Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Stop the Madness!

Why are music educators so emphatic about giving away their services? I just learned of a free music school in the Chicago area. How wonderful it must be for those students and their families who are fortunate enough to get a slot for free lessons! However, are programs like this good for the health of our industry, music education as a whole? Are the musicians/music educators in that area so well off that they can afford to work for little or no fees?

The Peoples Music School recently constructed a new building that cost over $1 million dollars. Evidently the have no problem paying construction workers up there in the windy city. I read a long list of supporters, foundations and 'individuals like you' - you that is, unless you are a music teacher. In that case you need to donate your time and talent because that's all you can afford to give. Does anyone else think this sounds whacky?

There's no doubt that free music lessons are wonderful for those students, families and communities on the receiving end. But let's take a good hard look at the health of our industry as a whole before giving away the farm. If music teachers were compensated on a par with other disciplines, maybe more of these schools would be popping up around the country.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Green Music Education

Despite our penchant for Wired Magazine, Renaissance Music, obscure TV theme songs and all things gadgetry, we are not...I repeat...NOT nerds! (Ok, maybe a few of us are). Nonetheless, we hope you'll consider us a tad hipper for falling on the entrepreneurial side of the pack.

In 2003 we visited Alfred Publishing in Van Nuys California, - an industry giant. This meeting was the result of mutual acquaintances, many phone calls, a hundred e-mails and a chance meeting with an Alfred Rep on our home turf in Dallas. We hoped we could provide Alfred with online music education 'support' and perhaps ease our way into the industry. After seeing their organization we realized several key facts:

1.) Purchasing forests for the paper needed to print method books is REALLY expensive.
2.) Purchasing state of the art digital printers is REALLY expensive.
3.) Hiring 3rd party writers and artists to produce music publications is REALLY expensive.
4.) Warehousing and shipping those products to retail stores is REALLY expensive.
5.) get the picture.

Even though the meeting was an initial success with a verbal commitment to 'work together', we realized we had better re-think our product and where our efforts would eventually be placed. We were willing to honor our casual commitment but literally on the return flight we decided to go about things a different way. These are the questions we asked ourselves:

1.) Isn't the internet an ideal tool for transferring information?
2.) Isn't a huge part of learning music deciphering a sequence of concepts?
3.) Wouldn't it be 'greener' to publish online?
4.) Isn't the internet here to stay?
5.) Do we have any cash?

Well, we set out to build our music learning software 'in-house' with a staff of passionate educators and a few, uh...nerds. We started by compiling a set of sequential musical concepts that all instrumentalists (and vocalists) should know. Next, we began to put in place some of the processes and hardware needed to complete our task.

We laid out a Henry Ford-like assembly line to move our information from concept to completion drawing on the unique talents of each individual team member. The more gadget-conscious of us learned things like Fireworks, Dreamweaver, WebQuiz and PowerTracks. Others lent their data entry talents, editing and patience to the mix. All the while we kept our eye on the goal of producing as 'green' a learning tool as we possibly could. We simply kept honing and crafting, learning and failing until we had a usable interface and entirely functional software product.

It has been a long haul since our meeting with Alfred, but through everything we've kept our eye on the green goal. Our product is html based so there is no printing (we recommend GreenPrint for those of you who absolutely MUST have something on the music stand). There is no storage, no shipping and obtaining our brand of music education leaves a near zero carbon footprint. What's more, our users have the ability to directly contact the writers, editors and composers - try that with any other learning material!

Monday, June 9, 2008

How to Video's

The Instrument Support Centers accessed through MusickEd software include 'how to' videos. To prepare ourselves for publishing ours, we watched tons of them at you-tube and a few other education sites. Let me tell you, we saw all kinds of strange stuff, heard all sorts of odd sounds and were fed lots of shall we say, 'questionable' advice. We decided to put in place a few rules for our productions:

1. No editorializing! Just the facts man...

2. Record the sound and video separately for the clearest quality. There's nothing like hearing a phone ring or a toilet flushing in the background of a 'how to hold your guitar' video.

3. Stay focused on the task(s) at hand. Show only the things users need to know to complete each task.

4. Be brief. Just about all of the videos are between 2 and 3 minutes long.

Have a look at the video below from our Alto Sax Info Center. It explains how to assemble the horn:

Feel free to let us know what you like or don't like. We have a variety of videos available for just about all instruments and we are in the process of adding more. We plan to use the same approach for our Unit Support videos and for the Jazz Series which is due out this fall.