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Welcome to the world of social networking. Technically speaking, a social network is a group of individuals or organizations connected by one or more specific types of interdependency, such as common values, visions, ideas, interests, financial exchange, friendship, kinship, dislike, conflict, or trade.

This Internet movement has been spreading like wildfire, and it is fueled by the technological enthusiasm of the nation's youth. There is a lot we can learn from our students and even younger colleagues who have been reared during the Internet age. Instant messaging, Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube are among the new electronic avenues on which relationships are speeding today. Music educators can and should be on the forefront of this social network tsunami. These Internet-based social networks can bring students, communities, and alumni together as never before. There are real advantages inherent in these new tools. Consider the following possibilities with Facebook and MySpace:

  • Interact with your students by promoting upcoming concerts and reviewing recent recordings.
  • Raise awareness by getting the word out on important issues and causes and inspire others to take action.
  • Exchanges with colleagues could include swapping stories, experiences, and successful ideas.
  • Connect with students by sharing photos and videos.
  • Promote special events such as trips or music festivals with sneak peeks and announcements.
  • Create buzz for your music program with behind-the-scene excitement, answer questions, and announce new items.
  • Share tricks of the trade with successful projects or poll experts for advice.

Indiana University School of Music Program at IUPUI hosted their 18th Annual International Music Technology Conference last June. Attendees saw the first-ever clinic presentation on social networks covering MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube. The program's director, Dr. Fred Rees, believes "it is essential for music educators to •catch up' with such new, emerging technologies." Let's take a look at how they can serve you and your music program.

MySpace.Com
MySpace was originally designed for promoting music groups. It has become a free social-networking Web site with an interactive, user-submitted network of friends, personal profiles, blogs, groups, photos, music and videos for teenagers and adults. And although MySpace may be in a decline for social use, its original purpose is still effective, namely, free and easily created Web sites for music groups. My daughter performs in two professional bands, one with it's own independent Web site (www.thebordercollies.com), but they still use MySpace (www.myspace.com/thebordercollies) because it is so easy to update fans about upcoming events as well as blog entries about their recent work.

Music educators do not have to be Web masters to create their own MySpace pages. Changing the HTML and format to get a unique look is very easy and the Web is full of sites with free templates and graphics advice. Best of all, uploads are free! MP3's of your music can give a taste of your program along with pictures, slideshows and albums of past concerts and activities. You can even make it possible for visitors to download the tracks you put up on the site. This is a free tool that you can help promote your music program.

The Nuts and Bolts of MySpace
MySpace is a one-stop shop for posting multimedia presentations over the Internet. Getting an account is very simple just go to www.myspace.com and click "sign up." Here are some of the tools you can use without being a Web master.

  • Build a Web site: MySpace lets you create and customize your own site. Rather than starting from scratch with HTML or Web-building software, you just fill in the blanks at MySpace to create your page. See www.ironspider.ca for free MySpace layouts and Web hosting info.
  • Online photo album: Along with your MySpace profile picture, you can upload other photos that are viewable by other MySpace members. A Google search on MySpace.com of "Sierra Vista High School" will yield an example of a good photo album.
  • Blog: MySpace provides a built-in tool to start your own Web journal, or "blog." MySpace allows you to make your blog publicly viewable or you can mark individual entries as private. For an example, search for "Oak Grove High School Band" on MySpace Music.
  • Host video: MySpace added a tool for hosting and sharing short videos clips. A good example can be found by Googling "MySpace.com Garfield High School Band"
  • Calendar: Tired of students not keeping important dates on their schedule? MySpace provides a fully customizable calendar tool that allows you to enter plans and appointments. Again, you can choose to share your calendar with students, public or private. Take a look at one program's calendar by searching for "MySpace.com Dawson High School Eagle Band."
  • Address book: Need a place to store the e-mail addresses and MySpace usernames of your students and friends? MySpace's address book tool keeps track of that important information. Google "Fellguard Best High School Band" on MySpace.
  • Send and receive messages: MySpace accounts come with a mailbox similar to e-mail where other MySpace users can send you messages or get replies from you.
  • Post a bulletin: The bulletin option is a good way to get a message to all your students and parents. Search for "MySpace.com John Overton High School Band."
  • Post an event and invitation: You can also share information about a concert with the entire MySpace population by entering it as an event. You can filter the events pages by location or time frame to focus on events going on in a given locale during a specific period of time. After you post an event, you can follow up by inviting your MySpace subscribers or other contacts that don't use MySpace to the event.
  • Chat with other users: MySpace provides a forum for posting comments on specific topics to a bulletin board or taking part in live chat in an on-line chat room.
  • Leave comments: MySpace offers the chance for your students to comment on your ensemble profile, blog entries, and photos.
  • Post a classified ad: MySpace offers classified ads should you have a special need for a job, a service, or an item. There are plenty of high school music programs with MySpace pages to advertise themselves. Google search "Promote Your Band With MySpace Music" for more ideas on how to do it.

Customizing MySpace
The trick to maximizing a MySpace account is to make sure you sign up as a musician, which you can do by clicking the "Musician" icon on the right side of the sign-up page as you create an account. That will give you access to the easy calendar and MP3 player for your site.

To customize the look of your ensemble's profile, there are 18 different themes available from MySpace. There are also lots of Web sites out there that offer free MySpace layouts to help customize the look. However, the MySpace platform has plenty of great applications without using outside sources, which means you won't run the risk of bumping into spam or hidden pop-ups. Upload the gig calendar, the music player, photo albums, and videos directly to MySpace and they will appear in the "channel" on your profile. If you have videos uploaded to YouTube, these have "embed" qualities, so all you need to do is copy and paste the URL found on the specific video page from YouTube and paste it into your profile. Musicians can sell music tracks from the MP3 player on their site through www.snocap.com. I know most band music is probably covered by copyrights, but there are other interesting ways to make use of this. How about a composition competition for students with the chance to sell the recording to their family and friends?

Facebook
Facebook is another popular, free-access social-networking Web site that offers unique opportunities for music educators. Users can join networks organized by city, workplace, school and/or region to connect and interact with other people. The media often compares Facebook to MySpace, but the most significant difference between the two Web sites is the level of customization. MySpace allows users to decorate their profiles using HTML and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), while Facebook only allows plain text. Facebook does have a number of features with which users can interact. The "Wall" is a space on every user's profile page that allows friends to post messages for the user to see. The visibility of the Wall can be determined by different privacy settings meaning you can set it so that only your "friends" see it, or anyone can see it, et cetera. Users can easily upload photo albums and individual pictures. And the "Status" feature lets users inform friends of their whereabouts and actions.

Facebook has also added several new features to its Web site. A News Feed now appears on every user's homepage and highlights information including profile changes, upcoming events and birthdays related to the user's friends. You can automatically control information shared with students. Users are now able to prevent students from seeing updates about different types of activities, including profile changes.

Facebook is password protected, which means users can determine who has access to their profiles. Many parents appreciate this because it allows a user's profile to only be viewed by others who have been "added as friends," although this privacy setting can be modified.

If you look at the data, Facebook is among the most visited Web sites for teens and young adults. One advantage to setting up a music program Facebook page is that you can give information to your students and know they'll receive it, because most users check Facebook several times a day. A teacher can create a profile and ask their students to add them as friends, or you can create specialized group. Both of my daughter's bands' have Facebook groups that fans can join. You can build a fan base with "groups" for each of your ensembles. Add pictures, video, notes, and scheduling information. Fill out a page with information for a concert, and easily invite all the members of the group. They can leave messages on the page and ask questions, leave comments, add pictures or video, and RSVP. I envision this as a fabulous new way to network with students because it's a site many kids go to everyday, and it sends reminders right to their e-mail.

Facebook has safe and easy networking and notification. MySpace is a great, easy way to advertise and tell the world about your ensemble. It's just simple to see these are the most effective way to network today making them very useful for classroom ensembles.

YouTube
YouTube might be a good option for a large music program or private studio. When students need performance help, you can frequently find a video recording of it on YouTube and share the URL with your students. One of your advanced students could record a performance on a Webcam during the lesson and upload it to YouTube. Then other students can watch the video and practice along with it. You probably don't want to make it public, so just make your videos private and only invite people with specific e-mail addresses to access and view them. Create an account with an easy password which only your students will know. When my clarinet student was learning the Stamitz Clarinet Concerto, I quickly found a YouTube recording and had her listen to it. It motivated her to practice and she played it in a public concert three months later!

YouTube allows you to post high-definition videos. So, post a high quality performance of your ensemble on YouTube, and then embed it on your MySpace profile for a free, one-stop site for students, family, and supporters. YouTube lets viewers rate videos and share comments about them. Here are several high school recordings on YouTube: www.youtube.com/watch?v=cIK-XaL_mso.

Ning
If MySpace and Facebook seem a little too big for your needs, you might want to consider Ning.com. Ning is built for small-niche online communities while MySpace and Facebook are built for broad networking. Ning is like a Facebook group in that you can customize a Web site with your own URL or CSS style sheet, and the Ning interface is completely drag and drop with different themes. It allows users to create a private or public online music and video storage space. Music files can be set to stream or download, and Ning integrates Creative Commons licensing. Videos posted to Ning can be embedded in other sites and it has lots of administrator controls and customizable options. Another selling point is that Ning is completely ad-free for K-12 use. If you want your music or class materials to be seen by lots and lots of people, use Facebook or MySpace. If you want a site that focuses on collaborative learning through integrated blogs, wikis, media-players, RSS feeds, chat, and forums, use Ning.

Ning has a pre-existing community of educators connecting with children, students and teachers from around the world. It can be used as a tool to build a social Web site around your school, class, or program. Do a Web search for "The Pell City High School Band of Gold" or "Hueytown High School Band" for some great Ning examples. One of the leading promoters of Ning for the music education field is Dr. Alex Ruthmann, of the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. See his Ning Young Professionals Focus Group for the International Society for Music Educators at: ismeypfg.ning.com. For more info about Ning's educational uses, go to education.ning.com.

Possible Firewall Restrictions At School
Be aware that inside most schools, the Internet security system may filter out all social-networks. One way around this when you want to demonstrate specific videos on YouTube, for instance, is to search for the videos in Google. Chances are you will be able to find what you are looking for and play it for your students despite the firewall.

Think Outside the Box!
We are living in a fast-paced, ever changing world and educators have much to gain by exploring new ways of connecting and communicating with parents and students. Indeed, we can learn from each other! Traditional methods are not necessarily outdated, but why not let the advantages of social-networking work for your program? Imagine using a social-network to stay in touch with your alumni through the years, and even organize a special concert honoring your alumni or a retiring faculty member. Google "University of Liverpool Alumni, Ning" for an example of Ning alumni networking capabilities. After you've Googled a few of the examples cited here, you'll see there's a social networking party going on and you're invited!



 


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