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Masterclass: Timbaland Teaches Producing and Beat Making
Timbaland's Masterclass course is primarily geared towards beginners, but there may also be some appeal for more experienced musicians looking to be inspired by the philosophy behind Timbaland's production. Tim's explanations for his processes may seem underwhelming, but he and his team are fantastic at demonstrating these concepts as they put a song together.
Quality of Content
Insight and Philosophy
Learn from an incredibly successful producer and four industry professionals.
Learn the philosophy that has guided the production of hit after hit.
This course is fairly sparse on technical detail.
Expensive annual subscription, and likely not worth it for only one course.
Timbaland has had a long career and worked with a wide variety of artists, from Missy Elliott to Jay-Z to Justin Timberlake, but you do not have to be a fan of his beat-making to get something out of his Masterclass – Timbaland Teaches Producing and Beat Making.
Timbaland’s Masterclass course is primarily geared towards beginners, but there may also be some appeal for more experienced musicians looking for a little inspiration and reassurance that making music need not be an overly technical, analytical process.
In many ways, this Masterclass is a three-hour window into the process Timbaland and his team use at The Hit Factory in Miami. The viewer is taken through the process of crafting a beat from the earliest stage of ideation and improvisation to the later stage of collaboration with a songwriter, while also getting the inside scoop on some of Tim’s most popular works.
In this comprehensive Masterclass review, I will outline what Timbaland has to offer and give you my honest verdict of these video lessons and the Masterclass online learning platform, to help you choose whether or not to take the plunge and invest in a subscription.
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Timbaland Teaches Producing And Beatmaking: Full Review
The course includes 15 video lessons altogether, amounting to a little over 3 hours of video content.
The primary storyline of the Timbaland masterclass follows Timbaland and his team in their beat-making process. Timbaland begins in the booth at The Hit Factory in Miami, where he beatboxes and improvises his way through the composition of several layers of rhythms.
From there, he and his team break the beat down and replace its vocal elements with sounds from Ableton’s Drum Racks. They go through the process of composing a chord progression, manipulating samples, creating a breakdown, and working out a topline.
Towards the end of the course, a singer joins them to begin crafting vocal melodies and turn the beat into a finished song.
There are a few secondary storylines introduced throughout the course, in which Timbaland walks his audience through the song origins and stories behind creating some of his more iconic beats, including Dirt Off Your Shoulder, Pony, Gossip Folks, and Are You That Somebody.
For a fan of any of these songs, each brief feels like a behind-the-scenes look at the artist’s process.
Though these are special moments in the course, Timbaland’s explanations for how and why these songs work are somewhat insufficient. His strength as a teacher comes from showing, not telling. So the most engaging and enriching moments are when you see and hear Tim making a beat and getting into the groove.
Timbaland and his team, composed of co-producers Federico “Fede” Vindver and Angel Lopez, along with engineer Chris Godbey, are an impressive collection of personalities.
Between them, they have half-a-dozen Grammys and decades of experience in the business of writing and selling music, yet from the very beginning, they confess they are not very good with words.
In fact, much of this particular Masterclass course is spent watching things happening without much verbal explanation. When it does come time for Tim or one of his colleagues to provide some context for what they’re doing, the verbiage tends to sell the process short.
There is a great deal of emphasis on what ends up serving as a sort of refrain for the class: “you just have to feel it.” This is particularly relevant for hip-hop production, which relies more on instinct than strict musical theory.
As far as technical details go, there’s still a lot to be gleaned here just by watching the computer screen as they work in Ableton. The brief explanations from the team about how they sample and their process for chaining different effects to get the sound they want (what Angel refers to as different “sauces”) will help the viewer to pick up some helpful tips for manipulating sound.
Timbaland’s masterclass is really organized in such a way as to get a beginner started in making music. That said, I am not a beginner, but I found a lot of the course entertaining.
For me, there is something special about watching musicians work, even if I already understand most or all of what they are doing.
For that reason, I would suggest that Timbaland Teaches Producing And Beatmakingis intended for beginners, but there is likely something for those of us at later stages in our musical journeys. Of course, any fan of hip-hop who appreciates Timbaland’s incredible influence on the genre will get a big kick out of watching a legend hard at work with his team.
A Masterclass In Collaboration
While the Masterclass model is generally to find one iconic expert in a field to make the focus of each course, Timbaland brings his team with him. The spotlight lands on Fede and Angel (and to a lesser extent on Chris) about as often as it lands on Tim.
This is by necessity, as the team Timbaland has assembled is not composed of four Tim’s, but rather four professionals with vastly different skillsets and levels of experience in the music industry. Each member plays an integral part in the workflow the team has established.
Not long after Timbaland wraps up his initial beatbox layering, expertly stitched together in Pro Tools by Chris the engineer, Fede is developing a chord progression and preparing a synth sound in Logic Pro that he will use to craft the bassline with a MIDI keyboard.
Angel, meanwhile, is preparing what the team calls “ear candy” using samples and highly-processed instruments in Live. Tim has an Ableton Push controller he uses to start replacing vocal sounds with one-shots from one of his various Drum Racks. As he works on layering drums, his co-producers occasionally look up from their workstations in curiosity or to give a nod of approval.
The team works independently at times, breaking up to attend to the tasks to which their skillsets draw them before coming back together to show off what they have done.
They bounce ideas back and forth, they “yes, and” each other until a consensus is made evident once everyone is nodding along to the beat in unison.
I can’t help but contrast this with the deadmau5 Masterclassdeadmau5 Teaches Electronic Music Production, in which one gets the impression that there is rarely, if ever, another person besides Joel Zimmerman in his studio.
The collaborative component to this Masterclass is a reminder that music is a social thing, and while people can work independently (and many people prefer it that way), it is also possible to work with other musicians in a healthy, collegial environment.
There are so many reinforcements of the insular, anti-social genius narrative out there that it is refreshing to see a group of talented musicians and producers working together as we see here.
How Timbaland approaches his workflow seems to fly in the face of many of the best practices one might pick up from YouTube and other musical celebrities. However, the results he achieves combined with his level of success prove that these best practices are merely guidelines. So I find myself considering trying something new in every chapter of this Masterclass.
Timbaland has Drum Rack upon Drum Rack in his Ableton Live sessions with random, arbitrary names. He explains that naming Drum Racks so that you can find them later limits one’s creative potential, as you will always go back to the kick you label the big bass kick rather than experimenting until you find the next unique and inventive sound.
The team makes use of “palate cleansers” as well, which Angel compares to the slice of ginger one might eat in between pieces of sushi to refresh the palate. When the team has worked for a while at making a beat and they need a break, they will put their work aside and start on something else.
This comes across as scatter-brained to anybody accustomed to working under the time pressure of deadlines, yet the team explains that inspiration is something that has to come on its own time. So the process of making a beat is not always linear but the time spent clearing one’s head on another project or activity is not time lost so much as time regenerating.
Timbaland’s approach to music production is clearly about feeling out the music. This is partly why he seems to have so much trouble talking about the origins of some of his most notable hip-hop songs. Music and beat-making is clearly something he does intuitively without much pause for thought. So, again, the most valuable moments in this course come from simply watching Tim and co work.
For Tim, it is simply a process of layering drums, adding elements, removing elements, until the “sonics” as Timbaland characterizes them, are just right.
Even this quality of just right-ness is subjective, as Timbaland explains that just because something feels like a hit to you as a music producer, does not mean anybody else will think it’s a hit and vice versa.
An important point that Timbaland makes early on in the 3 hours of videos is that hit songs are timeless.
Building beats for hip-hop involves listening to a lot of music and learning from it, but not copying a signature sound; instead, music producers have to take their knowledge of music and apply it to making something new.
Unique, ingenious beats will withstand the test of time, like the music for “Pony,” which was written years before its actual release to massive acclaim.
From the very first chapter, in which Timbaland layers drum sounds through a beatbox session in the booth, there is a sense of improvisation and play that permeates every aspect of this course.
Even in Timbaland’s system for organization (or disorganization) in which he names Drum Racks arbitrarily to avoid being able to find certain sounds too easy, there is something improvisational about this process.
His method of responding to sound on the fly betrays a keen sense for music and an ear that isn’t taught analytically in a class but developed over time through a great deal of listening and experimentation.
Timbaland’s greatest strength as a teacher and a mentor is in his ability to model the process of making beats as a fun, exciting, and social expression of creativity.
Tim and his team make music because they enjoy it. They nod their heads to the beats they assemble because they feel them. These are successful industry professionals, on the one hand, but they’re also just a group of people who make beats for the sheer love of it.
If there is one key piece of knowledge I think anybody could take away from this course, it is that music need not be painful, analytical, or a struggle: it can, and at least some of the time should be fun.
One of the stranger features of the Timbaland Masterclass is a part of several other Masterclass courses as well: the online community.
Tim mentions it explicitly twice over the course of the Masterclass, stating he will put some stems up so that you, the viewer, can download them, work with them, and send him your creation.
In spending some time perusing the online community, which is essentially a message board with around 60 threads, I noticed that only nine threads have been active so far this year. As with any loosely-moderated message board, people post for a variety of different reasons, ranging from the mundane “where can I find the stems?” posts to some very interesting and somewhat long-winded treatises on positivity, authenticity, and what qualifies as “cringe”.
All of this is to say, Timbaland does not seem to interact with the online community except through Masterclass staff, who promise to pass submissions on to Timbaland.
In my scouring of the more recently active threads, I have not seen any feedback from Timbaland, even feedback mediated through Masterclass staff. To be fair, Tim clearly has better things to do than to hang around a message board, and this failure is more of a design flaw with the Masterclass series.
In his first-ever online class, learn how to collaborate with vocalists, layer new tracks, and create hooks that stick. Step into Timbaland’s studio and learn from one of the industry’s most innovative hit makers.
Masterclass is a subscription service billed annually at $180 (at the time of publication). If you are only interested in this course, you will most assuredly find the service overpriced.
To put this into perspective, the Masterclass subscription costs about $1 per minute if you only view the Timbaland masterclass.
That said, if there are a few courses that interest you, you might hit a point where the entertainment and instruction packed into each course will become worth the money (for some possible examples, check out our reviews of the Armin Van Buuren and deadmau5Masterclass courses).
There are over 100 courses included in the full access pass subscribers buy, so when you have finished being inspired and entertained by the three-hour Timbaland Masterclass, you might learn something from Christina Aguilera, or even something totally different from outside of the realm of music, like the Serena Williams masterclass on tennis or Malcolm Gladwell Teaches Writing.
As far as the overall value of the Masterclass platform as a whole, since the user ends up subscribing to a yearly access pass for roughly the cost of the update to Ableton Live 11, I would offer only a 7.5 out of 10.
It’s not that you don’t get anything for your money – far from it. It’s just that this pricing model is out of touch with what most producers consider to be reasonable.
There is easily a year’s worth of content in place already on the platform, and new courses are added every month, so the question of value at this point has less to do with a single class and more to do with the likelihood you will get some use out of the other Masterclasses.
Nonetheless, an upfront cost of $180 is a major barrier for a lot of would-be viewers, and something Masterclass will have to address if it hopes to reach a broader audience.
If you are brand new to beat-making and producing, there is quite a bit of entry-level information you might gain from the Timbaland masterclass.
If you are a musician who is entertained by watching other musicians engage in their process, you might find this an entertaining and refreshing three hours, but I would not recommend going looking for anything too technical in this course.
Though his expertise is more intuitive than studied, Timbaland makes up for a lack of concrete information with his warm and engaging personality. Watching him improvise and play in the booth and at his computer workstation is a joy.
Provided you are not looking for anything more than these qualities, you will not be disappointed with what you get, yet it is important to keep in mind that Masterclass is a very expensive platform, so you will want to have a playlist of several classes to watch after you have concluded Timbaland’s masterclass.