Back when I was first taking music history courses as an undergraduate, my professor lo those many years ago carefully made cassette tape mixes which were available on reserve in the library. To be perfectly honest (sorry Peter!) I can't say that I often did the listening assignments. It was a pain to go to the library in the first place, and sitting on a hard wooden chair with headphones on is just not how I like to engage with the music. As an alternative, some of my courses made use of CD compilations associated with a textbook like Grout/Palisica, which we bought at the campus bookstore with the rest of our required books for the semester. These CDs were pricey, but then you could listen to them at home.
Since then, technology has obviously made great strides in making music available for required listening assignments. At UCLA, both the Music Library, and, separately, a Digital Humanities initiative thingy both had systems whereby recordings chosen by the professor were streamed via web pages. That way a student could listen at home, but copyrights weren't being violated, at least as much. The downside to that, I've found since leaving UCLA, is that creating systems like those take time and money, and I have yet to teach at another school that has made that investment. Another common option is that many of us put recordings on Blackboard sites, and students then just download the files. Totally illegal, of course, and the large files are unwieldy, but it does have the important advantage that students are much more likely to do their listening if it is available in a format that they can put on their iPod.
For standard survey courses there is often a CD compilation available, but they are super-expensive, and lock you into certain musical works that might not be ideal. And if you are doing anything outside of a standard survey--oh, let's say a course on American music during McCarthyism, hypothetically--that doesn't work.
Enter iTunes. If you click here, your iTunes store will open up to a sample iMix I made based on some music I recently assigned to my minimalism seminar. You make these by simply assembling a normal playlist in iTunes, and then choose "Create an iMix" under the "Store" menu. Apple thinks about it for a few hours--I'm not sure exactly what is happening, but it isn't instantaneous--and then spits out a link like that above.
1. I'm not entirely comfortable having everything go through one corporation, even a better one like Apple. Enterprising students can of course buy most of these recordings through Amazon or whoever else on their own, but I'm just not going to make the effort to assemble a similar mix through competing sellers.
2. Not everything is available on iTunes, and when it is, sometimes Apple has made it so that you have to buy an entire album just to get the track I want. I imagine that I will still have to put some tracks on reserve, and maybe alter the music I choose a little bit if it makes it easier to buy.
3. For a big survey course--I'm thinking using this system for my Music of the United States course in the spring--it's not entirely cheap. But at the same time, I think it is cheaper then a compilation, or at least comparable. The CD set for the Crawford textbook, for example, runs about $60. I will, however, probably still put CD mixes on reserve on the library in addition to using iTunes.
So what do you think? I'm inclined to give it a try this next semester. Copyright is not my most important concern as a teacher, but especially when it comes to contemporary music or smaller-scale performers and labels, I do care a bit. And more importantly, I do have a desire to instill an ethic in my students that listening to music takes some care. You need to think about what recordings you are listening to, not just find a YouTube video of the piece in question, or take whatever BitTorrent gives you. It's not so much about the money, but the idea that music matters enough to seek out a specific recording for its quality, and sometimes that requires money. At the same time, I want to use a method that works best with contemporary listening habits. So barring any unforeseen issues, I think using this iTunes iMix system, while still putting CD mixes on reserve in the library, is the way to go.