microphones
  • Recording Audio
  • Basic Region Editing
  • Sketching Melodies in the DAW
  • Assignment 2: Write Melodies and a Bass Line

Lesson 3: Adding Textures

  • Programming Textural Elements
  • Recording Textural Elements
  • Choosing a Sonic Palette
  • Creating Prosody and Contrast
  • Assignment 3: Add Additional Textures with Virtual Instruments and Audio

Lesson 4: Reworking, File Management, Home Studio, Troubleshooting

  • Reworking/Editing
  • File Management
  • Troubleshooting Basics
  • Building a Home Studio
  • Assignment 4: Create a Final Arrangement

Lesson 5: Critical Listening/Analysis/Preproduction

  • Critical Listening
  • Genre Analysis
  • Session Prep
  • Session Organization
  • Assignment 5: Analysis and Session Prep

Lesson 6: Recording Basics, Instrumental Comping

  • Basics and Scratches
  • Instrumental Comping
  • Cleaning up a Comp
  • Assignment 6: Create a Song to Produce in a Specific Genre

Lesson 7: Lead Vocals, Early Gain Staging

  • Recording Lead Vocals
  • Lead Vocal Comping
  • Lead Vocal Tuning
  • Gain Staging
  • Assignment 7: Record and Comp Your Lead Vocal

Lesson 8: Effects Processing Week 1: Vocals and Inserts

  • Effects Processors as Inserts
  • Dynamics Processors
  • Filters
  • De-essing
  • Assignment 8: Compress, EQ, and De-ess Your Lead Vocal

Lesson 9: Effects Processing Week 2: Time-Based and Parallel

  • Reverbs and Delays
  • Parallel vs. Serial
  • Presets
  • Effects Chains
  • Assignment 9: Create a Demo of a Song With Percussion, Vocals, Bass, and Two Textures

Lesson 10: Effects Processing Week 3: Creative and Automated

  • Creative Effects Processing
  • Automation
  • Assignment 10: Edit Basic Tracks and Add Textures

Lesson 11: Final Mix

  • MIDI Effects
  • Template Sessions
  • Mastering
  • Creating a Final Mix
  • Assignment 11: Create a Final Mix

Lesson 12: Technology and Creativity

  • Technology in Your Future
  • Home Studio


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

Prerequisite Courses, Knowledge, and/or Skills
This course does not have any prerequisites


  • No textbooks required


  • One of the following Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) (examples will be shown for all three):
    • Pro Tools 11 or higher
    • Logic Pro 10.0 or higher
    • Ableton Live 9 (Suite or Standard) or higher


  • MIDI controller
  • Audio interface
  • XLR microphone and cable
  • One of the following studio monitoring options (both recommended):
    • Studio monitors (pair), such as JBL 305Ps or better, as well as necessary cables
    • Over-ear studio headphones, such as Sennheiser HD 600, Sony MDR-7506, Philips SHP9500, Audio-Technica ATH-M50x, etc.


  • Pop filter
  • Microphone stand

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


Erin Barra


Erin Barra has been a key player in the creative process of many projects from conception to final master to stage performance. With a wide ranging skill set (educator, songwriter, producer, multi-instrumentalist, music technology consultant), she enables people to create content they’re personally invested in and execute their ideas.

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Specializing in music technology integration, she works with artists and bands looking to integrate laptops and digital technologies into their writing, production and stage setups, and has developed, taught and executed several music technology curriculums at the open source (Coursera and ROLI), K-12 (Beats By Girlz), and collegiate levels (Berklee College of Music, Berklee Online).

An authoritative voice in music, tech, and education, Barra is the Director of Popular Music at Arizona State University, Executive Director of Beats By Girlz, course developer for Berklee Online and former Associate Professor at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Specializing in composition, performance, and creative music technology application, she has worked with and represented companies such as Ableton, Splice, ROLI, MusicTech, Moog, and iZotope. She has presented at Loop, NAMM, SXSW, Moogfest, Gearfest, KIEM, Future of Music Coalition, Yale’s EXPOL, and Re-Mixed Media Festival. Check out Barra’s work as an artist on all platforms, and catch her live electronic performances on YouTube. Read Less

Kareem Clarke


Kareem Tony Clarke is a DJ, music producer, and label owner. Throughout his career, he has performed at major clubs in New York City, toured US colleges, performed at TEDxBerkleeValencia, played at SXSW 2017, and held DJ residencies in Valencia, Spain. In 2016 he founded the deep house and techno label Digital Den Records with fellow Berklee alum Ian Cahill.

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Kareem holds a BA in Engineering Studies from Lafayette College, as well as an MA in Global Entertainment and Music Business and an MM in Music Technology Innovation from Berklee College of Music. Read Less

Christina Mattei


Ever evolving in music and art, Christina McGeehan comes from the land of meditative avant jazz improvisations, classical composition, electronic beat making, and interactive multi-medium performance. Currently, residing in LA, Christina is composing and producing music for film, dance, immersive installation performance and teaching production and composition. She is a member of the Recording Academy and Women In Women in Music.

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Christina’s performance career has led her to sharing musical stages with artists like Thom Yorke, Questlove, Amon Tobin, and Flaming Lips and has toured extensively across the world with her multimedia shows. Christina often guest appears, improvising with top jazz musicians, including Taylor McFerrin, Terrace Martin and Mark Guiliana.                                  

Being a pioneer with the software Ableton Live, Christina has been teaching master classes in Ableton Live since 2006 at establishments like University of California, Kutztown University, Beats By Girls, Apogee Studio, Ableton Live, Leeway Foundation and University of the Arts. Artist in residencies include UCLA CAP, Fringe Arts Center Philadelphia, PIFA Festival, Fidget Space and New York Parks Commission for Summer Stage.Christina’s latest film score for, Tasting The Moon, has won several awards, including Best Music Video at the 6th Annual Los Angeles International Underground Film Festival 2016 and Best Short at the 10th Annual Indie Fest USA International Film Festival 2016. Her composer debut was featured with a live Orchestra, presented by the prestigious Echo Society, a collective top composers in Los Angeles. Read Less

Gabi Martinez


Gabi Martinez is a guitarist, producer, and engineer from Zaragoza (SPAIN), based in Los Angeles (USA). With a unique and eclectic career, he has had the chance to work with acclaimed international artists with worldwide exposure and has been involved in projects with some of the most prestigious names in the music industry. Additionally, he was selected to be part of “Grammy Next” at The National Recording Academy (a program designed to identify and empower the next generation of music industry leaders) and he is a member of the Producers and Engineers Wing Committee-LA Chapter.

What's Next?

When taken for credit, Music Production Fundamentals for Songwriters can be applied towards the completion of these related programs:

Related Degree Major


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