Music Production Fundamentals for Songwriters

Author: Erin Barra   •   Course Code: OSONG-150

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. 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. 

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 pre-production 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

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

Erin Barra

Author & Instructor

An authoritative voice in music technology education, Erin Barra is an Associate Professor in the Songwriting Department at Boston's Berklee College of Music and is one of the leading product specialist for Berlin based music software company, Ableton. A natural collaborator, she has had the opportunity to work with an array of artists, from Grammy winning artists engineers and producers (John Oates, George Massenburg, Kathy Mattea, Elliot Scheiner) to those at the front lines of the independent movement (Res, Miles Robertson, Ari Raskin, etc.). She holds a degree in Songwriting from The Berklee College of Music, and has 20+ years of keyboard/piano experience.

Additionally she has released 5 studio albums as an independent solo artist, is on the Board of Women in Music, writes for several online publications.



Required Textbooks


Software Requirements 

  • This course will be DAW-neutral, but students need to use one of three DAWs: Logic, Pro Tools, or Ableton Live. Examples will be shown for all three DAWs.

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 

  • 2 GB RAM (4 GB recommended)
  • 500 MB hard drive space
  • Speakers or headphones
  • Webcam
  • Internet connection with at least 4 Mbps download speed ( to verify or download the Speedtest by Ookla app from your mobile app store)

*Make sure your computer meets the minimum requirements for your chosen DAW


Got a question? Contact our Academic Advisors by phone at 1-866-BERKLEE (U.S.), 1-617-747-2146 (INT'L), or by email at We can also answer basic questions in the comments below. Please note that all comments are public.

  • Level
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    12 weeks
  • 3-Credit Tuition
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