As I participate in putting together session presentations for various “MEA” shows around the country where TI:ME (the Technology Institute for Music Educators) hosts training events, I often encounter music teachers who very much would like to introduce technology into their programs, but have no idea where to start. Many think it requires a massive investment in music production labs, with their varying peripherals and applications, and to be sure, it can mean that. But my favorite thing to tell a director who is unsure of where to begin is that using technology to enhance your music program can be really simple, and really affordable.
While at the Tennessee MEA show at Opryland Hotel in Nashville this month, I spent some time in the Romeo Music technology room, where they were showing and selling a wide variety of technology tools for music classroom use. One of the items they were selling caught my eye for a variety of reasons, and being unable to resist the temptation of another cool music tech tool, I purchased it.
I’m talking about the Shure MV88, which pairs with Shure’s free app MOTIV. The MV88 is an amazing-sounding stereo field condenser microphone that plugs directly into any iOS device such as an iPad or iPhone that uses the Lightning Port. That would be iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6, iPhone 5s, iPhone 5, iPad Air 2, iPad mini 3, iPad Air, iPad mini 2, iPad (4th generation), iPad mini, iPod touch (5th generation). Romeo Music, who specializes in education sales of music technology products, sold it for the same price ($149) I could get from Sweetwater, Amazon and other major retailers. I checked before I bought, because, well, I’m frugal.
This small format stereo condenser microphone sports a frequency response range from 20 Hz to 20k Hz, and four different pattern settings for you to use to capture the best audio recording for your specific needs, including: adjustable width stereo; mono bidirectional, mid-side, and mono cardioid.
The easy-to-use and free MOTIV app has five digital signal processing (DSP) preset modes that automatically optimize EQ, compression and limiting for the sound source and the environment (Speech, Singing, Flat, Acoustic Instrument, Loud).
The app allows you to record professional quality audio up to 24-Bit/48 kHz .wav (uncompressed) recording formats while controlling the microphone gain, stereo width, raw mid-side adjustments, wind reduction (the microphone comes with a windscreen, too), capsule polar pattern settings, compression/limiting, monitoring through headphones of the audio input signal, swapping the left audio for right audio, and even features a low-light setting called “dark mode” where you can see the settings in dimmer situations. Inside the app, you can share the recordings you’ve made via email, text message, iTunes, Airdrop and Dropbox. The app lets you also convert the larger sized, uncompressed WAV recordings to Apple Lossless format, AAC, at 96, 128, and 256.
So how is this using technology in the music classroom? Well, first of all, you can take the iPhone or iPad you likely own already personally or have been provided by your school district, and instantly capture astounding recordings of rehearsals. It’s really that simple to use it. Plug the microphone into the charging port, and it’s instantly recognized, nothing further to do. Open the MOTIV app, which you will download for free from the Apple AppStore. If all of the setting choices, recording format choices, polar pattern settings and everything else I talked about here sound scary, just ignore them. If you want to dig in, the app has excellent help files to show you around.
There are five preset choices on the MOTIV app under the MOTIV Settings screen. Choose the one that looks like an old school stereo speaker. It will preset everything with a wide stereo field, set the compression and limiting, leaving you to only turn up or down the “gain” setting, which will control how much sound the microphone captures based on the volume level you set the gain control. Have your class do a warm-up number while you mess with the gain setting to provide a setting that hits about 2/3 of the way to the highest level at the loudest they are going to perform. This will help you prevent “clipping,” that is, recording too loud of a signal, which will result in an absolutely horrible-sounding digital distortion that cannot be fixed once recorded.
That’s really all there is to it. Hit the red record button to start recording, hit it again to stop. It will automatically save to “My Recordings.” You’ll be also able to call the recording whatever name you wish under “My Recordings.” Under the recording name you’ll see the date and time you recorded, plus the file size and audio format, which will most likely be WAV. “My Recordings” also lets you convert the audio to a smaller file size by choosing Apple Lossless, or AAC at 256, 128 and 96kbps. The lower the “kbps” setting, the more data is removed or “compressed” making a reduction in audio quality that sometimes can be heard, and frankly, may take dog ears for others to hear. This is also where you can send the recording via text message or email, save it to your Camera Roll area of your Mac or iOS device for easy exporting later, send it via AirDrop to those nearby with an iPhone, send it to Notes, Messenger, or DropBox. There is also an option to dump it in the trash if you don’t like what you recorded.
Its incredible easy to make recordings. Within a few minutes of buying it, I stood outside the rehearsal room at the convention center where a school orchestra was practicing, set the MOTIV app to “Loud”(meaning I chose the default settings whose icon looks like a speaker), and hit record. I wasn’t even in some sweet spot carefully chosen; I was out in the hallway with the doors open. The sound I got back was absolutely wonderful, professional and would be impressive to anyone hearing it.
So, seeing how easy it is to attach, use and capture amazing recordings with, think about the practical applications in your music classroom. You can record rehearsals, put them on DropBox and share them with students, parents, administrators and more in minutes. You can walk toward a particular section during rehearsals that you want heard above others ever-so-slightly so that their parts are a bit louder, so that you can play the recording back to demonstrate performance areas that should improve. You can make professional-quality recordings of concert performances and distribute them to students and parents. If there are no copyright/performance rights/mechanical license issues in selling recordings of your repertoire, I dare say that the Shure MV88, used correctly, could make recordings worthy of selling to your supporters, boosters, family and friends. And this, all on an iPhone or iPad you probably already own.
I’m sold on the MV88 and the app. For personal reasons, I bought it to record live shows of my band when we play clubs and festivals in between my magazine editing duties. It has everything that I need as an audio engineer, musician, and performer to capture great recordings of our performances, for better or for worse. And whether you’re playing back your performances or rehearsals for your school music program or your own personal music making, there is nothing like having high-end, professional quality sound to help you hear where you can improve, and where your performances shine. Find out more at shure.com.