Forward: I wrote the following piece entitled "Drum Corps 2007" for Drum Corps World several years ago -- the day after I heard that the Velvet Knights had folded. According to then-editor Steve Powers, it is the most controversial piece to ever appear in DCW. Upon reading through it again the other day, I was surprised to see that many of the issues it presented are still very relevant given the recent history of the drum corps activity. As you read this, ask yourself these three questions: (1) How has Drum Corps International changed since the Velvet Knights have folded? (2) Where would DCI be today if the suggested changes to its infrastructure would have been made a few years ago; (3) Are we confident that our activity is currently headed in the right direction?
Thanks for reading
Drum Corps 2007:
The Future of the Activity
Hello. Welcome to "Drum Corps 2007: The Future of the Activity." I should warn you right now; this column is not for everyone. I am about to present a completely different philosophical outlook and approach to the future of the junior drum and bugle corps activity than the one that has been recently suggested by various members of the DCI Executive Committee. I am also, for reasons that will soon become apparent, going to suggest immediate changes that need to be made in the infrastructure of the DCI organization itself.
If you are unwilling to have an open mind and positive attitude regarding the future of drum and bugle corps, you should probably stop reading right about now. You will likely remain a critic regardless of what I am about to present, so you might want to go back to that WGI article that you were so happily skimming through... Read last month's issue again... Wear this page as an origami hat and high mark time around the room... Whatever. Your Drum Corps World Experience will be much more enjoyable if you don't read this column.
This column represents my opinion regarding the current status and future direction of the drum and bugle corps activity. YOU are asked to examine all of the information available and draw conclusions of your own. I am not claiming to have all of the answers to any of the problems currently faced by DCI. I do believe however, that by encouraging an open discussion, we can eventually arrive at solutions that not only reverse the current state of decline, but that will lead to a rate of growth and success never before experienced by Drum Corps International. I would also like to make it clear that it is not my intent to personally offend or attack anyone. In addition, nothing in this column is to be construed as legal advice to anyone under any circumstances as I am still in school. blah blah blah. Are you are still awake? OK. Very nice. Grab your popcorn. On with the show...
The idea behind this column started last spring at the party of a former SCV and Blue Devil percussionist named, ironically enough, "Garfield." You should have been there -- his party had everything; a DJ, European beer, great food, beautiful women, Christmas lights, palm trees... As this entertaining evening went on, several of the conversations that could be heard over the pounding music turned to the topic of drum corps. At one point, someone remarked that the Velvet Knights had folded. I was completely and utterly stunned. The Velvet Knights had folded?? DCI had lost another one of its most popular corps?? Unbelievable. VK was gone. POOF. Good Bye. Thank you for attending DCI... Or, as VK members might put it: "Later, Dude..."
To be fair, I should make one point clear. The Velvet Knights were definitely a thorn in our side when I was with the Santa Clara Vanguard (87,88, 89, 91, 93, 94, 95). Each and every year, the VK drum line would play well enough to beat us at some point in the season, regardless of how well our drum line was progressing. To make matters worse, they had goofy red hats, ugly shoes that did not fit, crazy wacky shows and seemingly little to no respect for the rules and traditions of the drum corps activity. And then one day, I attended a party and found out that they were gone. No more lawn chairs. No more shark. No more red Converse shoes. Like I said, I was stunned...
The next day, I still wondered; How could DCI have lost another one of its major corps? North Star. Muchachos. Freelancers. Rivermen. Avant Garde. 27th Lancers. Bayonne. Take a look at some of the photos in this issue. The list goes on and on ... And now - the Velvet Knights.
With the loss of VK, I believed that the leadership of DCI owed all of us the answer to one very simple question. I decided to publicly ask the leadership of DCI what their substantive plan was regarding the future of the activity and how they were going to prevent the loss of any more drum corps. Would you like the short or the long version of the answer that I received? Well, there is no short version...In fact, there is no long version either. I have never received a substantive and satisfactory answer to my question (Although one enterprising individual did tell me something along the lines of "Be Quiet!!!" - but I do not believe we should count that as a "response").
Interestingly enough, DCI appears to have recently acquiesced to the public pressure, and on the surface at least, seems to be finally attempting to address a few of the inherent problems of the organization. You may have read the material that was presented in last month's issue of Drum Corps World by Scott Stewart in his State of the Activity address or the recent DCI press release relating to the decisions that were made at the DCI Director's College. For the record, I should mention that the State of the Activity paper was extremely well written and that I do agree with much of what was said, especially regarding the perceptions of how the activity has been run in the recent past.
Although much of this material seems to represent a step in the right direction, I believe that the discussion below will demonstrate how many of the new measures currently under consideration by DCI, although motivated by the best of intentions, will actually do little if anything to change the status quo of decline currently experienced by the activity. I would now like to contribute the following two statements, three conclusions and seven proposals to the current discussion regarding the future plans and present infrastructure of the DCI organization.
Regarding the Current DCI Infrastructure
1. Winning a DCI Championship is the primary motivation of DCI Instructors and Directors. That is their job, and that is what keeps DCI instructors and directors employed. Competitive success is also the most effective manner in which to attract experienced and/or talented members to your corps. I understand that it is occasionally trendy for various corps to announce that they do not care about the competitive outcome and are only interested in "the educational experience." With one possible exception (Madison), I have not personally seen that philosophy actually employed by anyone.
The sad reality of the situation of a corps folding is that it actually results in several benefits for the remaining drum corps. Ask yourself this question: If you were an instructor or director of a West Coast corps, wouldn't you, in the short term at least, actually benefit from the demise of VK?? Doesn't a corps folding usually have the immediate effect of filling holes in the horn line of other corps??? The chaos within the Freelancers certainly helped our cause (Garfield Cadets) in 1986.
The clear but unfortunate result of VK folding is that the few remaining West Coast corps have moved one step closer to a monopoly re: the fan base, souvenir sales, competitive success and the talent pool of the kids interested in marching with a DCI corps. No one is suggesting that anyone was pleased when VK folded. But, it does stand to reason that the average instructor or director does not lose a lot of sleep when one of their competitors fold.
2. Regardless of how great their intentions, DCI should not have its financial, marketing or strategic decisions influenced and/or made by people that:
from the two previous statements:
1. Drum Corps International should be controlled by a group of individuals that do not care about acquiring another DCI Championship. These individuals should have the economic viability and expansion of the activity as a whole as their SOLE job description. Nothing more. Nothing less. Failure to do so will only hurt ALL of the corps in the long run, regardless of the amount of trophies any individual member happens to accumulate along the way. Neutral control of the organization is the only manner in which to insure that DCI will not be consumed with the usual political infighting and issues regarding the competitive success of a few prominent members and will be more concerned with the economic viability of the activity AS A WHOLE.
2. You may have noticed the recent press release that contemplates a dramatic change in the membership and rules of the DCI Executive Committee, which will become the governing body of DCI if the new measures are passed in January. In this release, DCI proposes that "the mix of directors on the current 9 member Executive Committee will change slightly, with one more outside director and one less corps director, for a ratio of 4 to 5 respectively." You might have also noticed that under these new rules, DCI officers will now be elected solely by the Executive Committee, instead of the entire voting membership.
The actual result of these "dramatic" changes: The new DCI Executive Committee that will be responsible for "strategic direction and organization governance, including ratification of budgets" is still controlled by the majority vote of individuals that have a competitive interest in the outcome of the DCI Championships. This is a conflict of interest. Once again, it appears that the DCI policy makers have made a decision that is not realistic and beneficial for the health and growth of the entire activity.
3. Year after year, the number of competitive junior drum and bugle corps decreases. Yet, DCI continues to be controlled by the few people that have achieved competitive success within the organization. It should be noted that we are talking about people that deserve a great deal of respect and should be commended for the success that they have brought to their corps. Despite these remarkable on the field achievements, the corps directors and staff members need to be less concerned with the strategic decision making process of DCI and should be free to concern themselves solely with the ONE individual product they are trying to sell and promote to the public. DCI can not function effectively if its business and/or strategic marketing decisions are made and/or influenced by people that have conflicting competitive interests with each and every decision made by and for Drum Corps International. The history of the activity demonstrates this point quite effectively.
Proposals for the Success of Drum Corps International
1. Hire and/or Recruit Promotions Team
In regards to all business and strategic marketing decisions, DCI must hire/recruit a Promotions Team. This team should consist of seven people that have little IF ANY, interest in the competitive outcome of Drum Corps International. Let me repeat the few key words. "Little IF ANY, interest in the competitive outcome of Drum Corps International." Thus, any potential for a conflict of interest will be eliminated. The Promotions Team should consist of two lawyers, one accountant, two people with a marketing background (or media), and two professional grant writers (OR at least two people that are committed to learning how to write grants and prepare corporate promotional material). As an aside, it should not be that difficult to find committed individuals willing to assist DCI on a pro-bono basis should budget constraints be a problem.
of the Promotions Team is as follows:
f. After consultation with the DCI Executive Committee, make all final decisions regarding any and all rule or instrumentation changes that could have negative financial implications for the activity as a whole.
2. The DCI Executive Committee should consist solely of corps directors, but its jurisdiction should be curtailed to concern itself only with decisions that will not have negative financial implications for the activity as a whole. As a few examples of what these specific duties might be:
and ratification of any and all instrumentation changes and/or rules of competition
that do not have negative financial implications for the activity.
2. Take the Corps to the Public. Why are we waiting for the fans to come to the shows? Bring the Show to the Fans!!! Every DCI corps should have to perform at a minimum of three professional sporting events per summer (i.e.- baseball), preferably close to an upcoming DCI sanctioned contest. At every one of these performances, two hundred complimentary tickets to the up coming DCI show shall be given out. Before we argue about lost revenue, these are people that would likely never have heard about DCI, let alone attend a competition. However, they may very well return next year. Thus, your fan base grows. Scrounging for that extra nickel is irrelevant to the survival of drum corps at this point. Also irrelevant, in the scheme of things, is the minute amount of rehearsal time lost through this endeavor. Getting more fans into the seats is the answer.
This is just one of many methods that could get the public visibility of the corps increased outside of the traditional competitive venues and would lead to a larger fan base and talent pool for ALL the corps in the activity. DCI color guards, brass choirs and percussion ensembles should also have a year round performance schedule at art galleries, malls or other unusual local venues where people would be become interested in supporting and/or joining the corps. The organization of an alumni corps that performs throughout the year is also another excellent manner in which to increase local exposure with a minimal financial commitment (as SCV has recently done). Approaching the solution in this manner will help alleviate the local public relations/exposure problems currently experienced by organizations that are not in town for the duration of the summer due to their tour schedule.
3. Get More Kids Involved. As an example of this, All DCI corps should form several additional non-cash intensive youth groups as part of their organization. As it was explained to me, this was the original theory behind YEA. It is much easier to attain corporate funding and/or sponsorship when you are talking about more than 128 kids. For example, forming a community VK Symphonic Band would have required very little money, as most of the performers in a symphonic band already have their own instruments. BUT: When my hypothetical DCI Promotions team would approach Southern California corporations for their support, their promotional material would show that over two hundred VK kids will benefit from their help. As an additional benefit, another one hundred sets of parents are suddenly available for fund raising...
4. Drum Corps Deserves "Prime Time." It is currently in vogue to list the reasons why drum corps can not be successful in the main stream television market. I have only one rebuttal. I once saw Alaskan lumber jacks throwing big logs on ESPN. Think about the implications of that for a second. Someone at ESPN said YES to the Alaskan lumber jacks. They also said yes to the spelling bee kids. Why can't we get the live DCI World Championships on a major television network? Could it be possible that the Alaskan lumber jacks or a bunch of sixth graders that can spell have a better PR person than Drum Corps International? I do not think that is the case. If it is, maybe DCI should consider holding their own spelling bee or log throwing event on the Wednesday night of Championship week. That might be great way to get the media's attention.
Of course, we can continue to insist that all is being done that possibly can be done in the marketing and expansion of the drum and bugle corps activity. Meanwhile, the Alaskan lumberjacks will continue to throw their big logs in front of millions of spectators.
DCI - Get the Championships Televised LIVE, and on a Major Television Network. No more excuses. It can be done. They said No? There is one very simple answer - You did not pound on their door hard enough. That is the attitude that you will have to take if you want to be successful in this endeavor. The drum corps activity deserves nothing less...
5. INTENTIONALLY DELETED .
6. Do not add Electronics until ALL of the corps can do so on an equal basis. I agree that the addition of electronics could one day add a great deal to the musical presence of drum corps. But, considering the present state of the activity, the decision of whether or not to add electronics must currently be viewed an BUSINESS decision which will have very severe implications for the economic future of many corps in our activity. We should be very apprehensive about adding additional cost to corps that has difficulty putting safe buses on the road and/or feeding their kids. These instrumentation changes can be made when both DCI and its member corps are financially stable.
The question to be asked here is: What is in the best interests of the activity as a whole? (i.e. - not only those particular corps that happen to be able to afford the instrumentation changes). Rule changes such as this should be made when it is best for all of DCI" NOT when the "big kids on the block" decide that it should be so. It stands to reason that any corps that failed to add the new instrumentation would pale in comparison to the spectacle that a few of the larger endorsers would immediately add to their crown jewel corps.
Two hypothetical questions:
6b. Do not
Change the Brass Line Instrumentation.
7. No more Ties. What if the Super Bowl had ended in a tie last year? Could you imagine what a lackluster ending that would have put on the 1996 NFL Season? I can see it now. Feel The Power!!!!!! OF A TIE!!!!!!! I can not see how you can have an event promoted as the "World Championships" if it does not even proclaim world Champion. That is absurd. While evolving the substantive changes in the judging system, DCI also needs to implement a rule to eliminate the possibility of a tie at the World Championships.
The final word:
We are tired of Corps Folding. It is very sad when drum corps such as VK continue to fold while DCI continues to market itself, in my opinion, slightly better than the Peruvian Yahtzee Team. With the talent and entertainment level of most of its drum corps, DCI should have at LEAST reached the level of success that organizations such as Cirque du Soliel have by now. That is obviously not the case. It is time for this activity to hold itself accountable for the continued demise of its member corps and figure out exactly what needs to be done to turn things around. There are still a number of great drum corps left in the United States today. We don't want to see any more drum corps die. You can do better. As I stated earlier, I don't claim to have all or necessarily any of the answers regarding the future of this activity. But it is time for DCI to eliminate the inherent conflicts of interest that are present in the organization and it is also time for us to arrive at a realistic and substantive plan regarding the future direction of this activity. Before it is too late...
A Quote from
a Statue in Dublin:
#9, Volume 2 Issue 1, Mon, Jan 28, 2002