Band Amplification: The Word From On High

Submitted by Brian on August 25th, 2010 at 12:00 PM

goulet band copy

Right: Goulet approves.

When I mentioned that the Big Ten had given the go-ahead for bands to be amplified, I mentioned off-hand that I didn't expect it would amount to much. During last year's period of complaining alternately about the band's addiction to opera and the horrible piped-in music that inagurated the "special k make michigan stadium wicked sweet dawg" tag a couple of different emailers identified themselves as sound professionals and said that amplifying a marching band in a stadium was a difficult project not likely to be undertaken.

Michigan is undertaking it, however. Michael Haithcock, the director of bands, emailed me to give the current status of the band "in an effort to avoid the uninformed opinions that so often characterize comments regarding the MMB." This is that status:

- Big Ten AD's voted to approve the change in conference rules several months ago.
- Prior to the vote and since the decision became final, MMB faculty and athletic personnel have been working with highly qualified sound engineers to design a system workable for the MMB and Big House.
- The goal is to enhance the natural sound of the MMB and disperse it evenly throughout the stadium not to make it sound electronic or "canned".
- Time will be devoted to working toward this sound goal for the MMB during upcoming stadium rehearsals the week prior to the UConn game.
- Assuming the technology meets the goal of enhancement, the sound system will be in place for the first game although some "tweaking" may prove to be necessary going forward.  Please be patient as we work to get it right in a situation that can only be created on game days.
- Acoustical studies of the new facility scientifically show that the overall sound is louder but individual components of the sound are less distinct due to the "roar" of clashing sound vibrations.  Therefore, it is harder to hear the band without this enhancement.
- Moving the band into the north end zone is under discussion for future years but is not as easy a transition as first thought.  We need to see how this new system works and how the rule change plays out before acting on the cost associated with making such a move.
- The SEC allowed a similar type of amplification for two years but voted to rescind the rule due to numerous problems.  Coaches led the move to rescind the rule.  This is unchartered territory in most conferences.
- The purported divide of "quality" of sound versus "quantity" of sound is really an non-issue for acoustical reasons to numerous to elaborate.  Good blog fodder, but nothing real to be gained in the dialogue.

Michael Haithcock
Director of Bands
University of Michigan

Anything that makes the band audible everywhere in the stadium is welcome, especially if it means Special K and his iPod filled with 40,000 copies of "Here Comes the Boom" are put in a cannon and shot to East Lansing where they belong. Hopefully it works out.



August 25th, 2010 at 12:06 PM ^

"in an effort to avoid the uninformed opinions that so often characterize comments regarding the MMB."

The purported divide of "quality" of sound versus "quantity" of sound is really an non-issue for acoustical reasons to numerous to elaborate.  Good blog fodder, but nothing real to be gained in the dialogue.

A little defensive, perchance?


August 25th, 2010 at 12:31 PM ^

This is the same guy who had to take the fall when the hockey band director decided to stop dancing. Clearly annoyed by years of hateful, snarky emails.

Still, it's an upgrade, and we've just moved up one notch in the ideal stadium atmosphere chart (in reverse order of preference):

4. Canned music and a band that can't be heard.

3. An amplified band with less canned music.

2. An amplified band with no canned music.

1. A sufficiently loud band positioned where people can hear them and no canned music.

Only concern is that "preparations" for UConn involve playing more softly to avoid blowing out the mics.

August 25th, 2010 at 12:09 PM ^

But I assume there will still be just as much rock music as before.  Just that when the band is playing and taking up the mic, they won't start piping in music over them.  Sigh


August 25th, 2010 at 12:10 PM ^

I'm happy we're not just saying we won't do it because it's hard.  We have tons of talent on this campus, so I'm happy we're putting it to use on this.  It actually poses some good practical challenges where students/faculty can apply their knowledge.....


August 25th, 2010 at 12:24 PM ^

Having known Prof. Haithcock for almost 10 years, and having him as a close personal mentor, I can assure you he's nothing close to pretentious.  He's really one of the nicest and most loyal people you'll ever meet, and I hope some of you do get the opportunity to meet him someday, I'd say anyone would be better for it!

I will say, though, his style of writing is rather diplomatic, so I don't blame you for having that reaction, just know that his choice of words really does not reflect his personality or character, he's just very informational in writing.

Also, to my knowledge, he does not pick the music for the MMB, to make a metaphor, he's sort of like an athletic director, who speaks for the programs and makes larger, overarching decisions which affect all sports programs, but does not make decisions on who gets playing time or what offense to run (or in Prof. Haithcock's case, decisions on what music to program for halftime shows or the technique of marching that the MMB uses).

Scott Boerma is the MMB director, not only is he the main programmer, he also arranges most of or all the shows (for the non-musicians out there, this means he takes whatever rock song or opera he wants the group to play, and adapts it for marching band instrumentation)

Hope this is helpful!

The FannMan

August 25th, 2010 at 12:38 PM ^

but he is also the kind of guy who e-mailed a person who runs a blog so that the fans would know what's going on with the band.  If he was pretentious he would just ignore us.  His writing style may be formal, but I appreciate him taking the time to send such a long e-mail to Brian.


August 25th, 2010 at 1:53 PM ^

You don't have to like opera or the administration in charge of the band but you should respect the effort that the MMB members put in for the fan no matter what they're playing. Those kids work their butts off to entertain. If the music is bad, blame administration and ask for better but enjoy the performance anyway because the performers are doing their damnedest to show you something great. Don't just resent opera for the sake of resentment. That's just cynical.

Edit: I should clarify that last year at the game with the opera show, I actually heard students boo their own band because they didn't like the choice of music. That's not acceptable. If we're that disrespectful to our own band, what does that say about us and what does that say about the way we treat other fans etc.?

Feat of Clay

August 25th, 2010 at 3:34 PM ^

Well, no. 

To me it sounds like the kind of conversation I like to hear around issues and events on campus, and it seemed entirely fitting with the general tenor of this biog.  I mean, we get our yuks in, but it has always seemed to me that most of the readership appreciates an in-depth discussion that distinguishes itself from the usual internet rumormongering, hysteria,and hyperbole.  I thought what he wrote was perfectly in line with mgblog content.

And he's a professor; PhDs can't help it.


August 25th, 2010 at 12:19 PM ^

That's great.  Amplify away.

Interesting that they're considering moving the band into the north end zone in a few years.  That's where I always sit at games in the 3rd row.

I wonder if the student section had trouble hearing the band back in the old days.  The band sat there since the beginning of time until they moved to the other side of the stadium in 1995.  When they moved back to the student section in 2006, it seems only then that the complaints started from students about not being able to hear the band.  Why was there no problems here pre-1995?


August 25th, 2010 at 12:22 PM ^

The access to internet was in its infant stages pre 1995.  People didn't have as big a voice for stuff like that.  In other words, there is more opportunity to bitch about things and be heard since the internet has come so far.  I don't know, that is just my guess.


August 25th, 2010 at 12:50 PM ^

As a member of the student section "back in the old days" of 1995, I seem to kind of remember difficulty hearing the band when they sat below us on the sideline.  Then again, maybe it was all the coke and hooker hangovers I was having at the time.

The "old days" comment made me laugh.  Jesus, it was only 15 years ago.  You know, right around the time we were winning the national championship. 


August 25th, 2010 at 12:57 PM ^

LOL!  Sorry.  The "old days" comment was in reference to the band being in the student section forever.  Like during the time JFK was president, the Vietnam war and the Challenger explosion.  I didn't have 1995 in mind when I thought of the old days.

I assure you I'm not in the Buckeye area of thinking where life officially started in 2001.


August 25th, 2010 at 2:42 PM ^

I lived in that stepped apartment building up on Geddes, and my roommate was glued to that new fangled CNN for days. [This when we weren't listening to music on LPs or cassettes or typing papers on a 128K macintosh.]

Let me see .... I'm trying to remember exactly .... but it seems to me that the band sat down around section 21 or 22. We could hear them when we weren't yelling or inventing the double wave or something. And after the half they sent out a small pep band to come around and entertain us with Bullwinkle (which was a classic TV show even way back then), Lets Go Blue, and other selections.

I seem to recall them doing salutes to opera even back then. No it wasn't contemporary music at the time.

Hopefully Section1 can give an even more historic viewpoint.

[all said in good humor  :-)  ]


August 25th, 2010 at 12:22 PM ^

A louder MMB is entirely great news.

Of course, I fully expect the Big 10 to rescind this decision within a couple of years for some arbitrary reason.


August 25th, 2010 at 12:26 PM ^

As a band guy I have to tell ya, this makes me so happy that I even registered a new account here just to be able to join in on this particular conversation.  I think of the movie Pearl Harbor (done by Michael Bay) and the line where FDR is in the White House, gets out of his wheelchair, and says "do not tell me it cannot be done."

As for the selection of music... umm maybe you haven't noticed, but the MMB hasn't done anything but hard rock and pop halftime shows for like the last 3 years.  I personally don't like that, but it is a fact.

I've always said the band should be in the northeast corner of the stadium pointing at the home team side of the field.  That way the student section can hear it, the team can hear it, and the natural curve of the stadium acts like an amplifier on its own.


August 25th, 2010 at 12:40 PM ^

even make a claim to doing hard rock? I understand what you mean--they are translating rock tunes into the idiom--but can what comes out the other end be called hard rock? Not just criticizing, I'm curious, and maybe a bit old school about this myself, much as I care about and love all genres like a good old CBN-freeform lover should.  


August 25th, 2010 at 1:12 PM ^

Great news!

My seats are in section 1, right in the middle of the sideline.  Even with the new stadium and its acoustically reflective new structures, when the band faces the other side, which they do the majority of the time, you just don't hear them.

I am thrilled that amplification is going to happen.

I come for the whole experience  - always getting to the Big House about an hour before the game and look forward to hearing the band.  As a prior poster noted, there is a lot of talent around the campus.  They will get things figured out.


August 25th, 2010 at 2:46 PM ^

I'm not much for the Drum Corps approach, either, but then I was in the band just before it was co-ed!  So, from a dinosaur's point of view:

Does anyone remember how much crap we gave the USC band for wearing amplifiers ON THEIR BACKS at the '70 Rose Bowl?  I'm not against anything that will let us better hear the MMB, but let's hope that the technology has progressed to the point where we don't have to do anything remotely similar.  I'll leave that to the sound engineers.  Any band's sound is directional, and moving them so that they are pointing at the home stands and the team is a good idea.


August 25th, 2010 at 12:27 PM ^

They could mic up a crew of third graders with recorders and it would sound better than that horrid piped in music sounded last year.

"Lose Yourself" was an awesome song for about a week back in 2003.  "The Victors" has been an awesome song for 112 years.

I know which I'd rather hear multiple times per game.


August 25th, 2010 at 12:25 PM ^

First, thank you to Michael Haithcock for taking the time to give us some info. 

I'm an old bando who never likes to see change (can't we high-step every note of every song like back in the good old days?, etc.), but this one is worth a try. The band has never been audible for the entire stadium at any one time.  Hopefully the new stadium design will "bottle in" more sound, but it's not likely to make any radical change as far as hearing the band.

Anything that lets everyone enjoy the genuine live sound of the MMB is a good thing.


August 25th, 2010 at 12:31 PM ^

Wait, you mean I don't get to hear the ultimate remix of "Here Comes the Boom", "Click, Click, Boom", and "Burn it to the Ground" anymore?!



August 25th, 2010 at 2:42 PM ^

Maybe we could play clips from 300!! THIS... IS... oh wait, wrong board.


Anything that accurately projects the band to the opposite corner of the stadium to reduce the sound-delay inherent with such a large stadium is cool by me. It's annoying to see hands waving at different times during "Temptation" and hearing a stuttered "YOU SUCK" around the stadium.


August 25th, 2010 at 2:01 PM ^

I was one of the sound engineers who piped up when this topic first came up. Will it be difficult? Yes and no - it depends on how much money and equipment and personnel they're willing to invest in this project. I think it really comes down to how obtrusive they are willing to be with microphones and speakers: more is better, but more is expensive, and will require more attention from a dedicated mixer/sound engineer.

Also, I contacted Prof Haithcock to offer my thoughts on the matter. He was very responsive, and had a lot of questions for me. If I still lived in Ann Arbor, I would've been knocking down his door for the opportunity to work on this. I hope they do it right, is all.


August 25th, 2010 at 12:44 PM ^

If the band isn't 20 decibels louder the band director should be fired. Anything less than 20 decibles is unacceptable. I don't want to hear that the prior band director left music room bare. The time to perform is now. This is Michigan!

Enjoy Life

August 25th, 2010 at 12:49 PM ^

I would hope this means LESS canned crap (not sure why folks think there will still be just as much of tha horid canned crap).

With the band able to be heard throughout the stadium and able to blast as loud as the canned crap, there should be less canned crap.

Bando Calrissian

August 25th, 2010 at 12:50 PM ^

If there's one thing I've learned about the Band administration over the years, from Haithcock to Boerma to anyone else involved, they HATE criticism to a fault.  Anything negative lobbed their way, the walls go up, "we're right, and they have no idea what they're talking about," whether or not the comment is actually correct.  Hence that snarky bit at the beginning. 

Yes, there is a lot of criticism of the MMB that gets a bit unreasonable at times, but I've found the vast majority of it in the last few years to be quite on point.  The MMB has lost sight of its audience, and more importantly, what made it so great for over a century.  Unfortunately, as the MMB moves farther and farther away from the Big 10 style and more towards the Scott Boerma Drum Corps style, that criticism will continue to fall on resistant, deaf ears. 

I just hope they would have the guts to go in to David Brandon and say "OK, if you mic us up, will you stop the RAWK?".  I know there was some resistence from the MMB behind the scenes to the RAWK, and some serious discussions between the AD and the MMB about it, but I doubt anything will change.  The MMB won't stand up for itself, especially with Haithcock and Boerma doing the negotiations, and apparently people love them some Bob Seger...  So...  Take those old records off the shelf?


August 25th, 2010 at 1:45 PM ^

I don't think they've lost sight of their audience. They're supposed to do a Gaga show this year for goodness sake. You can hold Opera against them for 20 years. It doesn't negate the classic rock shows/songs they regularly perform (ie, Don't Stop Believing, Livin' on a Prayer, etc.) in the stands and on the field.


August 25th, 2010 at 1:49 PM ^

I'm a little unclear why the marching band should feel they have any say or interest in what happens over the sound system when they are not playing. What possible leverage do they have in such a negotiation? The marching band is not really in charge of all music or sounds that are made during a football game.

When the marching isn't playing, it is really none of their concern what is happening any more than it is any other person's concern sitting in the stadium.

Bando Calrissian

August 25th, 2010 at 1:56 PM ^

Because there's more time the MMB isn't playing when Kid Rock is?

The MMB has earned the right, as a result of performing for 113 seasons of Michigan football, to bitch like crazy when RAWK infringes on their ability to participate in the gameday experience.  Now, on their part, they need to be able to play loud enough and be placed in a place where they can be heard, but the MMB does not deserve to be put to pasture for Bob Seger, Eminem, and Sandstorm.  That's the argument here.


August 25th, 2010 at 12:56 PM ^

Did the email say anything about playing Rocky and Bullwinkle?

I feel like old Deadhead who waited 9 years and 203 shows in between Dark Star or something.

Used to be a classic, tradition. Havent heard it in years.

Loud or not.....if you want to get the crowd rocking on 9/4, when you're done with the opening march, Victors and fanfare, break out Rocky and Bullwinkle.