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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Virtual Listening Party

Give producers a platform to share their projects with their peers – building self-confidence

We’ve all had to adapt our programs as we’ve transitioned to virtual programming – one challenge has been creating opportunities for participants to share what they’ve been working on while receiving feedback from their peers. Virtual Listening Parties are regular Zoom meetings in an “open mic” night format that give producers, songwriters and instrumentalists the opportunity to showcase their talents and creativity. Hosted by the staff or youth, participants submit their songs or projects ahead of time to build a “set list” that keeps the party going. Attendees are encouraged to support their friends by dancing along, dropping a comment in chat or simply lending a supportive ear.

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How to… 

Preparation

  • Pick and promote a date for your participants to showcase their work during a “Listening Party” 
  • Collect youth tracks and projects ahead of time leading up to the Listening Party
    • Time Frame is up to you (e.g. weekly, monthly or every 2-3 weeks, etc) 
  • Staff create a “set list” of original songs or projects (bounced files are cued up)
  • Invite EVERYONE (Send Zoom meeting information) 
    • Invite performers AND participants not involved as audience members – Could help:  
      • Increase motivation for participants to join next time 
      • Inspire youth to sign up for production class or create a project of their own
      • Become a recruiting tool for other virtual music programs 
    • Also invite Parents/supports (if appropriate) 

Hosting the Listening Party 

  • Decide on an emcee or host (e.g. Music Staff, Youth/teen participants, or combination of both) 
  • Play the track 
    • Give a brief introduction to each song/performer – then play the track (via screen share) 
    • Audience should share encouraging comments in the chat 
      • Provides real-time feedback 
      • Boosts self-confidence of performers/presenters
      • Can help to facilitate a Q&A between performers and audience 
  • Keep things moving quickly between acts
  • If there is extra time, let others share
    • Like an “open mic” night allow participants who were reluctant to sign up share as well
  • Promote your programs, schedule and opportunities 
    • Share your virtual program schedule and opportunities 
    • Share the date of your next Listening Party 
    • Share contact information if participants have questions 
    • Share other ways they can get involved
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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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Practical Tips on How to Address Inappropriate Language

Five ways to clean up inappropriate language that you’ll swear by!

It’s natural for participants to want to imitate the music they listen to when they first start out recording or performing. In the context of a youth development music program however, the language and content of these songs aren’t always appropriate.  This resource provides several approaches to encourage participants to expand their vocabulary and develop opportunities for growth and maturity including knowing your audience, assigning professional studio roles, rewriting lyrics, “three strikes” rule.  

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Example #1 – Know Your Audience

“I talk to my students about knowing your audience and the value you get for being flexible. Most times my rappers just want to swear for shock value and because it’s easier than writing how you feel. I just take the time to have a conversation with them and explain the most versatile artists get more gigs, radio play, opportunities and at the end of the day… more dollars!” – Submitted by Corey DePina, Zumix
  • Ask participants – “How many cuss words can you think of using when you’re angry?” 
  • Then open www.thesaurus.com and look up and explore the word “Angry” 
  • It might also be helpful to also show participants www.rhymezone.com or other rhyming dictionaries 
  • Help participants understand the limits of using typical cuss words versus other words that may expand their vocabulary, set them apart, and better explain their emotions 

Example #2 – Assigning Professional Studio Roles 

“Younger participants sit-in on sessions with my older teens who are assigned traditional studio roles to make our studio feel more professional. They’re responsible, trusted and naturally influence younger participants and teach them our rules and if not, I can always step in when there’s inappropriate content. I use this as a  teachable moment to have open conversations and help create mindfulness.”   Submitted by Javier Lozada, Malden YMCA
  • Assign professional Studio Roles
    • Artist – Typically a vocalist (singer or rapper) recording over a pre-recorded track 
    • Producer – Participants who are interested in using technology to create beats using virtual instruments
    • Engineer – Participants who are more interested in the “behind the scenes” technical aspect of recording like setting up sessions, microphones, mixing, and using effects
  • Clearly establish the rules of the studio including language expectations 
  • Help older teen participants mentor younger participants on studio rules and expectations 
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Music Producer Reward System

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.

How to…

  • 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”

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New Participant Orientation Tools

Expecting lots of new kids this semester? Set them up for success with these handy tools!

Download the bundle of ALL of the New Participant Orientation Tools

or choose an individual resource

New Participant Orientation Process

New Participant Orientation Process

Help break the ice and welcome new participants so they can make music right away! ...
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Sample House Rules

Sample House Rules

Help establish expectations for all participants and ensure proper use of the equipment and facilities.  ...
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Equipment Orientation Worksheets

Equipment Orientation Worksheets

These quick Equipment Orientation Worksheets are perfect for beginners on amp, bass, drums, guitar, mics, ...
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Musical Poster Boards

Musical Poster Boards

Large posters you can print and hang in your music room to help remind participants ...
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Music Production for Large Groups

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

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How to…

  • Establish:
    • 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
      • Etc…
    • 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
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Solo Artist Music Production Projects

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. 

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How to…

  • 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 
    • Booking performances
    • Etc.
  • 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 
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3 Quick Songwriting Activities

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!

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How to… 

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.
  • Record and/or perform!
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