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M-Audio Digital Pianos Top Choice at Berklee College of Music

M-Audio Digital Pianos Top Choice at Berklee College of Music
Revered music school turns to DCP-200 for quality sound, simple operation

Boston's Berklee College of Music is synonymous with excellent musicianship. Many ‘musicians' musicians' honed their craft in those hallowed halls. Always on the cutting edge when it comes to mentoring tomorrow's all-star players, the venerable school recently purchased five M-Audio DCP-200 digital console pianos for daily use by both faculty and students. M-Pulse got the inside story in a conversation with Jerry Smith, Technology Director for the Professional Writing Division that acts as an umbrella for song writing, composition, jazz comp, film scoring, harmony and contemporary writing production.

Given that Berklee is a music college, instruments are essential fixtures in faculty members' offices. “We're planning on switching over all the digital pianos in the office,” Smith says. “Originally we had acoustic pianos and that, as you can imagine, doesn't really work too well in a shared office. We went to synthesizers and they just didn't have great piano sounds—plus they had too many bells and whistles on them. So I started looking at putting digital pianos in these rooms.”

Part of the criteria was that the instruments had to be straightforward. “Most of our faculty want a simple piano that doesn't have a lot of buttons on it,” Smith explains. “99 percent of the time, instructors are sitting there with a student or simply trying to realize a harmony project. They just want a good piano sound. I think a piano that has a simple interface is much better than a piano that has more buttons on it than you're probably going to use.”

In addition to quality piano sounds, easy computer connectivity factored heavily in Smith's migration strategy. The DCP-200's built-in USB MIDI interface was the answer. “Pretty much all the faculty and students at Berklee walk around with a laptop loaded with a sequencer,” Smith continues, “and they want to connect it to a keyboard. One of the battles we've been fighting is how we facilitate that without having to jump through too many hoops. When we used to have synthesizers in the offices, we had to have MIDI interfaces—and then every time the OS updated we needed new drivers. People were always asking for a MIDI cable or how to do this or that. Things are more complicated when you're trying to support 150 faculty and a bunch of students. I've always been big on stuff that just works. I think M-Audio is the first company with class-compliant USB interfaces where you just plug them in and they work. So, when I saw that M-Audio was making good pianos I thought, wow, it would be really cool if we could put these keyboards in the school.”

Smith quickly discovered some of the other advantages of the DCP-200. “The other day I was trying to learn a tune and I plugged my iPod right into the piano. I quickly realized that the recording wasn't in A-440 concert pitch—and then remembered I could just quickly tune the whole piano with a simple control. It was just really great. You know, you couldn't do that with an acoustic. Or if a singer needs a song to be in a different key and someone doesn't know how to play the song it in that key, you can just transpose the DCP-200.”

In addition to four DCP-200s in faculty offices, Smith also put another one in the department lobby where students wait for faculty meetings. “It's sort of the meeting place and hangout for a lot of students before they go to see the dean or the chair or the faculty. So, I stuck one in there just to see the reaction—and it's been great. I'll often walk in and somebody will just be sitting there playing the piano. Then you'll see a student put a laptop down, plug in and just start sequencing with it too—which is a pretty cool thing. I didn't have to supply them with a driver or give them a manual or anything.”

Smith plans to purchase M-Audio DCP digital pianos for more faculty offices as budgets permit. He also sees these installations as a springboard for eventual use in classrooms. “The classrooms get used by a lot of other divisions in the college, so there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen on making that decision,” Smith laughs. “My advice is always to try to keep it simple while making it a useful tool. So, I thought starting out in the faculty spaces was a good place to plant the seed and see what they think. The best thing is when they don't say anything and they just start using it. That's when I know something is working.”

Smith liked his experience with the DCP-200 so much that he bought one for his New England home as well. “My wife took piano lessons when she was a kid and she wants the feel of a real piano when she plays. I've also got a nine-year old kid who wanted to learn piano. And you know what? This is a really great piano—plus, it's simple and there are a lot of things you can do with it. We have an old farmhouse where exterior walls would be a challenge for an acoustic piano and there's just not an appropriate interior wall. An old place like this is breezy and I was thinking I didn't want to be tuning a piano every three weeks. So I told my wife I wanted to get a DCP-200 piano for home because I really liked the ones at school.”

Both at home and at Berklee, Smith's experiences with the DCP-200 have been extremely positive. “We're constantly looking at things that are coming out,” he concludes. “How valuable is this as a tool for a musician? Is it something that's going to make my life more complicated and less likely that I'm going to actually use the technology—or is it going to be simple and make the technology more useful? I think the DCPs are the only digital pianos out there right now that offer built-in speakers and a USB connection, and are simple enough to just connect a laptop to without really having to think too much. For the money, you just can't beat the DCP-200.”