Interviewing Mike Long, a Drum Corp International Veteran


Ezra, Writer

Drum Corp International is a professional marching band to the max; this interview was conducted to get a better look at what individuals go through during this experience. This interview asks questions to understand and open one’s eyes and get a better picture of involvement in Drum Corp International.


If you could start off by saying your full name, age, and current occupation?

My name is Mike Long, I am twenty-five years old, and I am the assistant band director at Cartersville High School.

Okay, so we are just going to get right into it, how long were you in Bluecoats?

I marched in the Bluecoats Drum and Bugle Corp for three years. I marched in 2016, 2017, and 2018.

What was that experience like for you?

Marching in the Bluecoats was one of the best experiences of my life that does not involve meeting my wife and marrying her. It was musically enriching; it enriched my life in teaching me life lessons to work hard and apply it to something that mattered to me. I felt that not only at the Bluecoats was I learning how to be a good member of the ensemble, but how to be a good human, and it developed me as a person that very few other experiences developed me in the same way.

What was the audition like?

My very first audition was stressful, and I was very anxious because I was sick during my first audition. I was told by someone who had marched the previous year that he thought I would do a very good job at the audition, and so two weeks before the audition he handed me the packet and said, ‘learn this and audition for the Bluecoats.’ I was stressed out and ended up doing a good job, but it was stiff competition and I had barely made it through to the second round of auditions. By the time I had accepted my place in the Corp, all that anxiety really went away because I felt like I was in, and I didn’t have to stress as much.

What was your practice schedule like?

It was grueling, it was abusive [laughter]! At the time I was also in college, and I was in college for music education, so I was already practicing a great deal. So, my practice schedule for my college work was practicing an hour before lunch, and then practicing two more hours after my last academic class around three o’ clock before I went to work. So, finding time to practice for the Bluecoats was anytime that I was not in class or practicing college music. So that often happened at seven o’ clock, eight o’ clock at night for two to three hours.

How did you manage to balance life and performing?

The good news is when you are performing at the Bluecoats you leave reality for a couple of months, you go into move ins and you train for five weeks, and you tour for two and a half months. There is no real life when you are in Drum Corp because all you are doing is Drum Corp. Now, when you are in college and you are trying to prepare for Drum Corp it is a big task, and you have to set up time in your day based on your schedule on when you are going to do that. And if that means making your schedule a little bit longer, and practicing a little bit later, if you are passionate about it, that is the cost you have to pay.

Some articles read that some Drum Corps have to sleep on gym floors, is that true?

It is incorrect. ALL Drum Corps have to sleep on gym floors [laughter]. The thing that that article may have been talking about is, when you are in training for five weeks and learning your show that can vary. When I marched, we stayed at Indiana Wesleyan University, and Denison University. In both of those places we had dorms that we were able to sleep in, so we actually had beds when we were in spring training. Now when you are on tour, it is always a gym floor. It is always an air mattress, or a cot, a sleeping pad, whatever it is that you can pack and bring with you in your suitcase on tour, that’s what you sleep on.

How much did it hurt you or your parents’ pockets?

I didn’t pay for Drum Corp out of pocket because I earned enough scholarships in college to not need nearly as many scholarships for college. So, what I did instead was I took out student loans to split my college funds that I had left to pay off and my Drum Corp fees. My parents did help me pay for DCI, but I am also currently paying off my student loans which took up twenty percent payment for Drum Corp. If you are looking for a fiscal number of how much it costs to march each year, you are looking at about three thousand dollars for every season.

Since you won, what was that like?

That’s [sighs], one of the greatest lessons that I learned came from that result. It was a time where I was learning all these great lessons about how to work hard and be an excellent human, and I do not know if I would have valued those lessons as much if we did not win that year (2016). It was this ginormous euphoria of three months of working as hard as you possibly could, and the best-case scenario happening. That was the first time I did it, so it was worth it. An equally important lesson was when we did not win the next year, and we dropped five places in 2017. I believe that I probably worked harder in 2017 than in 2016. We got five places worse. Now, that was another lesson in you can work just as hard, and even harder and sometimes it is still not going to work out because of things that are not in your control, but that does not mean that you should not work just as hard.

Did you get any type of street credit after winning?

That is not a bad question, because I kind of did. In the music school community, there is a stigma of people that march Drum Corp having ‘big heads’ and ‘big egos’ when they come back, and I think I did a good job of maintaining a low and humble perspective when I returned, and so I wouldn’t put it in everyone’s face that I had won. So, when they would say “Oh did you march Drum Corp?” and I was like “Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, I just finished my first season.” “Oh, cool where did you march?” “Bluecoats.” “Oh dang.” That was the moment where they would find out for themselves, and I did not really have to do anything. Putting a Drum Corp like the Bluecoats, especially at the time that I marched, on a resume was a big eye opener and a big pre-requisite for some kinds of jobs. And being a brass band director working with a woodwind band director, you really need to know your stuff so being in Drum Corp is kind of the equivalent to saying I already have experience before being in the classroom.

Do you have any advice for anyone who is looking to audition for any DCI group?

Private lessons, before your first audition. I remember talking to my first lesson director, professor Dr.Martin Cochran, about the audition and he said, “the things that you are doing in college will prepare you better than anything else to audition for a Drum Corp. Getting into that mindset as soon as possible is the best way to get a leg up on other people. It is really, really hard to get into a Drum Corp when you are in high school, when you are just about to start college, and it gets easier after you’ve started taking lessons in college. But it’s really tough because high schoolers are very rare, if you take a high schooler, they need to be really good. The same is true for people who just graduated high school, that have not taken any lessons yet. So, take lessons, practice twice as much as you are practicing now, and get used to the mindset of there are going to be some moments that will suck, but that payout at the very end is more than worth it.

What is the difference between learning Drum Corp and regular marching band?

That is an excellent question. High school marching band and Drum Corp are more similar than college marching bands and Drum Corp. College marching band is “rah rah football team”, play stand tunes, and then learn a new show every week. That show maybe has five drill sets (movement on the field) and you are playing easier music that is more popular, something that you have heard before, versus things that are meant to highlight as difficult music you can play while marching difficult drill. High school marching band is much closer to Corp style depending on what high school you go to. From my perspective when I went from high school to college, I marched one season of college marching band and I hated it, I was miserable because I was of the mindset, ‘we gotta push as hard as we can to get the best product out there, and that was not the vibe at college marching band. It was having a good time, support the football team, be there for team spirit. And that’s why the person that marched Bluecoats came up to me and said, “You’ve got the wrong idea for college marching band, but the mindset that you have right now would be perfect for Drum Corp”, and that’s how it all started.