Ohio State Marching Band Plays a Money-Saving Tune

Photograph by Mark Duncan/Getty Images

The marching band at Ohio State University is sometimes referred to as the “Best Damn Band in the Land.” But Ryan Barta, a senior at OSU’s Fisher College of Business, and his bandmate Charlie King thought it could be even better with a little technological help. They’re trying to persuade administrators to give every member of the band an iPad, saving the school a bundle on music printing costs every year.

“Of course, some people thought this was crazy,” says Michael Hofherr, associate vice president for distance education and e-learning. “But my job is to push the envelope … and we saw this as one of those projects.”

The Ohio State University marching band numbers 225 students, who perform a new half-time show seven to eight times per year during the football season. For each show, each student and staff member receives a 30- to 40-page music and drill packet. If there are changes, the packets are reprinted. The band was doling out about $24,000 per year in paper and printing supplies, not to mention the cost to the environment and the time wasted waiting around for copies, says Barta.

So he and King conducted research, which included surveying band leaders and discovering apps that would make it easy for staff and students to implement. They received feedback, along the way, from Fisher professors. The Office of Sustainability immediately agreed to fund a $25,000 pilot program distributing 45 iPads to squad leaders, staff, and directors. They can easily pull up music, communicate, and watch animated drills of the routines the band must perform.

To make the plan pay off in the long run, Barta and King proposed seeking grant money to buy iPads for the entire band next season. Under their proposal, which has not yet been approved, the devices would be free to band members during the season, after which they would have the option either to buy or to lease to own them during the off season. The plan would cost $120,000 at the outset. But the band would save on printing costs, and revenue from the lease and buyback programs would allow the band periodically to replace older iPads with newer ones, Barta says.

“We want to roll this plan out to the whole band,” says Hofherr. “And we want partnerships like this to be a model.”

Like anything else, some kinks need to be smoothed smooth out. The iPads have had some issues with screen glare while outdoors, says Barta. And the writers of the music the band plays are concerned about the security of their intellectual property on a tablet. But Barta has argued that there are security measures on the PDF files in which their music is distributed and students would see only the parts of the music they had to play.

What Barta was learning in class while working on the proposal came in handy. He paid special attention, he says, to the Management of Technology & Innovation course that featured lessons on proposal planning and tasks such as market research.

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