If there’s one thing I’m passionate about, it’s learning as much as possible.
To continue to lock down as many new skills as possible, I decided to try out Alicia Keys’s MasterClass on Songwriting and Producing. It’s the newest course on MasterClass, and I couldn’t wait to jump into it.
What I learned was surprising. I found out a lot more about Alicia Keys’s personal style, along with some clever life lessons along the way.
So did I like it? Do I think it’s worth it?
Let me break it down to you in this comprehensive Alicia Keys MasterClass review.
What is the Alicia Keys MasterClass?
In this MasterClass, Alicia Keys teaches Songwriting and Producing.
It’s a 19 lesson class that runs at 3 hours and 22 minutes.
You’ll learn critical songwriting lessons like:
- Melody and Lyrics
- Vocal arrangements
- Creative Collaboration
And many more!
Each of the lessons is structured around a video lesson, where Alicia Keys walks you through a specific topic, and then explains how that topic connects to the music she’s made.
For instance, she dedicates a class to her musical foundations and influences, where she namechecks some surprising influences like Bach and Debussy.
Like most MasterClasses, Alicia Keys’s one has a workbook that accompanies her videos, though it is less than 20 pages. It reads more as a small biography of Alicia Keys, rather than a workbook for you to pencil in ideas and thoughts.
Who teaches the class
This MasterClass is taught by Alicia Keys herself.
Alicia Keys is a singer-songwriter who has won 15 Grammys and sold over 50 million albums. She’s a major music star.
Some of her hits include “Fallin,” “If I ain’t got you,” and “My Boo.” Additionally, she co-recorded the James Bond theme “Another Way To Die” for Quantum of Solace.
She is noted for exerting an impressive amount of control over her artistic output — serving as a singer, an instrumentalist, and a producer — allowing her to achieve a form of artistic and sonic singularity which is increasingly rare in the “committee-style” world of current popular music.
It’s from this place of artistic diversity and depth that she approaches teaching in her MasterClass.
Who is this class for?
This class was surprising. It wasn’t a traditional “Genius teaches you a skill” type of MasterClass.
Instead, it was a class where Alicia Keys walked you through her song-creation process.
Because this class isn’t as direct in its teaching style, it’s not going to be for everyone.
This class would be best for:
- Fans of Alicia Keys
- Songwriters who already have a strong grasp of music theory
- People curious to learn how to control all aspects of song creation
- People who want to learn about women in music
- People looking for a class without a strong work commitment.
This class doesn’t have homework for you to tackle. As a result, the message board/community aspect of Alicia Keys’s MasterClass is considerably thinner than some of the more robust classes (like Neil Gaiman’s class).
There certainly are a few categories where students take matters into their own hands (there’s a board where you can post songs you’ve created), but it still isn’t as immersive as other MasterClass communities.
But, if you’re an Alicia Keys fan, you’ll really enjoy hearing her speak about her process. It’s a great look into Alicia Keys’s mind.
Who is this class not for?
It pains me to say it, but this MasterClass is not for someone who wants to learn how to write a song. Alicia Keys is great at explaining her process, but she isn’t very good at teaching you how to create music.
A lot of the music lessons are indirect. She’ll explain how she did vocal arranging for one of her own songs, and then the onus is on you to take that lesson and apply it to your own art.
If you’re a fan of that style of indirect teaching, you’ll definitely dig this class. If, on the other hand, you want a teacher to walk you through how to create music, you might be left feeling a little empty-handed.
How much does Alicia Keys’s Masterclass cost?
What does the annual membership get you?
- An entire year’s subscription to all classes on MasterClass (over 90 classes), including of course Alicia Keys
- Access to community message boards
- PDF workbooks for each class
MasterClass as a whole really is bingeable learning content. It offers you literally thousands of hours of lessons in categories like cooking, writing, negotiation, and songwriting.
All of these classes are taught by world-class masters in their field (think Gordon Ramsay, Natalie Portman, Helen Mirren, Matthew Walker and Garry Kasparov), giving you unprecedented insight into the creative processes of geniuses.
Read my complete MasterClass review here.
It used to be that you could purchase classes individually for $90, but (as of this writing) this is no longer the case.
Still, I like to do a quick cost comparison between a single class ($90) and the All-Access Pass ($180).
For only the price of two classes, you get access to over 90 MasterClasses for an entire year.
You can take as many classes as you like, and you can take them concurrently — allowing you to learn from multiple teachers at once.
To me, the MasterClass annual membership is a great deal that keeps getting better.
MasterClass is currently offering a special 2-for-1 for the holiday season. You can access this special deal here.
What’s it like taking Alicia Keys’s MasterClass?
Alicia’s class is divided into 19 lessons.
When you sign up for Alicia Keys’ MasterClass, you’ll be first taken to her intro lesson called “Meet Your Instructor.”
This lesson (which runs just shy of 4 minutes), serves as an intro to both Alicia Keys and the subject matter (songwriting and producing). From there, she jumps through a series of lessons that mirror her approach to creating a song from start to finish. Towards the end of the class, she delivers a series of lessons on her philosophy for music creation, the music industry, and artistry in general.
I figured I’d walk you through three of the lessons so that you could take a closer look at her approach to teaching.
Start with Melody and Lyrics
I jumped into this lesson with excitement — it felt like such a strong, technical place to begin.
Imagine my surprise when her first quote was “How do I start a song? Every time I don’t know how it’s going to happen.”
Not to knock Alicia Keys (at all), but this is what I mean when I say this class isn’t amazing at teaching per se. This becomes a great class on learning how Alicia Keys creates music, but it is hard to apply those lessons to your own craft.
Let’s keep plugging through.
Alicia Keys quickly makes it clear that emotion and improvisation are the cornerstones of her foundation. She explains that one of her methods of song creation is to improvise a few sets of chords and then simply sing whatever comes to her mind.
If you’re already comfortable crafting chords and cadences, you will likely enjoy how Alicia explains the power of improvisation and emotion when first crafting a song.
Alicia The Producer
What sets Alicia Keys apart from other artists is that she retains tight control over her entire music product. This includes music production.
Alicia The Producer showcases Alicia’s techniques and philosophies behind producing her own music.
Over the course of ten minutes, she walks through how to cut vocals in a recording booth. She focuses the lesson on how “you “ (as a young artist) can produce yourself. I found the concept to be highly applicable and engaging.
She does, again, ground the class heavily within her own experience, but there are nuggets of wisdom anybody can take. One I particularly enjoyed was “learning how to change from the singer to the producer in the moment.”
How do you do that? Well, you gotta take her class and find out!
Overall, though, the best lesson that she teaches is that you need to take ownership of your product.
Don’t be afraid to ask people to leave your space! Don’t be afraid to mess up! Explore your music. Don’t be inhibited.
Sisterhood in the music industry
I liked this lesson. Alicia Keys steps away from tackling literal music creation, and instead dives into a pointed critique of the exploitative music industry.
Alicia examines a collective called She Is The Music, which is a group of musicians, lawyers, producers, and engineers that works to increase women representation within the music industry.
I certainly wasn’t familiar with She Is The Music before taking this class, so it was enlightening to hear about how this collective is working to make big changes across the music industry.
Throughout the course, it became apparent that Alicia Keys’s strongest classes were ones that directly tied her experience to a broader point about music philosophy. This lesson (Sisterhood in the music industry) is a perfect example. Alicia walks through her background as a woman in the recording industry, and then explains how there are concrete steps being taken to help artists of the future navigate the industry.
Normally, I am a big fan of the MasterClass workbooks. They typically have valuable lessons, exercises, and homework that you can work on to accompany your progress with the video lessons.
I’m slightly saddened to report that Alicia Keys’s MasterClass doesn’t have a similar workbook.
Instead, you get a 16-page book that functions more as a mini-biography for Alicia Keys.
There certainly are some interesting tidbits in there (she devotes ample space to raising up new women in the music industry), but it’s not a workbook.
It feels like an advertisement for Alicia Keys.
This mirrors my confusion and slight frustration with Alicia Keys’s MasterClass as a whole: it isn’t user-centric. It’s Alicia-centric.
Yes, there are great lessons that you can glean from taking her course. However, they don’t come readily; you have to indirectly acquire them from Alicia’s own life experiences.
The workbook information was engaging, and it was great to learn more about Alicia Keys as an artist. My respect for her as a singer, songwriter, and producer has grown leaps and bounds by simply taking this class.
But, I have to be honest, my knowledge on how to craft a song hasn’t grown as much as I’d like.
Alicia Keys MasterClass alternatives
So what are some alternatives to Alicia Keys’s MasterClass?
It depends upon what you’re after. Are you after classes taught by Alicia Keys herself, or are you after classes on how to write a song?
If you’re looking for classes by Alicia Keys, this is the only platform you’ll get it. However, she has an autobiography called More Myself, which also offers great insight into her personal history and artistry.
On MasterClass itself, there are well over a dozen music instructors from Sheila E. to Hanz Zimmer to St. Vincent, all teaching their personal philosophies on music creation.
Some of these classes are more philosophical; others are more practical and technical.
The great news is that all of them are available on MasterClass with the annual membership. For just $180 a year, you can take a music class from Alicia Keys and 11 other musicians. Considering all of the talent out there, it’s a pretty excellent deal in my opinion.
The other two options I’d look into are Skillshare and YouTube.
Skillshare is another learning platform (like MasterClass) with thousands of different instructors teaching thousands of different courses.
Unlike MasterClass, these teachers aren’t household names. Instead, they’re simply instructors who are looking to help people learn skills.
Because of that, you end up getting a mixed bag in terms of quality. Some classes are excellent; others aren’t so great. But, the majority of the classes are focused on teaching you hard skills, whereas the MasterClasses can veer more into art philosophy.
Skillshare is $99 a year, which is just over half the cost of MasterClass.
Pros of Skillshare:
- More classes
- Bigger emphasis on teaching you skills
Pros of MasterClass:
- Higher quality classes
- Teachers are masters in their fields
- Easier to navigate and discover new classes.
Pros and Cons of Alicia Keys’ MasterClass
With any class I review, there are going to be things that I like and things that I thought could be improved. Alicia Keys’s MasterClass was certainly no exception.
Let’s take a look at what I thought were the strongest elements first.
- The production quality. As always, the production quality of her MasterClass is off the charts. The video is extremely high-quality (Netflix level), so there’s no issue with graininess or not being able to see Alicia Keys clearly. Additionally, each lesson has subtitles and can be sped up or slowed down so that you can learn in whatever way is best for you.
- The philosophy. It was really cool to learn about Alicia Keys’s philosophy and artistry. She takes considerable time to walk you through her own headspace, inviting you to learn from her successes. I walked away with a newfound appreciation for her talents.
- The time commitment. This class ran at under four hours. There wasn’t a homework requirement. As such, you could binge this class in a lazy afternoon if you were so inclined. I liked this because it stood in contrast with some of the more rigorous MasterClasses out there. Sometimes, the more involved MasterClasses can feel intimidating, and it’s nice to enjoy a more casual class.
There were definitely a few things that I wished could be improved. Here are the most prominent ones.
- There aren’t any direct lessons. This was, by far, the most frustrating part of the Alicia Keys MasterClass. There aren’t any direct lessons. By this, I mean that Alicia doesn’t sit you down and say “ok, to start a song, let’s examine some popular chords. Here are some chords that are commonly used. You play them like this.” Instead, you get a lot of lessons like, “I typically play a few chords and then improvise lyrics.” To me, that isn’t terribly helpful when learning how to craft a song.
- The workbook. I mentioned this earlier, but the workbook accompanying the MasterClass is a little substandard compared to other classes on the platform. It’s 16 pages without any accompanying homework, exercises, or room for you to jot down your own lyrics and melodies.
- No homework. Some people might like this. I found it confusing. Most MasterClasses have your instructor give you increasingly difficult homework to help you master a technical skill. This didn’t happen with this class, which I found disappointing.
Alicia Keys MasterClass review: Do I recommend it?
I would recommend this MasterClass to anyone who really likes Alicia Keys, are interested in the philosophy of music production, or already have a strong base for music creation.
This is a class that provides great insight into Alicia Keys as an artist. It also gives you some great indirect music creation lessons.
It isn’t as good at teaching you the hard skills you’ll need to create a song. If you already have those, then you’ll find this class to be very enriching.