The Wide-Ranging Possibilities of Berklee’s Contemporary Writing & Production Major


by Ayanna Jacobs-El

One thing that sets Berklee apart from the multitude of music colleges is the diverse range of majors. Unlike many traditional music schools, that only offer limited majors in either performance, composition, business, or education, Berklee offers those majors and even more that are geared towards music therapy, songwriting, arranging, production, and music technology. During my senior year of high school, I applied to a number of music schools, but one of the main reasons Berklee was at the top of my list was because of the Contemporary Writing and Production (CWP) major. I loved to compose but I also wanted to learn more about music technology and production. Out of the seven schools I applied to, Berklee was the only one that offered a major that catered the most to the areas I wanted to study.

In the CWP major, the classes are either production or composition centric. The composition classes provide the foundation for writing and arranging in a wide variety of groups and genres. CWP majors take courses in writing for big band, orchestra, A cappella groups, vocals-led ensembles, and small, instrumental ensembles. In the courses that focus on writing and arranging for small ensembles, students are usually given the freedom to select or write songs in genres of their own choice. One of the perks of these classes is that either professional musicians or Berklee students perform the projects and record in Berklee’s top-notch studios. This allows students to have professional quality representations of their music that can be used for their final graduation portfolio.

PHOTO: Chrissy Tignor

The production courses focus heavily on using the Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) (Logic Pro X and Pro Tools), working with MIDI and audio, using synthesizers, and mixing. They start at a very basic level and gradually work their way up into more advanced concepts, once the student has a solid foundation. Classes are formulated so that they compliment the writing courses that the student is concurrently enrolled in. Students get to utilize their composition and arranging skills in the production classes as well, by writing music using advanced production techniques and creating hybrid compositions that utilize electronic elements. All CWP majors have access to the four state-of-the-art production suites in the 160 building. These suites contain industry standard equipment, similar to what is used by today’s professional composers and producers. Students can use the suites to record instruments or vocals, sequence MIDI, and mix in order to create professional and polished projects.

One of the special courses in the CWP major is Directed Study. Students get to meet one-on-one for 30 minutes each week with a CWP professor of their choice in order to prepare for their graduation portfolio. This is an invaluable time to work intensively on creating high-quality representations of the student’s writing and production in advertising, orchestra, vocal-led ensembles, small instrumental ensembles, and electronic production. Students can also explore advanced topics with their professor that haven’t been covered in previous CWP classes.

The modern musician must have a diverse skillset and the CWP major does a great job preparing students to thrive in a wide range of careers within the music industry. To get a sense of just how broad the possibilities are, CWP graduates go on to write music for many forms of visual media such as commercials, games, TV, and film. In addition, they write music for podcasts, musical theatre, or for other artists. They also serve as producers for albums, arrangers for ensembles of all sizes and styles, become musical directors, music copyists, conductors, music supervisors, transcribers, or even work as artists. Many CWP graduates chose to work in many areas at once, which often leads to a lucrative and exciting career trajectory. I would recommend the CWP major to anyone who loves to compose and produce but also has an interest in developing skills that can be utilized in many other areas of the music industry.



About the Author

Ayanna Jacobs-El
Ayanna Jacobs-El is a composer, producer, songwriter, singer, alto and baritone saxophonist, and DJ dual majoring in Contemporary Writing and Production and Professional Music with a minor in Writing for TV and New Media. You can learn more about Ayanna and hear her music by visiting