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.

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Presenter at NYSSMA/MENC

I am just back from NYSSMA (New York State School Music Association) Summer In-Service Conference in Albany, NY.  NYSSMA is considered one of the best MENC Chapters so I was honored to have been asked to present.  My presentation was bright and early Monday at 9AM and I managed to get a some what awake crowd of about 25 people.  Since this is the smaller of the two conferences NYSSMA does each year, I was happy to have the numbers.  My 1 hour and 15 min presentation was entitled, “Digital Media In & Out of the Classroom”.  My presentation covered two areas:

1 ) Keeping it safe and legal outside the classroom with regard to CD or video sales and posting student work on the Internet 2) How digital media can be used in the classroom to demonstrate an idea or concept or be used as materials for student projects

I used examples of student podcasts and compositions and also gave examples of how popular media, video, YouTube and contemporary songs can be used in the classroom.  Each participant left with a nice packet of information discussed in the presentation and several lesson plans that were discussed.  They seemed enthusiastic and appreciative of the presentation.

All in all, I had a good time and meet a few really nice people. Given I am a New Yorker at heart (I was raised in Brooklyn and have Permanent NYS Certification), it was nice meeting several people from Long Island with an accent I could easily recognize!

Podcamp NYC 2.0

The second PodCamp NYC will be this Friday & Saturday April 25 & 26 in Brooklyn, NY (no, you don’t need a passport to get there). This year’s PodCamp will focus on education and I’ll be speaking at 2pm on Saturday. My session is called Cashing in on Digital Distribution for Public Schools or “The High Tech Bake Sale”. I’ll be speaking about podcasting in the music classroom, showing examples of my student podcasts and talking about digital media content distribution, sales and how to using digital distribution as a fund raiser for your school programs. For more information on PodCamp NYC 2.0 go to the website. I hope to see you there!

Podcasting and Royalties

I got an email from a friend who is on the orchestra committee of a regional orchestra here in CT. He asked me if I knew anything about royalties or extra/recording pay for orchestra musicians, as the Board of Directors of the orchestra wants to do podcasts. There are two separate issues here; payment to performers for the recording and royalty payments for downloads of the podcast. I’m no expert but here’s what I found out.

If the orchestra is covered under an AF of M contract the answer is simple, leave it to your union reps to work it out with the Board. More information can be found at the American Federation of Musicians website.

Extra recording pay is really up to the performers or in this case the players committee that represents the entire orchestra. Orchestras usually record their performances for archival purposes. Sometimes Boards have a blanket agreement with orchestral players/committees that allow archival recordings to be used for promotional purposes with stipulations to length of excerpts. If the podcast is an audio recording and is within the parameters of this agreement, there probably is no issue; a podcast is basically for promotional purposes as long as it doesn’t cost anything to download.

Video podcasts, vidcasts or vodcasts, might be a different issue. Since orchestras can sometimes think and function in the same century as most of their repertoire, video may still not be included in the promotional agreement. A simple inclusion in this agreement might do the trick. A word to the orchestra committee: check with your players to make sure this is cool with them. Some players may not want to be on video for personal or religious reasons and others might want a constraint on how close the camera can zoom in on them or the section. (Hey, YOU wanted to be on the committee!)

I checked with a friend who just happens to be high up the IT “food chain” for a MAJOR record label and specializes in… you guessed it… royalties. Although I got a primer on the VERY complex calculations that go into royalty payments to artists and for copyrighted material; I’ll stick to the basics. First and foremost, royalties only get paid out IF someone pays. If nothing is being paid, there are no royalties to be paid. If money is exchanged either on a per download, monthly or yearly basis (subscriptions), royalty calculations are extremely complex. Although there are some standards, everything is negotiable. The answer here is simple; get a lawyer who knows this area.

The only other issue to consider is that podcasts are “housed” on websites and in this case, the orchestra’s website. If the website is commercial in nature, royalties must be paid even if the download is free. Take the case of YouTube. If Joe Citizen posts a video on YouTube and by chance a Madonna tune is heard faintly out of a passing car on that video, YouTube is responsible for paying all the related royalties because YouTube is a commercial site in that it sells advertising space and makes money. Personally, I think considering most local and regional orchestra sites “commercial” is splitting hairs. Sure, the site sells tickets and maybe advertising space but come on… and any player that wants to split hairs on this issue can have a discussion with me about the union “work dues” that gets taken out of our check. You know, that dollar or two that gets taken out of my check and kicked back to the local union that doesn’t even negotiate our contract and is paid by every player whether they are union members or not. Did I say kicked back? Hey, I am a union member and very pro union but… don’t get me started. I digress…

In the end, it is up to the players to decide if they want payment for recorded material that is intended for promotional use. Since I happen to be a member of the orchestra that is the subject here, I intend to tell the players committee to let it slide. Think about it; we are employed by the Board, no one wants to get ripped off and everyone wants a financially stable orchestra so we can keep playing. Isn’t it in the best interest of the players to allow the Board all possible means of advertising within reasonable parameters? Kudos to this Board for stepping into the 21st century.

Teaching Basic Audio Through Podcasting: Part 1, The Speech Project

Podcasting is a great way to introduce students to the basics of recording, editing and mixing audio. By the time my students get to podcasting, year 2 or 3 of my class, they have had a lot of experience composing and mixing MIDI sequences created in GarageBand and Logic. Recording, editing and processing audio is a whole new ball game. I break it down into a few projects that teach the basics of everything they need to know about audio before they produce their own podcast.

The Speech Project introduces students to prerecorded audio and how to edit, process and mix audio for clarity with music underscoring. Basically, the assignment is to incorporate one or more prerecorded speeches into self-composed music. The music needs to be appropriate to the speech or the point of the piece. They cannot use the speech in its entirety so they need to make selections and edit the audio files. I distribute a few dozen pre-selected speeches as aiff audio files via our Mac Network shared folders. The speeches cover a wide array of topics including politics, early sound recordings, poets reading selections of their works, baseball, the moon landing, space travel and Civil Rights era speeches. Students listen to them via iTunes and can then import the ones they want into Logic. The assignment is very open-ended and allows students a great deal of leeway and creativity. Students can underscore parts of the speech, combine different speeches, use snippets of the speech rhythmically, any combination or any other means they can think of. The results are amazing as students often transform the original intentions of the words into a new idea they create in the piece and highlight their new creation with music.

Additionally, students now need to learn about plug-ins. Compression, EQ and Noise Reduction are just a few of the basic processing tools needed to clarify the audio so it can be heard over the music without pushing the volume. Students can then explore effects such as Reverb and Delay. How about using a Guitar Amp Simulator on the spoken word? They are only limited by their imagination and the amount of RAM on their computer!

Next time, The Commercial Project: An Introduction to Recording Audio.

A technical note: It is best to have the highest quality audio files, aiff or wav, for students to edit and manipulate as opposed to MP3. When you load an MP3 into an audio editing program, it will automatically convert it into aiff or wav. That means it will extrapolate the missing information in the MP3 and fill it in according to the conversion algorithm. You might as well start with the best source file you can rather than leave it to the program to “fill in the blanks”.

A legal note: You can use these speeches for educational purposes but be careful if you want to use them in a podcast. They may not be public domain.

Sources for speeches:

  • I went to the local library and borrowed a collection of speeches on CD/DVD. I could choose the ones I wanted to distribute to my students and download them in the highest quality audio format.
  • This is the Bloomfield College (NJ) Library’s blog for audio & video files that may be considered “academic” in nature: lectures; readings; literature; and, discussions.
  • A database of and index to 5000+ full text, audio and video versions of public speeches, sermons, legal proceedings, lectures, debates, interviews, other recorded media events, and a declaration or two.

Podcasting Mics: BLUE Snowball

I just love how easy this mic is to use and how good it sounds. It comes with a desk top stand and you can get the suspension mount separately or some dealers sell all three as a package. I also use a pop filter that attaches to the shock mount. Plug the USB into the computer, make sure the System Preferences and software preferences (that’s in the Sound menu for each) recognizes the mic and you are good to go. Since this mic does not have any external gain control, you’ll have to set the Input level in the System preferences. A little experimenting and you’ll get the right input for your voice or instrument. Yeah, go ahead and try this bad boy out on an acoustic guitar, piano or any other instrument. I’s really meant to be used up close so you won’t get enough sensitivity for making a good recording of your chorus or band but it might work out really nicely for practice recordings. It depends on the volume of your ensemble and the room you are in. Try it!

BLUE Snowball

Podcasting in the classroom

A little over two years ago, a friend showed me her iPod. I just couldn’t understand why she would listen to an MP3 instead of audio (more on that another time). She explained that she was listening to various NPR shows as she did on her daily bus commute to and from work. That was the first time I ever heard of a podcast.

Podcasting is hot and one of the best ways I can teach my students about the very basics of audio and audio editing. Students sit two at a time in my home made table top recording booth in an alcove in my classroom. I’ve got two AKG C3000 mics hanging from boom arms and connected to an M-Box. They record right into GarageBand and soon Logic Studio. They come up with the copy themselves and I ask them to limit their time to 12 minutes including music. They drop in their music, their friends music or the commercials they have made as a previous assignment. They then have to edit it all together and manage the volume. Forget about the ducking feature in GB! Have them use their ears and automate the tracks. I check EVERYTHING not just for volume and effects but I need to make sure it’s all rated “G”.

We got eight podcasts up and running and more to come this month. Check them out at: