Pop Stars

Marching bands rock out on music videos with top artists. Find out behind-the-scenes information on how they get chosen, the work involved and why pop groups love to incorporate them.

Photo courtesy of the West Vancouver Youth Band

Since the beginning of MTV to the YouTube videos of today, marching bands have always starred in music videos.

Three of the most recent examples include: the Pasadena City College (PCC) Lancer Marching Band in the Mariah Carey video for “Up Out My Face” featuring Nicki Minaj, the West Vancouver Youth Band in the Michael Bublé video for “Haven’t Met You Yet,” and the University of Notre Dame Band of the Fighting Irish in the OK Go video for “This Too Shall Pass.”

Casting Call

When artists or directors decide to use a marching band in their video, they contact a casting director or agent to find one. In cases where a college band is available, they are usually preferred because working with minors requires additional release forms.

“As a college band with students 18 and older, production companies love to call us for such things,” says Kyle Luck, director of bands at PCC. “They also wanted us because our uniforms fit the color scheme of their video concept—it kind of looks like a Target commercial.”

The “Up Out My Face” video features a stylized red and white color scheme. The PCC band, which marches each year as part of an honor band in the Tournament of Roses Parade, perfectly fit in with their red jackets and white pants.

For the Bublé video, filmed in Vancouver, location played the biggest role in selecting the band. “We’re one of the last remaining uniformed marching bands in Western Canada,” says Douglas Macaulay, principal conductor and program director of the West Vancouver Youth Band. “There is a huge amount of production in Vancouver, so things naturally fall to us on occasion because we have the track record.”

The group also performed in a music video for the Canadian pop punk band Marianas Trench.

For the OK Go video, the process was completely different. At a football game in 2008, the Notre Dame Band performed OK Go’s hit “Here It Goes Again,” famous for its treadmill dance routine music video. In its show, Notre Dame formed two giant stick figures running on treadmills. Someone showed the YouTube video to OK Go, and the group loved it.

“It was really super impressive to see 400 people working together and completely synchronized,” says Tim Nordwind, bass guitar player and vocalist for OK Go. “We were really impressed and got a hold of them pronto to say, ‘Thank you,’ and that we think they’re awesome and offered them the opportunity to work with us sometime.”

Notre Dame director Dr. Ken Dye met with OK Go and video director Brian Perkins. The group selected a song that Dye then arranged for the marching band. OK Go scouted out locations on the Notre Dame campus and announced to the band at practice that they would be filming a music video together; anyone who wanted to stay during their fall break could participate.

Recording, on Location

More than 100 Notre Dame band members decided to give up their vacations and stay on campus to film the music video. The whole process took a week.

The video features OK Go in marching band uniforms going through a field. As they progress, members of the Notre Dame band appear and surprise the audience in various ways. Some students were the “Ghillie people,” wearing grass suits, so that they blended into the ground.

“I had to get on the ground, and there were bugs crawling into the costumes,” says Catherine Carrell, a trombone player. “Everyone was relaxed though; it was such a cool experience that no one really complained.”

One full day was dedicated to rehearsing and recording the audio track. For the final day of filming, the entire sequence was filmed more than 25 times. The band played live on every take.

“It was so fun; they are so enthusiastic and psyched, and they just want to be a part of something,” says Perkins. “They were so earnest and ready to work— I feel almost like I’m a booster of Notre Dame. I had never known anything about it, but I’m a huge fan now.”

Most of the time, the bands and band staff are much less involved in the production and creative end of the music video. For the PCC band at the Mariah Carey video shoot, the team was less sure about what they wanted the marching band to do.

“A lot of it is learning how to interpret,” Luck says. “Everything that you see the band do there, I sort of choreographed on the spot. They just said that they wanted the band to make some formations; they don’t understand that we can’t just instantly do that.”

The West Vancouver Youth Band filmed the Bublé video at night. The video takes place in a grocery store and then spills out into the parking lot for a giant celebration. The band stayed on set from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m.

“It was kind of daunting at first; there were 100 dancers,” says Toby MacFarlane, a trumpet player in the West Vancouver Youth Band. “We practiced it a couple of times and figured out where we had to be, and I was right smack in the middle.”

Almost Famous

Appearing in a music video offers many benefits for marching bands. In Canada, marching bands are not connected to schools, and the West Vancouver Youth Band received a donation for the Michael Bublé video. For the Mariah Carey video, the PCC students were individually paid for their time. The Notre Dame students did not receive payment although OK Go provided meals for them, signed posters and sent them albums.

The marching bands also gain a tremendous amount of exposure. Individual students spread the word to their friends and family over social networks. “I think the most rewarding part was that I came home after graduation and one of my sister’s friends knew about it,” Carrell says. “Everyone in my community has heard about it. Everyone who was in the band posted it on Facebook. It was a lot of positive reaction.”

One element particularly enjoyed by students is the chance to meet and interact with the celebrities. “I think it was pretty cool to get to meet Michael Bublé,” Mac- Farlane says. “He wasn’t born a famous person, so he talked about how it was different to be a local Vancouver boy.”

The Mariah Carey video was directed by her husband Nick Cannon, who had worked with marching bands before as the star of the movie “Drumline.”

“I did get to meet Nick Cannon, and he was really nice and told us we were doing great and thanked us,” says Alissa Gonzalez, band manager and piccolo player at PCC.

OK Go spent more than two hours signing autographs and taking pictures with students.

The Notre Dame band gave OK Go some gifts as well. “They brought us out at halftime of a football game and gave us Notre Dame Marching Band helmets to keep; I have mine in my room now on display—I see it every day when I wake up,” Nordwind says.

Dream Come True

All the groups and participants contend that the experience of participating in a music video with an established artist is the greatest reward in itself.

“It was fun; it was exciting,” Gonzalez says. “To see the final product was really neat, and the fact that you can say you were in a Mariah Carey music video or in a music video at all is pretty awesome.”

MacFarlane is proud of his work although hearing the song so many times at the shoot left him a little fatigued.

“It felt really, really cool to be in something like that; there were a few seconds that you could see me personally,” Mac- Farlane says. “I hear the song now, and it drives me nuts, but it’s pretty cool to see the video every once in awhile knowing I was a part of that. It’s probably the only time in my life I’ll do that.”

Although there were bugs crawling on her, and she spent days throwing herself on the ground and jumping back up, Carrell loved working on the OK Go video. “We were sore; it was hot; we were tired,” she says. “But it was such a cool experience that’s going to be with us for the rest of our lives.”

For OK Go, working with a marching band is an experience they truly enjoyed.

“To put on a uniform and wear a harness and instrument while marching and singing—it was a dream come true in a lot of ways,” Nordwind says. “I suppose lately the spirit of our videos has been to make the impossible possible. I thought my time to be in marching band was long gone, and I was pretty psyched to be able to do it.”

OK Go plans to appear at another Notre Dame football game this fall. Nordwind enjoyed playing with the band so much that he thinks more groups should do the same.

“It’s really awesome to be surrounded by that kind of sound—it was kind of emotional towards the end when all the people are playing; it’s a very special thing and unlike any other musical experience I’ve ever had,” he says. “If I could recommend it for every rock band to work with a marching band, I would.”

Note from the Editor: To see a list of marching bands in other music videos, visit the “Web Exclusives” article “More Music Videos.”

About the Author

Elizabeth Geli is an editorial assistant at Halftime Magazine. She has played flute and marched at Valencia High School in Placentia, Calif., and in the University of Southern California Trojan Marching Band, where she was a graduate teaching assistant. She has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and a Master’s in Specialized Journalism (The Arts) from USC.

About author

Elizabeth Geli

Elizabeth Geli is the assistant editor of Halftime Magazine and a journalist/communications professional in Southern California. Her 11 years at the University of Southern California (USC) Trojan Marching Band included time as a flute player, graduate teaching assistant, and student advocate. She holds a bachelor's degree in Print Journalism and master's degree in Specialized Journalism (The Arts) from USC.