Coursera - Introduction To Music Production by Loundon Stearns

Steve Clark

Steve Clark

Steve is a professional programmer and amateur musician who has a long-stranding love of open source software. He has played in a few bands and recorded a few songs in his home studio. He writes about his experiences with music and Linux at Studio Spoon.

I had wanted to learn more about this topic for some time as I record music at home. Some friends on the Six String Bliss guitar forum were taking this course and so I decided to join them. This was my first on-line course. It’s not something I had considered before, having been brought up on traditional education methods, but as the course was free I had nothing to lose except for my time.

Loundon Stearns
The course was led by Berklee lecturer Loudon Stearns. He told us from the start that this course was a new experience for him too which became obvious as we went along. There were various issues with the course materials and quizzes, but this was all openly discussed on the forum. I was impressed to hear that around 50,000 people were taking the course, but I do not know how many of those completed it.

The course lasted six weeks, with each week dedicated to a topic. These were:
  • Sound and Signal Flow
  • The DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)
  • The M ixer (Summing)
  • Dynamic Effects
  • Filter and Delay Effects
  • Synthesis

It started with the first principles of what sound is and how we can get it into a computer. Although I have some background knowledge of physics and electronics there were many things that I learnt here that need thinking about when you are recording. The lectures were kept fairly short with lots of encouragement to do further research and to discuss with fellow students on the forum and elsewhere. I saw groups set up on Facebook and Google+. I mainly used the latter as well as a private forum with my friends taking the course.

Each week we had to produce a presentation on one of the topics covered as well as complete some multiple-choice quizzes. This could be written, audio or video. I think this scared a few people, but I think it was a fair way to work. Obviously some people did not have English as their first language, but most seemed to cope well. Each of us had to assess several fellow students, which was interesting in itself. Some people put in a lot of effort on these to produce quite professional videos, whilst others wrote down a bare minimum. I tried to assess them fairly within the guidelines, but the marking did not allow much leeway between top marks and none at all.

The course tried to avoid a bias towards particular hardware or software. I use Linux with free software tools that covered all my needs. I had some initial issues with producing screencast videos, but learnt how to do that as well.

The final week on synthesis was not to everyone’s taste as many would not normally use this, but it covered some interesting principles on sound manipulation and was obviously a favourite topic of our instructor.

I was happy to get a very good mark on this course, but I do not think that was difficult to achieve. You could do all the quizzes many times if you needed to, although you could only do the final examination twice. As long as you put some effort into the assignments you could get good marks on those and the lowest scoring was not counted anyway.

I enjoyed doing the course and learnt a lot. I just need to apply it to my own recordings. I have followed on with another course on musical improvisation and may well do more on other topics.

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