Creating a Program
What are the issues behind creating a music recording program in a public school?
For the most part, professional audio companies actually deal with colleges and universities, or with trade schools who have music recording or intensive media programs. But, as professional audio products become more affordable and the footprint for recording studio operations continue to decrease, more than ever public and private school systems across the country, especially at the high school level, would benefit tremendously from developing more intensive media programs for their students. Just consider what could be done with a multimedia studio program that has the capability of recording music— and then with that capability, being able to apply great music and sound along with video and other multimedia materials into creating programs for entire school communities. As a teacher, I did this throughout my twenty year career in education after having been an assistant engineer for a major record producer.
These systems do not have to be large to be incredibly functional. In fact, some of the home studios that are being utilized by some of the finest recording studio engineers and producers in the world could well serve as an ideal blueprint for this system. Professional audio companies need to understand that school systems work as an extension of their communities— especially those in rural areas of the country. However, even in the large urban areas of the country there are school systems that in essence are also based around neighborhoods. I have never worked in a wealthy suburban school district which could easily afford to implement such a program, which I believe also gives me the ability to better understand the needs of school districts which would actually be ideal for these programs. It would also give children who may not have access to the arts and media in areas of the country where wealth is not concentrated access to tools that will help enhance both their communities and their educational outcomes, as well. It is a win-win situation for everyone— both for the professional music recording community and for the school communities which could become future partners in this ideal. However, it is important for professional audio companies to understand how schools work, beyond the headlines from major news organizations and the needless ranting and raving that is all too common on social media.
How do schools work when it comes to creating multimedia programs?
Unfortunately, it’s not fair to say that school districts across the country are always without money or funding. While it is the case for some school districts, as a whole, it’s not a general rule of thumb. The problem with schools and communities is how they often make the decisions to invest the money that they actually have to spend. For example, when schools want to make a large-scale purchase, politics— whether we like or not become involved. In the state of Texas, schools are in large part, funded by the payment of property taxes. The problem with this model is that not everyone who owns property in a school district has students who are in the system or have an interest in its success, but they do foot a substantial portion of the bill for the school district to meet its needs and obligations. In order for school districts to acquire the money to pay for large-scale purchases, a bond election is often held which determines whether or not the district can raise the tax revenue to fund the purchases that it may wish to make. This process is how new schools in a district, football stadiums or even libraries or auditoriums get constructed. It is unfortunate that on occasion, a district will spend millions of dollars on an athletic facility to the detriment of the academic needs in the classroom of their students and teachers. But, thankfully, this is not the case everywhere and the vast majority of the school districts that you will find do have an interest in the education of their children first and foremost and would take the time to invest in creating a media program for their campus or to upgrade an existing one.
While classroom teachers, program directors (such as choir, band, theater, media or dance instructors) and school administrators do create budgets for their classrooms, programs and school campuses, for the most part, large-scale purchases go through a process that may well involve the school superintendent and the politically elected school board for the district to approve. However, as it was mentioned above, with professional audio products and the footprint of recording studio facilities decreasing, now the ability to create a multimedia program for both educating students and showcasing student work in their communities is now more affordable, plus, easier to use and to teach than ever before. It is also more necessary to teach multimedia than ever before. Every major company in the world has communications departments or relies on media and advertising to sell their products, to connect with their customers and to even educate their own employees. Preparing students for the world of work, not just in music and media is critically important. The arts and music are not just tremendous businesses to be involved in, but they are also lifelong creative pursuits, as well.
It’s not just about creating a program to help students be prepared for the workforce of the future, it’s also about preparing them for activities that can enrich both their lives and the vibrancy of their communities. A media program could be used to start a podcast for the school administration for community outreach, to record band and choir performances, edit music for the dance program, help teachers and administrators prepare professionally designed learning experiences for their staff, the student body and for community viewing, and used to create highlight films for presenting the talents of student-athletes, those gifted in the arts and of the performances of the theater program. Those are just a few examples which showcase the tremendous value of having a media program at a school district with equipment from the finest professional audio companies in the world. But, while it’s a great idea to create a multimedia program for a school district and there is tremendous value in understanding how school districts work to make their large-scale purchasing happen, it’s also worth noting who the people are that may lead a multimedia program and what you may be able to expect from having to work with them as classroom teachers, program directors and even principals.
My experience as a teacher was very different because of my background. I had worked as an assistant engineer for a major record producer with Grammy-Award winning artists and engineers. I had also grown-up as the child of parents who during their careers served as teachers, coaches, program directors and school administrators. I have built multimedia workstations for my classroom work at every stop during my career in small town, suburban and rural school districts and a multimedia program for a rural district in the state of Texas. Plus, I have been both a classroom teacher and a program coach (for both academics and athletics) at just about every stop during my teaching career. This gives me unique insight into how to build a media program for a school district and how to connect students, teachers, program directors and school administrators to the world of professional music recording and audio for multimedia. However, though I am the exception because of my background and experience and not the rule for most of the rank and file teachers that you will find who working in a public system, there are so many wonderful and amazingly talented people who are working in our schools who professional audio companies may wish to build a future relationship with in the process of creating a media program.
There are so many remarkable and talented people who work in public education, but they are busier than ever and with responsibilities that are ever increasing. Depending upon which part of our country we are discussing, those who work in public education either have tremendous levels of support or sadly, almost none at all. Many of them work in classrooms where there are more students than ever who have challenges that quite simply the systems in which these professional educators work and in which these students are compelled to attend cannot easily address. Most of the great teachers that you will encounter are appreciated by their students far more than they are by their fellow colleagues and administrators. It is a difficult job on the one hand, but carries more societal importance and gravity than most of the public sector jobs that we are familiar with in our daily lives. By far and away, the vast majority of the teachers that you will work with care deeply about their students, their programs and their communities and are exemplary public servants.
What teachers will require of you will be quite different from your recording studio customers. Most of the teachers will never have worked in a recording studio environment which means that they will be learning how to use your equipment outside of their normal work hours, so that they can be prepared to teach its use to their students. It’s a little known fact that teachers spend a great deal of their time working away from their school campuses to be prepared for teaching their kids. Teachers have a conference period, but this is for having discussions with parents and sometimes it is also taken up with team meetings and or other mandatory staff meetings. A teacher has relatively little time during the day to prepare for the rest of their day or the next one, plus, they have less time than what you might think during the summers which are often filled with workshops or mandatory meetings. In other words, their hours are quite similar to that of actually working as an assistant engineer in the old days in a major recording studio facility! However, because teachers deal with young people for the bulk of their day, if something has to be repaired or fixed, they are often dependent upon the maintenance staff on their campus, most of whom are well-meaning people who have absolutely no experience helping them with a problem that may arise from using your product, if heaven forbid— something goes wrong with it. Especially if they are involved in a program and using your equipment, the level of customer service that they may require would be similar to that of a live performance engineer, after all— for a teacher the show must always go on. While you will find, on occasion, teachers who are not as dedicated to learning new skills as some of the young engineers that you may encounter, most of the teachers that you may develop a relationship with love to learn-- after all, learning is their passion.
What should educators expect from professional audio companies?
Most of us have never dealt at any level with any of the remarkable companies which make the products that are used to record the music that we have come to love and to cherish. It is an unfortunate fact, too, because these companies are led by wonderful people whose work has had a tremendous impact on the world of popular music. Though very few people who truly love popular music have probably heard of such people as Rupert Neve, Saul Walker, Dr. Malcolm Toft, Dr. George Massenburg or Alan Smart, most of us who have worked in the world of professional music know them as the people who have been behind the creation of the great technologies that have been used to record the popular music of the past and the development of the companies that created them. It is important for professional educators to understand two crucial aspects about the companies which create the dazzling array of products that have been used to record the greatest hit songs in the history of popular music. First, most of the companies who create and develop professional audio products are truly small businesses operating on a global scale. Plus, professional audio companies consistently deal with the artists, engineers, musicians and producers who are creating the popular music that people around the world are listening to at this very moment.
It is entirely astounding to think that the companies that produce some of the world’s greatest technologies for the creation of popular music are very small businesses. There is absolutely no comparison between the size of these companies and a corporate giant. Most of the professional audio companies have less than 50 employees, and some have less than 20 people working for them to create the fascinating products that record the music that we have come to love and to cherish. For example, if you purchase a large-format analog console for your school campus program, it will most likely be designed and built by a very small team of some of the most fabulous people in the world of professional audio— most likely, it is this small team of engineers who are among the true unsung heroes in the popular music industry. However, due to the small size of these companies, you may have the ability to watch your product being constructed from start to finish, plus, it is quite easy to build a relationship with the person who may well have put every button, every wire and each switch into your product. Unlike dealing with very large companies, most of the people in a professional audio company from the CEO to the engineers who will build your product are not only passionate about their products, but also about building a connection with their customers.
While teachers are used to dealing with technical support from large technology companies who may put them on hold for hours just to tell them to turn a machine off and then turn it back on again, dealing with professional audio companies is extremely different. Remember, you are dealing with a small business that has clients who are among the most famous artists, engineers, musicians and producers in the world of popular music. The best way to contact the company is to actually call them or send them an email message and set-up a time where you can visit with the team who created your product from start to finish, but to also remember to be patient with them because this small team has clients who work in recording studios that are located on every continent on the planet, except for Antarctica. Keep in mind, you will be a valued customer for a company whose product— whether it be a piece of gear, a microphone or even a console could last you for more than 50 years. It is truly a unique arrangement that will be of tremendous benefit to your students, teachers, school administrators and community. It will also enable your school community to make connections in the music industry, which in the future may be very beneficial for both you and your students.