Music Tech Assignments - master list
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Getting startedAdminBlog setup----The internet is the most important piece of technology in the music world. For that reason, you will be posting all of your work for the class on a public-facing blog. If you don’t have a blog, set one up on WordPress or Tumblr. If you already have a blog, you are free to use it. Submit a link to your main blog page--it should look like this: Or like this:
AdminSoundCloud setup----You will be posting all of the music you make for the class on SoundCloud. If you don’t have an account, set one up - the free version is fine. If you already have a SoundCloud profile and would like to use it, that's fine too. Submit a link to your SoundCloud profile. It should look like this:
Blog postFavorite song, least favorite song2--In a blog post, link to your favorite song (or any song that you find exceptionally wonderful), and explain why you like it. Then link to your least favorite song (or any song that you find exceptionally terrible), and explain why you dislike it.
Loops and song structuresResourceLearning Music -
A friendly introduction to electronic music production concepts and techniques, including loops, drum programming, and MIDI sequencing. Work through each chapter up to and including The Playground. The Advanced Topics are optional but recommended (and fun).
ResourceVisualizing song structures--
Making music with loops is effortless, but making it well is hard. The challenge is to figure out the right balance of repetition and variation. The best source of inspiration for musical form, unsurprisingly, is actual music.
ResourceRepetition defines music--
Repetition defines music. Repetition defines music. Does repetition define music? Repetition does define music.
From GarageBand Loop to Grammy Award
How "Vintage Funk Kit 03" spawned Rihanna's first hit.
Blog postSong structure analysis4--Choose a song and analyze its structure. In a blog post, list the sections of the song: Intro, Verse, Chorus, Breakdown, Bridge, Drop, Lift, etc. For each section, give its length in measures and its start time. Be sure to embed or link to the song you're talking about.
SongLoop song10--
Create a piece of music using only the loops that are included with your production software. First, assemble six to eight loops to make a single two or four bar groove. Use at least one drum/percussion sound. Next, copy and paste your groove to fill two or three minutes, then modify it to create song sections. Feel free to edit the loops, by splitting them into segments and shuffling them, by transposing, or by adding effects. Post your track on SoundCloud. Make sure to set it to be downloadable.
Blog postLoop song process documentation4--Write a blog post explaining the process behind your loop song. Which loops did you use and why? How did you approach creating a structure? Do you feel like creating music in this way is a legitimate form of musical creativity? If so, why? If not, why not?
MIDI, synths, and drum programmingResourceUsing the aQWERTYon with Noteflight--
Super useful for educators: two great browser-based MIDI tools that work great together.
ResourceDave's JS Bach MIDI page--
The complete works of Johann Sebastian Bach in convenient MIDI format, ready for downloading and importing into your DAW.
ResourceTaj Mahal, “Blues With A Feeling”--
The great blues musician Taj Mahal explains to a German audience how to clap on the backbeat. (“Schvartze” is German for “black.”)
ResourceHarry Connick Jr turns the beat around--
Another European audience is clapping on the wrong beats. Harry slips an extra beat in at 0:44, realigning the audience with the correct beats.
ResourceThe backbeat: a literature review--
All American vernacular music shares one common feature: accents on beats two and four.
ResourceThe Great Cut-Time Shift--
Explains the ultra-important concept of swing, and how it has changed over the past decades.
ResourceWhy is son clave so awesome?--
This traditional Afro-Cuban rhythm is everywhere in popular music: in the drums, of course, but also in the rhythms of guitar strumming patterns, basslines, horn and keyboard parts, and everywhere else.
ResourceHow to play "Thriller"--
All the synths and drum machines you need to play this Michael Jackson classic.
ResourceJae Deal - Synth Bass Masterclass--
Jae Deal walks you through the process of creating bass sounds on a classic Moog synth.
ResourceTen Classic Roland TR-808 Patterns--
The 808 drum machine is one of the cornerstones of hip-hop. It remains as popular now as it was in the 1980s for its deep, rich kick, punchy snare, and other distinctive sounds. Vintage 808s are expensive collectors items now, so most rank-and-file producers use samples or software emulators.
ResourceEgyptian Lover builds a beat on the 808--
Programming a drum machine is different from playing a drum kit. Egyptian Lover shows you how it’s done.
ResourceThe aQWERTYon--
Explore some presets on the aQWERTYon. Try using it as a MIDI controller in the DAW of your choice (turn the aQW volume to zero first.)
ResourceUsing the aQWERTYon with Noteflight--
Super useful for educators: two great browser-based MIDI tools that work great together.
ResourceThe Helm synth--
A free synth that sounds great. Works as a standalone MIDI instrument or as a VST plugin within your DAW.
Resource"24k Magic" bass--
How to recreate the bass from this Bruno Mars hit using the Helm synth and nothing else.
Blog postThe Groove Pizza4
Use the online Groove Pizza app to create a beat. You can start with one of the Specials, use the Shapes, or just work by trial and error. Create a blog post that links to your beat. What musical style or genre do you think it belongs to?
SongMIDI song10--
Create a piece of music using only MIDI and software instruments. You can use MIDI from any source: played in via keyboard or the aQWERTYon, drawn into the piano roll, imported from notation software or the Groove Pizza, downloaded from the web, or from anywhere else. You do not need to compose an original piece; arrangements are fine. The only requirement is that the end result sounds good. Post your track on SoundCloud. Make sure to set it to be downloadable.
Blog postMIDI song process documentation4--Write a blog post explaining the process behind creating your MIDI song. Where did you get your MIDI from? What software instruments did you use and why? Do you feel like the end result was satisfying? What would you do differently if you had unlimited time and ability?
Audio recording, mixing, and effectsResourceHow sound works--
What it says in the title.
ResourceThe overtone series--
Hear the different frequencies that combine to form a musical tone.
Musical sounds are made up of multiple sine waves combined together.
ResourceMeet the audio file formats--
A guide to the most common ones.
ResourceDigital audio basics--
How recording sound on a computer works.
Resource(Artificial) space is the place--
A guide to different artificial reverb technologies.
Squeeze to Please: the Basics of Compression
Compression is one of the most important audio effects, but it takes some learning to get the most out of it.
ResourcePatches Zone compression guide--
Another good explanation of compression.
How to use the compressor in GarageBand
Only read if you are a GarageBand user.
ResourceSidechain compression--
Advanced compression techniques for electronic music.
ResourceMeasure once, cut twice: EQ basics--
EQ is another super important tool for getting your recordings sounding good.
ResourceHow to make your vocal tracks POP--
Techniques for using EQ, compression and layering to make pop, rock and R&B vocals sound ready for the radio.
ResourceThe vocoder and Auto-Tune--
Learn how a WWII-era technique for digitizing speech gave birth to the defining sound of contemporary popular music.
NPR's ear training guide for audio engineers
How to diagnose and fix common problems with recording speech. These tips apply just as well to singing. Bookmark for future reference.
ResourceMixing "Call Me Maybe"--
Dave “Rave” Ogilvy explains how he shaped the sound of the inescapable summer jam of 2012. Behind the simple melody and chords lies a staggeringly dense and complex soundscape.
Interactive"Sledgehammer" mix2
Create your own mix of “Sledgehammer” by Peter Gabriel using an online mixing board. When you load up the site, you'll notice that the left two tracks are soloed and panned left and right, respectively. This is the reference mix. I recommend that you first listen to the song all the way through with the default settings to acquaint yourself with the mix. Be sure to listen for the balance of each sound and its placement left to right in the reference mix. Then mute the left two tracks and bring up the other volume faders to create your own mix. As you do, try listening to each track in isolation. When you have completed your mix, submit a link. It should look like this:
RecordingPhone recording3--Record an environmental sound with your phone and post it to SoundCloud. It must be set to be downloadable. Your sound should be between five seconds and five minutes long. It does not need to be "musical."
SongFound sound song10--Create a piece of music using at least one phone recording from the class. You can use your own sound or someone else's. You can use any additional audio, loops, or MIDI. Be sure to credit the source of your sound.
Blog post
Found sound song process documentation
4--Same process as the other posts. Which sound did you use and why? What steps did you take to make it work in a musical context? Do you feel that you were successful?
Playing the studioResourceWere the Beatles great musicians?--
The Beatles are widely regarded as the best rock band in history. However, they weren’t exceptionally great instrumentalists or singers. They wrote a lot of brilliant songs, but that isn’t the reason we revere them today. The Beatles are considered great because of their prowess in the recording studio.
Resource“Space Oddity” - from song to track--
A great song won’t grab you unless it’s realized as a great recording. Listen to three different recordings of David Bowie’s classic “Space Oddity” to understand what the producer adds to a song in the studio.
ResourceThe Studio As A Compositional Tool--
Eno has produced classic albums by David Bowie, Talking Heads, U2, Coldplay, and others. By his own description, Eno is not a very “good” musician, but he is adept at combining and manipulating sound in the studio. He was also an early adopter of the process of using the studio for creating songs, not just documenting them. He encourages the bands he works with to come into the studio with no material prepared, and to improvise with tape rolling, with the idea of shaping the music via editing. (Lee Perry was a major inspiration for this approach.) While studio improvisation was an unusual method outside of jazz in the 1970s and 80s, it’s become standard procedure in pop songwriting.
Lee “Scratch” Perry records the Heptones
Perry was part of a generation of dub reggae producers who pioneered the studio mixing console as an instrument unto itself. For Perry, recording a performance of musicians was only the first step of creating the music. By muting and unmuting tracks on the tape and manipulating the sound with echoes, Perry lay the groundwork for the production methods of electronica and hip-hop.
ResourceThe Scientist mixes "Heavyweight Dub"--
Another Jamaican dub producer performs a mix. You can see how he literally plays the mixing board like an instrument, shaping the track by turning different instruments up and down and by turning the echo effect on and off.
Blog postProduction analysis3--Pick a song recorded since 1960 and write a blog post identifying all of the sound sources. These can include voices, acoustic or electric instruments, synthesizers, and samples. Be as specific as you can: which synthesizer was used? Did the drums have any special effects or processing on them? List each sound in the order that it appears in the track. Be sure to identify the producer(s) and engineer(s).
Blog postReal vs hyperreal vs surreal3--
In a blog post, describe three recordings with different recording aesthetics as specified below. Embed or link to each song. 1) Choose a “realistic” recording, one that accurately represents the sound of people performing live. It could be an actual live recording, or a studio recording with a live sound. What makes it sound realistic? 2) Choose a “hyperrealistic” recording, one that sounds like a perfected or enhanced live recording. What makes it sound realistic? What makes it sound artificial or manipulated? 3) Choose a “surrealist” recording, one that could not possibly have been recorded live using instruments. What elements make it sound unreal? How would it affect you differently if it were somehow created “live” with acoustic instruments?
SongSelf remix10--Remix one of your own projects from the class. You can alter it as subtly or dramatically as you see fit.
Blog postSelf remix process documentation4--Which of your projects did you remix? How did you change it?
Sampling and remixingResourceIn praise of the Reflex Re-Edit--
The Reflex is a London-based French DJ and producer named Nicolas Laugier. He specializes in a particular kind of remix, the re-edit, in which you rework a song using only sounds found within the song itself, ideally using the multitrack stems.
ResourceMarley Marl on “Eric B Is President”--
The veteran DJ and producer recreates a classic Eric B and Rakim beat and talks about the source samples.
ResourceKanye West in the studio--
A window into the creation of a Yeezy beat.
Resource9th Wonder on Rhythm Roulette--
From a series where producers choose three records blindfolded and have to sample them to create a beat.
ResourceMad Zach, Ableton Push performance--
Samplers let you play back digital audio recordings by tapping on rubber pads. While samplers were originally standalone pieces of equipment, now they are more likely to be controllers for computer software like Ableton Live. Ableton’s Push controller is a particularly futuristic sampling interface.
ResourceKink Goes Against The Clock--
A Bulgarian producer uses synth modules, a drum machine, and a record of Motown acapellas to create a track from scratch in five minutes.
ResourceScratch documentary (first 20 minutes)--
Before affordable digital samplers became available in the late 1980s, early hip-hop DJs and producers did most of their audio manipulation with turntables. Record scratching demands considerable skill and practice, and it has evolved into a virtuoso form analogous to bebop saxophone or metal guitar shredding.
ResourceThe Amen break--
This six-second drum solo is one of the most important samples of all time. It has been used in uncountably many hip-hop songs, and is the basis for entire subgenres of electronic music.
ResourceAli Jamieson on the Amen break--
A more in-depth exploration of the Amen break.
ResourceThe Levee break--
The opening of Led Zeppelin’s song “When The Levee Breaks” has also been sampled extensively, by artists ranging from Dr Dre to Björk to Beyoncé.
ResourceNas, "Nas Is Like"--
This Nas track is remarkable for a few reasons. The samples that form the instrumental backing are hilariously random. The entire chorus is scratched together from other Nas songs. Finally, a single syllable of a Biz Markie song is taken out of context and given a new meaning.
ResourcePete Rock and CL Smooth, "T.R.O.Y."--
A hip-hop classic that samples from an unlikely source, a lounge jazz cover of a terrible Jefferson Airplane song.
ResourceEverything Is A Remix--
Sampling is not unique to music. Kirby Ferguson argues that every art form is built on remixing.
Blog postSample genealogy4
In a blog post: 1) Find an example of a song containing a direct audio sample of another song. I recommend using Post links to both songs and explain how the sample was used. Does it form the basis of the beat? Is it a background texture? Does it run throughout the song or just appear once? 2) Find an example of a song containing a quotation or interpolation of another song, and post links to both of them.
Blog postSampling ethics4--Write a blog post answering the following question: Do you think that sampling without permission is morally acceptable? If so, why? If not, why not?
SongPeer remix10--Remix a song by another student in the class. You can work from their original session file, or download the audio from SoundCloud and work with that. You can make any alteration you see fit, up to and include radical reworking.
Blog postPeer remix process documentation4--Whose original track did you use and why? How did you alter it?
SongAdvanced: Shared sample10--You will be given a short audio sample. Create a piece of music using no additional sounds. You can process and edit the sample as you see fit.
Blog postShared sample process documentation4--How did you approach this project? What editing techniques and/or effects did you use and why?
SongAdvanced: Song re-edit10--Use an existing piece of recorded music as raw material for a new piece of music. Do not use any additional sounds or samples. See how far you can transform your source material using editing, processing, and effects.
Blog postSong re-edit process documentation4--How did you approach this project? What editing techniques and/or effects did you use and why?
In classAdvanced: Musical Shares10
Each person begins a new track on their own computer. After ten minutes (or whatever brief time interval), each person moves one seat to the left and continues working on the track on that computer. Continue rotating every ten minutes as time permits. Can also be run remotely using Soundtrap.
Mobile musicResourceSteve Lacy makes tracks on his phone--
An up-and-coming producer uses mobile GarageBand to create full tracks.
ResourceGorillaz - The Fall
An album produced mostly using iPad apps.
ResourceBahamadia's Dialed Up and Dialed Up 2--
The great Philadelphia rapper has made two full length albums on her phone.
iPads allow kids with challenges to play in high school's band
Adam Goldberg leads an electronic ensemble of kids with severe autism.
ResourceMobile music app recommendations--
Suggested apps for your phone or tablet.
App reviews and demos for the serious musician.
SongMobile song10
Create a piece of music using only a phone or tablet. You may use any app, or combination of apps. Not all apps make it easy to record, so you may perform live if you would prefer.
Blog postMobile song process documentation4--What app or apps did you use? How did you approach the creation of your song? Did you perform it live? Did you sequence it?
Ideas and inspirationBlog postPeer review4--Write a review of one of your classmates' projects in the style of your favorite music publication. Criticism is fine, but be gentle.
ResourceThe Disquiet Junto--
The internet's most creative composer/producer collective is a bottomless well of inspiration.
Advanced: Disquiet Junto Project
Choose a project from the Disquiet Junto project list and complete it. Better yet, complete the currently ongoing project.
Blog postDisquiet Junto Project documentation4--Document your process according to the instructions in the Junto assignment.
Final projectAdminFinal project proposal5--In a paragraph, describe your planned final project. If you are creating or performing a piece of music, what software or equipment do you plan to use? Will you collaborate with a classmate? If you are giving a presentation or writing a paper, what do you plan to discuss? Topics are subject to approval by me. If you are not sure what to do, please let me know, I'm happy to help you narrow it down.
Final projectFinal project15--
Create a presentation on the music technology topic of your choice. Suggestions: Create an original piece of music and explain the process behind it; present a recording and explain in depth how it was created; present a particular artist, producer, or engineer, and discuss their creative techniques; or explain the history and significance of a particular technology: instrument, piece of recording gear, or software.
Total points189
UnsortedResourceMusic licensing is complicated--
Streaming royalties are governed by a law written about player pianos.
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