Dealing with Audio (CDs, etc.)

A couple of weeks ago, I had the honor to present a workshop for some teachers in the Duluth school district (as well as some other schools, supported by the Perpich Center of the Arts). One of the things that I mentioned was that if you have iPads, and you're still using CDs or Cassettes, you need to stop what you are doing.

With wonderful programs such as forScore and unrealBook, you can link audio recordings that exist in your iPad library directly to songs in forScore and unrealBook. If you are mirroring audio and video in your classroom to an Apple TV, or a computer running Reflector or Air Server, you can then control all of the audio and visual technology in your room directly from your iPad, from anywhere in your room.

For elementary general music teachers–this is a game changer. No more running to the CD player to change tracks, put in a CD, or even using precious time before class to locate and load a CD. And let's not even talk about cassettes!

If you are using cassettes, you need to convert them to a digital format.

I am moving into a new choir program, and I have been taking time this summer to scan the music library, as well as to re-catalog, move, and take inventory of that library. This includes about 175 accompaniment CDs.

I'm a bit of an anomaly for a choral director–I don't mind using choral accompaniments for training purposes (and in fact, I make my own), and in the case of pop music, I don't mind performing with those accompaniments. I think pop music that is intended for a rock band, which is played with only a piano and a choir, doesn't reflect the authenticity of the form. It is actually more appropriate to use a track with a pop song than to use just a piano. The best of all worlds is to create a school rock band to accompany your choir, but I have seldom found time to rehearse with such a group (for a spring pops concert, the level of rehearsal needed would require extra funding–and that isn't going to happen for most schools). So, I have used accompaniment CDs in the past, and I will be using them in the future. The good news is that the quality of accompaniment CDs is also improving over the years–I think part of the bad “rap” of accompaniment CDs is related to the poor quality sounds of those CDs in the 1980s and early 1990s.

So…as I convert these existing CDs into digital audio, I am now using Apple's audio format. There was a time when I converted all audio to mp3s. There are some people who believe that mp3s ruin the audio quality of CDs. Audio compression has improved exponentially over the years, and the limitations of small-bit-rate mp3s are not present in today's larger audio compression files. There are audio purists who insist on the audio quality of certain types of compression (such as OGG), and still others that insist that vinyl records create the best sounds. The fact is that modern audio compression captures all of the audio spectrum.

That said, as I mentioned before, I used to encode everything to a higher rate mp3, with the idea that I wanted mobility of that audio. If I needed audio on a Windows PC, I didn't want to have to deal with the PC not being able to play an Apple format. This belief was started at a time when Apple had the lead in the portable music industry–but there were still legitimate competitors (the Dell DJ and the Microsoft Zune, to name two). And although there are other audio players and music management programs, iTunes and the iPod (iPhone/iPad) monopoly on the market doesn't make it worth recording files in mp3 anymore.

Furthermore, you can quickly convert audio in iTunes to another format. That is another article for another time.

One final note: many of these accompaniment CDs are broken into rehearsal marks that are no longer needed in an “audio slider” era. You can use iTunes to join tracks as you “rip” a CD. Under the latest version of iTunes (11), when you put a CD into your computer, the CD loads into iTunes. On the right hand side of the screen, there is a new “options” button. If you select several sound files, you can then go to options and choose “join tracks.” The only negative is that you will have to go back and rename the resulting audio file when it is in your iTunes library.

In summary, the way we should save, store, and use audio files has changed a lot over the last few years. If you are using an iPad, you should not be using CDs and cassettes anymore. You can convert those older formats into digital formats that can be quickly accessed on your iPad, and linked to printed music that you can show on your screen. You can feel free to use Apple's audio codecs in place of mp3s. And if you have multiple track audio files, you can use iTunes to join those files.


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