I’ve always been interested in history. It was one of my favorite subjects in school. I have a long commute and drive all over Indianapolis as part of my day job and I pass the time by listening to podcasts. There are a number of great history podcasts out there that really help make your commute feel like it was worthwhile, and that you learned something as opposed to wasting away in traffic for an hour each way.
I’ve been particularly interested in learning more about WGI history recently. This started by analyzing all of the different groups that have won PIW Finals and PSW Finals over the years. As I dove into the history of PIW Finals, I came across a group that I had never heard of before. Not only did I not recognize their name, but they were PIW champions and I had still never heard of them. My first time going to WGI Finals was back in 2003 as an 8th grader going to watch my older brother perform. I joined the next year when I was a freshman in high school and have been involved in the activity ever since. Over all of those years and all of this time, I had never heard of Atlanta Rhythm Machine.
Atlanta Rhythm Machine
1995 Atlanta Rhythm Machine – Photo Credit: WGI.org
So who were these guys? Where did they come from? Where did they go?
If you look at the list of PIW Finalists from the early years, Atlanta Rythm Machine only shows up in 1995 and 1996. Independent groups were introduced in the 1994 season, and in just the second year of PIW, Atlanta Rhythm Machine shows up, wins the whole thing, makes finals again the following year, and seemingly disappears and never competes again.
That’s a pretty cool story already, right?
WGI Independent Finals – 1995
So Atlanta Rhythm Machine wins Finals in 1995, their first year competing. Granted, this was only the second year of independent percussion finals, but winning in your first year of competing is impressive regardless!
I did some Google searches for Atlanta Rhythm Machine and I uncovered the following story from an old forum from 1998 on the interwebs. I normally wouldn’t quote such a long excerpt, but if true, this story is incredible. Continue reading
I recently caught up with Eric Carraway, who is the founder of a great new tool called percuss.io. I wish something like this existed back in my playing days. I’ll let Eric explain how percuss.io works below in the interview, but essentially it is a tool that allows you to watch an excerpt being played while simultaneously seeing the sheet music go along with it. This is seriously one of the coolest things out there to help a student learn something new. I’m really excited to see more from Eric and watch percuss.io grow.
Hey Eric, thanks for sharing your story with The Tap Off.
Thanks for the opportunity, Spencer! I saw your previous interview with Eric Carr and figured I’d reach out. Who’s next in the alphabetical order? 😉
What is your background and how long have you been drumming?
It’s a pretty typical background for someone in the band world: I was really involved in high school, I did a few years of DCI and WGI, and I majored in music.
The plot twist is that a decade into my career as a high school band director, I decided to become a software developer. I’ve been coding professionally since 2014.
So you made a career change?
Yeah, but I like to think of it as an industry change. It’s less scary when framed in those terms.
A lot of people considering a career change think they’ll be abandoning their current skill set. Many things transfer from a background in music.
Was it hard learning to code?
It was hard in that it was time-consuming. My drum corps experience taught me that with consistent effort over time, anything can be learned.
I’m a foolish idealist in that I think talent is a myth. This mindset makes it easier to deal with “beginner struggles” – whether that be in learning to play an instrument, learning to code, or learning to be an entrepreneur.
I’ve been doing passion projects at the intersection of percussion and tech since forever. I bought the domain name in 2014.
“.io” is popular with tech companies and startups because it’s a reference to “input/output.”
The original idea was to build a portfolio site to share my side projects and experiments in percussion education software. After getting feedback from students, I pivoted towards building a platform and community for learning drumline licks.
What are the main features of the platform?
percuss.io is a web-based percussion education platform featuring videos synchronized with music notation. On any web-enabled device, students can learn by
1) Starting anywhere by clicking on a barline
2) Looping musical chunks
3) Slowing the video down to a practice tempo without changing pitch
How long have you been working on creating the site? Did you do the coding and development yourself?
I built the front end; our interactive player is powered by Soundslice. I first reached out to Adrian Holovaty, the developer creating Soundslice, in 2014. Soon after that, percuss.io became a licensed partner of Soundslice technology. I spent a couple of years on demos and prototypes before officially launching percuss.io in February 2017.
This seems like a great tool for DCI or WGI groups to engage with their fans and will allow people to easily learn some of their licks and features. Have you partnered with any groups to get their content on the site for people to learn?
Details about the educational partnership are in this press release.
If you’re auditioning for one of our DCI or WGI partners, you’ll soon be able to purchase interactive audition packets. Instead of just a PDF packet, notation for exercises and show excerpts will be synchronized with video.
Can anybody be a contributor? How would I go about being a contributor and adding my own videos and sheet music to the site?
Yes! We love doing collabs through Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook. We’re open to all kinds of percussion material. All you have to do is reach out!
The #BYOS phenomenon of drummers writing their own licks and sharing videos on social media – percuss.io wants to bring our own style by syncing these vids with notation.
How long would it take for someone to contribute their own footage and music to the site? Is that a complicated process?
We’re fast. It was a challenge at first, but we get better with every new upload to the platform. People are often surprised to learn that all we need is a video link and a notation file.
George Torres III is the Community & Content Manager for percuss.io – he helps contributors get their video and notation in the proper format. George has an expert level understanding of how percussion MusicXML is handled differently by various software programs; he can answer any questions contributors may have.
If you have a vid that you’d like to see on percuss.io, reach out to us on social media!
Could you see this tool being adapted for wind instruments or something other than percussion in the future?
To start, the focus of percuss.io is percussion and our unique community. We’re planning to expand into wind and colorguard content soon.
What are some upcoming capabilities or updates to the site that we can expect to see in the future?
The percuss.io platform utilizes hashtags, search function, and user accounts. This feature set will remain lightweight and minimal so that we can focus our energy on building the community and uploading lots of new content.
The Soundslice embedded player is updated frequently with new improvements. A recent update allows our users to select which scrolling algorithm they prefer. Here’s a side-by-side comparison featuring the quad line from Impact Percussion.
What’s the most frequently asked question you get about percuss.io?
How do you pronounce percuss.io?
In all seriousness, it’s, “Where can I get this app?” There’s a false assumption that this is something to download from one of the app stores.
We’ve had a hard time conveying that this is a website, platform, and community. You can access percuss.io on any device with a web browser. Simply open Chrome or Safari and type in “percuss.io”!
What’s the cost?
Since our focus in on education, we’re hoping to keep it free for students and independent content contributors from the community.
Eventually, a small percentage of content from percussion music publishers may cost money. Licensing and copyright are the biggest challenges to overcome here.
Anything else you want to share or promote?
percuss.io is based in San Antonio, Texas. We love that this city is so meaningful to members of the marching band and drum corps activity.
San Antonio is building an ecosystem for tech entrepreneurs, and the Geekdom community is at the center of this effort. I recently participated in Geekdom’s “Startup Weekend” competition. It felt like my first November drum corps camp with all of the awkwardness of putting myself out there and auditioning in front of experts.
percuss.io advanced to the finals round and received an honorable mention for the product pitch!
How can people interested in percuss.io get in touch?
Social media is best. We like interacting with our community out in the open because it helps other people who might have similar questions or ideas.
But if email is more your thing, we’re hip to that, too. Reach out at email@example.com – We’re friendly! 😉
We’re right in the middle of contest season and WGI Finals in Dayton are only about 7 weeks away. As we get closer to the 25th Finals for PSW, let’s take a look back at the previous 24 seasons.
Make sure to check out our post about PIW finals here.
24 Years, 15 Champions
As I was looking back at the data from previous PSW Championships, the thing that stuck out the most to me was how many different schools have ended the season as WGI Champs, and how many schools have come and gone from prominence over the years. Take a look below at all of the different schools that have ended as WGI Champs for PSW. There are 15 different schools that have won and only five schools that have won more than once.