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.
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)
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
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!
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):
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
“Love is a Battlefield” – Two teams test their knowledge of commonly used lyrics in love songs!
Music is a universal language and it’s favorite topic is love! This icebreaker activity puts your participants love of music to the test. Which team can identify the most songs that include “Love Lyrics” and which team will leave the game broken-hearted?
Decide on the length of the game (ie. first team to “x” number of points or the team with most points after “x” number of minutes/rounds, etc.
Evenly divide a group of participants into two teams or, play off the “love” theme, divide the group into male vs. female.
At the start of each round the staff members pick a “Love Lyric” ie. a specific word that is commonly used in love songs like “Love” or “baby” (see sample list below).
The teams go back and forth and naming songs that include the round’s “Love Lyric”.
Staff members check/google the song’s lyrics to make sure it includes the round’s “Love Lyric”
If a team mistakenly identifies a song that does NOT include the round’s “Love Lyric” then the other team gets a point.
Also, if a team can’t think of a song that includes the round’s “Love Lyric” then the other team gets a point.
Tips and variations:
To keep the game moving quickly, set a time limit of 5 or 10 seconds for each team to think of a song that contains the round’s “Love Lyric”.
Have members sing the lyrics each round
Play love songs in the background while playing the game
“Last one standing” – form a circle, choose a “Love Lyric” and go around the circle naming songs until there is only one person left.
Choose different themes and/or lyrics
Write down songs that you don’t know or add them to a playlist (insight into your members’ musical interests)
Participants earn studio privileges while improving their producing skills!
The Music Producer Reward System motivates participants to learn more in the studio by creating 3 levels of “Producers”. As participants advance, they learn studio software and techniques and “level-up” to earn additional studio privileges.
First, set up various levels of Music Production workstations and/or studios in your program space.
Participants start on the basic setup and “level-up” to more sophisticated studios as they learn more skills. For example:
“Studio A” – iMac or iPad Workstation equipped with Garageband (Headphone based)
“Studio B” – iMac Workstation with Logic and basic interface/mic setup (with speakers) located inside of a practice room
“Studio C” – Professional level project studio, complete with Logic/ProTools, Isolation booth, and your program’s most advanced recording studio equipment
Determine what skills participants must demonstrate in order to gain access to each studio. Print and display the requirements for each level of “producer” (Sample levels are provided below)
Create an incentive chart to visually track and help motivate participants’ achievements. Regularly post and update the names of each “Co-Producer”, “Producer” and “Executive Producer”
Got a big group for your studio – why not have them all contribute on a track?!
Sometimes you end up with 15 beginner participants in your studio and they all want to make a beat right now! Music Production for Large Groups gives you some tips on how to create a “patchwork quilt” music production project. This allows many different participants with different tastes, preferences, ideas and skills all to contribute to one big tapestry… your final track!
In addition participants:
Learn basic music production and songwriting techniques
Learn collaboration while working towards an end goal
Are inspired to work on solo music production projects
Produce enough tracks to release an album
End goal/s (i.e. “Album Release” party and/or performance at end of the semester)
Session days and times. Meet with the group on a regular basis.
Participants who are interested in contributing (include as many as possible)
Themes or topics, decided upon as a group and influenced by the music mentors/staff
Participants collaboratively produce style/genre, samples, sounds, and beats
Break down the beat into smaller sections or individual elements for participants to perform/record
For example, to produce the drum track:
Participant “A” performs bass drum pattern on trigger pad
Participant “B” performs snare drum pattern
Participant “C” performs hi-hat pattern
Participant “D, E and F” record claps on 2 & 4
Repeat this process for bass and chords
Participants layer single notes on guitar, bass, and/or piano
Involve different participants for each Verse, Chorus, and Bridge. Mentors continually keep the momentum going.
Add lyrics once beat is finalized
Download a rhyming dictionary App on iPads
Each participant writes lyrics to contribute to the project (i.e. 1 or 2 bars worth of lyrics)
Each participant performs their lyrics in the isolation booth right away. This gets them hooked, motivated, and involved.
Mix and finalize the track
Participants who don’t want to sing/perform can help with the final mix by editing and adding effects.
Participants can also get involved in creating album art, photo/video, etc., to help support the album’s creation.
Repeat this process until participants have produced several tracks
Rehearse and prepare for an album release party, and have all participants perform their original songs
Give participants a true “indie-label” experience by helping an up-and-coming artist complete an original album
Help guide an independent, solo artist through all aspects of a music production including songwriting, lyric writing, production, engineering, performance, and marketing/promoting their brand. These projects give independent and self-directed participants the freedom to produce an original album while having support from staff members along the way.
Create an invite only in-house “record label” for dedicated participants
Solo artists are invited to be part of “record label”
Meet with Solo Artist to discuss their project timeframes, goals and outcomes
Artist is responsible for all songwriting, lyrics, production, content, ideas, artwork, etc.
Coach the artist on production process, needs, and goal setting
Recording sessions should be booked in advance and as needed
Support, support, support! And keep Solo Artist on task
Help troubleshoot with music industry questions like:
Publishing album online
Marketing/promotion on social media
Record a “commercially ready” original album and post for sale (iTunes, etc)
Help artist book performance and market their album to friends, family and supporters
Three proven ways to get participants engaged in songwriting right away
Songwriting and especially lyric writing can be a daunting experience especially if a participant has never done it before. The three examples below get participants writing original songs as quickly as possible using techniques used by professional songwriters. Participants will learn basic songwriting/lyric writing skills and techniques and work as a team to create original songs/lyrics and record/perform their own original songs!
A “blank canvas” can be intimidating for even the most experienced artist. The following examples have built-in “creative limitations” to help keep participants focused on completing the task at hand and sets them up for success. Keep your participants accountable to work within the boundaries of the writing activity or songwriting technique and watch how it helps drive participants’ creativity.
Here are 3 examples of successful songwriting activities:
Example 1: “Just write” – Encourage participants to explore stream-of-consciousness lyric writing.
Pick any topic (really ANY topic… e.g. “water bottle” was used once and worked great!)
For 5-10 minutes, participants write in a notebook (or on their phones) without stopping.
Encourage participants to go back through their notes and look for lines or words that jump out.
Help them look for metaphors or build a story behind the theme they chose.
Participants can then rewrite or continue to develop lyrics into a full song.
Example 2: “Scaffolding” – Create an original song using the song form and chord changes of another song.
Participants choose a song they like and are familiar with and analyze the song form and chords.
Participants choose a new theme/topic and write new lyrics to the verse, chorus, bridge, etc.
Participants then take their new lyrics and rewrite the melody of the song.
Optional: You can also choose a new chord progression, key, tempo, and/or whatever works
Record and/or perform!
Example 3: “Changing Perspective” – This activity places a participant/s in their peer’s shoes, encouraging empathy and shift in perspective and voice.
Divide participants into pairs.
Participants share a “small moment” experience from their day.
Optional: Pairs can pick a topic or theme so their lyrics are similar.
Loop a beat or chord progression (whatever feels right for the group).
Each individual writes lyrics about their partner’s experience (in first person).
Participants then add or change tempo/beat/melodies to adjust to the mood.
Participants can then rewrite or continue to develop lyrics into a full song.
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.
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
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