7 Music Production Courses You’ll Need to Be a Producer
There are many different factors that can make choosing the right college difficult when the time comes, including cost, location, benefits, the staff, and even the potential for internships and jobs outside of the school.
Something many potential students don’t consider is the courses they will take, as they feel earning a degree in a certain field will be enough. In some cases, this can certainly be true. (If you get a basic Marketing bachelor’s degree, the courses you’ll take will likely be the same almost anywhere you go.) But when it comes to music degrees, it’s worth examining what exactly you’ll study before signing up.
While each school has a different curriculum there are a number of topics covered under almost every music production degree. Music production courses don’t diverge too drastically and you’re bound to learn a lot about the following seven verticals before your time at school is up. I’d still advise you spend some time glancing at the list of classes you’ll need to complete before graduation day (most colleges post them online so you can get a sense of how detailed one selection may be or in which direction an institution leans), but be prepared to focus a lot of your time on the following courses.
Can you imagine a music production program that didn’t actually involve any actual music production courses? Of course, production comes first on this list, as it’s easily the most important class (or, most likely, group of classes) you’ll take when studying how to be a Music Producer. What those classes will look like and what they’ll be called will vary from college to college and from major to major.
Some of these degrees will get into the differences between computer programs while others stick primarily to one piece of software and focus instead on other important aspects of being a Producer. For example, Berklee offers many courses that specifically teach one popular program or another, such as Pro Tools 101, Producing Music with Reason, and Producing Music with Cubase. These are all names you’ll have to become familiar with in your time studying and producing and getting hands-on experience with them at one of the finest schools in the world is an excellent opportunity.
As part of its “Project and Portfolio” run of classes, Full Sail University starts students off slow with a large but fairly simple project and by the end of one’s time there they will be producing more complex, ready-to-release items as part of a course.
Production is something you won’t just do as part of courses with that name in the title, especially if it’s your major. You’ll find while there are classes that focus solely on techniques and the brand names on your laptop that help you make the music you came to school to create, music production will follow you through every class you take on your program, which will only help make you better and better as time goes by.
2. Music Theory
Music theory isn’t quite as intimidating as its name may appear, but it is a vast subject one could specialize in if they wanted. At its most basic, music theory will help you understand everything connected to how people make music, from notes to rhythm to keys and so on. Sure, you might be dragging and dropping sounds and synths in Ableton but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also understand the fundamentals! Studying music theory to become a working Producer is like a Writer studying up on parts of speech, or perhaps even spelling.
Of the schools I looked at, only one didn’t feature any classes concerning with music theory…though my theory is (that’s a little joke…I think) one probably wouldn’t even be admitted to that program without a basic understanding of what would have been taught during a music theory class.
New York University’s Steinhardt school requires four different music theory courses. Johns Hopkins features at least one. Full Sail takes an even broader approach; their sole music theory course attempts to cover every topic that might come up — in just one class. It’s also worth mentioning some schools will lump musical history into music theory curriculum while some will split it off and make it a separate area of study entirely. Both deserve their own time to be focused on but not every up-and-coming Music Producer has the time!
3. Music History
Speaking of music history, knowing what has come before is important and potentially inspirational for many creative fields, from writing to painting to dance to, of course, music production. No matter what kind of music you’d like to produce for a living it’s vital you not only listen to the classics and the songs and albums regarded as some of the best of all time (in every genre) but also that you learn about the people, places, and institutions that made the music industry and music as we know it today what they are.
Many people taking part in a music performance degree spend a lot of time studying the masters, though as a future Producer, it’s not stressed quite as much. Because of this, some schools place a lot of focus on the past while others include the greatest musicians and their art in different ways. Some schools, such as Steinhardt, require students take several courses in musical history, while others, like Berklee, incorporate music from past decades into lessons all the time, so there aren’t classes that only look backward.
4. Engineering (and Mixing)
Studying to become a professional Engineer or Mixer is very different from studying to be a Producer but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to know what’s going on in the adjacent parts of the industry also connected to making tunes. It’s great to understand the basics of almost everything connected to churning out music, from vocal performance to playing an instrument to the technology behind it, including the mixing, mastering, engineering, songwriting, and even the businesses that package the music and release it. I’m not suggesting you should become an expert in all these fields or get separate degrees in everything but if you’re going to be a full-time Producer you will benefit creatively and financially by understanding what’s going on from start to finish on a project.
Some colleges will have you take courses to learn the basics of engineering (if not also mixing and mastering) while others will lump those skills in with production courses. For example, Berklee made mixing a priority for production students (there are separate courses for learning to mix specifically in Pro Tools, for live recordings, and even one simply titled “The Art of Mixing”). Other schools, such as Johns Hopkins, will work it into big projects.
Technology is a fairly vague and all-encompassing term and it’s one you’re absolutely going to run into in almost every course at almost every school offering a degree in music production. Learning about the tech involved in producing songs these days can be as simple as understanding Ableton, Logic, and Pro Tools — the software programs responsible for the majority of hits made these days — or it can be as complicated as knowing the ins and outs of computers, speakers, and the hundreds of different cords and plugs that fill every recording studio. To even be proficient, there can be a lot to learn. That’s to say nothing of being on the cutting edge of technology, which seems to be invading and improving the music industry at a rapid pace.
All four of the degrees I examined for this piece had at least one class with the word “technology” in the title. Some of them had several. It was made clear tech was a major part of many plans of study.
Producing music is one thing, but recording it can be a different skill entirely. Sure, the two are intertwined and sometimes cannot be extracted from one another but just because you’re creative and can think up a hit song this doesn’t mean you automatically understand what is necessary to bring it to life — especially considering all the technology and skills required in a studio environment. (It’s a good thing you’ve studied tech, isn’t it?)
Since working Producers will spend a lot of time in the studio, all of the degrees I looked at devote some time to actual recording processes, with some diving really deep and splitting up the learning into different categories. Berklee offers classes like “Audio Fundamentals for Recording” and “Recording and Producing in the Home Studio” (both of which seem like they’ll be incredibly valuable for those looking to make a name for themselves in today’s modern musical economy). NYU Steinhardt offers no less than five courses in the field and Johns Hopkins keeps things general, though there are a handful of classes that teach everything necessary to kick off a career in recording music.
A seasoned musical veteran will tell you acoustics matter a great deal when performing or recording music, while a novice might not even think of such a factor at all. Becoming an expert in the field of acoustics often requires years of practice and further study and beyond a basic understanding, things can become excruciatingly technical…but you likely won’t need to dig this deep. Understanding how the surrounding environment can affect the music being played will make you a better musician, Composer, Conductor, performer, and certainly a better Producer. Exerting even a little bit more effort into ensuring the acoustics of a space are as good as they can be will be worth your while and you’ll quickly hear a difference, once you train your ear.
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