Meet the Human Jukebox!
Based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Southern University’s Human Jukebox Marching Band is no stranger to celebrity. Over the years, this top-notch marching band has performed in more places and venues around the world than we can name, including the Super Bowl, Mardi Gras, as well as at a multitude of college and professional football games’ halftimes, battles of the band competitions/exhibitions, and a myriad of other events. They’ve even been prominently featured in a major music video thanks to their incredible skills.
When multiple marching bands are participating in exhibitions, the Human Jukebox is often placed at the end of the program. You know how it goes… you save the best for last. And it works! Fans, often called “bandheads,” remain in the stands to the very end just to watch the band and its choreographic counterpart, the Dancing Dolls, perform. And, as Eric Johnson, the Human Jukebox’s Marketing and Brand Manager points out, “when it’s halftime [at a football game], nobody goes to the concession stands” so they can watch the band perform.
The role of media in the band’s rise to fame
Like many HBCU’s (historically black colleges and universities), Southern University’s marching band plays a crucial role in attracting students from all over the world, whether it’s to attend the university’s band camp or to enroll in a full-time academic program. Perhaps more importantly, the Human Jukebox’s reputation helps the University develop relationships to benefit the students. In addition to sponsorships and partners, performance fees are used, in part, to offset student tuition, as well as other expenses incurred by the band. But the marketing and media to move those partnerships forward didn’t really exist until Johnson, Jabari Morgan (marketing), and Media Director, Garrett Edgerson got together in 2014 to develop a brand identity that would elevate the Human Jukebox’s place in the world of marching bands.
Social media plays a key role for the Human Jukebox and their presence is felt around the world – from YouTube and Facebook to Instagram, TikTok and beyond. It’s where they tag the artists whose music they perform and have captured the attention of such notables as Lizzo, Adele, 50 Cent, DJ Khaled, and Janet Jackson, among many others. The band’s versatile repertoire, which includes hip hop, jazz, R&B, the latest pop hits, and more, is how the name Human Jukebox evolved, a clever and fitting title.
Southern University’s production team
But social media channels are nothing without visuals, and that’s where Media Director Edgerson’s expertise and enthusiasm comes into play. A photographer and filmmaker, Edgerson – who explains “I’m from New Orleans so I was born a bandhead” – was the perfect choice for Media Director. In 2010, Edgerson, then an undergraduate at the University, “unofficially” started recording the band. Then, in 2012, “they pushed for me to do media stuff for the band and in 2014 I became Media Director. This wasn’t a thing for bands; you had independent people record your bands, so we were one of the first marching bands to have in-house media,” an accomplishment he’s rightfully proud of.
As the lead filmmaker, Edgerson works with his team of four students and three alumni to produce content for the Human Jukebox. Edgerson notes that “I hand pick everyone on the media team. They’ve either been with me for a long time, I’m impressed by their work on campus, or they may send in a portfolio.” Depending on the event, Edgerson will take all or some on the road. For big games, everyone on the team will attend.
With almost 270 band members and a variety of performance genres, filming the Human Jukebox on the fly can be difficult, to say the least. To ensure quality content, Edgerson attends band practice almost daily. “When the band is at practice,” he explains, “I step through to see where the team needs to be to film what looks best.” He adds that, “If [band director] Dr. Taylor wants to showcase something, I’ll tell the team.”
SIGMA lenses bring SU’s video quality to the next level
Gear is, of course, a primary concern for the media team. After working with different camera brands, they switched to Sony FX3 bodies, but a good camera is nothing without quality lenses. After hearing a lot of buzz about SIGMA products, they were excited to discover that “SIGMA offers a premium product that is affordable,” says Johnson. But even at SIGMA’s very competitive prices, budget was an issue, so they called SIGMA to inquire about purchasing a single lens at the educational discount rate. One thing led to another and, as Johnson explains, “What stood out was the customer service that made us want to engage more.” SIGMA welcomed a relationship with the band and soon the team was equipped with a set of Art lenses, as well as several Contemporary lenses, including the all-metal I series. “We’ve been using SIGMA lenses exclusively for the past two years,” says Edgerson adding that, “The SIGMA lenses have taken our production level to a whole new height.”
And, Edgerson reports, “I like the form factor; these are more compact and lighter than the lenses we used to shoot with. I may be a big strong guy but the equipment can get heavy.” “Now all the team is putting the cameras on a Ronin [gimbal] to do a 10-minute show, so the lighter lenses make a huge difference.” Additionally, Edgerson keeps all the gear with him when traveling so the lighter weight I series lenses make it much easier for him to transport everyone’s gear.
Besides the weight and the excellent build of the lenses, post processing footage requires much less editing, thanks to the color consistency he enjoys by using only SIGMA lenses on Sony FX3 cameras. “That makes [editing] ten times easier,” Edgerson reports (and yes, he does all the post processing, and clip mixing, too).
Most of the time, the team relies on autofocus, which Edgerson has found to be both responsive and accurate. Whether they’re focusing in on a single band member, tracking the drum major’s amazing showmanship or capturing the fast movements of the Dancing Dolls’ action-packed choreography, footage is sharply focused. And although the music often tends to overpower the audio track, with the team’s main setup – the SONY FX3 and the 28-70mm F2.8 DG DN | Contemporary – that’s rarely a problem thanks to the lens’ smooth stepping motor which helps prevent any extraneous lens noise from bleeding through. And, it provides fast AF speed as well. When shooting in the stands or when the camera is mounted on a tripod, they’ll manually lock in focus, and Edgerson can quickly go from from AF to MF with a flick of a switch. “Going from autofocus to manual focus is seamless,” Edgerson reports.
Apart from the 28-70mm, Edgerson’s personal preference is the ultra-sharp, portrait-length SIGMA 105mm F2.8 DG DN Macro | Art, but the team makes good use of wider focal ranges as well, including both Art and Contemporary lenses. These lenses are usually used to film the Dancing Dolls, but the team’s focal length choice largely depends on the venue they’re shooting in. Their preferred Art line lenses include the 35mm F1.4 DG DN | Art and 50mm F1.4 DG DN | Art.
Favorite I series lenses include the 20mm F2, 24mm F3.5, and 35mm F2 DG DN | Contemporary lenses. For example, when performing with the Zulu crew during Mardi Gras parades, these wide-angle I series lenses were preferable. It was a very long parade, the light weight made a huge difference for the camera operators. And, since the parade took place during the day with plenty of light, the slightly slower maximum apertures worked just fine.
For parades taking place in the evening, the team opted for the faster Art lenses like the 35mm F1.4 DG DN and the 50mm F1.4 DG DN to handle the low light conditions. “They worked beautifully,” Edgerson says, and the “autofocus [performance] was magnificent.”
And as part of the ongoing partnership between SIGMA and the media team, Edgerson and crew are also able to field test the newest SIGMA gear. Be on the lookout for signature shots captured through the new 17mm F4 DG DN | Contemporary and 60-600mm F4.5-6.3 DG DN OS | Sports lenses during the 2023 fall season.
SIGMA is Southern University’s lens of choice… two years and counting!
With more than 40 performances per year, the Human Jukebox’s media team requires gear that delivers quality, performance, and dependability. After two school years of heavy use and heading into the third year, it seems that SIGMA lenses have delivered exactly what they need.
Follow the Southern University Human Jukebox Marching Band and Fabulous Dancing Dolls