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On board the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus

Photo Caption  

John Lennon Educational Tour Bus Engineers at Audio-Technica. Left to right: A-T Marketing Director Gary Boss, Tour Bus engineers Steve Miller and Rob Healey, A-T Executive Director of Marketing Jeff Simcox, Tour Bus engineer Doug Lubowitz, and A-T President/CEO Philip Cajka.

In the bus. Left to right, seated: Steve Miller and Rob Healey. Standing: Philip Cajka, Doug Lubowitz and Gary Boss.

Bringing a professional studio to ‘young, pure, amazing, energetic talent’

Imagine: A professional-quality music studio on wheels pulling into your high school parking lot and inviting you to step up to the mic, record your original song, and star in a music video. Before the sun sets, you walk off the bus with your first original CD & DVD produced on the same equipment your favorite band might use.

Sounds like pure fantasy, but the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus is very much a reality. This state-of-the-art recording/multimedia studio has been delivering free hands-on programs to thousands of students across America every year since 1988. An outgrowth of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest, the bus is the brainchild of the contest’s executive director Brian Rothschild.

Piloted by Tony Spencer, the bus transports a three-member crew of sound and video engineers—Rob Healey, Doug Lubowitz and Steve Miller—to two or three towns a week, stopping at high schools, colleges, music festivals, concerts, conventions and community groups from coast to coast.

“It’s cool,” says Tour Bus engineer Steve Miller. “We get to record and see all this young, pure, amazing, energetic talent all across the country. We have a blast.”

Opening doors
The not-for-profit educational venture enjoys the support of state-of-the-art equipment from sponsors like Apple Computer, Maxell Corporation and Audio-Technica. A-T supplied all the microphones and wireless systems used on the Lennon Bus: a complete line of Audio-Technica live, wireless and studio microphones.

“We’re proud to be a sponsor of the Tour Bus, helping to open doors for young people across the country,” Gary Boss, Audio-Technica’s Marketing Director, explains. “It’s exciting to be a part of supporting music education and getting more people involved in making music.”

”For every vocal session, our mic of choice is the AT4050 large diaphragm,” says Tour Bus engineer Doug Lubowitz. “It’s our go-to mic. I’m really impressed with it. It’s not only great for the recording process, but also incredible for the education process.” A multi-pattern condenser microphone, the AT4050’s three switchable polar patterns offer hands-on introduction to omni, cardioid and figure-of-eight polar patterns.

Doug was an A-T fan before the mics came aboard. “In my home studio I have an AT4040 for vocals and acoustic guitar,” he explains. “I went to that mic because it is a very good sounding mic for the price.”

“The AT4050s are incredible,” says Steve. “They have a really clear response. They handle crisp tones really well; they’re really sensitive—great for the type of intimate singer that we get on the bus a lot. When I use an Audio-Technica mic, I know that what I’m hearing them sing is what I’m going to get on tape. It has a 10 db pad if you need to bring the whole level down, and has a filter a low cut. I use it to teach the kids a little bit about microphones.”

“I was 100 percent happy with the changeover to Audio-Technica,” Doug says. “It was a flawless changeover. Sometimes when we change a sponsor it messes things up until we regroup. This switchover was really a pleasure.”

Beautiful & inspiring
Working together with some of the biggest names in music, the Lennon Bus encourages students to play music, write songs, engineer recording sessions and produce music video projects using the latest audio, video, and live sound equipment.

“This is an amazing opportunity,” says Mitch Marku, bass player for the band Otis Avenue. Winner of a local Battle of the Bands, Otis Avenue is recording at Canton South High School on a March afternoon. “This bus is beautiful,” Mitch says as he makes his way to the back studio.

The recording session normally takes about two hours, says Steve. “Then we go out and shoot the music video. And the band goes home with Maxell CD's and DVD's of the day.

As Otis Avenue—Mitch on bass, Logan on drums, Cameron on keyboard, Abram on guitar—gets settled at their instruments Steve asks what kind of sound they’re going for.

Logan looks up from the drums: “Kind of an older vintage tube-type gain,” he says. “With really high reverb during the body of the song.”

Interior set-up & memories of Tulsa
The Tour Bus interior is divided into two separate recording environments. The front studio offers the chance to participate in the creation of multi-media projects. Audio and video components are demonstrated, with visitors helping in the recording and editing of original material.

The back studio is a more traditional set-up for bands and the remote recording of concerts and special events. It features a full range of instruments including guitars, basses, keyboards, and drums. Also on-board is a P.A. system enabling performances on the side of the Bus.

Student: “Do you guys get bored?”
Steve: “Never. You go to bed and wake up in a different state every day. We’ve already seen 16 states this year. Been across the country one and a half times.”

I ask for a Tour Bus memory. While Doug gives it a minute, Steve laughs and announces: “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” The recollection Doug comes up with surprises me. “Cain’s Ballroom, in Tulsa, Oklahoma.” The Carnegie Hall of country western music complete with a truck-spring-loaded dance floor is a far piece from the east- or west-coast glamour venues I expect to hear. He lets the memory settle, then adds in a wistful tone: “It’s this historic, beautiful ballroom. We usually get 500 people at a Battle of the Bands. There were 1,800 people at Cain’s.”

Creative legacy
As for the John Lennon connection, Doug says it’s about carrying on the creative legacy an incredible songwriter: “A lot of adults don’t understand that at first. They think the bus is going to be a John Lennon memorabilia thing. They’re disappointed when they don’t see Beatles memorabilia on board.” Some of the kids, on the other hand, have never heard of John Lennon, as I overhear waiting in line to enter the bus.

Student: “Who’s John Lennon?”
Teacher: “He was one of the Fab Four.”
Student: “I thought there were six of those guys.”

You don’t have to know how many of those guys there were, or which one was John Lennon to be impressed with the educational bus that bears his name. For that matter, you don’t have to win, or even wage, a battle of the bands to take inspiration from the Tour Bus. “This bus is awesome,” says Canton South High School student Claudia Carnessali. She’s missed the earlier student tours, but manages to check out the studio in the few moments left before Otis Avenue begins to record. Claudia, who loves to sing, confesses she’s always felt too shy to perform. The bus inspires her—she says she may get up the nerve to face an audience one day. When she heads back to class, she doesn’t have a CD in hand. Still, the flicker of courage she takes with her may prove as valuable a legacy to the author of Imagine.

Audio-Technica Microphones on the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus
For a full list of professional audio equipment on the bus, visit the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus web site at

AT4060 Large-diaphragm vacuum tube condenser microphone (2)
AT4050 Large-diaphragm multi-pattern condenser microphone (2)
AT4033 Cardioid condenser microphone (2)
AT4041 Small-diaphragm cardioid condenser microphone (2)
AE5400 Large-diaphragm cardioid condenser microphone—voice (4)
AE6100 Hypercardioid dynamic microphone—voice (4)
AE5100 Cardioid condenser microphone—instrument (2)
AE2500 Dual-element cardioid kick-drum microphone—kick-drum (2)
AE3000 Cardioid condenser microphone—instrument (4)
ATM63HE Handheld/stand hypercardioid dynamic microphone—instrument (4)
ATM25 High-SPL hypercardioid dynamic instrument microphone—instrument (4)
ATM35 Cardioid condenser clip-on microphone—instrument (4)
AT831R Miniature cardioid condenser microphone—lavalier, acoustic guitar (2)
AT4071a Line + gradient condenser microphone—shotgun mic (1)
AT822 X/Y stereo microphone (1)
ES961 Unidirectional condenser boundary microphone (2)
AEW-5111C 5000 Series wireless/Dual UniPak™ system (2)
AEW-5255C 5000 Series wireless/Dual handheld condenser microphone system (2)
AEW-T6100C Wireless Handheld hypercardioid dynamic transmitter (4)
AEW-DA550C UHF antenna distribution system (1)
AC25 Antenna Cables (2)
ATW-A49 UHF wide-band directional LPDA antennas (1 pair)
AT831cW Wireless miniature cardioid condenser microphone (4)
AT-GCW Instrument input cable for UniPak™ transmitter (4)
ATM75cW Headworn cardioid condenser microphone for wireless system (1)
ATW-U101 Wireless System for cameras (2)
ATW-U102 Wireless System for cameras (2)
AT899cT5 Lavalier microphone for wireless camera systems (2)
AT804 Omnidirectional dynamic microphone (2)
ATH-M40fs Extended-response Precision Studiophones (4)
ATH-D40fs Enhanced-bass Precision Studiophones (4)

About the John Lennon Songwriting Contest:
The John Lennon Songwriting Contest, in its ninth year, is dedicated to providing opportunities to both professional and amateur songwriters. Winners in 12 categories receive awards and prizes totaling over $220,000 each year. The $20,000 Maxell Song of the Year is selected by a stellar Executive Committee including Elton John, Tim McGraw, Wyclef Jean, Sugar Ray, Carlos Santana, Black Eyed Peas John Legend, Enrique Iglesias, Mary J. Blige, Nick Lachey, and many more. Sponsors of the Contest include Maxell, Roland, Brian Moore Guitars, Audio-Technica, EMI Music Publishing,, and Disc Makers. The John Lennon Songwriting Contest is made possible by an agreement with Yoko Ono Lennon who said "I hope this Contest will encourage, inspire and help the songwriters of the world to share their dreams with us."