Canadian electronic music producer, DJ, and musician Joel Thomas Zimmerman is best known as deadmau5, the six-time Grammy Award nominated legend.
You may know deadmau5 for some of his top hits, including “Raise Your Weapon,” “Faxing Berlin,” “I Remember,” and “Strobe.”
In this hands-on review, we will be looking at deadmau5's Masterclass and whether it can make you a better producer.
At its core, the masterclass is about getting to know the personality that is deadmau5, his workflow and process, his approach to making music, and his philosophy.
What Can The deadmau5 MasterClass Help You Achieve?
It’s entirely possible you’ve seen the class trailer on YouTube.
It begins with deadmau5 removing his “helmet” to reveal his true face. Then he says something slightly controversial: “this is a cardinal sin of EDM right here.” All while making a goofy face and holding down a key on his computer keyboard to produce a bass note that automatically pulsates and modulates.
“Throw a kick drum on it, and you’ve got yourself a song,” says deadmau5 sarcastically.
The masterclass, though, is so much more.
He explains his class is designed to help you develop your own style and sound as a producer.
It promises to teach you how Zimmerman approaches melodies, mixing, and mastering to create unique sounds you simply won’t find inside sample packs.
Plus, he shows you how you can make top notch music without having to invest in a state-of-the-art studio, or for that matter, using state-of-the-art gear.
Overall, the masterclass touches lightly on some subjects (like the career or business side of music), which covering others more heavily (like making and arranging beats). Taken all together, you get a valuable, information-packed course.
Overview Of deadmau5's MasterClass Content
Here we will be looking at the main components of the masterclass, including its format, the length and depth of the training, some actual lesson titles, and more.
What Is The Format Of The deadmau5 MasterClass? Is There A Download Or Stream?
The course content is mostly delivered via video, though there are two accompanying workbooks you can download – the Class Workbook, and Fundamentals Guide. We’ll be offering a brief overview of these guides here.
The Class Workbook is a professionally designed PDF, and quite extensive (61 pages), featuring professional pictures, graphics, chapter review, assignments, and plenty of space for taking notes. There are also “take it further” prompts that will have you listening to other people’s music, analyzing specific deadmau5 tracks, observing his live streams, and more.
This is a handy companion guide and a fantastic way to internalize more of your learning and discoveries as you’re working through the masterclass.
The Fundamentals Guide is a similarly designed PDF, but a little shorter. This guide offers and overview of what to expect inside the masterclass, as well as how students can follow along. It explains that this masterclass is mostly technical in nature, and users would do well to brush up on terms often used in the studio (like VSTs, synthesizers, compression, etc.), as well as the basics of how to use a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW).
It isn’t too much reading and is a nice summary of information the user would do well to peruse before, during, or even after watching the course in its entirety.
Aside from that, the essence of the course is contained within the videos.
How Is deadmau5's MasterClass Delivered?
You get instant access to all training materials upon subscribing to MasterClass.
MasterClass will automatically save your spot inside the course, so you’ll be able to resume viewing from where you left off.
How Much Training Is Available Inside The deadmau5 MasterClass ?
Inside deadmau5 Teaches Electronic Music Production, there are a total of 23 videos (with a few different segments), as defined below:
- Introduction (03:07)
- The deadmau5 Process: Theory (17:30)
- The deadmau5 Process: Practice (17:31)
- Building Your Home Studio (13:39)
- Developing Melodic Structures (16:54)
- Turning Melodies Into Arrangements (15:08)
- Introduction To Synthesized Sounds (15:59)
- Experimenting With Modular Synths (21:41)
- Digital Vs. Analog Synths (15:13)
- Shaping Sounds With Effects And Processing (19:25)
- Beats: Part 1 (14:30)
- Beats: Part 2 (13:34)
- Structuring Songs (12:03)
- Remixes (11:34)
- Mixing (20:10)
- Mastering (18:33)
- Mastering Case Study: Snowcone (12:07)
- Starting Your Producing Career (15:16)
- Understanding The Music Business (14:31)
- On Stage: The Music (10:07)
- On Stage: The Technical Side (14:53)
- On Stage: The Show (10:24)
- Closing (01:39)
That all adds up to a total of 5 hours, 25 minutes, and 28 seconds of content, which is quite substantial.
We’re also impressed by the scope of topics covered, from synths and beats to mixing and mastering.
Some Actual Lesson Titles And What They Help You Do
We’ve gone over the lesson titles already. So, in this section, we’ll focus on what some of the lessons can help you accomplish.
Building Your Home Studio
deadmau5 is a big believer in the idea that you can make music from your own bedroom.
He echoes a sentiment shared by many producers – that sometimes awful sounding music comes out of the best studios, and the best sounding music comes from some random kid making beats from the comfort of his own home.
He also explains that music today is going to end up in a digital format. It doesn’t matter what you use to record, you will be distributing and delivering your music digitally.
With these considerations in mind, deadmau5 goes onto explain the various components you will need to get your home studio set up – especially your Digital Audio Workstation, synthesizers, and studio monitors.
That said, deadmau5 is a bit of a minimalist, and he suggests that you don’t necessarily need a ton of gear or even a big budget to get started. The DAW is really the key.
Turning Melodies Into Arrangements
deadmau5 says he usually begins making beats by starting with the root notes of the chords and layering notes (chord tones, melody, harmony, etc.) on top. He likes orchestral arrangements, which means his arrangements are rarely built on simplistic triads.
This lesson covers:
- Bass lines. deadmau5 explains that bass lines are the lowest notes in your arrangements. It seems obvious, but that description could alter the way you think about your MIDI sequencing efforts. deadmau5 also shares a little bit about how bass lines and kick drums can cancel each other out, and how to avoid that.
- Lead lines. Zimmerman explains how you can create lead lines out of your existing arrangement (without having to write something entirely new from scratch). He also shows how an arpeggiator works and how it can create more sonic interest in your tracks.
- Case study. Zimmerman shows a track he calls “Cat Thruster” and how the various instruments interact with each other within the context of the track.
Beats: Part 1
In this lesson, deadmau5 starts off by breaking down how to write an EDM drumbeat. And the process is much simpler than perhaps you would have even thought. This is encouraging news for new beat makers who may have assumed the process to be a complex one.
He also explains:
- Why all drum samples are usable. deadmau5 believes there’s no kick or snare sample that can’t be reshaped using EQ or a transient shaper to make it usable within the context of a track.
- How to build your kick sound. deadmau5 doesn’t just use one kick sound. He layers various sounds at different frequencies, along with samplers and effects to create his perfect kick sound.
- How to avoid phase cancellation. Layering a variety of similar sounds can result in phasing, which can cancel each other out. Learning how to avoid phasing is a must for every electronic producer.
- How to balance drums and melody. Zimmerman says beats don’t change his arrangements. He thinks “melody first” when writing, and only adds drums because that’s what’s marketable.
On Stage: The Music
In this lesson, deadmau5 explains how his live mixes sometimes differ somewhat from his studio mixes.
He also shares:
- How to program a show. deadmau5 expounds on why an electronic show must be programmed and why everything can’t be done live.
- How to play a DAW. Loading up his project files in his DAW gives deadmau5 something to do while in performance (as opposed to just playing a stereo track over the monitors). Essentially, he “plays the DAW” when he’s performing. If you've ever wondered what DAW does deadmau5 use in MasterClass, you'll be able to look and see.
- How to create a set list. Zimmerman shares his approach to creating a set list, with all its peaks and valleys.
- How to start and end strong. What happens in the middle doesn’t matter as much as how you start and how you end, says deadmau5.
The 6 Key Sections Of The MasterClass
Although not stated anywhere inside the masterclass, if we were to break it down, we observed that there are are six key sections to the masterclass.
Each of these sections focus on a different aspect of music – not just how to approach songwriting, or how to set up your home studio, but also the career and business side of music, as well as live performance.
Here we will go deeper into each of these sections.
The deadmau5 Process
This is where deadmau5 explains how he thinks about theory and practice, which in many ways is his personal philosophy for making music.
Here is a summary of some of deadmau5’ philosophy:
- His process includes working late at night when he can’t think critically. He finds that this lessens inhibition, which allows for more exploration and experimentation.
- He doesn’t see story and music as necessarily interconnected and doesn’t feel he needs a personal connection to the music to be able to make it resonate.
- He doesn’t work linearly on music. He often starts working on the melody or hook of the song before adding anything else.
- There are plenty of stock libraries musicians can leverage to make their own music. This allows for the “piecing together” of different parts to create a cohesive whole. deadmau5 suggests that one can also save the sounds they create themselves for later use. That’s the “Mr. Potato Head” approach to making beats – you can pick and choose what elements to include in a song.
In this section of the course, deadmau5 also demonstrates his process for creating a beat inside a DAW. At first, he said that using a keyboard and mouse with his DAW was a little awkward. But as he became more familiar with it, he learned to work fast (and it is impressive to watch).
This is an important lesson in music production. If you know your gear, and all the shortcuts, and how to sequence MIDI tracks, you’ll be able to work quickly and create the results you want faster. You’ll also be able to do more things creatively when you aren’t tied down by thoughts of “that’s going to take too long,” or “I don’t want to redo that whole part.”
This section of the course is fascinating to watch, especially as deadmau5 demonstrates his process for working inside his DAW.
You shouldn’t necessarily expect to discover all of Zimmerman’s secrets in this section. It should be considered an overview of what’s to come. But it is a great introduction.
Setting Up Your Studio
There is only one lesson directly tied to this section of the masterclass – the Building Your Home Studio module. That said, there are other lessons that cover modular synthesizers, which also connect to this section of the course.
deadmau5 contends that you don’t need a lot of gear to start making tracks, and he is right. The more skilled you are at using your DAW, the faster you’ll be able to generate ideas, mess around with arrangements, and create impressive tracks.
If you’re focused on electronic music, you certainly don’t need a setup more sophisticated than Zimmerman’s. If, on the other hand, you’re making all types of music, you’ll probably need to develop your studio setup further.
This is the crux of the masterclass where we get to see deadmau5 in action, making music using all the tools at his disposal.
This section is comprised of the following lessons:
- Developing Melodic Structures
- Turning Melodies Into Arrangements
- Introduction To Synthesized Sounds
- Experimenting With Modular Synths
- Digital Vs. Analog Synths
- Shaping Sounds With Effects And Processing
- Beats: Part 1
- Beats: Part 2
- Structuring Songs
Of course, there is a little bit of overlap with these lessons. Shaping Sounds With Effects And Processing forms the foundation of mixing (the section that comes after), Experimenting With Modular Synths could also fit under setting up a home studio, and Remixes is almost a section unto itself, as it involves taking existing tracks and coming up with new ideas.
Watching deadmau5 do his thing can be insightful. You can see how his tracks take shape, and how you could emulate his process to create your own. You also get an insider’s look into how he thinks about the process of making tracks.
The lessons on synthesizers can give you a better sense of how to create great sounds using synths. deadmau5 tends to move relatively quickly through these parts but making sounds with synths is largely a matter of experimentation anyway, and there’s a lot you can figure out just by tweaking and messing around with settings.
This is even more evident as Zimmerman shows us how modular synths work. Modular synths are what VST synths are based off, with knobs, switches, inputs, and outputs. You can chain multiple modules to create a variety of high-quality sounds you wouldn’t easily be able to create with digital synths, and the options are near limitless.
Shaping Sounds With Effects And Processing is quite fascinating, as deadmau5 shares some of his secrets to getting unique sounds in the studio. Suffice it to say, we’re not going to reveal all his process here, but you may find his perspective quite intriguing.
The post-production section of the course encompasses:
- Mastering Case Study: Snowcone
Post-production tends to be a critical part of the process. It can take some wrangling to create a cohesive glue between your tracks, and this is generally where it all starts to all come together (which isn’t to say you haven’t already put some time and effort into this).
deadmau5 is a big believer in “getting it right” at the post-production phase and has spent a great deal of time developing his mixing skills. If you don’t plan to do any of your own mixing work, you might not be interested in this section of the course, but otherwise it’s quite critical to your development as a producer.
Mixing is a science and an artform, and it can take quite a lot of practice to get it right. Watching deadmau5 do his thing should at least give you some ideas of how you can clean up your mix to create a more developed whole.
deadmau5 is a believer in the idea that mixing is 99.9% knowhow, and 0.1% tools. So, knowing what to do is more crucial than having expensive outboard gear or VSTs.
As for mastering, Zimmerman sees it as the icing on the top of the cake. Start with something you feel sounds great, and make some final tweaks with limiting, dynamics, etc.
Career & Business
Although the primary focus of the masterclass, of course, is electronic music production, deadmau5 is an accomplished businessman. He likes doing as much of the work as he possibly can on his own releases – even his artwork! He’s also signed many notable artists, including dubstep producer Skrillex.
So, it seems fitting that a portion of the masterclass would be dedicated to the career and business side of music. It’s a nice bonus if nothing else.
The main lessons in this section are:
- Starting Your Producing Career
- Understanding the Music Business
deadmau5 is essentially of the opinion that you’ve got to do everything yourself in the music business, as there is no one out there to help you. If they are trying to help you, they’re probably there to take advantage of you. It’s a cynical view, but it’s certainly one that helped Zimmerman become as accomplished as he is.
One of the most important takeaways here is how deadmau5 created a brand for himself. Obviously, the mouse helmet he wears during live performance has become synonymous with and symbolic of his music.
In Understand the Music Business, Zimmerman explains how he became business-savvy early, just to ensure he could have a lasting career. It’s safe to say artist exploitation is alive and well even in today’s music industry, and Zimmerman himself admits to being taken advantage of at times.
He is still a big believer in having a team, and in this lesson, he expands on the type of team you need to build to be able to manage the business side of your music.
deadmau5 also covers topics like selling music online, making albums, and why he doesn’t stress over song and album titles.
There are three lessons covering live performance, and they are:
- On Stage: The Music
- On Stage: The Technical Side
- On Stage: The Show
Live performance is obviously a key part of the deadmau5 brand, and it could be argued that he wouldn’t be anywhere near as successful without his legendary live appearances.
But performing live as an electronic artist is a little different than performing as a solo artist or a band, and a little closer to performing as a DJ would.
Now, depending on how you approach live as an electronic artist, you wouldn’t have much to do. If you wanted to, you just could hit “play” and let your computer do the rest. deadmau5 seems to have found a happy medium, as he loads up the projects in his DAW live, while he gives the audience a slightly different experience than his recorded work.
In this section, Zimmerman explains the nuances of his live performance, including why he has an A and B show, why rehearsal is important, keeping your equipment running, putting on a show, and more.
Price – How Much Does The deadmau5 MasterClass Cost?
Although not apparent from their homepage, MasterClass offers three plans to access their content library.
All three plans are billed annually (though they are broken down into monthly pricing) and will give you access to all 100+ classes across 11 categories. The Timbaland MasterClass is also included in this deal.
The main incentive for upgrading to higher priced plans is that you can watch on more devices at the same time and download the content for offline viewing on iOS devices.
- Standard: $20 monthly price (billed annually)
- Plus: $27 monthly cost (billed annually)
- Premium: $30 monthly price (billed annually)
deadmau5 MasterClass Review, The Verdict
One of the reasons you might be interested in this masterclass is because you’re a fan of deadmau5. Now, if you’re just a fan and have no intention of learning how to produce music, much of the content may be too technical to be enjoyed. It’s always nice to be able to go behind the scenes, but five hours plus of content is quite a lot to navigate through if you don’t have any interest in music production, even if to a lesser extent.
Meanwhile, sound engineers, music producers, and beat makers will all find the conversations pertinent, insightful, and creatively inspiring. The masterclass trailer sort of paints deadmau5 as a self-taught savant who doesn’t entirely understand music theory, or production for that matter, but you will find that he is quite intentional with all he does, and much of it is backed by his philosophy, experience, and sense of exploration.
Although he “slept” through it, in his own words, he still went to music school. And this seems to have had some influence on his career.
Whether there’s something to be learned from deadmau5's masterclass will largely depend on your experience level, though. If you already know your way around DAWs, synths, modular synths, mixing and mastering, speakers, live performance as a producer or DJ, then the main reason to watch this would be to gain a deeper understanding of deadmau5’ approach to creating.
Even with quite a bit of experience behind us, we still found deadmau5’ explanations, processes, and tactics intriguing and helpful, and we suspect that will hold true for most beginner to intermediate producers, and maybe even some advanced ones.
With nearly six hours of content, the masterclass covers everything you would expect it to and a little more, but most lessons are still under 20 minutes, and come in bite size chunks you can easily consume at your own leisure. MasterClass membership costs at least $20 per month, but even if this were the only class you were interested in, it would be worth every penny. The course is worth 10 times more, if not more than even that!
So, can deadmau5 make you a better producer? Will his approach to music inspire you? Will his experiences and insights take your career to new levels? In most cases, the answer is going to be “yes.”
And even if you already have quite a bit of experience behind you, he will still show you how to think differently about your own arrangements and mixing habits, and in other cases, he might go completely contrary to what some would consider “good sense.” And yet, it’s coming from a legend, so you know it could apply to some of your tracks or work, even if not all of it.
We do not contend that deadmau5 is a good teacher just because he’s on MasterClass. In this case, though, because the editing is good, and the production team clearly knew what they were doing, the course came out looking like an ice cream sundae on a sizzling summer day. All the insights and nuggets have been captured and presented in an orderly fashion. And so, we wholeheartedly recommend giving deadmau5’s course a go.