Music and PA Announcing: Run or Embrace?

By Matthew C Wallace

“Hey Jim, did I just catch the F-Bomb?”

Could it be true?  Tens, hundreds and thousands (maybe millions if televised, billions if posted to the web) of eardrums hammer wildly to an expletive slipping in a flash through the fingers of a game crew.  Maybe, no one heard it.  Right.  Hopefully, no one says anything.  Oh, sure.  Please, don’t post it to the Internet.  Good luck.  Music, particularly modern Pop and Rap, plagues the rainbow of events from the stadiums of the NFL to the reception at Jenny’s wedding.  Trust me, music and the associated diversity in tastes can polarize the dinner table chit-chat as passionately as religion and politics.  Obliviously, playing the wrong tune can rouse the vigilante torches which stormed the Frankenstein castle.

Over the last half century, virtuous society steadily relinquished its iron grip on the morally acceptable in the name of the almighty dollar as the hunger for the risque magnetized theater goers and record lovers alike.  In movies, Rated X, introduced in 1968, stamped itself in those days to works such as Midnight Cowboy and A Clockwork Orange; arguably, films which would garner only a PG-13 now.  Nowadays, flicks, such as Taken (PG-13) which centers on sex slavery in Europe, only mildly raise eyebrows as to their content being suitable for the audience rating they’ve received.  All parents salivate at the opportunity to allow their 13-year-old sit, unsupervised, in a theater with friends, popcorn, soda and candy at $40/head to watch modern sex slavery.  Yeah, right.  We sure do live in a changed world where seemingly anything goes.

Public Address Announcer Explicit Content

The music business, as liberal as any other industry where creativity underpins the foundation for profit taking, wields, many would contend poorly, its own ratings system ostensibly to provide guidance of suitable material to, primarily, parents safeguarding their children from the rude awakenings of our loosey-goosey pop culture.  Whereas years ago, songs of sex and profanity trickled  their way into teenage bedrooms via album covers, sleeves and vinyl, the MTV generation and the Internet laid the groundwork for a world where anything could be seen or heard anywhere in the world at anytime…and for FREE.  Plus, technology made it possible for artists and non-artists to produce multifarious music and videos for limited costs and, more pointed, at a speed of production and volume near impossible to consume or control.

Now, parents and those few remaining virtuous adults bear the burden of monitoring the untraceable and controlling the intractable.  This means everyone’s listening, watching, absorbing all the time and everywhere.  Consider a simple high school football game.  What was once air molecules bouncing with innocuous tunes to fill in the gaps or cause people to dance has transformed into a thick humidity of scrutiny.   Mom banging on the booth door for heads to roll or community groups filing formal, notarized complaints  are commonplace now.  Of course, there is a whole crowd that pays no attention at all juxtaposed with the population that sees nothing wrong with sexy lyrics or profanity.  Muddled and befuddled swirls the soup of us all.

Public Address Announcer Women Performer

Game administration, event management, wedding planners, birthday DJs and, you guessed it, PA announcers spend inordinate time, effort and money culling out the reasonable and the acceptable having been put in the awful position of having to satisfy the insurgents against the ruthlessly immoral.  They earnestly labor to build innocuous song lists which steer them clear of Grandma’s admonishments and, of critical interest to administrators, keep them at the distant edge of the liability volcano.  Regardless of organizations feeling they’ve persevered on having built the cleanest list in America, the kids and adults in the crowd still know the blank spots in the song are likely the F-Bomb or similar vulgarism.  It goes without saying that songs written about sex have been dropping like rain…forever (Madonna’s Erotica comes to mind immediately).  As we are fully aware, kids get exposed earlier on to it all and are no dummies.  “No escape!” I say, “No escape!”  Oh, what an exhausting exercise it is to have music at a ballgame.

CAVEAT EMPTOR: Performing rights organizations (PRO)…a brutally, complicated can of worms all on its own earmarked for a potential future post.


Public Address Announcer Mixing Board

PA Announcers, dyed-in-the-wool variety that is, spurn the most minor association with music.  They know already that its trouble well outweighs its benefits.  Plus, the announcer’s job is hard enough without fiddling about with computers, iPhones and the like.  Reiterating for the cheap seats, THE ANNOUNCER’S JOB IS HARD ENOUGH!!!  Any sports PA announcer of the quick sports (Basketball, Football, Hockey, Lacrosse, etc.) admits they must be utterly focused from 90 minutes before game time until 30 minutes after the last second ticks off.  Very little wiggle room exists, especially, if working for an organization that has a mountain of sponsor-paid copy to read.  For heaven’s sake, there’s not even time for using the restroom.  On top of it all, announcers, trapped into pressing play, often suffer from two-things-too-many syndrome.  Fouls get missed.  Numbers are incorrectly called.  Penalties end up overlooked.  Yet, music was played but then, play restarted and the music was still going.  Ugh!  Goodness.  How can it be said nicely?  Music distracts and dare anyone to say otherwise.

REALITY CHECK: Invariably, the poor, unfortunate PA announcer ends up doing double duty.  The circumstances always arise.  It’s true.  As a bonus punishment, the announcer must handle it all with grace and calm.  Professionalism should drape the PA announcer’s being indestructibly, no cracks in the armor allowed.  Just one music screw-up can frazzle the best of the best.  Music’s migraine instigation faculties can only be tempered by running out of the stadium, getting a speeding ticket on the way home then hiding in complete darkness for 48 hours.  Don’t get it completely wrong, music can be fun but, heed the warning that music convolutes.

So by choice or imposition, the music job raps on the back of your skull.  What to do.  What to do.  Say, “No, thank you.”  This is a real option.  If you either don’t want it or lack confidence, the word NO works well.  So what, there is a lot of empty air.  Empty air is better than bad air with an ill-advised song upsetting the harmony.  Likely, someone else will own the accountability.  Fine with you.  The pond of your announcing life gorgeously reflects the sky ’til someone stupid tosses a rock in it…remember that.

Public Address Announcer Rock in the Pond

Now, I am the last person to suggest anybody turn away work.  If they’re going to pay you more to do the music, please, by all means, press PLAY.  I don’t know anyone who ain’t happy to get more money.  Remember, cash on the barrel head is cash offered to your bank account.  In spite of the green, I do recommend signing up only if you feel you can handle the simultaneous tasks.  If you’re not up to it, there is no shame in declining.

However, if one must or hungers, be prepared.  Make your own, reviewed by you ahead of time, clean list of music.  Watch for all profanity and tunes too overtly diving in with sex or drugs.  The latter is incredibly hard.  An argument stands firm that you may end up with only nursery rhymes and Beethoven.  Day Tripper, by the Beatles, is entirely about drugs.  Crazy, right?  Profanity chasing is more tedious than tough but, must be done.  Plenty of websites exist which layout the lyrics on screen.  Search for the ugly words while listening to the song.  Any ugliness found?  Toss the song.  Watch for songs marked clean.  They’re not so clean.  Jay-Z’s 99 Problems, clean version, is a great example.  Subscribe to services where clean lists are supplied is an idea.  It’s a good way to get some current sounds.  Music at events tends to generate happiness when the list appeals to the primary age in attendance.  Be smart, though.  These services are not perfect.  Particularly, services which play commercials can get one in a pickle as many organizations are not fond of commercials, they did not pay for, getting played at their game or event.  Also, anything depending on the internet, where your song gets cut off because of disconnection, is a trouble.  Honestly, fully downloaded music pre-reviewed by you and/or your administration is best.  If you’re accountable, you have to be able to count on it as you would your roster, pen and notebook.  I’m totally serious.

Public Address Announcer Phone

The Poor Man’s Music Production System: This bring us to the cell phones filled with the mellifluous as well as the malignant.  First, the phone’s got to be in airplane mode.  Nothing can ruddy the face quicker than the stupid ringtone over the PA system.  Next, a person needs to be practiced playing, pausing, raising/lowering volume and contending with the many nuances of phone technology.  When announcing, you are moving quick as it is.  Now, playing music has been added to your busyness.  Again, music convolutes.   Remember that music CANNOT be playing during the game play.  This is game operations heresy.  Slip-ups will garner more dirty looks from officials and admins than you can shake a stick at.  If you can’t handle it…if it’s too much for you…NO works good.  Don’t get involved then.  It’s not worth it.  There’s no shame.  PA Announcer is NOT synonymous with Disc Jockey.  In fact in professional sports, a whole fleet of full-time careers exist pigeon-holed to managing music.  If piddling about with the iPhone is not your deal, just do what you do best…announcing.

Computer programs on laptops work best in my opinion.  There are packages available out there which are wonderful but, desktop icons with a mouse (the less poor man’s production environment) can somewhat effective.  Laptops are so light and powerful these days.  To top it off, touch screen advances have made them even more appealing.  This does not mitigate the burden of scrubbing the list for propriety.  And don’t forget, music is secondary to your announcing.  Keep this in mind.  The moment music takes you over, turn off the laptop because your waters are too muddy.  In fancier environments, there’s an entire person(s) dedicated to the sound of the game…that’s just how complex music can be (see the previous paragraph).  Again, I hate being the downer but, if it overwhelms you (and there is no indignity in this), don’t get involved.  Music can be diametrically painful as it is fun.

For the announcer that can afford it, software systems, like Sound Director, are wonderful.  You can organize, start, stop, fade in, fade out, cue and many other functions of larger professional setups.  This is highly recommended if you plan on doing a lot of music.  Truly, a good investment.  Cellphones and desktop icons can, certainly, work in a limited form but, if you really want to step up the professionalism of your music game, you’ll spend some dough on one of these packages.  They really are a treat to have, plus, you’ll begin to wonder how you ever did it without them.  The answer?  You didn’t.  You were just pressing PLAY.  These solutions slide you into production mode.  It’s a mighty jump up.

Public Address Announcer Cheerlead

An extra special note: Never, ever, ever accept music on the fly.  What a mess this can create!  Criminy Pete!  Cheerleaders instantly come to mind.  They are world famous for arriving at the end of the 2nd quarter, proclaiming, “We need this for our halftime dance…”  Eek.  Ick.  Yuk.  Oh, brother!  If you are doing the music, you’ve got be able to count on its appropriateness.  If you’re administrator is willing to take accountability for some reckless nonsense, ok just maybe but, feel free to express your discomfort.  Please, do not use someone else’s phone or PC unless it is directly from the administrator.  Players are notorious for rolling up, pregame, proclaiming their phone has all the songs for when they practice.  Oh, how the devil dances in the world’s cell phones.  Your bosses must take responsibility for mystery music or else say, “No, thank you,” and step away from tune playing activity.  I always land on the same helicopter pad by telling everyone, “Announcers announce.”  Mystery music off exotic technology should elicit the same reaction as mustard gas.

Public Address Announcer Electrical

When doing music, no batteries, PLEASE!  Plug in the tech.  Unreliability kills consistency.  Like announcing, music is an “all-in” activity.  Imagine your batteries dying mid-National Anthem.  This is beyond embarrassing because it’s blasphemy.  No plugs available?  Don’t get involved.  Say, “No, thank you.”  It’s for this very reason that some PA announcers cringe at the site of wireless microphones.  “Mustangs ball caught by #34 Mar…” then the mic goes dead.  By the time the battery is replaced, there’s been 5 plays, an interception and an unsportsmanlike conduct call.  Good grief!  This explains the anal-retentive announcer carrying 9V, AA and AAA batteries in the toolkit.  Wow!  It happened to me recently.  The producer sitting next to me was so rehearsed with mics dying, she changed the batteries like lightning akin to a Formula 1 pit stop for tires.  Amazing!  Find yourself doing the music?  Find a plug or find a way out of it.

Much of this post operates somewhat in a vacuum.  It’s true. 99.999% of PA announcers have handled the music simultaneously at one time or another.  It’s as avoidable as an annual head cold.  The best way I have found to deal with music is to enter into it that the music is not for my enjoyment.  I just want it cleaned and pressed before I tap play.  Oh yes, I detest rap music…just not my fancy.  However, I definitely understand that any event must have music which appeals to the primary attendance at hand; however, my rule is it must be cleaned and pressed or…it ain’t gettin’ played…at least, not by me.  What some younger folks do not quite get is that most medium to larger audiences are mixed, not just young.  By mixed, I mean size, shape, age, religion, culture, politics and, yes, taste in music as varied as elements in the periodic table.  What some older folks fail to be receptive to is, whether we like current music or not, some must be played to bring happiness to the youthful masses.  Yes of course, I have quite a few lists of songs for different purposes but, again, I cleaned and pressed them.  I, also, regularly add current music to the pile…without a doubt, cleaned and pressed.  Now, I don’t worry.  Now, I don’t have to think about it.  Now, it’s a tap and play routine.  That’s it.  If you must own the music effort, tap and play is where you want to be.  Ideally, you’re clicking and playing via music management software such as Sound Director.

Public Address Announcer Crowd

Why so fussy about music?  I’m not but, I am a PA announcer.  Music, truly, is not the job; however, I must be prudent if I have do tap and play.  If you are really, really into the music, go be a DJ.  Honestly, you will be happier.  Announcers announce.  Professionalism reigns king.  The gaps not covered by game play or copy can be filled with song, certainly.   Music makes people feel good.  It makes an event or game feel 360 degrees round.  Irrespective and in the end, PA announcers, unequivocally, are all about names, numbers, downs, fouls, shots, scores and copy.  Do not let pressing play and pause detract from all your fine, hard work of announcing the game or event.  If you can do both and are getting paid, great!  Do it to it.  Don’t turn away cash if you’re a capable person.  If you aren’t getting paid or not confident doing both, just be the PA.  It’s a big job all by itself and, every last soul in attendance depends on that articulate voice providing the utmost, accurate information.

So, should PA Announcers run from music or embrace it? 

Everybody’s different and so are you.  Therefore, you decide.

About Matthew C Wallace

Matthew C. Wallace is the owner of He is a public address announcer, writer, webmaster, historian, author as well as a former executive and musician. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and children.

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