Music Technology, Bandlab and Berklee #apme2018


On the bus to the university this morning I introduced myself to the person sat next to me, who turned out to be John Bigus from my own institution (Berklee’s a great community, but it’s a BIG community, so it’s possible to work there for a long time without knowing everyone’s name). John is responsible for the PULSE free resource, available at pulse.berklee.edu, which is part of Berklee’s initiative to work with K-12 school age music creators and teachers.

John has been working with Bandlab, so there is an introduction from the company’s Lauren Henry Parsons, and our interviewer is Bandlab’s Michael Filson. It’s a cloud-based, free, 12-track DAW app (mobile app or browser-based) with 3.5m users across the world. It’s sponsored by the music instrument industry, which is why the end product is free for musicians – and a walled-garden version for students and teachers. It’s also part of a relaunch of SONAR’s Cakewalk.

John’s work includes Berklee’s Amp Up NYC, which has recently started using BandLab in its work. He talks us through how the software is used in the classroom, using resources (e.g. audio stems) created at Berklee, to teach DAW skills, creative work, music theory/form and even music history.

Lauren reminds us of the software’s real-time collaboration feature, which allows for up to 50 simultaneous users to see how other users run a session.

John talks about the way the software has supported users who don’t necessarily play an instrument, and mentions, briefly, the slight decline of guitar-based high school musicians and the comparative rise of DAW-based creators. [JB comment – there’s a lesson for music educators generally here].

There’s a great question from the floor about whether Bandlab can be integrated into Learning Management Systems (Virtual Learning Environments). Lauren tells us this is coming towards the end of 2018, and the following LMS platforms will be supported (in order of rollout, Google Classroom, Canvas, then Blackboard).

Next question from the floor is about where Bandlab sits vs GarageBand. Lauren responds that it’s slightly more advanced than GB, but less advanced than more standalone (paid) DAW platforms. She argues that there’s room for a lot of approaches in the DAW ecosystem, citing a comparison between Instagram and Photoshop – different tools for different levels of professionalism v accessibility. Bandlab is not a [pardon the expression] pro tool, but it is free and accessible.

[JB comment – this is a fair point, and it seems to me that PULSE and John’s/Berklee’s work in the NYC high schools is the perfect example of how a DAW like this can be good for K-12 musicians. A gateway DAW, perhaps!].

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