The Band's Getting Back Together by Bob Sprankle

Roughly 25 years ago, I used to have a full head of hair, a thinner waistline, only one chin, plenty of free time for just "hanging out," and belonged to a handful of Rock n' Roll bands. Some of the bands were serious, others were "joke bands" (I remember a short stint with one such band named, "Milk of Magnesia").

My earliest endeavor (created a month after learning the guitar at age 23) was a band called, "Bob and Guy." There were two of us (I was "Bob" and the other guy was "Guy") and we wrote and played a weird mix of serious and satirical songs. Some fans called us "Punk-Folk." Guy and I had a lot of fun, played many "gigs," got to meet some great people, and heard some great music from bands we opened for.

Our favorite band to play for ---and still our very good friends--- was a band called, Ed's Redeeming Qualities. About a month ago, the gang from Eds told us they were having a reunion show and asked Guy and me to get back together for "one more show" and open for them (along with a bunch of other bands).

Guy has kept on being a musician (more on that in a minute), but I haven't really played my guitar or the old songs for about 25 years. I've spent the past month digging up my past, relearning the guitar, relearning songs I don't even remember writing, much less remember how to play them, and getting ready for the big "Gig." The show should be tons of fun and it's been a great journey thinking back to a more carefree and crazy time of my life, as well as a great opportunity to recognize just how much has changed since then.

When I was in bands, on several occasions, we went into a professional recording studio, paid for studio time and a professional sound engineer, and made some recordings that were put on tapes to sell at shows. (Cassette tapes! Here's a link for you younger readers). As mentioned above, Guy still is a musician and now records in his own house. I've been using Garageband for years as a podcaster, but I really got to see just how easy it is to record your own album when I was at Guy's house the other day. He took me through the steps of building a song, adding tracks, manipulating samples, and adding textures. I was surprised to find that it wasn't really any more difficult than making a podcast.

In today's world, there's no longer a need to rent expensive time at a studio. Anyone can cut a professional album right on a home computer. Guy has recorded tons of albums over the years (his own work and work from other bands) and they sound absolutely amazing (much, much better than the sound that we paidfor years ago when we rented studio time). Seeing Guy's studio setup was impressive... he's got every type of instrument at the ready for musicians. But when you really look closely at what he needs to record, it comes down to 2 tools: Garageband on his Mac and a microphone (granted, this is a really good microphone, but it only cost a couple of hundred dollars).

What I would have given to have the power to record my own music and make it sound professional back in the days when I was actually writing music. Garageband is just one example of a "DAW" or "Digital Audio Workstation" and more and more bands and artists are using inexpensive digital solutions to record on their own.

In the excitement of getting ready for the "Big Gig," Guy suggested that we re-release some of our old music on CD. He's been using a site for years, "Kunaki," to put out his own CDs. Users simply upload their own artwork, their own tracks, and Kunaki will begin manufacturing a professional CD in minutes, costing you $1 per CD ($1.75 per CD if you order more than 6)! You can actually order only one CD, just like you can order only one of your self-published books from a site like Lulu (note: I just discovered that Lulu offers CD publication as well, but it's more expensive than Kunaki). Each CD is packaged with:

  • manufacturing/assembly
  • full color CD printing
  • jewel case
  • full color 2-panel insert
  • full color tray card
  • cellophane wrapping
  • UPC bar code
  • 24-Hour rush manufacturing

Kunaki handles DVDs as well (as does Lulu).

We live in a time that is drastically different from when Guy and I sold our music on tapes. The actual production of the tapes we made years ago took weeks to order, and then it was up to the two of us to fold all the cover inserts and stick the labels onto the tapes (harder than it sounds... it had to be perfectly centered or you ruined the tape). Honestly, this took longer than the recording did. Sites like Kanaki does all the copying and folding and packaging for you, leaving the artist more time to create.

The cost and ease of self-publication is within realistic reach for artists like never before. Tools we now carry around in our pockets are replacing bulky expensive equipment of the past. I remember Wes Fryer asking me recently when I thought the first professional/commercial film would be created entirely on an iphone. It's already happening.

Now... what does all this have to do with education? I think Cheryl Oakes summed it up well in one of her comments on a recent post of mine: "Publish or perish." Self-publishing is a way to make work meaningful, purposeful, and garner an authentic audience for students. Not only do students want this, but it has become a normal and everyday practice for students outside of school, even if only in small publications, like Twitter or Facebook updates.

Being that publishing real books and real CDs or DVDs is so cheap and easy, why can't self-publishing become a normalized practice in classrooms? Think how easy it would be for each and every student to end their school year with a CD or DVD of things they created: be it music, poetry, artwork, video reflections... you name it. Why can't the goal for all writing produced by a class be to end up with a published book at the end of the year that could be bought from a site like Lulu by friends, family, and an ever-expanding global audience? We could fill our school libraries and even community libraries with these publications.

It's cheap. It's easy. And it's just going to get cheaper and easier to transform your classroom into a studio.