OSU Marching Band’s Rapid Rise Aided by Technology

The Ohio State University Marching Band(Photo: Thomas Bradley / WOSU)
The Ohio State University Marching Band(Photo: Thomas Bradley / WOSU)

The Ohio State University’s football team’s impressive 22-game win streak has made headlines.

But the gridiron giants aren’t the only people on the field every game.

The Ohio State Marching Band has dominated the last two seasons in their own right, making music and wowing the crowd with spectacular and jaw-dropping performances. Their skilled displays on a football field-sized scale have been an internet sensation, racking up millions of views on YouTube and garnering international attention.

Marching bands are hardly a new phenomenon and yet the OSU Marching Band manages to widely impress in the information age. The heights to which the band has soared are at least in part a result of their adoption of modern technologies.

Two Ohio State students, Charlie King and Ryan Barta, conceived an initiative to incorporate iPads into the band’s preparation workflow.

“These guys came to me in the Spring and said ‘How would you like to decrease our paper consumption by oh, 100 percent?’” said band director Jon Waters on All Sides with Ann Fisher. “And I said ‘I’m all ears.’”

But as evidenced by the constantly growing view count on their videos, the iPad did much more for the band, also known as The Best Damn Band in the Land or TBDBITL.

“We say the iPads are not marching and playing the show, but what the iPad has allowed us to do is, from a technological standpoint, it has allowed us and our students to see the drill move, to see their individual positions on the field, to have their music, to have the recordings of the band — really everything,” Waters said. “It’s a band in a box.”

Though King and Barta weren’t responsible for creating the technology behind the apps, their innovation was spreading the technology to the squad leaders of the band. To their knowledge, the Ohio State Marching Band is the first to have someone other than the band director use the app.

The previous system involved Waters using a software program to print off a flipbook-like packet for each member to see the evolution of the drills, the shapes of the band on the field. The iPad gives each member far more information about where they need to be and when.

“Those drill charts are only representing 10 percent or less of the actual charted positions,” Waters said. “What’s important are the counts in between and how they move.”

Despite the iPad’s added convenience, the band’s success leans more on the hard work and talent of the band and the directors.

For context, the band’s video game-themed show from the 2012-13 season, the first to go viral on the scale the videos regularly reach this year, was done without the use of iPads.

LISTEN Full interview with band director Jon Waters on All Sides with Ann Fisher.

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