The John Lennon Educational Tour Bus is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that began as an offshoot of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest, which is dedicated to providing opportunities for both professional and amateur songwriters around the world. The bus, which has been touring since 1998, is a state-of-the-art, mobile professional audio and HD video recording facility that travels across the U.S. and Canada year-round. It provides free tours and hands-on experience for students of all ages to make original music, video, photo, game app and broadcast projects via workshops at schools, retailers, festivals, concert tours with headlining artists, and at major industry conferences. The bus has also visited colleges, trade shows and museums in big cities, small towns, rural areas and severely underserved communities alike.
Lennon Bus Chief Engineer Jeff Sobel designed Lennon Bus Europe from scratch. Based on positive experiences with AJA gear, Sobel outfitted the European vehicle with a AJA Ki Pro Rack and Ki Pro Mini tapeless recorders, along with a KONA 3G card for video capture and output. In addition to HD capabilities, Sobel needed workflow tools that would be compatible with Apple Final Cut Pro and Avid Media Composer, which are both used on the bus to edit student projects and music videos. “I wanted a solution that would not just be compatible with Final Cut and Media Composer but one that would really make both scream, so that’s why we went with the KONA 3G card,” says Sobel. “I contacted AJA about what the production needs would be on the bus, and I also ended up choosing Ki Pro Mini and Ki Pro Rack, [which are] powerful pieces of gear that facilitate multiple needs and also take up very little space.”
The Lennon Bus has an extensive touring schedule, two full-time on-board engineers and a driver facilitating recording sessions and video productions at each stop where students can write, perform, record and produce original creative content on any given day. Given these hands-on opportunities, the equipment on the bus must be able to withstand frequent and rigorous use. “We have students of all levels, so we really sculpt each day’s project to fit with whoever is on board,” explains Lennon Bus Executive Director Brian Rothschild, who started the organization with Ono Lennon in 1998. “The studios and gear on the Lennon Bus are in use almost every day. The reality is that the work we are doing is really of value almost anywhere that we might find young people.”
Sobel reports that the equipment chosen for the bus has proven its worth. “To be honest, we are not very easy on our gear,” he says. “We try to treat everything the best we can, but it is a mobile environment, and the portable devices are in the hands of students, who are not trained professionals. They’re under close supervision but they don’t always treat things the way professionals, who have accountability to their equipment, do. We need tough equipment, and the craftsmanship of AJA technology really shows. We’ve also had an Io HD on our U.S. bus for years, and it’s built like a tank and has always been reliable.”
With 10-plus years on the Lennon Bus, Sobel has seen remarkable changes in audio and video technology, and he’s consistently updating the gear configuration on the U.S. bus to keep everything up to date. Sobel guided the 2008 redesign of the original Lennon Bus, which was re-launched as a completely new vehicle capable of working in HD. His quest for video interfaces and solutions to complement new HD cameras provided by Sony is what first led him to AJA’s KONA cards and the Io HD, a portable FireWire device that enables editors to encode Apple ProRes HD video to portable MacBook Pros. Sobel has also made use of multiple AJA Mini-Converters. “We often forget the AJA gear is there, because it just works,” Sobel enthuses. “Their technologies are like the invisible connections that make everything work, and it’s effortless to set up. With the KONA 3G card, which is a very advanced piece of equipment that does amazing things, you literally just pop it into the computer, load the drivers, and suddenly this beautiful image is coming out on your monitor or being captured in. It integrates into the editing software and into the computer without any actual work. Having really tight deadlines, any time I can just pop something in and have it work, especially when it performs such a key role, makes me very, very happy. Once it’s in, it just keeps working and we just never even think about it. That is lifesaving.”
In addition to AJA, the bus features top technology from some of the industry’s leading vendors, including Aphex, Apogee, Apple, Audio-Technica, Avid, Gibson, Litepanels, M-Audio, Roland and Sony. A complete list of vendors and equipment can be found at http://www.lennonbus.org/explore — and it’s quite a list. “With John Lennon’s name on it, we certainly have a big focus on music and songwriting, since that is his legacy, but we’ve really evolved into film and video documentaries and broadcast projects, [and] we’re doing more live streaming,” says Rothschild. “I see the evolution continuing as everything else evolves.”