Hardware & software kits for school music educators
The term “Digital Audio Workstation” (DAW) refers to an electronic setup for recording, editing, and producing audio files. You might think of it as a complete recording studio connected to a computer or tablet. These workstations often bundle hardware with software that may have a published curriculum including lesson plans designed to work right out of the box. Here’s what a basic DAW might include:
- DAW Software (Magix Music Maker, Studio One, Pro Tools, Logic, and so on)
- Notation Software (such as Notion, Sibelius, Finale, or Encore)
- Audio Interface (AudioBox USB, M-Box, MicU Solo, Scarlett)
- MIDI Controller with full-size keys (PreSonus PS49, or others made by companies like M-Audio, Icon iKeyboard Series, Korg, Casio, Roland, and Yamaha)
- Microphones (a large-diaphragm condenser is best because it will cover most needs, from vocal to instrumental)
- Accessories (XLR cables, powered USB hub if needed, USB cables, mic stand, and so on)
The procurement of so many component parts can be pricey, and it can also present installation and technical support issues. Perhaps the biggest obstacle is the mountain of products, not all of which are suitable for most educators.
Fortunately, there are now entry-level bundles of hardware/software/curriculum that can bring DAW functionality into the classroom without complication or busting the budget. For instance, some high school or junior high educators might not use something as complex as ProTools as their initial music production software. And the learning curve associated with professional notation or sequencing programs can be substantial.
Imagine having technical support with just one company for all hardware and software DAW needs in a single phone call. This is the new reality available to adventurous music educators itching to lift students to new heights of creativity. Easier learning curves matched with affordability can make for some extraordinary creative opportunities.
Three DAW Bundles
Focusrite’s Scarlett Studio
One excellent-sounding, affordable audio interface is the Scarlett Studio for Mac or PC by Focusrite, a company that has been making high-end recording systems for over 25 years. Precision engineered, their compact, high-quality systems come ready to connect to the computer and begin recording right away.
The Scarlett Studio bundle includes a Scarlett 2i2 USB audio interface, Scarlett CM25 studio condenser mic, and a pair of Scarlett HP60 reference headphones. The Scarlett 2i2 interface gives you a pair of quality inputs for microphones, line-level sources, and even instruments right on the front panel. This is great for recording guitar, vocals, bass, and other instruments directly into the computer. You can then complete the recordings with studio effects and create a master mix. The bundle also comes with the Scarlett VST/AU/RTAS plug-in suite, which features Focusrite’s Scarlett compression, reverb, gating, and EQ.
Scarlett Studio includes Cubase LE 6, a powerful music production software for recording and mixing. Focusrite Scarlett plug-ins are a set of essential tools for polishing a mix, like compression to tighten up the bass or to keep vocals smooth and even; equalizers to bring out the character in your sound; gating to help remove noises; and reverb to give the music the space it needs. The Novation Bass Station is a software synthesizer that can be used to add additional bass or melody sounds to music. Because it is a synth, it can be used to create totally new sounds that have never been heard before, or to recreate classic sounds. There is also a sample pack from Loopmasters to add drum loops or sound effects to the track. A pair of HP60 studio monitor headphones are included.
Another option from Focusrite is the iTrack Studio, which comes with a device link port that is specifically designed for iOS devices. While iTrack Studio does not include Cubase, it comes with the Tape app for the iPad and Ableton Live for Mac/PC.
Icon Digital USA is a manufacturer of instruments and devices for creating, performing, mixing, and recording music. Icon’s Studio in a Box bundle is a great starting point for educators who are looking for new ways to stimulate students in the classroom while embracing modern music technology. Studio in a Box provides educators with the tools needed to teach basic recording techniques, including a condenser microphone, reference headphones, an audio interface, and a DAW controller, all encased in an aluminum, travel-friendly road case.
In addition to the hardware, Studio in a Box will, by the end of the first quarter 2015, include a National Standards-based curriculum for teachers supported by instructional and educational videos, and curriculum-specific software. This curriculum will focus on the basics of recording and electronic music. Icon’s curriculum is generic in terms of hardware, software, and practical instruction tips.
The Studio in a Box basic bundle includes the following items from Icon’s product line-up:
- Gearbox – Aluminum road case allowing easy transportation of devices between classroom and home study.
- O2 – Studio Condenser Microphone; comes equipped with a high-pass filter & 10dB pad
- MicU Solo – one mic and one guitar-In/two-Out USB Recording Interface with rubber jacket
- HP 360 – Studio reference headphone.
- QCon Lite – DAW controller with touch sensitive motorized channel/master fader and four dual function encoder knobs jog wheel and transport controls
- DAW Software – Samplitude 11 Silver
Icon’s School Incentive Program provides schools with a financial benefit in the form of a rebate paid quarterly (from 12 to 20 percent of qualifying revenues) when the student body, school staff, family, and friends reference the school during the purchase of Icon products on the Icon Digital website. Their Education Direct Program provides students and educators with a 20 percent discount on Icon products to students and educators for personal and professional use with the goal of encouraging and advancing careers. Icon also has an innovative fundraising program. The most popular of the iSchools programs is the Icons Encourage the Arts Program, which provides a $1,000 Icon-branded product grant to classrooms moving towards a curriculum that includes recording and electronic music. Learning on real-world equipment readies students to make music in a professional setting. Several schools in California, Wisconsin, and Illinois received Icon brand products to outfit their classroom workstations under the Encourage the Arts Program.
All of Icon Digital USA’s products are useful in educational settings with audio interfaces, MIDI controllers of all kinds, several series of keyboards ranging in sizes, three series of microphones, as well as headphones, mic stands, hubs, and more.
PreSonus has been a pioneer in digital music workstations with bundles that are designed as one-box, turnkey solutions. These include a free curriculum that goes the extra mile with lesson plans, tutorial videos, and a project guide with assessment options called their Music Creation Suite (goo.gl/MIqRdh). Students can learn to compose on a DAW with sounds as well as in notation, reinforcing music theory both aurally and in writing. Plus, students are given a marketing component to learn how to distribute their music in today’s industry.
The curriculum guide includes some 36 lesson plans with over 50 tutorial videos. It is broken down into six learning modules: using music loops, working with MIDI, working with audio, music notation, recording audio, and publishing and distributing music. The lessons are also available by themselves (goo.gl/OBb8PO). What helps make this curriculum guide particularly effective is that each lesson is presented in two formats: written (a PDF file) and as a video presentation using their Studio One and/or Notion software.
PreSonus has a user-friendly system for site licensing with its Music Creation Suite (MCS). When you buy more than one MCS, you get one Notion and one Studio One license that can be used for all of the kits you purchased, meaning that you don’t have to juggle multiple key codes for each app.
PreSonus uses the top-selling AudioBox USB interface. The AudioBox USB is roadworthy, and capable of standing up to classroom abuse; you can kick it around or drive over it with a truck, and it will still work fine (and looks pretty good, too). You think I’m kidding? Check out the video here: goo.gl/AkQWev.
PreSonus offers three bundles for education and they all include Studio One Artist. Notion music notation for desktop and iPad is available as a stand-alone product and Notion for desktop is integrated into the Music Creation Suite. All are available with educational pricing, and the MCS also offers multiseat licensing.
AudioBox Studio (goo.gl/uFEOv5) has a 2x2 AudioBox USB interface with MIDI I/O, large-diaphragm condenser mic with mic-stand adapter, headphones (HD7), and Studio One Artist DAW (Mac/Windows), plus all needed cables. Studio One Artist comes with an extensive suite of plugins, four soft synths, and several GB of loops, samples, and third-party software.
AudioBox Stereo (goo.gl/SuOy5n) has a 2x2 AudioBox USB interface with MIDI I/O, two small-diaphragm condenser mics, XY stereo mic stand adapter, headphones (HD7), and Studio One Artist DAW (Mac/Windows), plus all needed cables.
Music Creation Suite (goo.gl/FoY0qZ) MCS has a 2x2 AudioBox USB interface with MIDI I/O, large-diaphragm condenser mic with tabletop stand, headphones (HD3), 49-key keyboard controller, Notion notation software (Mac/Windows), a powered USB hub, and Studio One Artist DAW (Mac/Windows), plus all needed cables.
Digital audio workstations provide a simple and straightforward method for incorporating music technology into the classroom, and can also serve as a bridge for students to discover the world of tech-based music creation. All the essential tools are included, and the curriculum component is refined and ready to go. The open-ended architecture curriculum offered by PreSonus and Icon is designed to continually grow ideas for classroom instruction. While Focusrite doesn’t offer lesson plans, there is a plethora of free video tutorials available through a web search of their bundled software: “Cubase tutorials.” Regardless of which bundle you prefer, each of these manufacturers offer unique features that are worthy of consideration.
John Kuzmich Jr., Ph.D. is a veteran music educator, jazz educator, and music technologist with more than 43 years of public school teaching experience. He is a TI:ME-certified training instructor and has a Ph.D. in comprehensive musicianship. As a freelance author, Kuzmich has published more than 700 articles and five textbooks. As a clinician, Kuzmich frequently participates in workshops throughout the U.S., China, Europe, Australia, and South America. For more information, visit www.kuzmich.com.
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