New Jersey’s Essex County Schools of Technology Centers Focusrite RedNet for Education in Music Production

New Jersey’s progressive Essex County Schools of Technology (ECST) District, which blends traditional high school course work with vocational and technology instruction, has sophisticated, well-equipped facilities through which it provides instruction in over 30 career and technical clusters, including Music Production. In September of 2018, the Donald M. Payne, Sr. School of Technology opened in Newark, where the Music Production course work utilizes a Dante infrastructure to move audio around the campus with Focusrite Red and RedNet interfaces for I/O.

“It’s a $165 million facility which looks like a college campus,” says music and entertainment production technology teacher Mark Beckett. “My classroom is well over 40 by 40 feet. In one half of the class I have 24 iMac/Pro Tools workstations, where students learn their music production skills, and in the other half of my classroom, I have a 12- by 16-foot full stage where students can do live performances and learn live mixing.” Beckett’s students are in 9th through 12th grade with roughly 40 students being taught daily. “Then,” he continues, “right down the hall from us, we have the video broadcast production course and our Digital Filmmaking course – we’re in a cluster together.” Linking audio from each of these spaces is facilitated by Dante-enabled Focusrite RedNet gear.

Even before moving into the new facility, Beckett had embraced RedNet technology. “It’s clean and it’s quick,” he shares. “A few years ago, I experienced a Focusrite broadcast from a college university. ‘Wow,’ I thought, ‘this is interesting how we can just travel with the RedNet 4 interfaces and connect them together and we can record from one room to the other. This is great.’” A portable rack equipped with Focusrite RedNet gear lets production capabilities move where needed within the facility and link back to his classroom. “With Focusrite, we can get music anywhere, from my station to a student’s station to their friend’s station. Moving from the RedNet 4 to the Red 4Pres and now to the Red 16Line. I’m excited to see what’s next.”

In the music production course work, says Beckett, “I find myself teaching them everything from the beginning and I do it in steps which is pretty simple. It’s like building blocks. Focusrite has been a help with that. Students learn signal flow and then we apply it to the technology of Audio-over-IP.”

The campus, says Beckett, is “a public county school, but students do have to test into the school. Then, since it’s a career and technical education school, they have to decide what kind of career they want to go into. When they say music as freshmen, we put them in a rotation cluster of arts programs, and then by 10th grade, they actually choose music theory, music production, digital film or broadcasting and video. Once they’re in, they see the technology behind the music. I’m trying to get them to understand that there’s more than just being on stage, there’s so much that makes it happen from behind the stage.”

Getting the school auditorium on the RedNet network is a very near-term goal, says Beckett. “And we’re looking to be able to connect all our venues together,” he notes. The ability to add video to the same network with Audinate’s recent release of Dante AV is another anticipated step. “One of the things that we’re trying to do in the next two years is to take a school bus and change it into a remote recording studio,” Beckett adds looking forward. Based on the dividends paid by the school’s investment in Focusrite RedNet networked gear to date, Focusrite hardware and software will be integral to ongoing expansion in the program’s future.