Crown’s Jim Coates talks about his corps’ educational plans

by Steve Vickers, DCW Publisher

This article originally appeared in the April 2008 edition of Drum Corps World, marking the publication’s 36th anniversary (Volume 37, Number 1).

I’ll admit that this interview has been awhile getting committed to the printed page. Jim and I chatted at Bands of America in November 2006 about his corps’ work with North and South Carolina educators and students. What the corps does to reach out to those constituencies goes well beyond filling a 150-member corps to travel around the United States each summer.

Carolina Crown is one of the most well-run and financed corps in the activity. Celebrating their 20th Anniversary this season, the organization is much more than what fans see on the field competing at DCI shows. In addition to the competing group, they sponsor two DCI competitions — “FirstBEAT” and “NightBEAT” — as well as a major fall marching band contest called “BandBEAT”.

Three of their most significant funding sources are TheCrownStore, Crown Golf and CrownTickets, their newest venture that offers on-line access to specific seats at many DCI events, as well as a variety of other performances throughout the year.

The drum and bugle corps grew out of a show that was started to eventually support a performing corps. Many of the people who were founders of the show committee are still active with Crown, including “NightBEAT” chairman Doug Madar, who has been recognized as a DCI “Volunteer of the Year” and continues to be a leader in DCI’s Tour Event Partners, sharing ideas on how to run successful competitions during the summer series.

Steve Vickers: You have been quite successful in generating a large number of high school marching bands to purchase bulk tickets to your annual summer drum corps competitions. Tell me a little about how that was started and what kind of participation you get now?

Jim Coates: From the very beginning, our “NightBEAT” committee understood the importance and value of the local marching bands to the success of offering a quality drum corps event in Charlotte. Timing of the event — late July or early August — has been a key factor in the participation of the bands and averages about 4,000 students from roughly 75 different band programs on any given year.

Come May of every year, we start contacting the band directors through mailings where we send a show poster to about 250 schools and then follow-up with e-mails and personal phone calls.

SV: How long have you been staging clinics in conjunction with your DCI show?

JC: The clinics have been a part of the events for a long time. At the “FirstBEAT” event (late June/early July) we offer a free clinic to all band directors and their staff members. Crown’s designers, caption supervisors and a guest clinician from one of the visiting drum corps usually facilitate.

During the “NightBEAT” event, we offer a leadership clinic for all bands to send their student leaders. This again is facilitated by outstanding clinicians from around the activity and fits right in with the timing of the band camps.

SV: You expanded the exposure to the marching band activity by starting a fall contest. When did that begin and how has it grown?

JC: The idea of a marching band championship for the Carolinas started about four years ago and we held the first “BandBEAT” in November 2006. We wanted to give the students of the Carolinas a great experience through offering a large venue — Memorial Stadium in Charlotte — and quality adjudication whereby we strive to bring the best adjudicators and clinicians from around the country.

The event has had great reviews, with over 50 different bands participating and being presented by Yamaha Corporation.

SV: Beyond the shows and clinics, you have other ways of reaching out to the marching band directors and students in North and South Carolina. That’s called “Partners in Education”, isn’t it? Can you explain how it works?

JC: “Partnership in Education”, or PIE as we call it, is a program where we look to partner, support and develop our collective programs together. Some of the initiatives of the program include Crown lending performance equipment to bands that have a need for specific instruments or equipment while not having the funds to purchase.

It could mean loaning a shuttle bus for a school event — ie. honor band, winter guard or drum line — that in-turn could mean rehearsal facilities for Crown camps. In addition, it could mean partnering in a new event — ie. drum corps show, raffle or silent auction.

Another part of the program is Crown facilitating the local county honor bands at the middle and high school level. Included in this are all logistical elements — clinicians, music and managing the daily events. The expense is Crown’s while our organization gets the exposure to students who hopefully will participate later down the road while auditioning for the corps.

With that and many other initiatives, Crown has given back to the bands through direct support — cash! — to their programs/events around $40,000 over the last few years, while we have been working to control expenses of facilities, impressions and exposures.

SV: Describe the scope of your program and how many people you’re reaching?

JC: The scope is whatever we feel can have a substantial impact on the students involved in performing arts. How can we create the positive environment and experience that will effectively lead to the development of additional opportunities while enhancing the lives of the students that participate? Collectively, the Crown organization reaches out to well over 5,000 middle and high school students, another 500 at the college level and countless numbers of devoted fans through bands and drum corps.

SV: Your summer field program was among the activity’s most   popular with fans last summer. What do you have planned to connect with audiences once again for 2008, during your 20th anniversary?

JC: The basic premise to our shows has been pretty simple when one looks at the music — it needs to be somewhat recognizable, with a good bit of accessibility. The driving factors must be more than what feels good to the design team. It must also help educate the students while making the experience fun for both them and the audience.

We are continuing this again in 2008 with music that many will recognize and hopefully enjoy with the visual presentation. Accessibility is key and we will continue to strive for audience enjoyment.

SV: The people you have on-board to manage and teach the corps seems to be a fairly stable group. How have you been able to accomplish such a strong, year-to-year program?

JC: FRIENDS . . . the most recent version of Crown (from 2003) came to work with the corps through friendships. I first called a dear friend of mine, Michael Klesch (Crown music firector) and asked him to be involved. In that initial conversation, I realized in order for this to work, we needed people who enjoyed working with each other and with that Michael gave me a list of friends he would love to work with.

Many of those talented individuals became part of that staff, with additional people being friends of theirs. So I guess you could say — a friend of a friend of a friend is how we go about it.

In reality, that is how the Crown organization first started — a group of friends wanting to expose drum corps to the Charlotte area.

SV: As stable as the people who run and teach Carolina Crown are, you also have a very solid financial aspect to your organization. How difficult is that to maintain in these days of rising costs for every part of your budget?

JC: Very difficult for sure. As you mention in your question, rising costs are everywhere we turn and there seems to be no end in sight. Our organization is structured so that we do not solely depend on the individuals who donate time and time again.

Absolutely our donors, fans and volunteers — who spent 19,937 hours volunteering in 2007 — are extremely important, but we approach our daily business like any other business whose purpose is to make profits. We operate subsidiary companies that have like components or needs and develop these as separate entities where all the profits from these subsidiaries come directly back to support the Carolina Crown corps and programs.

For instance, Crown Tickets was built out of the need to sell tickets to our events, so when we looked to facilitate that need we in turn looked to see what other events could use the same service and hence the company started in the business of selling tickets to any and all events that liked and could use our service.

The, a band supply store, started out of the need for Crown to buy equipment and instruments, and in the process, realized a great number of other program needs were the same.

In all of this and since we have not been able to develop the local bingo as many have we are constantly looking for opportunities for potential new revenue. Another example: look for our latest venture in merchandise, MarchingHEAD. com that will sell wall graphics created from action pictures of drum corps, bands and custom photos. This site will also sell marching band merchandise, t-shirts, hoodies and product associated with the marching band world.

SV: Anything else you would like to add?

JC: Not to much to add . . . except we look   forward to everyone enjoying our 2008 program and stopping by our Web site to help support the Crown organization.

SV: I appreciate your taking time to discuss these topics. I’m looking foward to seeing and hearing what you and your staff have in store for audiences this summer.

Have a great season!