John Lennon Educational Tour Bus | Bringing Music to the People

Jan 1, 2012 9:00 AM, By Tom Kenny

15 YEARS ONBOARD THE JOHN LENNON EDUCATIONAL TOUR BUS

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Yoko Ono in front of the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus

Yoko Ono in front of the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus

It is unquestionably one of the most demanding jobs in audio, requiring a skill set that spans songwriting, musicianship, studio production, live sound, video production/post, IT and distribution. Ten months on the road, each day a new town, each day a new project from start to finish. It might be songwriting, it might be recording a band, it might be a documentary video. You never really know. The talent might be 13 years old and never have touched a musical instrument, or they might be in high school and in a band. They might just be in for a tour to learn about careers. Whatever the case, to be an engineer on the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus requires a ridiculously wide technical skill set, but perhaps more importantly a flexible interpersonal dynamic that can move fluidly between wide-eyed teenagers, high-level recording artists, corporate sponsors and a middle school principal who is knocking on the door at 7 a.m. ready for the meet and greet.

While it may be the most demanding job a young recording school graduate can take on, it may also be the most rewarding.

“I can’t say enough about the engineers we have on the bus,” says JLETB executive director Brian Rothschild, who founded the concept back in 1998 with Yoko Ono. “The spirit of the bus lives in the engineers onboard, and it’s sometimes difficult to find the right people. You can be a great audio engineer or a great songwriter/musician, but if you don’t have the ability to work with kids each day, if you’re not a flexible personality…”

“When the bus rolls up, everyone is impressed by the technology, by the bus itself,” adds chief engineer Jeff Sobel, who started a three-year run aboard the original vehicle in January 2002 and continues leading the engineering team to this day. “But by the time we leave a location, all we hear about is how great the crew was. When you find the right people, you hold onto them.”

This month at NAMM, the JLETB kicks off its 15th year of continuous operation, and its mission of bringing practical arts and technology-based curriculum to often-underserved communities has evolved considerably. Originally, the idea put forth by Rothschild and artist manager David Sonenberg was simply a songwriting contest with Lennon’s name attached. The bus was meant to be a five- to six-month promotional vehicle; it soon became something more.

“We were coming up with ideas of how to market the songwriting contest,” Rothschild recalls. “Someone suggested advertising on the sides of buses, and it got me thinking, ‘Well, what’s inside the bus?’ I thought it might be cool to have a studio on wheels to travel the country and support young songwriters. Of course, once it pulled up to my office here in New York, I think it was 4:30 in the morning, and I jumped on, it just looked amazing to me. And I started to see the possibilities.”






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