- Alan Parsons Art and Science of Sound. This is a fantastic DVD series and covers all the basics of recording instruments and provides great background theory on the developing of recording technology. The chapters on mixing are very weak though but the videos on recording are gold. A new accompanying book has also just been released and is available at Amazon.
- Mixing Secrets For the Small Studio by Mike Senior – while this might be a hard read for students I’ve not come across anything that explains the concepts of mixing as well as this. It’s all too easy to use presets on plugins thinking that they will provide you with a good mix (FYI, presets are never the answer!). This book goes way beyond that showing you how to approach the mix for each song along with the specifics of the techniques for using EQ, Compression, etc. I’ve bought this book twice as well as on Kindle I love it so much!
- Shakingthrough.com – This is an amazing website for a recording studio (Weathervane Records) that records artists but also documents the process from a technical/recording viewpoint as well as a creative/compositional viewpoint. All tracks of songs featured in the videos are available for download so you can practise your mixing chops.
They have just released a new educational course in mixing. I’ll be using this with my students in 2015 so I’ll write blogs about how well it works.
- How To Listen app from Harmon – a great tool for teaching students to associate frequency boosts and cuts on EQ with Hz numbers. This app helps to train their ears to listen critically to frequency ranges and to learn to associate descriptions with those ranges. Also worthy of a mention is the “hearEQ” app for iOS available on the app store.
- hearEQ for iOS from the app store – another brilliant ear training tool – especially it’s ‘learn’ feature which allows you to boost and cut various frequencies of any song in your iTunes library. Also worthy of a mention is “Quiztones” also available from the App store.
- Recording Secrets for the Small Studio by Mike Senior – probably a better book for advanced students who already understand the basics of recording techniques. This book is excellent at giving tips for recording in less than ideal environments (which most schools are stuck with as very few schools can afford purpose built studios with excellent acoustics). What is also really great about this book though is the advice that Mike gives with regards to working with performers and how to get the best out of them. Overall, full of wise advice from one of the best people in the business.
- Soundonsound.com – this website (and associated magazine) is the best recording/mixing magazine out there. It’s the best way of staying up to date with the latest releases in music technology equipment. Articles are well written and full of practical advice.
- Pensados Place – Definitely for more advanced students and teachers… this fascinating production from Dave Pensado, one of the top mixing engineers in the music industry, regularly interviews the top mixing engineers, performers and producers. The insights into the creative process from people who are at the top of their game and the best in the LA, NYC and Nashville music scenes is really fascinating. Also great is the “Into the Lair” segment where Dave provides really clever (and often advanced) mixing techniques.
- Groove3.com – this website provides excellent video tutorials for all the major DAW’s. You can pretty much learn everything you need to know for any DAW (like Pro Tools, Studio One, Logic, etc) by watching these 2-3 hour tutorials. Add in another 3-4 hours of working on what is shown in the videos and inside a day you can get up and running with any DAW.
- Live Audio Basics DVD from Down2Earth – this can be pretty painful to watch (I wonder if Americans find it as painful to watch as my students and I do? – could be a cultural thing?) but the content and clarity with which live PA systems are explained is the best I’ve seen. Yes, the focus is on live PA (and this is supposed to be a blog about recording and mixing resources) but their explanation on signal flow, maintaining Unity Gain, Aux/buss sends,etc are brilliant and all vitally important to recording systems as well.
Just so everyone is on the same page… a DAW (or Digital Audio Workstation) is the software on a computer that you use to record and mix audio and MIDI. With the dramatic increase in computing power combined with falling costs now anyone can have a fully fledged recording and mixing system on their computer (or iPad or iPhone!).
In the past it was too expensive for schools to have recording systems (after all, who can afford an SSL, Neve or API mixing desk?) but now with cheap microphones and interfaces made in China, combined with powerful (and relatively cheap) computers any high school music department can have a recording ‘studio’.
So… what DAW or recording/mixing software should schools use? There are so many options.
Here is your answer… Studio One Free from Presonus.
Why? Here are my reasons:
- It’s free (for the basic version) – students can download it to their own laptops and home computers right away and get playing around with it.
- It’s cross platform – i.e. it works the same on Mac and Windows computers. Therefore teachers can be assured that all students are working on the same software so they don’t need to know how to use multiple pieces of software.
- It comes with good MIDI instruments so students can plug in a MIDI keyboard or other controller and get recording very quickly.
- If you want to see how quickly you can download, install and record with it I’ve made a quick overview video that you can see here:
Some commons questions I get from teachers at workshops when I say this:
- So why not Garageband? Well… I love Garageband (it is actually better than Studio One Free in many ways), but it only works on Mac computers so if you have students in your class with Windows laptops it creates issues in that you’ll have some students on Studio One and some on Garageband. Many teachers are fine with that so if you’re one of those go for it (I have students using both DAW’s) but in the interest of keeping things simple… it’s probably best to keep all students on the same software.
- Why not Pro Tools… isn’t that industry standard? Yes it is. It’s my personal DAW of choice. But it’s sooooo expensive!! No way most high schools can afford it. I had 12 Pro Tools 001, 002 and Mbox systems at an old school (an investment of around $15,000 at the time) and all those systems a long time ago became obsolete. Pro Tools is much better now that you don’t have to have AVID/Digidesign hardware to use it, but for the software it’s still too expensive in my opinion.
- Why not Apple Logic Pro? I also love Logic and it is now amazingly cheap. But once again… Mac only.
- Why not Reaper… isn’t that also free? I’ll get into this more below.
- Why not… blah blah blah? There are many DAW’s out there and if you as the teacher are more comfortable in teaching those to your students (and your students can afford it) then go with them. But if you’re new to this… stick with Studio One.
So what about Reaper?
Reaper is awesome. It’s not exactly free, it just has an unlimited trial period. But you can purchase it for your school at incredibly cheap prices (non-commercial licences are only $60 USD but you can get it cheaper if you purchase in bulk as an educational institution). But, for working with MIDI keyboards (which is a big part of the level 1 Music Technology Unit Standards in New Zealand) it has proven to be too complicated for many teachers to setup… which is why I suggest Studio One.
For NZ teachers who are using the ‘SOND’ unit standards, 26687, 27703 and 28007 Reaper is probably a better bet. For the level 2 and 3 standards your students need to be using fully parametric EQ’s and compressors that have ratio, threshold, attack/release and knee controls. Studio One Free doesn’t allow you to use EQ’s and compressors (although the paid versions of Studio One that you can see outlined here do allow you to use better EQ’s and compressors) which is why if you’re wanting to stay with ‘free’ software, Reaper is a great choice.
So in summary…
- In setting up a music technology programme at your school that uses MIDI (such as NZ schools wanting to teach the level 1 ‘MUSTEC’ standards 27656 and 27658) download Studio One Free.
- If you’re an NZ school wanting to offer the ‘SOND’ standards 26687, 27703 and 28007 either buy Studio One Artist upgrade ($93NZD per licence currently…edu discounts may be available by emailing Presonus) or use Reaper (unlimited trial or purchase at very cheap prices).
- If you are a school that is wanting to offer a full on studio experience then it’s probably advisable to purchase Pro Tools, Logic and Studio One Pro eventually. But before you spend any money make sure you are absolutely certain that you need them, it’s very easy to waste money on software you hardly use!
Any suggestions or disagreements? Please use the comments section to give your opinions on what you’ve found works well in schools. But before you do, please ensure that the opinions you share are based on actual classroom and student experience. I’ve had people in the past say that you must use Pro Tools with students as that is what is in pro studios and tertiary institutions, but when I’ve dug further I’ve found out these people have never taught in high schools let alone have had to juggle limited financial restrictions that most high schools struggle with. What we are teaching should be recording and mixing, which can be done on any decent DAW. Skills are easily transferable between software platforms.
Anyway, enough of my soapbox, let me hear what you have to say.
Oh, btw, Merry Christmas.
I’m a teacher of high school music in New Zealand who really loves music technology and the opportunities it is opening up for students.
I’m constantly experimenting with new technologies and teaching methods. Some of these I get to share on teacher professional development sessions I run. Feedback I get from teachers is that they find the information and teaching and assessment concepts really great, just a little overwhelming.
So this blog will be the way I share the new things I’m doing, the new technologies I come across that can assist teaching and hopefully provide a forum for other teachers to share their ideas.
A recent blog that was published about me and all the ways I used technology in the composition and production of an original school music (“Suspect”) can be found here:
(btw, if you want to hear the music of “Suspect” you can purchase it on iTunes).
Over the next few weeks (well, once Christmas is out of the way…) I’ll be documenting my journey in creating a project based learning course for my year 13 students that I’ll be running in 2015.
In the standards based assessment system that we use in New Zealand (NCEA) I find my students are at times more concerned with ticking the boxes of assessment requirements rather than being concerned about the information and skills they are learning. Running a music course in which students choose their focus and work on major projects through the year is my attempt to get students passionate about learning, developing their craft and producing great art!
If you’re a music teacher make sure you check out my website http://www.learningideas.co.nz where you can purchase Ear Training and Music Technology resources. These are specifically written for the New Zealand curriculum and assessment system but teachers in other countries do find them very useful.