If there is one thing my piano students look forward to all year, it’s recording their own CDs. Every spring, some of my students take their own compositions and turn them into “aural yearbooks”. The entire process, from the mini “recording sessions” to the photo shoots and album designs, is meaningful, memorable, and fun!
When sharing photos of the CD covers I create for my students on social media, I am inevitably asked “How do you do this?!” and so today I thought I’d share answers to my most “Frequently Asked CD Creation Questions”.
A Step-By-Step Guide To *Simple* CD Recording
If you love the CD Recording idea but are worried that a) you have no idea what you’re doing in this area… or b) it sounds like too much work, then you’ll be happy to know that I also have no idea what I’m doing when it comes to professional recording techniques and I have absolutely no extra time. And yet, I’m still able to make it work in a way that is special for families and motivating for my students.
The point of this project is NOT to create a “studio quality” CD (I do not spend hours mixing recordings or agonizing over sound quality). Instead, you will be giving your students a little memento of their year in piano lessons; a super cool keepsake that makes them feel like a rock star. Before I get to your frequently asked questions, here’s an example of some of the CDs I’ve created this spring.
1. What Do I Need To Be Able To Do This?
I use very basic equipment to create my piano student CDs. Feel free to modify and use what is available to you. Below is simply a run-down of what I personally use; there are other ways to accomplish the same goal.
- A computer or smart phone
- The Garage Band app
- A keyboard with a MIDI connection or a microphone with a USB connector (you will need an adapter if you will be plugging directly into your phone or tablet instead of a computer)
- A free graphic design program (I use a combination of Pixelmator and Canva)
- Student compositions
- Blank CDs with hard plastic cases
- Glossy card stock (or access to an office supply store)
2. What Kind Of Planning Goes Into This?
- Have your students select the pieces that they will be recording. Give them a recording date and communicate this date with their parents (recording takes a ton of time if your parents haven’t hounded their kids to practice).
- Schedule a “photo shoot” date if you will be using student photographs for the CD Cover art. I hold this during regular lesson times and we simply take 10 minutes to snap a few photos (I use my iPhone camera). Before taking the pictures, have your piano students decide on themes for their CD cover art. Take your photos with their themes in mind (for example, one student wanted to be “flying with an eagle”… this meant a certain pose was required LOL!). Always obtain written parent permission to display photos of their children in any way online.
3. How Can I Record My Piano Students?
- Sound quality is best if you can record directly into Garage Band using a keyboard MIDI connection. If you can’t do this, don’t sweat it! Kids equally appreciate a recording done through a simple microphone or, if you don’t have access to Garage Band, the “voice recording” function on your phone. Keep the end goal in mind and don’t worry if you can’t match “studio quality”… edits and adjustments to sound can be made in Garage Band (or not… it’s up to you!).
- Make a big deal about recording day! Give your kiddos cool headphones, take pictures, and celebrate! This makes it all the more special. “Recording Day” is simply one or two lessons scheduled during your students’ regular lesson times.
- Don’t fret about little mistakes… this is a yearbook… a true, honest snapshot of their progress. Kids get discouraged and frustrated if they feel like they have to have an absolutely perfect recording. I remind my students that professional artists take *months* to record an album.
4. The Cover Art Is Amazing! How Do You Do It?
- You can create CD Cover art in 3 ways: 1) photograph your students, delete the backgrounds and then photoshop them onto fun backgrounds purchased from a stock photography website 2) Photograph your students in pretty locations and use the natural backgrounds and then add the text in a program like Canva, or 3) Purchase stock photography and create a “graphic only” album cover with no student photographs. Examples of all three of these options are included in the photos in this post.
- Inner album liners can be the same or different as the front cover. I list the pieces we recorded (the “tracks”) and try to keep the same graphic themes as the front covers.
- CD covers are 4.75 x 4.75 inches. Size them correctly, and then print them on glossy photo stock or ask your your local office supply store to do so.
5. Any Tips For A Newbie?
If you are not careful, this project can easily become a runaway train. Learn from my experience and set the following guidelines with your students.
- Students should create CDs with a maximum of four tracks (this is a manageable amount of material to perfect, record, burn etc.) You can expand the project as you get more experience, but four is a perfect place to start.
- Students can select a general “feel” or “theme” for their CD covers but you ultimately create it (too much student input makes this very time consuming).
- If you have a very large studio you may want to consider holding a contest or practice incentive where the winner(s) get the opportunity to create CDs, otherwise you might be bogged down with hundreds of recordings.
- If you are really good with photo editing, take photos of your students and (using Pixelmator or Adobe Photoshop) “cut them out” of the background. This enables you to then place their images on any backdrops.
- You’ll need to export your recorded files (however you obtained them) into iTunes to convert them to an mp3 format. Keep the files organized by creating a playlist for each student. Once their playlist is complete, insert a blank CD and select File->burn playlist to Disc.
Work… That’s Worth It
Recording CDs takes a bit of extra planning and time, however it’s TOTALLY worth it! Your students will be motivated to practice, proud of their end results, and excited to return for another year of piano lessons.
This project is also the *perfect* summer lesson project if you’re looking for a way to make piano lessons more appealing and motivating during July and August. It can also work as a replacement for a piano recital, a way of providing a “progress report” to parents, or as a student reward for goals achieved!
Will you be giving this a try? Share in the comments below!