Songwriting and listening reference materials

Here’s a collection of the most useful songwriting and analytical listening resources from around the web. See also the PWYM video collection.

Listening for song forms and structures

Check out the video series on analyzing “Sledgehammer” by Peter Gabriel.

Ethan Hein’s posts on song structure and production:

Brad Swanson considers different methods for labeling song sections.

The Wikipedia article on song structure in popular music is a good one. Their vast collection of song forms is useful too.

Jeremy Steinkoler explains commonly-used song forms.

The Infinite Jukebox, powered by the folks over at The EchoNest, is a really fun interactive way to explore the structure of any song through visualization of its repeated elements. Learn from legendary music hacker and programmer Paul Lamere about why and how he created Infinite Jukebox and how you can “tune” Infinite Jukebox to literally play with your music.

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Peter Gabriel resources


The South Bank Show did a long documentary on the making of Security, giving fascinating insight into PG’s process. The documentary is interesting for PG fans, of course, but it has broader significance too. Many of the practices that PG was exploring, like building songs out of samples and studio improvisation, were cutting edge or even avant-garde at the time. Now they have become the baseline standard for pop and dance music production and songwriting methods. Read an in-depth analysis of the video here.

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Recording and production reference materials

Here’s a collection of the most useful audio production resources from around the web. See also the PWYM video collection.

Vocabulary and reference

Rane pro audio reference

iZotope’s mixing guide is super useful for anyone who mixes, not just iZotope users.

The ins and outs of speaker frequency response and a test video.

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Play With Your Music: Open for Signup Soon



“Play With Your Music” is a free, 6-week online course where you’ll make 3-5 songs of your very own, using the newest tools on the web. You’ll learn the in’s and out’s of audio production, while working with music you already know and love. Anyone with an interest in making music is welcome, and all you need is a computer and a browser.

“Play With Your Music” (or #PWYM) is a nifty collabortation between faculty in NYU Steinhardt‘s Department of Music and Performing Arts ProfessionsPeer 2 Peer University and the MIT Media Lab. Professor Alex Ruthmann and Research Assistant Ethan Hein offer their expertise and musical chops, all brought to you with the social learning design team at P2PU.

The Mechanical MOOC is a super-simple platform made by the crew over at P2PU. It splits learners into smaller cohorts and connects them via email. So you’ll participate in the course in your small cohort via your inbox, and the larger Google+ community.

How It works.

Email lists.

On November 1, you’ll receive an email from the “Mister Mix”–the Maestro of this Mechanical MOOC. When that email lands in your inbox, it means you’ve been placed in your cohort of 30-40 folks, and you can say “Hi” to all the folks on your team by clicking “reply.”

Weekly assignments.

Each week, you’ll receive a series of readings and an activity prompting you to play with music on the web. You’ll work through the materials over the course of the week, and share your projects with your cohort.

Support if you’re lost, stuck or curious.

Play With Your Music also has a larger Google+ community for you to ask questions, find additional resources, or connect with other folks outside your cohort.

The Music You’ll Work With.

Clara Berry and Wooldog

We’ve partnered with singer/songwriter Clara Berry and her producer/engineer Bradford Swanson to give you an inside look at the recording production process. You’ll have the opportunity to work directly with her multitracks, samples, and loops in our custom #PWYM Mix tool and in

The Tools You’ll Master.

You’ll become familiar with a number of critical listening, recording and mixing tools over six weeks. All of these tools are free to use when you sign up for an account. A sneak preview of what’s to come:


In the first phase of the course, you’ll become familiar with the basic “critical listening” skills of music–identifying instruments, voices and song structures. And you’ll do it by playing with interactive multitrack recordings.


Next you’ll get your hands dirty by working with a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) and learn the basics of audio track editing and shifting. Using Soundation you’ll mix your own audio track to match a studio recording.


Soon, you’ll be remixing your favorite songs and coming up with your own glorious creations. You’ll post the files to SoundCloud’s listening community, share them with your cohort, and give each other feedback.

Signup is open now closed for this course. Sign up is now open for our next offering, beginning January 15th at