Sylvia Massy: Creative Approaches to Recording and Producing Music

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Authored by Loudon Stearns, Chrissy Tignor, Chris Johnson, Sylvia Massy


Course Code: OMPRD-480

Next semester
starts June 24

12 Weeks

Level 4

Level 4

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


This course dares you to “unlearn” everything you know about record making- to get out from behind the windshield, stick your head out the sunroof, and put the pedal to the metal!  Based off of Recording Unhinged, the revolutionary book by multiple award-winning producer and engineer Sylvia Massy, this course guides you on how to discard fixed notions on how music should be recorded and encourages you to experiment as far as your imagination will take you.  This course explores techniques that fall outside the norm, yielding emotionally powerful, incredibly personal, gut-wrenching and even scary recordings with Sylvia Massy herself, co-author Chris Johnson, and Berklee Online Instructors Chrissy Tignor and Loudon Stearns.

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

  • approach music production in a non-traditional way
  • master the main tools in a recording studio and re-learn their purpose
  • invent new recording techniques and assess their musical usefulness
  • create compelling recordings no matter what the situation
  • effectively assess a recording and a performance
  • effectively communicate with other producers, engineers and performers
  • build unique sampled instruments from custom recordings
  • build custom instruments from common objects
  • build custom audio effects using common objects
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Overview Syllabus Requirements Instructors
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Lesson 1: Alright, So What Are the Rules Here?

  • Overcoming Old Biases
  • What is “The Recording Studio”?
  • Find the Humanity in the Music
  • Assignment 1: Break a Habit 1

Lesson 2: Plan the Chaos

  • Music As An Abstract Idea
  • Plan the Chaos
  • Music Is a Story Told Through Sound
  • Assignment 2: Break a Habit 2

Lesson 3: Happy Trails to You

  • Setting a Scene
  • Fashionable Techniques for Vocals
  • Fan-tastic Vocal Tools and Tricks
  • Assignment 3: Break a Habit 3 - Unusual Vocal Techniques

Lesson 4: Microphone Minimalism & Capturing the Space

  • Does It Stand the Busker Test?
  • Microphone Minimalism
  • Capturing the Space
  • Assignment 4: Minimal Recording

Lesson 5: Release the Crickets

  • Rhythm Substitutes
  • Melodic Substitutes
  • Playing the Outside World
  • Assignment 5: Create a Custom Instrument

Lesson 6: Planes, Trains, and Audio Reels

  • Electronic Processors
  • Organic Filters
  • Garden Shed Audio Tricks
  • Assignment 6: Create a Custom Effect

Lesson 7: Production Approach

  • Crossing Genres
  • Same Song = Different Song
  • Landing the Plane
  • Assignment 7: Final Project Week 1 Checkpoint

Lesson 8: Artist Engagement - Pushing Their Buttons

  • The Politics Of Production
  • Antagonize for Effect
  • Breakthrough Production Ideas
  • Assignment 8: Final Project Week 2 Checkpoint

Lesson 9: Signal Flow Unhinged

  • Pedals Without Guitars
  • Cooper Time Cube
  • Talkbox
  • Assignment 9: Final Project Week 3 Checkpoint

Lesson 10: When Enough is Not Enough

  • Look for Extremes 
  • Speaker as a Microphone
  • Historic Overdoing It (listening project)
  • Phone as Microphone
  • Assignment 10: Final Project Week 4 Checkpoint

Lesson 11: And Just The Right Amount of Too Much

  • The Glue
  • Losses and Gains
  • All Together Now
  • Assignment 11: Final Project Week 5 Checkpoint

Lesson 12: The Thrill of Victory, the Agony of Critique

  • Dynamics and Negative Space
  • Be Brutal
  • What is important?
  • Assignment 12: Final Project Submission


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

Prerequisite Courses, Knowledge, and/or Skills
Completion of Audio Fundamentals for Recording and one of Ableton Live FundamentalsProducing Music with LogicPro Tools 101, or Producing Music with Cubase or equivalent professional experience.
Students should be able to:

  • Open their mind and a desire to experiment.
  • Must schedule another artist to produce with in-person every week of the semester.



  • Full-featured Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), such as Pro Tools (Studio or Ultimate), Logic Pro, Cubase Pro, Ableton Live (Suite or Standard), Reaper, Reason, or FL Studio (Producer or Signature). Note that GarageBand is not acceptable.


  • MIDI keyboard controller
  • Audio interface with at least two mic preamps
  • XLR condenser microphone and cable
  • XLR dynamic microphone and cable
  • Closed back, over-ear studio headphones such as Sony MDR-7506 or better
  • Recommended: Stereo matched pair of XLR condenser microphones and cables
  • Recommended: Soldering iron and accessories, as well as the following disposable practice gear:
    • Speaker cable
    • XLR cable
    • Instrument cable

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 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. 

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


Loudon Stearns


Loudon Stearns is an associate professor at Berklee College of Music, a course author and instructor at Berklee Online, and an active media-artist. Within the Contemporary Writing and Production department at Berklee College of Music, he prepares students to work as independent composers and producers in a technology-laden music industry. Online, he focuses on the latest electronic music styles and music-technology innovations, showing students how to analyze contemporary styles and use the latest music technology in their own works. An innovator in both education and art, Loudon authored a Massive Open Online Class, "Introduction to Music Production," that has provided high-quality free education to hundreds of thousands of students, received an award from the University Professional and Continuing Education Association for "Excellence in Teaching" and received the "Excellence in Media Art" award from the Emerson College Visual and Media Art department.

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Holding a Bachelor of Music in Contemporary Writing and Production and Bass Performance from Berklee College of Music, and a Master of Fine Arts in Media Art from Emerson College, Loudon pulls from a broad range of skills in the creation of his own multi-media performances that include live music, projection-mapping, dance, visual art and interactivity. Of particular interest is using the entire world as a performance space by using internet streaming to coordinate numerous performers and audiences on vastly different parts of the globe. The technical and aesthetic challenges of this type of performance are new and exciting and require the sort of broad skill-set that Loudon has developed through his extensive institutional and self education in music, sound, performance, motion graphics, photography, programming, and construction. Read Less

Chrissy Tignor


Chrissy Tignor is a producer, songwriter, recording engineer and vocalist with a super-synthy pop style fused with EDM and hip-hop influences. She is a full-time faculty member in the Contemporary Writing and Production department at Berklee College of Music, and has worked with the likes of Alex Clare, Gary Go, Bastille, Lauren Hashian, and Notting Hill Music. Her music has been synced on Discovery Channel and TLC, and she currently produces, writes and remixes under the pseudonym Data Child.

Chris Johnson


Chris Johnson is an accomplished writer and also the steady hand behind the career of producer Sylvia Massy. Chris co-wrote the book Recording Unhinged for Hal Leonard Publishing with Sylvia, which spawned an entire series of publications.

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Sylvia and Chris have collaborated on a lecture and workshop series, marketed toward education, and they tour colleges and universities teaching up-and-coming audio enthusiasts.

Beyond music and audio, Chris is an ordained minister, heading the Church Of Divine Transformation in Ashland, Oregon. He conducts regular Sunday sermons. Read Less

Sylvia Massy


Sylvia started in the San Francisco alt-punk scene in the eighties fronting her own all-girl band. That band, “Revolver”, played the Mabuhay, On Broadway, the Stone, the Chi-Chi Club and other notorious North Beach nightclubs. Their self-produced demos caused a stir in the underground scene. So much so, that other bands asked for Sylvia;’s help in the studio. This led to her working with a number of notable Bay Area bands including Tuxedomoon, Exodus, MDC, Verbal Abuse, Christian Death, the Beatnigs, Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper, Raw Power, Doggy Style and the Adolescents.

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In 1986 Sylvia co-produced an album for the Sea Hags with young up-and-coming guitarist Kirk Hammett, who had just joined the band Metallica for their “Master Of Puppets” album. The collaboration was so good that the Sea Hags penned a deal with major label Chrysalis Records and left for Los Angeles. Determined to not be left behind, Sylvia packed up and moved to Los Angeles and found a serious career in the music business.

Within two years Sylvia landed at Larrabee Sound working with Prince, Paula Abdul, Big Daddy Kane, Julio Iglesias, Seal and Aerosmith. Her big break came in producing comedy-rockers Green Jello’s debut album featuring the radio hit “Three Little Pigs”. This led to her recording the first two Tool records for Zoo/BMG Records.

Sylvia’s next big projects came through her association with Rick Rubin, including System Of A Down’s debut album, Danzig “Lucifuge II”, Geto Boys debut, Johnny Cash’s “Unchained” album, Donovan “Sutras, Red Hot Chili Peppers “Love Rollercoaster”, Smashing Pumpkins and Tom Petty “She’s The One”.

During the nineties, Sylvia worked mostly out of her room in Sound City Studios, on the Neve 8038 recording console that became an important ingredient to her signature sound.  As the century ended, Sylvia left Los Angeles, finding the perfect creative environment to continue her career in the small town of Weed, California. Here she built RadioStar Studios – a sprawling multi-room facility featuring five studios, apartments, a theater, a rehearsal hall, retail shop and community kitchen. RadioStar operated for 15 years, drawing hundreds of musicians from everywhere in the world. Sylvia had several international hits including Spiderbait’s “Black Betty”, Cog’s “New Normal” and Animal Alpha’s “Pheremones”.

In 2012 RadioStar was put up for sale and Sylvia moved to Ashland, Oregon. She currently works on select recording and other creative projects. Sylvia travels widely and does gigs and seminars all over the world. Known for her playful style and fearless approach to recording, she is a popular invite to conferences and universities, often using stage-time to demonstrate unusual techniques for manipulating sound. Read Less

Renato Milone


Renato Milone is a multi-instrumentalist music producer, sound engineer, performer, and educator. Renato started his career in Europe, performing with many renowned artists and covering different styles and gamers as drummers. In early 2000, he won a full scholarship to attend Berklee College of music and later obtained a Diploma in Contemporary Writing and Production, a Bachelor Degree in Composition for Film, TV, and Games, and a Professional Achievement as Best producer 2009. In the states, Renato began in an intense career as a songwriter and jingle writer collaborating with international artists such as Uku Suviste (Eurovision), Luisa Sobral (Eurovision), Mariam John, Joel Waldman (Colombian Songwriter), Mogol (Italian Lyricist) and also working with national musicians such as Melissa Aldana, Matthew Nichol, Andrea Pejrolo, Joe Carrier, Dan Moretti, Michael Beker, Adi Yeshaya and writing, producing and engineering for artists such as Whitney Huston. Renato is now part of the faculty staff at the Contemporary Writing and Production Department of Berklee College of Music and is the Co-Founder of “TheBoomHouseProductions”.

What's Next?

When taken for credit, Sylvia Massy: Creative Approaches to Recording and Producing Music can be applied towards the completion of these related programs:

Related Degree Majors


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