Rock OnParents can help fight the video game wars with their own digital revolution and a little help from a pro...
by kathy sena
Mom, can I do PlayStation?” It’s a phrase I hear all too often, even though we limit “screen time” at our house. Of course, I don’t completely despise video games (although they do seem to suck the brain cells from my 12-year-old son’s skull, right before my eyes). That black box comes in handy when Mom and Dad are in need of a privilege to take away when a certain kid crosses the line.
Sure, Matt spends plenty of time doing homework, hanging with friends and playing sports, too. But what I’ve been wanting is something a bit more educational to replace video games when Matt wants to noodle around with something electronic around the house. Something educational and also fun. (That will be just between us. Dare I use the words “educational” and “fun” in the same sentence? Not around Matt, who’s sure he gets enough education at school.)
Digital Music Making to the Rescue
Finally, I’ve found the answer: Creating and recording music on our home computer. Specifically, using GarageBand (approx. $99 as part of the iLife ‘08 Family Pack), which we have installed on our Mac. You can also find similar software for Windows, such as Cakewalk Sonar Home Studio (approx. $100) M-Audio Pro Tools (approx. $249), Sony ACID Pro (approx. $40), etc.
Matt has been taking piano lessons since first grade, but he was never able to combine his love of music with his love of pushing buttons and messing with games and all things digital. Until now.
Chris “Sharpie” Sharp, 37, of Midland, Texas, knows just a little bit about this whole digital-music thing — on a somewhat grander scale. As the monitor engineer for Rob Thomas on his recent tour (he’s also worked with Nickelback, Usher, Evanescence and others), this guy understands music and the digital world.
If, like me, you need a definition of what a monitor engineer does, Sharp is the guy off to the side of the stage who mixes the sound that the band hears in their earpieces while they’re playing. I couldn’t think of a better-qualified person to ask about all this electronic stuff because he is not only musically and technically savvy — he’s also a devoted dad.
Sharp and his wife, Rinda, 32, have two kids, 15-year-old daughter Destinie and 15-year-old son C.J., so he knows all about the allure of video games. But he thinks my husband and I might be onto something by deciding to get Matt a MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) controller to use with GarageBand.
This keyboard-like device (prices start at around $200) doesn’t record sound waves like a tape recorder does. It digitally encodes the start of a note, its pitch, length, volume and musical attributes, such as vibrato. As a result, MIDI music files take up a lot less space than digitized sound files. (So there might actually be some room left on the computer for Matt’s middle-school book reports...) Soon he will be able to write and record his own songs and send MP3 files to his friends.
Using a MIDI controller with computer software like GarageBand can open up a whole new world of creativity for a kid, Sharp says. And today’s digital technology means that you don’t need an entire board, like the monster board he uses on tour, to record your own music. A kid can do it at home. Pretty cool.
While he agrees that many parents can barely tolerate the video games their kids crave, music is something where we can meet our kids halfway, Sharp says. “Music speaks to each person,” he adds, noting that he tries to share in the types of music that interest his kids while also subtly sharing his favorite music with them. (And in his line of work, he’s definitely on the “hip-dad” side of things, which helps.) “It’s sort of like fishing. You can’t force your kids to be interested in a certain thing, but you can try different types of bait.” So you’ll hear hip hop, rock, Tejano and other types of music around the Sharp home.
Sounds like good advice. And while my husband and I love to share our favorite music with Matt, and we love to learn about what he likes, we’re looking forward to hearing him make and record some fun music of his own very soon. Because with today’s technology, a kid’s desire to play with electronic stuff and push buttons can be satisfied while he’s also learning about computers, music and all things digital. SFM
Take that, Dragon Ball Z!
Kathy Sena is an award-winning freelance writer and a music fan. Her writing has appeared in Newsweek, USA Today, Woman's Day and other publications. Visit her blog at www.parenttalktoday.com.