N.E. Brigand

When will drum corps be popular enough? How would we know?

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12 hours ago, N.E. Brigand said:

Apparently there's an op-ed piece in tomorrow's Wall Street Journal* that proposes a new way to make baseball more popular via some rule change that would "make games more competitive" and "shave nearly a half hour off game time". Already a number of critics are faulting the plan. I don't have a WSJ subscription, so I can't read the column or comment on its merits, but I was struck by one cultural commentator's reaction because it raises questions that might also (someday?) apply to drum corps:

"All such pieces assume it's a problem to be solved if the audience for baseball is declining. But what if baseball is just an example of a mature-but-still-strong business?

Why is it important for baseball to be more popular? It's not clear that's necessary for the public. If people who aren't interested in baseball enjoy other things, they're fine. They don't necessarily need an improved baseball.

Owners and players might be better off if the fan base is expanded -- but not if that comes at the cost of alienating existing superfans, and maybe not even if it means shorter games, and therefore less ad time to sell within the games."

 

So that got me wondering: how many corps, how many participants, how many shows, how many fans are enough? What's the right size for drum corps? And what's the right way to balance the desires of serious fans with the desires of a broader public?

 

*for reference, link to WSJ essay: A Radical Pitch to Save Baseball

Baseball is like watching paint dry. That is why Baseball is losing popularity.

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Excellent topic.

I think this is another case of the "grow or die" sickness.  Publicly-owned businesses (and their stock prices) seem to hinge entirely on their growth prospects.  That mentality spreads throughout the workforce, where "growth" in any numeric form scores the most points on a performance review.  These factors cause people to overemphasize pursuit of growth on an annual or even more short-term basis by changing something.  Anything.  Even things that are downright stupid long-term.  Nothing else matters.  Eventually, the foundational missions of the business (providing a specific product, and earning a living for its employees) may be sacrificed in the almighty quest for growth.

You see this in drum corps, too, especially when it is so popular to demand that a corps (or circuit) be "run like a business".  Yes, we needed to run things more professionally to address necessary financial and legal concerns.  But as the business-speak increased, then we heard more and more obsession with growth.  In DCI, "growth" has been used as the justification for proposing changes that fundamentally transform the product (drum corps) into something outside of the mission of the organization (which, by the way, has been re-written to the point of removing any mention of the term "drum corps").  Business people afflicted with the "grow or die" contagion are not satisfied with drum corps just remaining what it is, and either increasing its popularity through marketing and exposure, or simply accepting the level of interest it commands in society.

13 hours ago, N.E. Brigand said:

So that got me wondering: how many corps, how many participants, how many shows, how many fans are enough? What's the right size for drum corps? 

Because of the logistics of touring, we do need a certain critical mass of corps to fill show lineups all over the country, and make various tour models practical for the corps.  In my opinion, DCI and DCA appear largely content with the status quo, as it serves their member corps just fine.  But for the plight of non-members, we are still hurting from an insufficient number of corps, which creates an inhospitable environment in some areas of the country.  The all-age activity outside the Northeast is evaporating right before our eyes, with most contests only having two competing corps.  In junior corps, there is demonstrable interest in some traditional "drum corps deserts", evidenced by Columbians, Golden Empire and Battalion, as well as more recent startups developing in Idaho, New Mexico, and/or west Texas.  Those efforts would be easier if there were more corps and shows in their region, enough to support more local/regional tour alternatives.

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As someone who has researched drum corps history for a LONG time, I can say that I have seen dozens of published accounts dating back to the late 1950s, stating....

"Drum corps is America's best-kept secret".

 

 

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15 minutes ago, Northern Thunder said:

As someone who has researched drum corps history for a LONG time, I can say that I have seen dozens of published accounts dating back to the late 1950s, stating....

"Drum corps is America's best-kept secret".

 

 

So what’s the earliest you have seen complaints about changes or the quote “that ain’t drum corps”. Heard “that ain’t dc” in 1975 and saw DCN letters complaining about marching bells about same time.

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14 hours ago, N.E. Brigand said:

So that got me wondering: how many corps, how many participants, how many shows, how many fans are enough? What's the right size for drum corps? And what's the right way to balance the desires of serious fans with the desires of a broader public?

 

*for reference, link to WSJ essay: A Radical Pitch to Save Baseball

Does "drum corps" even want to be more popular?

As each individual corps goes into a season, I don't think anyone is concerned with popularity.

On the "DCI" side, are there any real marketing resources thrown at the issue of "popularity"?  I know they have started Drumline Battle and Soundsport, but I don't know if either is a "grow the awareness of drum corps" initiative.

In the 70's, DCI organized shows in parts of the country that didn't have many drum corps.  I performed in some of the first shows ever organized in Alabama, Arkansas, Texas, and other places.  It was pretty successful.  Despite these being "first shows", the stands were packed.  Now, there are corps from many of these states.  But, the cost of the tour model is a big implosion in areas of the country that were once drum corps hubs--the Northeast in particular.

I honestly think that as long as the corps are bringing in enough revenue to pay for their ever-increasing budgets for their productions, no one will really tackle the popularity question.  Growth doesn't seem to be a high priority goal.  Maintenance is.

Baseball is different.  The owners of baseball teams want to make a profit and their revenue is dropping as the sport drops.  Meanwhile, player salaries aren't getting any lower.  They have TV networks with contracts that are seeing lower ad revenues and are going to push back on contracts.

I don't think drum corps will really be concerned with popularity until there really is a revenue crisis.

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4 minutes ago, JimF-LowBari said:

So what’s the earliest you have seen complaints about changes or the quote “that ain’t drum corps”. Heard “that ain’t dc” in 1975 and saw DCN letters complaining about marching bells about same time.

The earliest I've seen for the term "drum & bugle corps contest" was from 1901.

So the answer is probably 1902.🙂

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First off, I wholeheartedly agree with everyone above that says drum corps will never go mainstream. It won't, it's niche and that's its nature. If/when a marching arts program ever did become mainstream, it won't look like anything that is drum corps, or anything we've seen in general.

That said...

Consider Marvel Comics' evolution. Comic books are extremely niche, and looking just at the 80s and 90s, the audience that read them/had the knowledge about the characters/stories/etc. were considered extremely deep in the niche as well. Sound familiar to anyone?

Late 90s, early 00s, and basically 08 to present, Marvel has completely reinvented/refined how they deliver their stories (this is broad, I realize I'm ignoring a lot of other things that happened with the niche in the same time period). For the first time ever, Iron Man, Captain America, the X-Men, etc. are mainstream. More than mainstream, they're pop culture. Everyone across the board is free to wear a Wolverine shirt walking down the street and not be considered niche - that would have been unheard of in the 90s, when a person wearing a Wolverine shirt would be given a stereotype automatically.

But the die-hard niche fans aren't as on board with the current Marvel. The original fans, the ones who consider themselves 'in the know' on the real Marvel Comics, complain across the board about how they changed the stories, or the costumes (again, sound familiar?), or character backstories, etc.

I'm going somewhere with this, I swear.

The thing the die-hard's ignore with their argument is that the changes to story/costume/character/etc. are to make the product more accessible. The original Infinity Gauntlet story, told 1:1 on the big screen, would never ever translate. Thanos drives a friggin' helicopter that says Thanos on the side of it (dubbed Thanoscopter in some circles. No, I'm not joking.) and does everything he does to make Death (like the actual hood and cloak Death) more attracted to him. So instead, the elements are there, but the presentation is done in a way that more people will enjoy.

And now...drum roll...my point!

That strategy has kept them profitable! Marvel Comics was at or near bankruptcy (I think, can someone fact check that?) at one point, and has since become one of the most profitable companies on the globe.

For niche, if you change the medium, tweak the model, keep the important elements and put it all in a box that everyone can get behind, there's a good chance you'll get a few more people to spend money on your entertainment genre.

Edited by ouooga
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Go with barigirls 70s history with the addition that rising costs hit the non touring corps too. Corps needed bigger prize money to operate and if contests couldn’t raise ticket prices to compensate the contests folded. Now contests getting further away and contest day bus rides getting more expensive as gas about tripled. Corps couldn’t get money to operate or get warm bodies in a bad economy so they folded.

Saw it first hand in Senior circuits.

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A drum corps show is more than a local promotion for DCI these days.

The success of movie theaters and computer access has expanded the reach

of our niche attraction to far greater numbers than the local audience.

The tour itself is akin to the now defunct B&B circus tour without the elephants.

The expanding theatrical performance corps now do have broaden reach to a more

general audience attendee.

The value of a ticket has increased greatly but still at the low end of when compared to

the wider world of entertainment tours.

The area for improvement is the number of Monday to Thursday date availabilities as DCI

has in full control of the Friday thru Sunday segment of the tour.

Getting independent promoters isn't an easy task as financial resources and promotion abilities must be in place

for DCI to go to contract.

To blue sky for a moment DCI's current 100+ tour event schedule has the potential to grow to in the range  of 200.

Even at these figures the activity is a mere dot on the world of entertainment map.

Getting on box office receipt listings will never be the goal.

Enjoy the activity for what it is.

 

 

 

 

 

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1 hour ago, leanlion said:

The tour itself is akin to the now defunct B&B circus tour without the elephants.

Gotcha. Drum corps needs elephants.

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