Google–The 800lb Gorilla in the Studio

A Series About The Care and Feeding of the 21st Century Voice Studio From a Business Perspective
This Issueʼs Column is by Justin Montigne, who also serves as our Webmaster

logo3wThe 800lb Gorilla in the Studio

Hello teachers! This piece picks up the thread I left unpulled in my last: Google, and how it fits into the world of social media, and also how its services can be used to greatly enhance your work in and out of the studio. I don’t presume that I need to introduce you to this 800lb gorilla sitting in the corner of every email, web page, and chat room you might have ever encountered, but Google is one of the world’s largest technology and media companies, and certainly the undisputed champ of search and many other web services. Gmail account anyone?

Let’s start there. If you already use gmail, or if you’re dissatisfied with your current email service and shopping around, you might want to know about a few of the excellent features available in gmail, which does them best and for the most people. First, gmail saves everything. You can find that rep list you sent a student in 2007, the history of your invoices, that recital photo your student emailed you but you accidentally deleted, and anything else that ever was sent to or from your gmail address in the archive. And if you don’t want your email address to be, you can personalize or mask your gmail address to look like if you prefer. Gmail also integrates beautifully with all of Google’s other services–e.g. your contacts appear in gmail, and you can chat right in the same window, and you can access your google docs, and, and, and…

The latter is one of the most important reasons I find Google so great for my business: integration galore. Not only do they provide excellent products in a number of service areas, but they integrate them all so that they are seamless and enhance one another. Gmail, YouTube, Google Docs/Drive, Google Calendar, Google Wallet, and Google+ are the biggest apps Google offers, and all these services follow you with your gmail login or Google Account. There’s an elegant simplicity to that way of doing it–rather than you following and remembering the logins for all the different services you use, the services Google provides follow you the user as you move about the web.

imgresLet me introduce a few of the aforementioned services. The first may need no introduction: YouTube. I referenced this last month, but in addition to being a huge free archive of endless repertoire and historical performance since the days of video’s inception, YouTube can be used in many other ways. You can have your own channel for your studio! Did you know you can broadcast live on YouTube via a Google+ Hangout (Don’t worry, we’ll talk about Google+ before we’re done.)? Imagine holding a studio class or recital and broadcasting it for students, friends, family, and anyone who can’t be there? Or, imagine recording videos of your students’ performances and then putting them up on a private YouTube channel (Yes, you can share with only the people you choose!) for commentary and evaluation later. And, if you haven’t already, consider uploading videos of your own performances to your channel, think about the ability for your students to watch you sing and ask questions about what you did and why you did it. Scary, but also a potential teaching gold mine.

imgres-1Speaking of gold, how do you collect your payments? Check and cash still your only available options? PayPal, Square, and other good tools are out there (I use many of them), but I’ve used Google Wallet (formerly Checkout) for years. For those saying “Huh?” or who are skeptical of online payments, here are two good reasons Wallet is awesome. One, it anonymizes your financial information and personal details. Rather than sharing your name, address, phone number, credit card number, and whatever else they require with merchants, you can pay with Google Wallet and share only your name or account nickname. Google keeps your details and handles the transaction, so you share once, rather than a million different times. Two, you can accept Google Wallet payments in your studio via pc, laptop, tablet, and most importantly, mobile phone. Gone are the days of “I forgot my check.” or “My wallet is in the car.” If they have their phone (and they probably do), you can get your payment easily and safely. There’s a small percentage due to Google for each transaction, but I build these into my prices and happily pay it for the convenience. If you create a Wallet account for your business, you can also use it for music purchases, supplies, and other expenses, giving you a nice record of money in and  out of your studio. Google Wallet and its ilk provide a much more streamlined, secure, and varied portfolio of payment services than cash money or a clunky credit card reader on your piano (yuck). One last thing: once you’ve created a merchant (seller’s) account for Google Wallet, you can integrate it with your website and accept credit card payments for lessons, workshops, and lesson packages online. Here’s my voice lesson page as an example (Click ‘Purchase Lessons’ to see the price list, checkout process, and to please not judge my rates!):

imgres-2The price list you see on my site is a Google Doc–a word document that lives online, and is editable there or on any device. They are secure, sharable, save changes instantly, and are part of the online storage solution, Google Drive. Many of you may use Google Docs already, but the main features are documents and spreadsheets that are editable by multiple users in real time, secure online storage and access from anywhere, and the ability to have read-only versions of your documents imbedded on websites. You’ll notice that the member directory on the SFBAC NATS website is a Google spreadsheet. I changed to that method of record keeping because when we change one of the members’ contact info, it immediately populates to the website. Using docs in this way can save a lot of extra steps and unnecessary time. Google Drive stores all your google docs for free, as well as any photos, videos, or other files you upload, up to a 5GB limit. If you want to store more, they have tiered plans for reasonable rates. Consider backing up your files online rather than in that ugly file cabinet next to your piano!

imgres-3While we’re down in the weeds, what’s the other yucky-tricky-sticky part of running your business? Scheduling. Groan! Google hasn’t yet come up with an app that will schedule your students for you and take the headache out of figuring out that weekly puzzle, but Google Calendar offers many features that make it much more pleasant and rewarding for you and your students if you use them. Many people are moving to online calendars now, and the good new is that whether you use Google, iCloud, Yahoo, or others, the standards have become pretty much universal. That means, an event created in one is exportable or translatable to the others, and therein lies the potential for your studio. Consider creating a calendar and then scheduling your students’ lessons as events. You can add them as invitees, which then allows them to import the event and all its accompanying details into their own calendars. I got a little italics-happy because online calendars now allow you to attach a LOT of stuff to an event. You can add notes (assignments!), web links, pictures, and sometimes even document or video files to students’ lesson events. And any reminders/alerts you set, as well as the other details and attachments will automatically follow the event and be visible to them. The potential is huge! My husband, a fitness trainer, actually creates individual workout calendars for each of his clients, and adds their ‘homework’ workouts (or singing practice for us), and assignments to the calendar. All the client has to do is check the schedule, and the program is there. If that sounds like a lot of extra work for us teachers, sure it is, but it might pay off in student engagement and preparation.

photo.jpgLastly, let’s talk about engagement and Google+. Yes, it’s very similar to Facebook, no all your friends (or maybe not even many) are not using it regularly, and YES you should set up a profile and begin using it immediately. I won’t go into a tutorial on Google+ here–suffice it to say that it offers all the features of Facebook and a few more without a few of the big annoyances, and with a few bugs still to be worked out. The standout, uh-mazing feature with nearly limitless potential is Hangouts. Hangouts are video chats on steroids. Google has figured out a way to have up to ten people video chatting at a time via their various computers or devices within Google+. It looks like a YouTube video in which you see small tiles of all the faces in the hangout, and one big tile, which is the person speaking. The Hangout discerns who that is and follows the conversation from person to person. That is by no means the coolest part of Hangouts. Within the chat, you can screen share, watch YouTube videos together, edit Google Docs together, have side text chat conversations, and more. And, you can choose to hang out ‘On Air,’ meaning the hangout is broadcast live for people to watch, even though they are not present as one of the ten participants. AND, all Hangouts On Air are recorded and archived, for upload to YouTube later if you choose. Can you imagine the possibilities? I’ve used Hangouts for social conversations, meetings, and brainstorming sessions. The quality and functionality have been excellent. This year, I’ll be trying my first yoga consultations and maybe even voice lessons via Hangout. Want to explore with me? Let me know how your own Hangouts go, and please share your creative uses for them!

This concludes my long love letter to Google. Don’t worry, I’m not receiving any kickbacks, nor do I think they’re the only company out there providing innovative and high quality web services. I just wanted to snip the thread I left hanging when I didn’t include Google in my Big 5 from last month’s column. If you know of other great ways to accomplish some of the same things I described above, please share them with me and the rest of our membership. Also, if you have questions or ideas for a future technology in the studio topic, please contact me. For the purposes of this article, you can find me and SFBAC NATS the following places. See you online!

Justin Montigne