Can We Amplify The Band?

Submitted by Brian on August 3rd, 2009 at 11:11 AM


So last week I launched another screed against piped-in music and included a line at the end suggesting that the best solution was to amplify the band. A commenter shot this down

I wrote the band director last season and complained that I couldn't hear the band in Section 21. He wrote me back and was very nice but said that NCAA rules prohibit any kind of amplification of the band. I think that the completion of the new boxes will help reflect the band back to those of us sitting in the old folks sections.

…and I thought "awww" to myself. I spent a season or two in the band deadzone and feel for the people stuck there. Then I got an email from someone on the listserv of the College Band Directors National Association forwarding along a mighty interesting email from one of the marching band's assistant directors:

Recently, we were posed with a question from our Athletic Department regarding the possibility of amplifying the Michigan Marching Band and projecting it through house speakers during the game to maximize the in-game atmosphere.

Naturally, we have logistical concerns regarding amplification quality, delay, operation of the microphone, etc.  Do any of you have experience with amplifying your marching band? 

There followed a series of questions designed to get a handle on amplification, quality, delay, and whatnot; the point is that the Athletic Department is on the same wavelength, man. And unless the right hand doesn't know what the left is doing, this is a legit possibility. Upon reflection, an NCAA prohibition on amplifying the band doesn't make sense when you can blast music from the loudspeakers at any volume you choose.

So then it's just a technical issue. HOWEVA, it appears to  be a significant one. Another email:


Regarding your comment about putting mics on the band to make sure the whole stadium can hear it: it's a bad idea. No, strike that. It's a good idea that is nearly impossible to do with good results.  I've been a sound engineer in various situations and capacities for 10 years or so, and micing an area as large as the Michigan Marching Band, outdoors, combined with a public address system would be a nightmare.  (Plus, I know the guys at UM who would be asked about this, and I'm sure they would agree with me).  It's bad enough indoors in theaters, which are relatively controlled environments.  I guarantee it would sound like hell coming out of the speakers.  Much worse than RAWK MUSIC. And that's coming from someone who is in complete agreement with you on that topic.

Just thought you'd like to know.


I followed up with this guy asking if a dedicated set of speakers covering just a portion of the stadium—the deadzone—would be more feasible. The response:

That would make it better, with less bleed from the speakers, therefore less feedback. The big problem comes from the mics themselves: to cover the band, one either needs a few mics far away, or lots of mics close up. The problems with either are fairly obvious. Fewer mics = more noise, more mics = more obtrusive. If you gave me a nice big budget and free reign to hang speakers, I might be able to do something tolerable, but that never happens, right?


No, it usually doesn't. Though if there's a money issue I'd be surprised. More likely are structural/technical ones.

In summary: it appears you can amp your band, or at least the athletic department thinks you can. They are looking into it. But they're going to find a host of technical issues that may make it infeasible.

The other option, as suggested to me by various band folk, is just to eschew musicianship and strive to blast people's hats off. Apparently the MMB has gotten quieter over the years as it's gotten more technical, and this is due to the people running the thing. They're not likely to change in the near future.*

Denizens of the deadzone are probably going to have to suck it up and deal with it. They will get some relief this year, when the sonic impact of the luxury boxes is complete, and in 2010, when they remove the pressbox and open up more space via which sound can flow to them.

Side note: judging from the volume (ha!) of email I've received on the subject and the comment count of the above-mentioned screed (currently pushing 200), this is a subject that arouses great passion around these parts. If Rodriguez wants to fire up the stadium he should threaten to pipe in a ton of music the week after Michigan loses.

*(I don't know anything about music other than "hit the strum bar when the note arrives" but I'm pretty sure I blame director of bands Michael Haithcock, who killed Yost's dancing band director tradition because he thought it was lewd or undignified or something and has overseen the MMB's dip in volume. Anyone remember that episode of Coach where Craig T. Nelson is at war with a priggish band director who doesn't see the importance of all this football surrounding his halftime show? No? Just me? Well it was just like that anyway.

It seems relevant that Haithcock's last job was a 23-year stint at Baylor. I think he caught the Baptist.)



August 3rd, 2009 at 12:10 PM ^

No doubt correct, but I've done the same thing before on a few occasions. Sometimes "Lewd" just seems to escape my brain.

You might be the first Ohio State fan EVER on this board to accrue plus votes so quickly.


August 3rd, 2009 at 11:29 AM ^

My parent's have season tickets in the dead zone and I've been there (although not for a while thanks to student tickets and, now, graduating). The lack of sound isn't fun and I'm sure plays at least a small part in the "sit down you crazy... standing... person..." mentality that seems to dominate large parts of the stadium.

I think that the problem could be helped (but definitely not solved) in an extremely easy way- simply move the band from playing across the width of the field so that they're behind the endzone and play across the length of the field.

I admit that the entire band probably couldn't be seated behind the endzone without moving season ticket holders, but a large portion of it (most importantly the brass and percussion portions) could be playing the length of the field by simply moving some students. That can be done in any off season since those tickets aren't guaranteed to anyone.

I feel like this could help since most of the sound that the band projects no simply gets reflected back to the band or up and out of the stadium. If they played the length of the field, not only would the stadium be a little bit more unified when we sing "The Victors" but more of the sound would stay in the stadium.

They used to have the band placed more as I described (I think they were less in the endzone and more in the corner, but it still helped a lot). My parents said that they could hear the band much better then than they do know. Anybody know why it was moved?


August 3rd, 2009 at 12:04 PM ^

Splitting the band is just a bad idea. I'm in the band and I can tell you that it would sound A LOT quieter. Only having half the band play wouldn't help regardless of where they are.

Plus, we have more space between the rows to allow us to play our instruments. You would have to tear out that part that they re-did a couple of years ago to move is over one section, or *maybe* two.

Recording the music would be just a good as saying "See ya!" to the band. Every year we have a recording session to record some of our songs from the season to put on CDs. It takes almost a full year to edit the tracks. If you record the music it would just be used over and over every season. So you wouldn't need the band except for Pre-game and Halftime (Which would be really boring, coming from a band member view).


August 3rd, 2009 at 12:25 PM ^

I didn't mean to imply that I thought the band should be split into two groups (in fact I opposed that idea in comments above). I meant that I didn't think the entire band could be seated exactly as it is now with all of them playing lengthwise, the band's section might have to be elongated a little bit and slightly less deep. I don't know if that would be necessary, but I just meant that not every member would be facing the opposite endzone, some would be looking just slightly off from the the opposing endzone.

I see your point that more work would have to be done on the seating to make it possible, which makes my idea much less feasible since it was predicated on the notion that this would be cheap and easy.

And as I've said in above comments, I really don't like the idea of using pre-recorded band music for the same reasons as you.


August 3rd, 2009 at 11:27 AM ^

....the music the band plays piped through the system. Not the band themselves, but a recording. I know that is just dumb because it is "not the real band", but it is not then RAWK and we solve the problem of the dead zone.


August 3rd, 2009 at 3:52 PM ^

Because then it's not a band any more. It's just music, and it might as well be "Jump Around" or whatever they play at NBA games. I like hearing the music, but 3/4 of the fun for me is watching the band do their show - especially brilliant ones like the Monty Python show a couple of years ago. I mean, it would be great if we had a more acoustically-friendly stadium (are the boxes going to help with band volume?), but I really, really don't want pre-recorded music instead of a live band.


August 3rd, 2009 at 11:30 AM ^

Split the band in half and put them in opposite end-zones. Obviously, they couldn't play the same song at the same time, but they could take turns, get the whole stadium more involved, and even work out a musical version of the "Go!....Blue!" alternating chant thing. Something tells me that band purists won't go for it, but I think it'd be pretty cool.


August 3rd, 2009 at 11:35 AM ^

I'm not exactly a "band purist" but I wouldn't go for it because I think it would be unfair to the band members forced to sit in the opposite endzone. If I was a member of the band, I'd be pretty pissed that I couldn't sit in the student area with my friends where the atmosphere is generally much more exciting than in the opposite endzone.

Besides, that would probably require moving some season ticket holders which is so hard that it basically can't be done.


August 3rd, 2009 at 11:59 AM ^

I'm betting that that would discourage freshman from trying out for the band. Oh, I'm sure that there would still be a lot of people that want to play for the band, but there would be less. If I could play an instrument well enough for the band but knew that I couldn't sit in the student section, I wouldn't even bother trying out that first year. Just because they're freshman doesn't mean that they should be [effectively] punished because they're in the band.


August 3rd, 2009 at 11:32 AM ^

Why not just record the band in a studio environment, and pipe the band's songs through the loudspeaker. Let the live band play along with it's piped in recording if it wants to, or just play live during other times when they aren't being piped through the PA.


August 3rd, 2009 at 2:39 PM ^

MSU occasionally does that (piped-in recordings) at hockey games, when the band is on a road trip. It's nowhere near as good as having the live band. And having the band play along with the recording has some major issues due to the finite speed of sound (if it's perfectly synched up in one place, there will be echoes somewhere else and it will sound awful).

I suspect the only workable change would be to mike up the band. I'm fairly sure it's been done and works reasonably well for basketball and hockey, but football stadiums would be a bit more difficult. If it's done carefully you can probably minimize the echo problem, but it wouldn't be easy.


August 3rd, 2009 at 11:33 AM ^

Thanks for a very thorough look at an issue that would never be treated anywhere else. This is one of the many things we love about your site. However, please try your best not to again open yourself to being corrected on spelling by an OSU person.


August 3rd, 2009 at 11:34 AM ^

While perhaps missing the point, couldn't we also use pre-recorded band music. Not all the time, but for certain moments. It would be better than rawk.


August 3rd, 2009 at 11:37 AM ^

Someone enlightened me in the comments that the Hockey Band Director said that he didn't want to do it the dance and so the Directors of bands decided to throw himself under the bus so that the new hockey band director wouldn't get too much "guff" for his uneagerness to do a Michigan tradition.


August 3rd, 2009 at 11:39 AM ^

I've seen several comments no saying that we should consider using pre-recorded music by the band and pipe that in. Doesn't that seem like it's diminishing the band and essentially saying that they're not good enough without some assistance. This could simply be Michigan arrogance, but if other stadiums are able to have their band fill the air with sound, I think we should be able to do so too.

Yes, I realize that other stadiums were constructed with the idea of containing sound, but if we gave up every time there was a challenge then we wouldn't be the leaders and the best.

I'd much rather find a solution that keeps the integrity of the band and doesn't involve us pumping in any extraneous music to help them out.


August 3rd, 2009 at 11:56 AM ^

All the have to do is have a camera or a microphone by the band and get great band audio from that and show video from somewhere else. That way, on TV, you can always have a perfect sounding band. Thus, great sound on TV doesn't mean that it's 100% possible (or feasible) to have equally great sound in the stadium itself.


August 3rd, 2009 at 11:47 AM ^

The band won't and can't move. Their current seating arrangement is baked into the stadium. When we (the MMB) were opposite the students until a few years ago, often we'd get spread out along the corner of the end zone on bleachers so the AD could make more money selling those seats.

Amplification of the band is a band-aid on a larger problem: The band is too quiet for the stadium to hear and the directors aren't doing anything about it. And it's not just volume, but direction: The band needs to be a 360-degree speaker, not just playing across the stadium save for an occasional rotating let's go blue.

A better use of time would be to contact the MMB director, Prof. Scott Boerma, and Director of Bands Prof. Haithcock as well. Suggest they work on playing louder this year - significantly louder, as they'll surely insist the band volume hasn't changed - and spend much more time pointing the band in other directions.

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August 3rd, 2009 at 11:49 AM ^

I was at Rocky Top in 2007 for the UGA/UT game and UT definitely amplifies the band for Rocky Top. We were in the 13th row and there was a speaker directed right at our section. It can be and is done.