Tech Focus: Music Libraries, Part 1 — Why Sports Sounds Like the Movies

More sports, more sport channels, more music: that’s pretty much the equation for music libraries, the vendors of much, if not most of the theme and background music heard on sports broadcasts today. It has always been a crowded, competitive marketplace, with clients who habitually want “something different but not too different,” says one veteran of the sector. Music libraries seek to satisfy those needs with a combination of music clips that approach seven digits in number, increasingly intuitive search engines, and more custom services to help clients differentiate themselves sonically.

Peter Alexander, sales manager for the Sound Ideas libraries (the company acquired The Hollywood Edge catalog last year), sees fewer clichés in pairing music with sports, a trend he welcomes.

“You’ll still have the pastoral music for The Masters and the big themes for the NFL and MLB,” he says, “but there has been a trend away from the classic Olympic-style themes and toward more variety, using rock, country, and hip-hop.” He attributes that to more individual choices being made by producers and, to some extent, to the rise of regional sports networks, which will choose musical themes that impart a local flavor.

At the Movies
Where triumphant was a ubiquitous keyword search term for sports music a few years ago, today’s rubric is trailer. Not the kind that gathers in parks in tornado-prone flatlands but the one at the movies: the three-minute synopsis that studios depend on to generate interest and that has become its own sub-industry in Hollywood.

“Movie trailers are designed to attract attention, so why wouldn’t that apply to sports as well?” asks John Lentz, senior director of music, FirstCom Music. Some of the same music that the Dallas-based company develops for film trailers has been migrating to sports, which he says is in constant need of “impactful” music clips. One of those is the “backend” clip, so named because it comes with a coda of three sharp staccato “hits” at the end of the typical clip beginning with “In a world…” and is usually soaked in reverb.

“These sorts of music tend to work very well for films and television,” he says, “and they’ve been migrating to sports now.”

Megatrax President/CEO Ron Mendelsohn has also noted the trailer trend, attributing it to an overall greater cinematic influence on television. “Major broadcast networks are increasingly using more trailer-style tracks for sports, such as hybrid rock/orchestral and epic trailer music,” he says. “Often, this type of music will contain dramatic hits, breaks, and edit points.”

As with cinema trailers, the range of genres is increasing, as are the kinds of hybrids they’re spawning, he adds. Hybrid rock/orchestral tracks, for example, are proving popular for MMA programming, and EDM influences show up often for extreme sports.

That’s not to say that clichés aren’t present. For instance, Mendelsohn says, if an athlete is from the Ozarks, bluegrass music might be used, surf music for California, Dixieland for New Orleans. But, he adds, this isn’t necessarily playing it safe: “There is a much wider variety of music used now than a decade ago. For example, you would not hear epic orchestral/rock hybrid tracks on a sports program years ago, nor would you hear much EDM.”

Custom Curation
Perhaps the biggest challenge when it comes to library music is simply its abundance. All the libraries have developed various types of search systems, most based on keywords that, by nature, tend to be subjective and vague.

As result, says Matthew Gutknecht, key account executive, sports entertainment, APM Music, sports clients increasingly rely on the libraries themselves to find appropriate music for their needs.

“They’ll tell us, My people don’t have time to listen to 60 or 80 albums’ worth of material; you send us what you think is best,” he says, describing what’s behind more-proactive curation.

And there is just as much increased activity for what he calls “reactive” curation: last-minute calls for music to fit a recently created package or a suddenly rescheduled event for any of the scores of regional sports networks that continue to proliferate.

And amid all this content there remains the demand for unique signature sounds and themes, something that’s hard to do with the limitations of Western music’s 12 notes, its cultural reliance on the simple 4/4 time signature, and tempo requirements that tend to hover between 100 and 120 beats per minute.

“Everyone wants something that’s just theirs but not that different from everything else,” Gutknecht points out. “That’s why they’re relying more on us for curation.” That has led, he adds, to development of hundreds of curated playlists on APM’s playlist page and even more-specialized sports playlists on its sports website.

One thing is not being heard these days: surround music is notably absent. That multichannel format had a brief moment of incipience five or so years ago, with 5.1 surround becoming the standard for broadcast-sports audio.

But it faded quickly, says Lenz. “It’s something we were doing a while back, when a few clients asked for it, but there’s just no demand for it.” He adds that clients can be provided with stems so that, if they need to create 5.1, they have the elements to do it.

And music has to leave us with a few mysteries. Sound’s Alexander cites a surprising result from a recent analysis of data from client searches: more use of easy-listening categories, including for televised sports. “We saw that mainly for sports that tend to have lots of down time, such as baseball. We’re not sure what to make of that.”

Click here for Tech Focus: Music Libraries, Part 2 — A Round-Up of Providers.
Click here for Tech Focus: Music Libraries, Part 3 — Alternative Approaches Serve an Expanding Sports Industry

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