Powered by Dragonfly Energy Graphic
American Flag Graphic
Website Header for the Battle Born Blog

The Li-MITLESS ENERGY Podcast: Sustainable Music Education with The Lennon Bus

Table of Contents

While at one of the music industry’s largest events of the year, the NAMM show, we caught up with Brian Rothschild and Jeff Sobel to discuss the latest innovation on the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus. With the help of a new Battle Born Batteries power system, the Lennon Bus is bringing unparalleled access to musical education to students across the country. Through our partnership, Rothschild and Sobel have been able to continue their commitment to sustainability and the positive power of music. 

Powering Creativity and Sustainability: The Lennon Bus Upgrades with Battle Born Batteries 

CEO Dr. Denis Phares with Brian Rothschild and Jeff Sobel

In the late nineties, Brian Rothschild came up with an idea to create a songwriting contest that would provide global access to the music industry. When Yoko Ono, internationally acclaimed music artist and wife of the late John Lennon, expressed interest in the contest, his dream became a reality. Incorporating John Lennon’s name and carrying on his legacy, Rothschild and Yoko Ono launched the John Lennon Songwriting Contest in 1997. The following year, their dreams took a new form as the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus was created to bring Lennon’s passion for the power of music to students across the country. 

In this episode of the Li-MITLESS ENERGY Podcast, Dr. Denis Phares sits down with Brian Rothschild and Jeff Sobel from The John Lennon Educational Tour Bus at the NAMM Show in Anaheim, California. The podcast explores the evolution of the mobile recording studio, its collaborations with artists like Wu-Tang Clan and Machine Gun Kelly, and the impact on student’s lives by providing them with free opportunities to create music and explore career possibilities in the industry. The discussion also highlights the recent upgrade to the bus’s power system using Battle Born batteries, relieving the crew of the constant anxiety that came with managing limited battery life and aligning with the bus’s commitment to sustainability. The hosts express excitement about the unique intersection of music and electrical engineering, showcasing how the power system upgrade has become an integral part of the teaching experience on the Lennon Bus.  

Listen to the full episode or watch the recording on our YouTube channel , and be sure to keep up with the Lennon Bus on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and their Website!  



Podcast Transcript 

Denis Phares  0:17   

Hello, welcome to The Li-MITLESS ENERGY Podcast. And today, we are in Anaheim, California at the NAMM Show, the National Association of Music Merchants. And we are taking this opportunity to speak with Brian Rothschild and Jeff Sobel of The John Lennon Educational Tour Bus. It’s gonna be a great conversation and I’m so happy to have them on. Brian and Jeff, thank you so much for joining the podcast today. We are on the Lennon bus, and this is so exciting for me personally. So, I really do want to learn a little bit first about the history of the bus. So, maybe I’ll start with you, Brian. How did this get started? Whose brainchild was it? And tell me the story.  


Brian Rothschild  0:58   

Okay. Well, this was an idea that I had that grew out of my background with a music management company that was started by David Sonenberg. And we represented many, many artists, including the Black Eyed Peas, and the Fugees, and Joan Osborne. And in that capacity, we received a lot of unsolicited music from people who would see the company name on liner notes. And always talked about starting a songwriting contest that would give folks around the world an opportunity and access to the business, which, as we know, can be super tight-knit and difficult for people to break into.  


Denis Phares  1:43   

So, bands were sending you their demos and hoping to get a record deal. 


Brian Rothschild  1:47   

Exactly, just randomly like you need to do sometimes. But there were a lot. so we just always would talk about starting something like that that would give access. Had the opportunity to work with Wyclef from the Fugees, and he was looking for the rights to use a sample of John Lennon’s song and I was tasked with reaching out to Yoko’s attorney to see if maybe that sample would be licensed. And the first thing he said, really, was like that, “That’s not going to happen, but I will check.” And then I got word back that she wanted to meet about it, which seemed very, very surprising to me. So, I had the opportunity, was very nervous, to go to their apartment. Yoko was living there, this is where she lived with John.  


Denis Phares  2:48 

Which apartment… 


Brian Rothschild  2:49 

Yeah, it’s called The Dakota, quite a story building in New York City on the Upper West Side. And it was also very obviously, sadly, where John was murdered. And she never moved. And she and Shawn, well, they continued to own it. But anyway, so I went there, couldn’t believe I was in The Dakota. Came into the kitchen, sat down, had the chance to play the little sample piece. Not much response at that point, and then I just kind of blurted out in my awkwardness that we’ve been thinking of a songwriting contest idea and what did she think of maybe using John’s name and calling it the John Lennon songwriting contest. 


Denis Phares  3:34   

Was this just to break the awkwardness?  


Brian Rothschild  3:37   

Yes, 100%. I was very, very… I’d only been there for one minute after I’d pushed play. And then, it was 100% to break the awkwardness, it wasn’t really something that I had planned to… 


Denis Phares  3:50   

Was it just you and Yoko at the table?  


Brian Rothschild  3:53   

Mm-hmm. Yeah, it was tea. And, it didn’t get any less awkward at that moment, either. And then, two, three minutes later, then I was gone. And then, the next day, somebody buzzed me up and said that Yoko Ono was on the phone and I thought they were totally punking me because I had talked about what had happened the day before and there was no way that, but it was her and she called and said two things. The first, “No, you’re not sampling, but the other idea I like.” And that was the beginning of my conversation with Yoko. And so we launched the John Lennon songwriting contest in 1997, which is still running, it’s in its 27th year now. It’s an international songwriting contest in 12 categories: Rock, pop, and jazz, and hip-hop, and country, and children’s music. And it has a big prize package that’s made possible by all of our sponsors, most of which are involved in The Lennon Bus as well. But, anyway, as I was getting that up on its feet, I had the thought to put a mobile recording studio together that would promote the contest for the spring of that year. It was meant to just be a springtime promotion, and that was it. And I got Yamaha Corporation involved with it, and Maxell Corporation were the two first sponsors.  


Denis Phares  5:26   

Were these through your management connections or through Yoko’s connections? 


Brian Rothschild  5:29   

They were not through Yoko’s connections. No. The initial idea was that this was a licensing agreement where we had the right to use the name and the ‘Imagine face’ that’s here. That’s the self-portrait that John did of himself in 1968 that is so famous, it was a cover of the ‘Imagine’ album. But, anyway, the first landing Boston premiered on Good Morning America with Wyclef, who did not hold a grudge about that other thing, and Joan Osborne, the singer. And the idea was that in the course of the two hours of that live morning show, they were going to create something original and then present it. It was really, in that sense, well, ahead of its time, there was no reality TV, really. There was nothing quite like that. But, as a last-minute thought, we put some New York City public school students on board with them, and that really became the model for what we frequently do with students. So, they come on in the morning and they’d create something original, they’ll write an original song. And, at the end of that two-hour Good Morning America, they presented the song that Joan sang and we got a lot of positive feedback from the mayor of Boston and lots of educators. And I was kind of smitten at that point with the idea of it. So, for the time, it looked really good. The studio really looked good, but it had a lot of problems. It looked a lot better than it worked and part of that was because we were working with people who were used to building studios, but they weren’t used to building studios that were in a mobile situation. So, it was the beginning of the learning curve. But the real thing of it was that having put it together, and as clunky as it was, it was still pretty great and people thought it was amazing. And I couldn’t imagine taking it apart, that was the original thought, was we’ll do this for like 10 weeks and then we’ll dismantle it and move on. So, I couldn’t imagine doing that. And really, it’s been a labor of love from that point to this of keeping it alive, bringing in partners that believed in the mission, which is providing young people with free opportunities to create music. And eventually, we added video into that as well. So, the projects that students are producing are audio and video projects that reflect their ideas and their concerns. And, as the technology evolved, we were able to keep upgrading it. Moved into another bus in 2008. And so, we’ve continued to do significant upgrades through the years. Apple came on as a sponsor. Do I remember what year it was exactly? It’s certainly 15 years ago.  


Jeff Sobel  8:40   

Yeah. 2004 was the launch of the bus with Apple as a sponsor.  


Brian Rothschild  8:45   

Okay. So, many people may know that Steve Jobs was a big, big Beatles fan. He was particularly enamored of John Lennon.  


Denis Phares  8:57 

Hence the name; Apple.  


Brian Rothschild  8:58 

Exactly. So, we were fortunate that when he found out about the bus, it’s something that he gave his approval to and we were able to put the ‘Apple’ on the side of the bus, which, originally, his mark on, people were unaware of. So when they started seeing that there was a lot of, “We don’t do that. We don’t sponsor things like that. Why is the Apple mark on the bus?” And then, they found out that Steve had approved it…  


Denis Phares  9:29 



Brian Rothschild  9:30 

Yeah. Honestly, with John Lennon’s name on it, there’s so much positive feeling about John for so many people in so many different industries, from so many walks of life, from so many perspectives. That is certainly one of the reasons that…  We know it’s the greatest mobile recording studio in the world, but the extra special sauce is that it’s got John’s name on it. It’s something that Yoko has… 


Denis Phares  10:04   

Absolutely. People want to be involved. We want to be involved. So yeah, let’s talk about the… You describe it as something that looked great, but didn’t sound as good as it looked, and turned into something pretty state-of-the-art. So, Jeff, you came aboard a couple of years after the incarnation of the bus. Can you talk a little bit about the evolution of the bells and whistles and the toys that are on the bus now? 


Jeff Sobel  10:30   

Yeah. Like Brian said, the bus started in 1998 and I got involved at the beginning of 2002. And, at the time, it was a lot of hardware, which was pretty standard for the time, but we were working with digital tape, and digital consoles, and it was a very functional studio in a lot of ways. But not fully state of the art as far as what the highest, the best recording studios were. 


Denis Phares  10:56   

What about in terms of audio engineering? Not the electronics, but the audio in terms of having the space sound good? 


Jeff Sobel  11:06   

Yeah. Well, we’re in the second iteration of the bus right now, as Brian said, we had an original bus that ran through 2007. The layouts are kind of similar, but they were oriented differently and we had a rear studio that was kind of in the lounge area, what would normally be the lounge area of a tour bus. And it was a good-sounding room. 


Denis Phares  11:31   

So, as the years progressed, and you got more and more sponsors, who identified the toys that you wanted?  


Jeff Sobel  11:41 

That was me.  


Denis Phares  11:42 

So, you were the one that kind of saw something and like, “I have to have that.”  


Jeff Sobel  11:44 

Yeah, exactly.  


Denis Phares  11:46 

Can you point out some notable things?  


Jeff Sobel  11:49   

Yeah. So, starting with the digital tape systems that we had when we, very thankfully, got Apple on board, I recognized that that was the opportunity for a real paradigm shift in the way the studios were set up and we’re going to move into nonlinear editing, which was essential. So, we brought on Apple computers and hardware from Avid so that we could run Pro Tools, which is the industry standard at the time, kind of still is. And really set it up so that when you walked on board The Lennon Bus, you were using the same gear that you would use if you walked into any recording studio at a professional rate. 


Denis Phares  12:28   

This is a setup now that is relatively well known in the industry. You have people coming on to record here, right? 


Jeff Sobel  12:41   

Yeah. We like to have studios that any artist, the best artists in the world who are used to the best studios in the world, can walk in here and say, “This place is amazing. This is all of the gear that I’m already familiar with. These are industry-standard solutions. The workflows are solid, and the quality is 100% the same as you would get in any recording studio in the world.” 


Denis Phares  13:04   

So what an opportunity for a child, someone who’s just learning and wants to be exposed to something like this. Can you talk a little bit about some of the notable tours this bus has been on? One of the notable stops? 


Brian Rothschild  13:21   

Yeah. There’s so many. The most recently, we were on tour with Wu-Tang Clan, since we put in this Dolby Atmos mix room. And I had met RZA some years ago. He’d done some other projects with us and always wanted to have the bus out on the road with them. So, we went out on their Canadian and US dates. He recently had recorded a really beautiful new piece of work called ‘A Ballet Through Mud’ that he recorded with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. It’s very romantic. There’s nothing hip-hop about it, actually, so people are very surprised when they hear that it’s from him. But he wanted to do Atmos mixes while we were out on the road, so we brought Pietro Rossi, who was originally our engineer on Lennon Bus Europe because there’s another bus over in Europe. He’s become quite an accomplished audio engineer and mixer. And so, we brought him in, and while traveling, and Jeff was onboard too, they did these, for us, were our first Atmos mixes of this incredible new work that he’s going to release next month. Prior to that, we were out with Machine Gun Kelly. He used the bus to create a lot of his new material that’s out now. Also used it as a hub for editing video content that became part of the documentary that was being shot about him. The Black Eyed Peas did a lot of their songs on board the bus that became their biggest hits, ‘Let’s Get It Started’ was recorded first on board the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus. It was the previous iteration of the Lennon Bus. I think one of the hallmarks of it is for artists to be able to do high-quality work while they’re out on the road, especially when they’re at that point in their careers where everybody’s pressuring them and wanting them to come out with the next thing while they’re also touring. But the other piece of it that’s important is that, in most cases, COVID notwithstanding, because of COVID we certainly had to change some things around, but typically, if we’re out with an artist like that, we’re also hosting students. So, we’re going from venue to venue, and we’re hosting students from local public schools or community centers who are coming on board the bus to do our usual work, which is creating something original with those students. And often, having members of the band or the artists themselves coming in at some point during the day to listen down, or to put something of their own onto the track, whether it’s a vocal or a riff of some sort. And, in those settings, it’s also fulfilling another objective of the bus, which is providing kids with a glimpse into career opportunities that are in allied fields. So, many of them just think of the star in the center of the stage and don’t realize that there are jobs and careers that are in those allied fields that they could be a part of. So, the bus introduces kids to that. And they also will sometimes get to go backstage, they’ll see what it takes to produce a live show. And just one other thing, as we were talking about having this be a studio that any artists who’s used to the best studios in the world could come into, for us, having students… And we go to a lot of underserved communities. We spend a lot of time going to places where people don’t necessarily present the kids with the best that the world has to offer. And having them come into an environment like this, and knowing that it was really built for them, this wasn’t built for those celebrity artists, we take advantage of that. And it’s good for the program and for our partners that we can get that support, but it’s really for the students and for them to see that people care enough that they want them to be exposed to the latest and the greatest and the best that the industry has to offer because they deserve it. And we get a lot of press coverage because the bus is so super cool. Of course, I feel it’s unlike anything in the world. So, from a press perspective, and with John’s name on it, it’s a pretty easy sell to get local and national press to come in and cover it. But for kids to be the subject of positive stories in their communities is, sadly, not very common. So, that’s the other piece of it. We really like being able to be a good news segment that features students that are in those communities.  


Denis Phares  18:27   

So, you’ve been doing this for a couple of decades now, are there any interesting stories about kids that either exhibited incredible talent, or that actually did decide to go in industry or even work in here, or in some other partner that you work with? 


Brian Rothschild  18:47   

Yeah, I mean, we certainly…  


Denis Phares  18:49 

Apple, Dolby, or something. 


Brian Rothschild  18:51 

Yeah. We certainly hear about those kinds of stories. One of my favorites is something that started like 20 years ago with a student that came on board, that stayed in touch with Jeff. Did you want to talk about her for a moment? 


Jeff Sobel  19:08   

Yeah. Her mom stayed in touch with me and she did as well. She came on board and she had a lot of talent, but not a lot of confidence around it. And, as a high school student wanting to pursue music and careers in music, but not having a lot of confidence in it, and not a lot of external support around it either. She was kind of trying to convince her mom that this was something that she could do and, of course, her mom wanted her to go to medical school, reasonably. But she didn’t just have talent, but she was sometimes in the course of collaborating to write a song. One of the students will kind of show kind of leadership abilities and kind of take on the songwriting, driving it, and really helping the other students achieve what they’re trying to do. So, we could see that that was happening in this case, and her mom came by later in the afternoon and asked how it was going. And I told her, “Well, your daughter actually is leading the songwriting project in there, and she’s really talented.” And she was like, “Oh, we’ve really been considering whether or not she should pursue this, but it’s so risky.” So I said, “She really is showing that she has something special, so it’s something you should really seriously consider.” So, they took that more seriously following that. And she wound up going to a Berklee School of Music summer camp, and doing really well there, and then being admitted and going through Berkeley. And now, she’s a professional artist, and her mom still writes me every time she releases a new album. or something like that, because she’s so proud of what her daughter has done and really attributes it to that day on the bus. 


Denis Phares  20:49   

Wow. There’s not enough of these types of projects around and that’s what I think is so special about this project. And congrats to you, it was your brainchild. And you met the right folks and got it happening. I just want to say, like I said, from a personal level, it’s so exciting for me to be involved with anything with John Lennon’s name on it. But the notion of providing the power for the bus, providing the electricity to power the studio here… I know this is relatively new now. We’ve been doing it on RVs and motorhomes and stuff for a little while now, for almost a decade. But to apply it to an application like this, which is so unique, is exciting just because of what the bus is, but also because of the application. Can you talk a little bit about how the power system might have changed the way you have done things in the past? 


Jeff Sobel  21:56   

Yeah, it’s a huge upgrade for us and something we’ve been wanting to do for a long time. So, thank you for making this dream a reality. We could talk about the specifics of the technology, but I think that one of the really important things to understand is one of my responsibilities is training our crew how to use the studios, how to lead the students through their projects. And one of the things that I train them on a lot is the power system because monitoring and managing that is a big part of making the bus functional. And so, any of them who have previously been working on the bus will tell you that they have to reserve a part of their brain dedicated to thinking about the power system with the old system because it had very short battery life. We have an onboard generator, so the bus is fully functional anywhere you want to work. But, obviously, generators are loud, which is not great in a recording studio. They vibrate, they annoy the neighbors. So, we want to minimize that. And during critical recording of vocals, you just can’t use them. With our old battery system, we could get maybe an hour or two runtime. So, they had to use that really judiciously and think about it all day long. Like, “When do I need to run the generator? When can I afford to use the batteries in order to get this critical recording done?” And if they didn’t manage it correctly, they would get into a bind where they would have more recording to do but not enough battery life to get it done correctly. So, while they’re doing so many things; leading a group of students through a creative project, running a recording session, producing a song, engineering it, all of the things, they’re also having to think very seriously about the power system. With the upgrade that we’ve done with Battle Born batteries now, that’s eliminated and they no longer have to think about the power system because the battery runtime is basically all day. So, they can just show up with fully charged batteries in the morning, work all day, not ever think about how they’re going to manage the power because it’s going to last. Even when they do have to think about the power, just to check in occasionally, it’s so much easier now. With the old system, there was no smart display of any kind, they had to go and look at a voltage reading on the battery bank and interpret what the chart battery state of charge from that was, which is not an exact science and riddled with anxiety because of it. So, they never really knew. And with the old lead acid batteries, if you went below 50% state of charge, which, again, is very hard to even guess that when you’re even close to it, you would damage the batteries permanently, which is a huge expense. So, now we have batteries that have all-day run time. We have a display prominently in the front studio that shows an exact state of charge so they always know what it is. And they can run the batteries not just to 50%, but all the way down, and really utilize the full potential of the battery bank. So, the technology is amazing, but what it alleviates psychologically on already overburdened engineers and educators is, I think, one of the biggest benefits.  


Denis Phares  25:08   

Love to hear it. That’s preaching to the choir there, of course, but it’s so nice to hear it firsthand and how it does alleviate anxiety and you don’t have to worry about the power anymore. That’s our contribution. So happy to do that. 


Brian Rothschild  25:29   

I love hearing that. And then, the other thing of it for me is that it’s something that now has become part of the teaching of the bus, and that’s something I’m really looking forward to getting deeper into. Unless somebody asks, we would not previously have talked about our power setup, probably just for all the reasons that Jeff said. But, I guess, starting with the display that’s here where you can monitor everything that’s going on is beautiful. It’s front and center, but I think it’s really in line with the values of the Lennon Bus with sustainability. And having that be part of the experience of coming on board the bus, yeah, it’s something that crew doesn’t have to think about in terms of being anxious, but it becomes part of the Lennon Bus experience to talk about it. So, I’m just really into that as well because we may be inspiring kids to want to go into your business. And I think that’s really, really cool too. 


Denis Phares  26:36   

Music and electrical engineering, hand in hand.  Well, Brian, and Jeff, thank you so much for letting me on the bus, and letting us into this project, and for being on the podcast. 


Jeff Sobel  26:50   

Thank you. 


Brian Rothschild  26:51   

Thanks for having us. 


Denis Phares  26:52   

Thank you for listening to The Li-MITLESS ENERGY Podcast. Be sure to subscribe on any of your favorite podcast platforms. 

Share this

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

100Ah 12V Battle Born Battery

100Ah 12V LiFePO4 Deep Cycle Battery

100Ah 12V GC2 Battle Born Battery

100Ah 12V GC2 LiFePO4 Deep Cycle Battery

270Ah 12V GC3 Battle Born Battery

270Ah 12V LiFePO4 Deep Cycle GC3 Battery

Victron MultiPlus!! Inverter Charger

MultiPlus-II 12/3000/120-50 2x120V

Victron Energy Lynx DC Distributor- LYN060102000

Victron Lynx Distributor

Rich Solar 200W 12V Panel