4 “Masked” Music Production Ideas

You’ve heard of the “Masked Singer”… now try the “Masked” Producer!

Social distancing has limited the number of participants that can be served at any given time, which is especially challenging in the studio or smaller isolation booth spaces. So, how do you encourage music production collaborations when you can only have one youth participant in the studio at a time? Use these limitations to your advantage and encourage youth to make beats with an element of mystery.

In addition.. 

  • Projects can be done in either virtual, in-person or hybrid programming models. For Virtual programming – use a collaborative browser-based DAW like Soundtrap 
  • NOTE: Disinfect production workstations and equipment between each use (if applicable) 

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How to… 

  • Mystery Musical (production) Chairs – Multiple participants
    • Set up 3 (or more) Music Production stations in your music program space or multiple rooms
      • Can be as simple as an iPad and headphones or more complex production workstation 
    • Can be adapted for time, done over multiple days or send files virtually – the key is keeping identity of each participant a secret until the end
    • Here is an hour-long Mystery Musical (production) Chairs session example: 
      • 15 minutes – Assign participants to start a new project (e.g. create a 4-8 bar loop) 
      • 15 minutes – Participants rotate to another workstation and must add or build off of what the previous participant has already created
      • 15 minutes – Participants rotate again to another workstation (same as previous step) 
      • 15 minutes – Final tracks are played – youth reveal what they contributed to each track 
  • Covert Chords – Multiple participants
    • Assign all participants to create a beat using the same Keys/synth/guitar/bass loop
    • Loops can be original, Splice, Garageband, etc.
    • Determine a timeframe for the project (e.g. 1 hour, 1 day, 1 week, etc) depending on skill level 
    • Participants work on their beats individually and come together for a final listening session 
    • Compare and contrast how each participant interpreted the loop 
  • Ghost Writing – Multiple participants
    • Decide on a theme for the song/project (e.g. Social Justice, Video Games, etc) – Be creative! 
    • Play a stock beat or loop over speakers (or in Zoom) 
    • Everyone writes 4-8 bars of lyrics based on the theme
    • One at a time, participants sing/rap/record their lyrics in the studio, but the previous participant’s performance is muted 
    • Play the final mashed-up song for all participants at the end
  • Production Pen Pals – Two participants
    • Pair two producers or musical artists together but keep their identities a secret 
    • Determine a production schedule of when each participant will come to the studio (or work virtually) on a track. Also set time limits on how long each participant can spend working on the project. For example: 
      • Participant #1 – Monday and Wednesday 3-4pm
      • Participant #2 – Tuesday and Thursday 3-4pm 
      • Participant #1 and #2 – Final listening session on Friday 3-4pm 
    • The first participant starts a beat in the studio (or virtually) and each participant take turns adding/subtracting to the beat in isolation and saving any vocal productions for last 
    • On the final day the duo is brought together (socially distanced) to reveal their identities and listen to the final production 
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Logic Remote as a Midi Control Surface

Turn an iPad into a digital control surface and make beats like a pro

Some participants can be intimidated by the recording studio equipment and process.  Empower them by using a tool they are comfortable – iPads and Logic Remote can be used as a control surface to make beats and help participants take control of the recording process.  Whether they’re using the transport to record themselves from within the vocal booth, using the iPad as a “second screen” to multitrack mix in the control room, or using the iPad to program drum beats and chord progressions, Logic Remote is a versatile way to make the recording process more accessible to everyone!

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How to… 

  • Download Logic Remote on iTunes App store (this is a Free App) 
  • Launch your Logic Session and pair Logic Remote to your computer (must be on the same network) 
    • FYI: Logic Remote also works with Garageband 
  • Use your iPad as a “second screen” or a “midi” control surface for your session using these helpful features (and more): 
    • Beat making/songwriting: 
      • Drum Pads – digital trigger pads are a tactile way for participants to program in their kick and snare tracks. It also has a “Kits” view which is more visual drum set
      • Note Repeat – perfect for creating authentic sounding trap music “sprinkler hi hats”
      • Chord Strips – Similar to “Smart Chords” in Garageband, this is an easy way to write chord progressions.  Participant can focus on quickly getting their ideas fleshed out without having to worrying about music theory 
      • Keyboard – copying the root motion of the Smart Chords progression, participants can easily add a bass line or synth layers. It also has “Fretboard” features if you prefer
    • Navigation and Mixing:
      • Key Commands – Frequently used recording functions like: Recording Transport, Save, New Track, Automation, etc
      • Mixer – great way to add a “second screen” that gives participants a tactile way to move digital faders during mixing/mastering
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Rhythm Roulette (Using Splice)

Introducing three random samples equals endless beat making creativity for your participants

Rhythm Roulette is a great way to get participants experimenting with making electronic music by getting over the initial hump that’s always the most challenging… “where do I start?!” Getting a project off the ground is always difficult, but being forced to build around a particular sample or sound can be a great springboard for creativity. There are lots of different ways to use the idea of a “Rhythm Roulette” in the studio, and they can be tailored to different ages and experience levels – below are just a few examples.  

In Addition… 

  • This program is based off of the Rhythm Roulette | Mass Appeal Youtube series. To understand how this program works, you have to first understand the rules of the Rhythm Roulette: #1 – Find a record store, #2 – Blind-fold producer, #3 – Pick 3 random records, #4 – Make a beat by sampling 

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How to… 

  • The basic concept is… Grab random samples or loops from sound libraries (like Splice or Apple loops) and help participants make a beat using all three samples. FYI: This is a great way to introduce and utilize a Splice Sounds account
  • For beginners: 
    • Grab a 4 bar instrumental loop (or chord progression) 
    • Each participant (and instructor/s) creates their own drum beat to go with the loop/progression 
      • Don’t let participants listen to each others tracks while they’re making them
      • Keep the activity short and sweet – have participants only build a 4 bar drum track
      • Encourage participants to experiment with elements such as: Drum kit libraries, Tempo/BPM, Dynamics, Mute/unmute, Panning, Effects, Layering, Etc. 
    • Everyone plays their track (over a PA speaker), listens and compares what they came up with
    • Discuss how different grooves and feels can make the same sample sound completely different.
      • For example: A loop with a 4-on-the-floor feel vs. a trap feel
  • For more advanced participants: 
    • Choose three random loops and/or samples (Splice or Apple Loops) 
    • Challenge participants to make a beat (in 30-60 minutes) that includes ALL three loops/samples
    • Introduce more advanced concepts like: 
      • Matching key signatures (Ie. show how some samples won’t work well together because they are in different keys or tonalities)
      • Tempo and beat matching 
      • Groove and feel (ie. Swing vs. straight) 
      • Dynamics
      • Effects and filters 
      • Classic drum sounds (ie. Acoustic, electronic, 808’s, lo-fi, etc) 
      • Etc. 
  • Variation for teens: 
    • For teens, before we make any beats, I show them the “I played a show using only the 1991 Casio Rapman” video from Adam Neely’s YouTube channel. This video introduces a topic that is relevant to the activity ie. how limitations can sometimes inspire creativity
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Genius’ Deconstructed

Submitted by Mike Lembke www.bgcb.org

If you haven’t checked out any Genius Deconstructed videos yet – get on it! “The Making of Thank U, Next” is great to share with kids and helps us remember that making music is really about having fun and sharing an emotional connection with friends, artists, and fans!

Stay up to date with the latest music trends. Below is Genius’ Deconstructed series YouTube Playlist

Genius’ Deconstructed YouTube Playlist

Makey Makey Beats

Turn apples, bananas, and muffins into drum triggers  – Submitted by Javier Lozada www.ymcamalden.org

Looking for a new way to engage young participants?

Here at the Everett Studio Clubhouse, we use the Makey Makey as a way to introduce young participants into thinking about rhythm and grooves without being intimidated by the interface provided by the usual midi controller + DAW. In a sense, it provides a distraction from the pressure they may feel to “get it right” in the first try. We like to redefine lunch table beats and the use of Apple products by setting up the Makey Makey kit during their lunchtime and use the food items they are currently eating as pieces of a drum kit. The aesthetic of the kit is what usually draws young participants in to participate even if they have never shown interest in the music program. This also helps them develop 21st-century skills when they have to use logic and their knowledge in science to figure out what items could be conducive or how to wire the Makey Makes in a way that makes sense!

Items required:

  • Computer
  • Makey Makey Kit ($50)

The Makey Makey kit comes with proprietary software which lets you use it as a virtual instrument but here we like to use NI Battery or any other software samplers in order to be able to use custom samples which are more relatable and appropriate for the genres they are used to.

Warning: High Schoolers may love it too


Update: Using a Makey Makey kit + Logic’s musical typing I was able to pair it up with a sampler and use custom samples

The Remix Contest

Each participant creates their REMIX version of the song of the week – then pick a winner!

Use the isolated stems and samples from popular artists to unleash your participant’s creativity. At the start of each week provide your participants a Remix template file (in Logic or Ableton) preloaded with with the hook of a popular song. Throughout the week participants work on creating their unique version of the song by adding their own drum beat, chords, bass lines and custom mix. At the end of the week, host a voting session on Friday to determine the winner. 

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How to… 

The Remix Contest takes some weekly preparation from music program staff: 

  • Select the “Remix Song of the Week” (e.g. a popular Top 40 Song) 
    • Search for a popular song with an isolated vocal track
    • Tip – have participants create a playlist of songs they’d like to remix 
  • Create a Remix Template to be used by all participants 
    • Trim to only include about 30 sec (e.g. bridge and final chorus)
    • Edit for beat-matching using the metronome
    • Program/sequence basic chords or significant lead/bass lines 
  • Each participant or groups of participants starts the week’s contest with the same Remix Template

Throughout the week/s:

  • Participants work in groups or on their own 
  • Participants create their own original drum beat including:
    • Choose kit sound/s
    • Snare, kick, and hi-hat patterns
  • Help participants experiment by adjusting the patterns around 
  • Help participants experiment with other sounds, percussion and effects
  • Participants can also edit the basic template chords and bass lines that were pre-programmed 
  • Adjust sound libraries and instruments
  • Add parts/harmonies 
  • Adjust to fit their customized drum pattern
  • Add effects, plugins, and adjust mix
  • Voting session: Host a listening and “Voting Session” at the end of the week
  • Anonymously play each 30 second Remix 
  • After all remixes are played, participants vote by raise of hands
  • Announce and recognize the winner!
  • Highlight/showcase weekly winner on a bulletin board 
  • Optional end of session “Remix Champion” event 
    • Weekly Remix Contest winners go head to head at the end of the semester to crown the ultimate “Remix Champion” (complete with trophy/prize
    • Winner chosen by audience favorite 
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