Tech Focus: Production Music, Part 1 — Sports Exerts Social Pressure

With number of platforms soaring, workflows are faster then ever

A year ago, the production-music business was talking about increased competition from low-overhead upstarts, about how theatrical trailers were influencing sports-music choices and how curation had become important in a market with too much content for any one person to sort through.

A year later, the upstarts are still around, with the predicted impacts on pricing, and the keyword-search process remains a sorcerer’s blend of algorithm and thesaurus. But new considerations focus on keeping production music for sports applications as contemporary as possible to engage a younger audience, and on how social media and other digital platforms are changing workflows and deadlines.

In the House
Music libraries have continued to bulk up in term of content, with some of the larger companies more than halfway to a billion tracks. But, where that may have seemed like overkill a few years ago, the diffusion of the media playing field in sports, particularly at the academic level, is consuming music by the shovelful.

APM Music’s Matthew Gutknecht: “The challenge isn’t having too much music; it’s having a deep enough catalog to cover all of the needs.”

According to Matthew Gutknecht, senior account director, sports entertainment, APM Music, which lists more than 550,000 individual tracks, colleges particularly are using music and other media strategically, applying such elements as production music to build brands and create outreach for everything from high school recruitment to alumni donations, often developing creative campaigns by leveraging the media studios built to teach these crafts.

“There are so many platforms that media has to be spread across, from traditional broadcast and on the field to streaming and social media,” Gutknecht points out. “[Production] music is being used to build brands around the schools, the teams, the individual athletes, and so much of that is now being done in-house, so to speak.”

Speaking from the Collegiate Sports Video Association (CSVA) Conference in May, where he noted that many of these trends were becoming evident, Gutknecht cited recent media initiatives at Clemson University in particular as reflecting an almost Madison Avenue-agency level of creative and production activity synergized between the school’s media and sports departments, as well as a wide array of platforms that have to be covered.

“Media’s not being used the way it was just two or three years ago,” he said, citing the breadth of social and digital media that need to be addressed by collegiate sports now. “And it’s not being made the way it used to be: we’re seeing 4K video being shot on students’ cellphones and sent immediately to production. The challenge isn’t having too much music; it’s having a deep enough catalog to cover all of the needs.”

Up to the Minute
Social media is changing production music for sports at both creative and operational levels. Steve Swenson, who joined Warner/Chappell Production Music as director of licensing this year after working as an audio mixer and supervisor for NFL, MLB, NHL and NCAA, says teams and leagues are looking for music that reflects genre nuances and will want updates for social-media applications incorporating those updates almost instantly.

“It may be the same piece of music, but they’ll want a certain feel added to it, to reflect what’s on Top 40 that week,” he explains. “And, if the team is in the midst of a playoff run or a home stand, they’ll want that up on Facebook or Twitter immediately.”

Swenson says the addition of hybrid genre elements to music is often very subtle, like a slight change up or down in BPM or some atmospheric dubstep kick-and-snare beats. But those are adaptations that will be noticed by younger listeners, which is critical as leagues strive to retain and increase participation from the all-important 18-34 demos.

And the timeline for those adaptations can be relentless. Although an NFL team may play once a week, it’s posting to social media and other digital platforms sometimes on an hourly basis. Swenson says that may necessitate calls to Warner/Chappell Production Music’s recording studios in Salt Lake City or Nashville for last-minute tweaks to existing tracks or new productions from scratch.

“Sports posts to social media can generate 100,000 views in an hour, especially if there’s a big end to an epic game,” he says. “We need to get what they want in the way of music for that out as quickly as possible. The turnaround time has never been faster.”

Business as Usual
Speed is an issue for production-music library Sound Ideas, but so is volume. Sales Manager Peter Alexander says the sheer amount of music coming from individual composers, most with their own home studios, can be daunting in terms of just absorbing it all. That’s also affecting the quality of compositions — a complaint, he notes, that the larger music business is experiencing on an even bigger scale.

At the same time, downward pricing pressures on production music are coming from new market entries leveraging the tsunami of music content. That’s offset to some extent, Alexander points out, by a broader user base, especially in college sports, which is generating greater demand.

“So we’re seeing higher volume at lower prices,” he says. “What industry isn’t experiencing that?”

One trend that points towards the future is an increased reliance on streaming music. Alexander speculates that could impact people’s expectations of sonic quality, although it’s counterbalanced by the increased number of mobile devices used to consume sports, where sound quality tends to be inherently lower. But it also means expectations of instantaneous availability and access will become the norm.

“The younger generation simply expects instant access,” he says. “It’s not surprising that their music supervisors will, too.”

Social media seems to be the single biggest agent of change in the last year for production music. “There are so many platforms you have to get the music out to, and, while each platform may have its own particular music needs, the music overall has to maintain the brand across all of them,” says Swenson. “It’s keeping us very, very busy.”

Click here for Tech Focus: Production Music, Part 2 — Libraries Offer an Array of Choices

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