One of the big questions regarding technology is “How do I afford to purchase technology for my program?” Some teachers are lucky and they can simply request technology. Some schools have waited so long for a request from the music department that they immediately grant requests. Other schools need to fundraise.
In my program, we do a local restaurant sale (a box of discount cards) and a combination of chocolate boxes (World's Finest) and Coffee (Annick's Old World Coffee). The money we raise pays for just about everything, including music, technology, and apparel for students (if they cannot afford it).
From time to time I write about Ozark Delight Lollipops. In the old days (pre-Obama), you could sell these things in school and you could sell a ton. Two things happened…first the price of each lollipop raises where you could no longer sell two for $1.00; and of course, school regulations about selling candy at school. Well, Ozark Delight has a new lollipop that meets federal standards and is made of sugar (they also come with 100% of Daily Vitamin C and 26% of Daily Fiber requirements). We recently obtained two bags (one from Illinois, and one from Texas) of these suckers–and they are great! At this point, $1.00 for a long-lasting sucker is not a bad price, yielding 62% profit. Or you could sell 6 for $5.00 (which many students would do). I LOVED this fundraiser in the past (you will get students who buy a bag for themselves), and the changes to the formula (D'Lites) will allow them in your schools. We may sell them in choir before and after school. I like this product so much that I would consider going to work for them. Really.
The other fundraiser of interest was the “Ten Foot Fundraiser” by SmartCell. The idea is that you sell 10' charging cables for Android, iPhone 4 (and earlier), and iPhone 5 (and later). I believe the cables sold for $15, and came with a 50% profit. The cables are not Apple certified and thus will not work with iPads, and come with a 90 Day no-questions-asked policy (shipped replacement). I haven't used the cables, so I cannot attest to their quality, but it is an interesting concept, particularly as we travel with kids with iPod Touches, and a 10' cord could make our lives better. Even more so, the ability to get an Apple certified cord would be great in our 1:1, as student cords break ALL THE TIME, and many families would be willing to purchase a back-up, particularly if the back-up was cheaper than an Apple cord, and easier to buy than via the internet (i.e. face-to-face sale with a student).
So…there you go…try Ozark Delight and SmartCell. You might also want to give Mark H. a call with Annick's Old World Coffee, which we have found to be a unique product and a good value (the roast coffee has to be compared with a fresh roasted coffee, not packages at your large department store).
I should note that I do not receive any referral kickbacks for writing about these posts, although I did get a free bag of suckers from Ozark Delight in 2014.
Over the past few weeks, Weezic has come back on my radar. I have known about Weezic for some time, but have not written about it. Weezic, in the past, has been a company that has provided a multi-platform service with “augmented sheet music” that allows you to see the music, transpose the music, see a video of the music, and to assess your playing of that music. Most of the songs are geared towards more advanced players. As a resutl, the service didn't really have much use to me as a high school or middle school music teacher, so I never blogged about it.
Weezic has an upcoming service that suddenly puts them on my interest list–they will allow teachers to be able to upload their own MusicXML files and to have students be assessed to those MusicXML files.
Think: “Low Cost Smart-Music” Weezic has a library of some 1200 songs, but those songs are not the massive library of content that SmartMusic has (and continues to add to).
I know band directors who choose their music based on its availablity of SmartMusic. Unless they are willing to scan their literature (unlikely), Weezic isn't going to be a solution for those band directors.
However, if you are in a low income school (such as my current situation) where students cannot afford $40 per year; or if you are a choir director (as I am) where none of our content is on SmartMusic, Weezic's upcoming education services are very interesting.
The company just won the “best educational software” award from NAMM (Winter NAMM), and was present at TMEA. They did not have a demonstration of the new educational features, which should be rolling out in the next two months.
Don't get me wrong–I have presented sessions on how to use SmartMusic with choir. However, at the time, I was working at a high school with practice rooms. My current school (same district) has no practice rooms, and although we are 1:1, I cannot expect or ask my students to buy subscriptions to SmartMusic (many of my students struggle to buy an $8 t-shirt for choir concerts). So the possibility of a much cheaper alternative is appealing, especially when I have to provide my own content anyway. Again, for directors that use existing content, Weezic may not be the answer. You somehow have to get music into MusicXML (or Finale or Sibelius) format.
I have signed up for an educational account, and will be blogging about the educational features when they come on line!
Two weeks ago, following my visit to the Illinois Music Education Conference, I was shocked to see that MakeMusic did not have a booth in the vendor area, even though they did have a presentation at the conference. I was already concerned about the company after its move to Colorado and loss of 100 employees during the move, as well as the major changes in company leadership down to manager levels over the past two years (with some positions having changed twice in that time period). As I am likely to do, I wrote a blog post about my concerns.
Since that post, I have had the opportunity to talk to several employees at the company. They felt that my blog post did not accurately represent what was going on at MakeMusic. No one asked me to redact my previous blog post (nor should they, as this isn't a MakeMusic blog), but several messages were sent that I feel they would like expressed:
- There is no denying that a lot of former MakeMusic employees are no longer with the company; however, the people put into leadership positions (particularly at the product level) have been with the company for many years and are familiar (experts) with the product.
- The decision to attend or not attend various conventions with a booth is a result of foot traffice from past conventions. Even if MakeMusic is not providing a booth, they are often sponsoring clinics with paid clinicians and sponsoring other events (such as the TI:ME rooms at OMEA). There are MakeMusic employees who are advocating for participation at as many events as possible.
- They want to make it clear that Peaksware, the “mother company” of MakeMusic, is NOT a health fitness company, but a health training company. They feel the skill set of health training (discipline, focus, and committment) lends itself nicely to the world of music education.
- While SmartMusic continues to be important in the company and a huge arena for growth, they want people to know that Finale has NOT been forgotten or left behind.
- One employee wished to communicate that MakeMusic, before going private, was in a tough position as decisions were often made to please share holders and to increase stock value rather than to do what was always best for the product. This person wanted to communicate that the clear direction of the company and its finally “settled” focus have led to a better company, even with all the changes the company has endured over the last months. There was sadness expressed at the loss of colleagues, but an understanding that the show must go on.
I certainly hold no ill will towards MakeMusic, but I still find myself sad that the company is no longer in Minnesota, and I am sad for the many former MakeMusic employees that loved that company and either were not asked to go or could not move to Colorado. That said, if you did not know anyone at MakeMusic and you were a Finale or SmartMusic user, you would have never known about the changes at the company, as Finale 2014 continued development with an update, and SmartMusic kept working without a hitch this fall.
My position, as an outsider, remains the same as my last post: the company has gone through a lot of changes, and other companies have struggled under similar situations. I think it is fair to be on the outside and to worry. I have been told that there is nothing to worry about. My hope is that the company will flourish (they reassure me that the company has already weathered all of the changes) and that we will see exciting new products, features, and pricing as this school year draws to a close.
The vendor area at most (all?) music education conventions is often one of the most important elements of a conference. This area, which differs in size subject to the size of the state music education association, is where:
- Music instrument companies show off their inventories
- Music publishers show off their latest available works
- Fundraising companies show off (and often give free samples) of their items available for sale
- Uniform vendors show off their latest marching band, formal apparel and robe designs
- Free trade and jewlery companies come to sell items
- Colleges come to promote their music programs
- And music technology companies show off their software and hardware solutions
Music teachers, spouses, students (typically middle school through college), and parents all travel through these areas. This is an incredibly important place for finding things, and building connections (networking).
I have only had the opportunity to visit the vendor areas of six states, but I am willing to bet that Texas is the largest. Texas has an East and West vendor area, and I am sure you could play two to three football games comfortably in each wing. If you are a music technology company, it makes sense to display your product at the Texas MEA show, as you will have a large audience to work with. There are vendors at TMEA that do not come to any other music convention in the United States.
I view myself as a music educator with a passion for technology in music education. I know that we, as music educators, lead unbelievably busy lives–even more so if we also have families of our own. Tone Deaf Comics has created posters showing the many hats that we wear.
So here's my point of concern when it comes to technology in music education: if teachers are busy, where are they going to find technology that will improve teaching and learning? It isn't enough to take a company at its word, and every blogger (including myself) have their biases. You can talk to other teachers about what is working for them–but as you know, everyone has their own talents, skills, gifts, and needs. One of the best ways to find technology is to go to a convention and actually use that technology yourself. But what if your conference doesn't have that technology? Or what if someone is presenting on technology that you would like to know more about, but your school only let you go to the convention on a day other than that presentation? And what if your state's vendor area is shrinking each year?
Undoubtedly, some services such as MusicFirst, which bundles major online services at a decent cost for music education (e.g. NoteFlight, Groovy Music, etc.), are a good place to start. At the same time, every company is going to offer its services as a solution, even in situations where there might be something better for you on the market. Don't get me wrong…NoteFlight is a wonderful tool, and pretty much the only multi-platform solution on the market. But you might be in a teaching situation where some other tool such as Finale, Sibelius, MuseScore, Notion, Notion on the iPad, NotateMe, or Symphony Pro might be a better solution for you.
Unfortunately, I don't have a solution. The best possible way to learn about software and hardware is to be able to go somewhere and try multiple solutions at one time. I just don't know how we can provide that ability for everyone equally. Don't go to your state education technology conference expecting very much technology that can impact music education.
I have heard that the Pennsylvania TI:ME group is offering a technology room during their state music education conference. This is wonderful, but at the same time, unsponsored music educators shouldn't be using their personal time to sell products for companies, either. Perhaps there is some way to have vendors work together to avoid the costs of presenting at a clinic and instead “chipping in” to a set-up of several Macs, PCs, Chromebooks, and iPads where music educators can try out various software and hardware tools–but then how do you make sure they are represented fairly? And how do you build a level of cooperation between competitors?
Again, I don't know the answers…all I know is that a problem exists.
I wanted to let regular readers know that I am going be writing a series of blog posts over the next days. Life has been busy this year, filled with teaching, being a parent, and being a husband. At the same time, there hasn't been a great deal of huge news in the industry. As a result, I haven't written very many blog posts.
Although I have one more convention coming up, my 2014-2015 convention schedule is basically over (I will have some sessions with the summer WSMA, and pehaps with the University of St. Thomas). At the moment, we are trying to get used to single digit temperatures after three days and four nights in San Antonio as part of the TI:ME/TMEA convention. If we didn't have personal committments here, I am not totally convinced that we wouldn't be packing up a U-Haul with all of our belongings and moving. It was REALLY hard to go outside to get to church this morning.
After attending sessions at ILMEA, OMEA, and TI:ME/TMEA, visiting vendor areas, and talking with a lot of people, I have some clear concepts about music education and technology, conferences, and trends that I want to put down “on paper” (or, at least, on the blog).
And with that, I will move on to writing those posts, but also wanted to explain why there will be a series of posts coming in the next days.