Today’s technology offers a wide variety of options to incorporate the use of digital recording in our classrooms and also to efficiently distribute these recordings to our students. Whether or not you have a recording setup in your classroom currently or if you teach in different classrooms or buildings there is a solution that can work for you. Depending on the equipment you may already have there are a number of choices to be made. We’ll start off by looking at the easiest and most compact solution.
Ranging in price from under $200 to around $500 these devices are certainly the most versatile of any recording option. Many of these units are slightly larger than a deck of playing cards and offer hours of recording at the highest quality settings. They record to internal memory or removable media cards just like you would use in a digital camera. Files that are recorded on these portable recorders are available for immediate playback from the device or can be retrieved from a computer with a USB cable. If you are selective in what you record tracks can be immediately burned to a CD or if you want to edit selections from your recording that can easily be done with software that is available as a free download to tweak your recording to perfection. Popular models are available from manufacturers such as Sony, Zoom, Tascam, and Yamaha.
If you already have an iPod there are a handful of accessories that attach to make high quality recordings that you can playback on your iPod or sync with iTunes to store on your computer or burn to CD. Blue Microphones makes a stereo microphone, called the Mikey, that attaches to the dock connector on your iPod. There is no software to install so as soon as you attach the microphone you are ready to record. It also has a built in speaker for playback. The Alesis ProTrack is a device that you can dock your iPod in that offers built in microphone as well as two professional microphone inputs that can be connected to any XLR or ¼" audio source. As with the portable recorders the files downloaded from your iPod can be burned to CD or edited to get just the selections you want.
To make basic recordings of solo voice or instrument for practice purposes the USB microphone is a popular option. These are high quality microphones that instead of interfacing with a soundboard or recording device have a USB connection to interface directly with a computer. Most of these microphones are plug and play in that they require no software other than a program you would use to record. Many USB microphones as well as the other recording options we have discussed are packaged with recording software that can be used to record and edit audio on your computer.
If you are an Apple user then you already have GarageBand as an option but there are a number of free programs that you can download from the internet for both Mac or PC. One of the most widely used programs is Audacity and can be found online easily with a Google search for Audacity. USB microphones will not give you a stereo recording (unless you are using two of them) but they offer a great solution for the office or studio where you might want to have a more permanent setup. Recently devices have been introduced that are a single channel USB interface that connects to a standard microphone and has a USB port on the other end. These are small devices that are slightly larger than a roll of lifesavers and offer a convenient solution when you already have a good microphone that you like. There are many choices of USB microphones ranging from $75 to over $200.
USB and FireWire Interfaces
These audio interfaces start at compact two channel units and grow in size and number of inputs to devices with built in mixing control and eight inputs or more. For situations where you may already have a microphone setup and perhaps want to add computer recording where you have a CD burner this is the place to start. These items almost always include any software you will need for recording and many can be used with Mac or PC. Included in this category are interfaces compatible with the ProTools recording suite and can be employed in a music technology course as well as programs utilizing computer based composition. Products in this category range in price from just under $100 to over $2500. These devices are best suited for classrooms and performance spaces with a microphone setup already in place. Also some manufacturers offer discounts on multipacks for use in computer labs.
As was mentioned before, Audacity is a great program for basic audio editing that is available as a free download and works with Mac or PC. It is great for recording from a USB source or for editing material from a portable or iPod recorder. As far as getting things on to CD iTunes or Windows Media Player are the easiest way to burn a basic CD. Other software may come bundled with your device. More advanced software is available but varies in price based on how many channels you want to use and what other features you need.
If you are only recording for self evaluation or archival purposes then burning a CD is the most logical thing to do. However, if you are trying to get recordings back to your ensemble it may not be the most efficient way of distributing your recording. If you have converted your recording to an mp3 file it is likely that it will be a small enough file to send in email. An mp3 file is also easily uploaded to any of a number of sites for download, whether a social networking site such as Facebook or MySpace or if you have setup another web presence for your program on Google Sites or a similar service. Another option, which takes a bit more setup time, is to start a Podcast. A Podcast is an audio or video "episode" that can be published through Apple’s iTunes software and downloaded or subscribed to by anyone with an iTunes account. Although this is a bit more involved there are many tools and articles online that can guide you through the process. Your school may already have the tools in place to send out Podcasts. Check with your technology team.
If you have more questions on which solution may be right for you contact a distributor of professional audio equipment and they will be able to assist you in finding the most appropriate solution for your needs incorporating equipment you may already own.
Kyle Cozad received his Bachelor of Music Education Degree from Central Michigan University where he majored in Vocal Music Education. He completed his student teaching in Ann Arbor, MI working with Dr. Richard Ingram at Huron High School. His music technology experience includes audio and video recording of school, community, and church ensembles, as well as solo, chamber, and a cappella groups. Kyle also instructs a music technology component for the CMU summer music camp for high school students. He is continually looking into useful ways to incorporate technology into the rehearsal and the classroom to better the experience for singer and conductor.