Tips for Publishing or Distributing Student Music Digitally

I received a tweet from EdtechBC ( about a blog post entitled 21st Century Educators Don’t Say, “Hand It In.” They say, “Publish It!”

Basically, it is a list of, as the subtitle says, “6 Ways Innovative Educators Can Move from “Hand It In” to “Publish it” Teaching. Included are tips for Writing, Reading, Math, ELL/TOSEL, Cooking (I don’t know about your schools but the cooking classes are THE most requested classes in my school!) & History/Social Studies. I was reminded of a portion of a presentation I did for the NYS School Music Association and Connecticut Music Educators Association conferences on “Digital Media In & Out of the Classroom”. In the presentation, I discussed how student music could be distributed, or in this context, published, digitally. So, to extend the blog above, here are some tips for publishing in the music classroom. I’d love to see the list continued by others in other subjects.

Making CDs or videos of school concerts or performances is not impossible to do, just a drag. Legally, you need permission to distribute or sell recordings of copyrighted material that you record or video at a school performance. Entire sessions can be had and entire books have been written on the process of getting permissions for use and resale of performed copyrighted music on a CD (mechanical license). Suffice it to say that legally, recording and distribution of school concerts in any format, video or audio, requires permissions and fees. For more information:

Guidelines for Educational Use of Music

The United States Copyright Law – A Guide for Music Educators

A great resource for EVERY school library is the newly published book by James Frankel, The Teacher’s Guide to Music, Media and Copyright Law published by Hal Leonard. This book is not just for the music teacher but addresses concerns for all teachers and school districts looking to avoid the legal battles with owners of copyrights.

For more information or to purchase a copy, go to the link in my Blog Roll (right sidebar) for James Frankel. (Not now! AFTER you finish reading this blog!)

I do, however, recommend publishing original student music. If you are going to produce a CD of student music and simply hand it out or let students give them to family & friends (a great stocking stuffer I might add), you really won’t need student or parent permission. If, however, any kind of money were going to trade hands, I would recommend you obtain a few permissions, just in case.

First, ask the owner’s permission. That’s the student. There’s a little bit of a gray area of whether or not anything produced on district bought items (i.e. computers or paper) is property of the student or the district but there is no question that the student who created the piece does deserve credit if not ownership of the intellectual property. If nothing else, having the student go through the process of reading and signing a letter teaches them the process of permissions. It gives them a great sense of pride and ownership. I also have their parents sign it, yes, even if they are 18. My rule: as long as they are in my classroom, I defer to the parents. When they are 21 and can buy me a drink, we can have an agreement between us. Until then, parents!

N.B. PLEASE; make sure that your district approves the letter you use. I am not a lawyer and can’t offer you legal advise.

As far as money changing hands, make sure they are not your hands! Maybe I am being overly cautious but I never give out a CD and take money. I make copies of the CD and it goes in the school store. They take the money and it gets deposited right into our school account. I also sell the music digitally over the Internet or through iTunes, Lala, Napster, Amazon and similar music aggregators. To do this I use a third-party digital distribution company. I upload the CD, pay a fee and they send it off to the stores I choose. The school doesn’t make money doing this. Some years we take a loss or the fees are barely paid for. We simply keep the money in the account and use it for the next school produced CD. It’s worth the $40 – $50 spent to have my students and parents find their music on the most cutting edge music distribution sites on the planet! It’s very cool and great PR for your district. To hear my student’s music on iTunes, simply go to the iTunes Store and type Greenwich High School in the search box. (If you are going to buy some music there you can go do it now otherwise wait until you finish reading this blog!)

Podcasts are another way to publish student music. Again, entire books are published on how to do this and there are plenty of free services for school podcasts. Here are a few tips when producing a student podcast:

  • When using material with a copyright, limit your use to 30 sec of each piece.
  • Better yet, don’t use copyrighted material! Only use student produced work.
  • Check your schools Internet policy. Some may have a policy to allow student work to be posted on the website with a student identifier or limited identifiers (first name only, no picture, etc)
  • Just in case, make sure your have parent release for use of student work, image and first name.
  • Make sure students don’t record their last names! Although I teach at a school with some pretty high-profile parents, all students need to be protected in the 21st century. Be smart. Be safe.

Publishing student music is a lot of work for the teacher. Actually, it’s dozens of hours of work especially if you are going to distribute the final product to more than just Mom & Dad. Yes, it’s pretty great to send out CDs to every “big wig” in the district or as gifts for the secretaries and custodians. The bottom line for me is student work. When a student knows that their piece is going to be on a CD, and they can opt out if they choose, their work is just more polished. They spend hours and hours making it ready for that CD. They ask for help. They ask other students for opinions. They take home copies of mixes and try it in the car, on their iPod or off their computer. They test, mix, remix, master and re-record. Their work ethic increases exponentially when they think their music is going to be heard in the world beyond their teacher and classmates.

Now you can go to iTunes and find my student’s music or to the right side bar and click on the link to James Frankel! Happy publishing!


4 Responses to “Tips for Publishing or Distributing Student Music Digitally”

  1. Ginger Spiro Says:

    I’m practically a Ludite but, as a former teacher, I understand the value of “displaying” a student’s work beyond the classroom and the school. Pride (not to be confused with pridefulness) and satisfaction breed greater effort and achievement.
    I can’t praise you enough for going the extra step (make that steps!) for your students. That’s how teachers change the world, one mind at a time.

    • MusicEdTech Says:

      OK, I had to look up “ludite”! Thanks Mom!

      • Cheryl Imbriani Says:

        I was particularly happy to read the little part about having the student AND parents sign paperwork on Intellectual Property. Our High School teachers don’t seem quite as interested in parent participation. As a parent, I am glad you do.

  2. MusicEdTech Says:

    Trust me, asking the parents is strictly a CYA (cover your…) concern!

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