If you've got your game day music totally dialed in, skip this entire piece.
If, however, you don't have your game day music under control, read on...
At any type of event, music moves the needle, up OR down. The lack of it is analogous to cooking without spice. The food is still palatable, maybe even terrific, but, not nearly the same. You just feel like something’s missing. I will debate the veracity of this until my heart explodes.
Often, announcers are obliged with playing music at athletic and non-athletic events. Some dread it while others salivate. For me, it’s a professional duty I need to manage. I’m interested in doing a good job either way. My question is always the same. What should be played? I’m going to tell you something controversial and, potentially, painful in my next sentence. To move the needle in a northward direction, a playlist must include some of their music or the event, game, match, et al just doesn’t quite work.
Aside: What tool should be used for playing music at an event? Out of scope here. All I will say is use your phone ONLY if you have no choice. I hate using the phone for this. It’s a poor choice. Using professional software on a computer is the best by far. You will do the best job. …my only words on the matter.
You can say it. It hurts my feelings not. “What in the [email protected]#$ is he talking about? Who in the world is their and what doesn’t quite work?”
Their? Nods. Their. So, who is their? Well, let’s loosely represent their as the folks between the ages of 15 and 25. Oh, yes. Some might choke, cough and gasp on the saliva in their mouths. Why? Their means having to spin current pop and hip-hop. Eek! OMG! Egads! Ugh! Really?! Seriously?! I know. I know. I get it. I do. However, playing some of their music at an event changes the energy level significantly in a direction good for all. Otherwise, things just don’t turn out as good as they might otherwise. Let me explain.
If you are a parent, you understand already. The young yield twice the energy. If they are tapping their feet in the stands, if cheerleaders are bopping to the beat, if you see a player making a move at the bench, the music has engaged. Why is this so good and who cares? When a person feels good and is upbeat, the energy radiated becomes contagious to those around them. There is a major psychological difference between attending or playing in a high versus low energy environment.
Music can drive people up or down. Let’s take a song I think is cool, Mississippi Queen. I think it’s great but if played at a game, I have every confidence I will observe the cheerleaders disengaged. On the other hand (and this hurts more than you know), playing Cardi B will ignite this same cheer squad. By ignite, I mean big smiles, big moves, little moves, tapping, clapping and singing along. Next I know, the game is hot. The music is hot. The cheering is hot. The pep band is hot. The fans are hot. Kids and hot dogs are everywhere. The atmosphere takes a form that encourages attendance game after game. The blood rushing through your veins conjures stomach butterflies on steroids.
However, if none of their music is played, well. I’ve seen it. All the pressure lands on the game itself to be the Grand Final of all time. In this situation, when the home team is winning, ok then. Lots of cheering and having fun. When the visiting team is winning, you’ve got yourself a river with little to no current. The music becomes white noise to agitate the air between action. Sure, if a pep band is there, they can help. But, playing some of their music when the pep band is silent does wonders.
Nothing hurts more than the cheer team or pep band going through their routines in a perfunctory fashion…similar to brushing your teeth in the morning …boring. Music is such a trigger for people, especially the young. Sorry, people north of 25. When the young crowd is hopping and bopping, the weather changes to sunshine in a gymnasium. Their antics and excitement may get on our nerves, yes. Not mine. I love it. High energy environments are the best to be on that mic!
Note: The other thing to consider is different classes of music go better in conducive environments. The Mississippi Queen example likely does better in a baseball game than a basketball game. This is why announcers who do music all the time tend to be high organized about it. Through experience, they can discern which music belongs and which does not.
I get asked with frequency, surprisingly, how I see myself on the game operations team. I tell them I am part of the Happiness Squad. I leave the grumpiness to the coaches, officials and disappointed parents. The running around is relegated to the marketing team. Austerity gets hitched to administrators. As your announcer, I’m pleased as a peach to be sitting there announcing sports and being the king of the Happiness Squad. When I do the music too, I take great pleasure watching folks and kids bopping about to tunes that energize them. I’m most happy when there is energy everywhere irrespective to which team is winning. I know I sound crazy to some. That’s ok. I don’t mind.
For those old enough to have grown up listening to popular music gracing the airwaves from the fifties, sixties, seventies and, to a lesser extent, eighties, the music unfolding from the entertainment industry has been evolving relentlessly towards alfalfa in the trough from the mashed potatoes and gravy on the plate of which they’d grown accustom. Things change, right? Better or worse is subject to individual opinion.
I blame technology, myself. The same technology which is wonderful is a nightmare. Think mobile phones and social networking. It’s been the first time in my life, in which, massive good and bad got delivered at the same time. Nowadays, technology acts as the world’s widest catalyst for flooding music into the marketplace. We all know this. Technology made it possible for anyone (…and I mean any old talentless dud) to make music and, unfortunately for many ears, anyone does. YouTube, Vimeo, iTunes, AmazonMusic, Spotify…agh!!!!!! Society has decided it’s best to puke music everywhere and does so in delight.
Music, now (even classical and jazz), requires zero discipline to compose and produce. Vocalists do not even have to sing perfectly anymore. An engineer (probably the singer themself) just goes into software and fixes it. Gracious, what’s to become?! The volume of songs rivals the number of stars in the universe. ‘Tis quite a crazy business. Some of you, I am sure, stand by an opinion that the quality of music has inversely spiraled downward in proportion to this deluge. Irrespectively and in complete disregard to all of this, it makes new music no less popular to those between 15 and 25.
Case Study: High School Basketball
Music moves the needle. I’m going to use high school basketball for my little case study. I’ve been to games where there is barely a crowd as well as those where only standing room remained. For academic argument only, I want to take any old game and remove everything but the teams and crowd. If we take away the crowd, we’re talking buddies on the blacktop of a local park. We keep the crowd, always.
Of course, a large crowd can get nice and loud watching the excitement of the game itself, especially if home is on top. After all, we did go to the game to see the game, right? Not necessarily but, this a red herring left for a separate debate. Hopefully, some of us are actually there to announce. Blushes. I hope someone out there nodded. And so… attending a contest where only the teams and crowd are present can be quite fun but, a bit on the bland side…very plain if home is underwater.
Would a professional sporting event be a little less appealing with just teams and crowds. You’re durn skippy. Imagine attending any pro basketball game without colored lights, music, cheerleaders, hot dogs, beer, announcers and so forth. I would sit in the stands inspecting the price on my ticket stub pensively. …so would you.
Add: PA Announcer
A high school basketball game with just teams and crowds lacks umpf. Sorry, it does. A small crowd at the game will conjure up visions of barbershop porches in old west towns with men bereft of customers admiring the tumbleweeds bouncing down Main Street. It will be fun for the families of players but, will not be an electric sporting event.
Being greedy, let’s add the public address announcer first. Alters the solar system greatly doesn’t it. He he. You bet! Adding that microphone and the person on it, gives the room an immediate ten degree increase in temperature. The PA provides information. No argument. The crowd sees the PA as part of the entertainment. We announcers get judged that way quite a lot. Notwithstanding the peanut gallery reviews, adding a voice to the air is an undeniable differentiator at any event. Suddenly, there is something else going on as one sits in the stands.
On separate note, I see all the announcer naysayers in the social feeds. “Get rid of the damn PA Announcer!” “Our PA is worst ever!” “Can’t we turn the PA off?!” I see it all the time. I long concluded that these are the same people who attain their knowledge of the world by partaking in buddy debates at coffee shops drinking froufrou beverages. What these folks don’t get, which announcers do, is the lion’s share of fans in the stands have very little idea what’s going on outside of the score. Some aren’t even aware of the score! Announcers provide the information that corrals. With that announcer, everybody knows who made the three, bats next, made the tackle, entered the penalty box, etc., etc., et al. Announcers put everyone on the same page. How great is that?! I challenge naysayers to do better or put in ear plugs since they are so “in the know”. Information is power. The PA people proudly move that needle, too. Oh, ja!
For the record, I drink straight black coffee. When I order at a Starbucks, the cashiers, generally, pause waiting for me say something additional and, appear a touch dissatisfied when I don’t. What a world when the expectation of coffee mandates complexity. Call it Coffee Dogma. Are you kiddin’ me with this?!
Add: The Band
Returning from my little tangent, how about adding a pep band now? Alright!!! I love pep bands. This adds music certainly. When I slide in the door of a gymnasium and the pep band is wailing away, there’s just a je nais se quois. Pep bands perform National Anthems and a plethora of fun music that only a pep/marching band can pull off. Pep bands will play arrangements of modern songs marching band style. So cool. Pep bands with their style push that needle upward as well. Frankly, this is what I am talking about. How do we make a high energy environment that excites and not incites.
Great pep bands invigorate. They’re colorful, loud, music and animated. I’m always a bit sad when a school doesn’t have one or can’t afford one. When one is there, watch out! It’s wonderful. Add the lady twirling the baton and the place is styling!!!
Okay, people. Here we go. This is where some might whack me upside the head. Introducing…the cheerleaders… In my opinion and only my opinion, the presence of cheerleaders changes everything. Cheer teams, with females as well as males, enthusiastically vitalize. This is their purpose in life. Good cheer teams astound in this regard. They jump up and down, dance, smile wide, yell and so on. For me, cheerleaders represent barometers of an event. If they are on the opposite side of the arena or field going crazy, spirit attained delirium. Cheerleaders are awesome! If schools want higher energy events and more people to attend, those cheerleaders need to be standing there. Their utter presence changes the complexion of everything.
I’ve listened to countless athletic directors complain about attendance. I have. They struggle with how to get more school engagement. I look around and notice, quite frequently, not a cheerleader in sight, a gym devoid of a band. There you have it. Appealing environments attract onlookers. Where’s the cheer squad? Where’s the pep band? Where’s the announcer? Where’s the music (oooooo…the next thing to dig into)?
Where’s the food (gracious, how many schools have made this mistake over and over…)? Since high school basketball is my little case study, young children always arrive to a game, too. Two hours is a very long time for the young ones to go with no snack. Sell chips, boosters! Please!!! Athletic Directors want more people showing up? Start ensuring all the right components are present. Just because you think your team is great has nothing to do with getting people to show up and watch.
A high school basketball game with all the components present and firing away, from game to food, becomes a destination.
I know I sound absurd to some but, I give you science via observation. The pep bands and announcers make a huge difference but, the cheerleaders…well…the cheerleaders directly engage. OMG. They look directly at the crowd and work their magic. What a big smile, dancing and yelling can do to the energy. When the cheer team arrives, the event starts to percolate on most of the cylinders. It really does.
Others, I am confident, will disagree. Sports purists will have the most fun with just the game and nothing else. Actually, the pursits would prefer it. They are all about the contest. Understand, the lion’s share of folks are not sports purists. These people value the color, character and energy of the event. For them, bands, cheerleaders, announcers, music, food and such makes their evening whole and fun. Without these pieces, grocery shopping is more attractive.
Back to the cheerleaders… If a cheer group shows up, plops on the bench and acts conceited, they need to be given the what-for. Lazy cheer teams need to stay home. There is never any doubt when a great cheer team arrives. They light up the room when they enter the door. They work like an amazing magic. From the starting line-up to post-game celebrations, great cheerleaders are a steady source of event energy.
Add: Piped Music...Finally
The last major component, kind of, operates like a warm blanket: non-pep band music. Where this particular music is concerned, I’m so glad cheerleaders are standing there. The games are the games. Pep bands do their thing. Announcers announce. Cheerleaders cheer. The music piped over the PA, however, can really add that pinch of spice or act as a dishcloth. This is, actually, why some of their music must be playing to push the needle over the top. I, truly, believe this.
For me, the cheerleaders are the world’s greatest indicators of good and no good music at the big show. This group is centered in that 15-25 age group which is drowning in the tunes of the day. I’ve learned over my own history that my opinion of good and no good, in terms of music at a game, means positively zero. If I allowed my own arrogance to select music getting played, I would likely get relegated to the closet where they store the basketballs at night. In contrast, the cheerleaders will be very clear on the current music. I will explain as we move along. Be patient.
Oh, goodness, I am not a fan of hip-hop/rap music (not a fan of most modern pop either). Just hearing the name, Cardi B, initiates the instant migraine. Not that she’s all bad. I, personally, just don’t like her music; however, I am not 15-25 and, let’s face it together. She is undeniably huge right now. Play the clean version of her song, I Like It, and watch a bunch of teenagers go coconuts on the spot. You will simply shake your head in disbelief.
On top of it all, how much contemporary music, in general, has way, way too much swearing. Take a look a partial lyric by performing artist Eminem:
You can get the ____, just call me the ball sac, I’m nuts
Michael Vick in this ___ dog, fall back you mutts
___ you worms, you never seen such a sick puppy
___ it a sick duck, I’m on my duck sick mommy
The redacted portion is bad enough. The rest is concerning which is why so many of us that add new music read the entire clean version as well. Many have met with much trouble for playing bad things over the PA. Be careful.
When you do get hold of a clean version to play for everyone, there are these troubling blank spots while the music plays. What’s worse, the bad word or the blank spots? We all know what’s being said…including, the kindergartners running around. Current popular music challenges everyone playing it in public forums.
Consider it, just like this, before you tackle music: did your parents dislike your music when you were young? Likely. Nothing has changed. Nothing. Few young folks want to listen to old stuff. They want to hear what’s hot. Why? It’s their turn. It’s their generation. It’s their friends at the game. Plus and as we all know, music wields the power of emotion over many. It makes people feel high, low, happy, sad, energetic, tired and so very much more. No surprise here that music can move the ol’ needle off the dial at the game…or make it droop downward. The right music will rush through the veins. So silly. So true. Just remember to check those lyrics. Scrutiny is required these days.
I know quite a few announcers who keep their music organized for sports, pumping up, injuries, timeouts, clientele present, etc. Music elicits different emotions especially when aligned with varying situations. Take an injury timeout. There are folks I know that swear by some cooling down type song during an injury. They simply believe an injury is not the time to pump people up or encourage cheerleaders to dance around. Others do all their music on the fly or put little thought into it. I’m on the thought-provoking side of things and do, very much, agree with organizing music as much as is practical.
Clientele present? If you’re contracted to an event with a lot of young children present, you will have a really watered-down playlist on hand. Know your audience.
In professional and some college environments, people are paid to deal with music. Good. (Actually, these are awesome folks for you to chat with. The good ones really know their business.) Conversely, there are more environments than not whereby the PA Announcer is contending with the task. I don’t know a single announcer that wants the music to be bad when they are playing it. There may be some who really do not care what is playing but, certainly, they do not want the music to be bad. The point is music will be in most announcers’ lives and, not a one wants it to be done poorly under their watch.
Now, how can music be used to light up the room? Carefully selected, big beat music does the trick. We all know this; although I tossed Pitbull above as an example. Sometimes I feel like I am edifying the educated. I’m telling you things you know. The part that escapes many is some of that music must be their music. Their idea of music is different than ours. It just is.
Pauses… I’m listening to hear depressing sighs.
This is when music becomes a tricky business. Of course, it’s awesome to play the Beatles or AC/DC; however, it can’t just be that stuff. There must be a noticeable injection of their music. It must be or… the atmosphere will not be as hoped. It just won’t. I like games/events to be high energy. It pumps me up to see a great game, cheerleaders dancing, fans screaming, music blaring, announcers bellowing, excitement abound. I grasp, if I am on music, that some of their music needs to be played for everything to work super well.
Where do you find their music? Now, there’s the question for the ages. First of all, it’s a constant chase. Think football: music as the running back and you as the tackler. If you go to the Billboard Hot 100 to look up new hot stuff, there’s a significant probability you might be bashing your skull on the kitchen counter in short order. This method will only put you in a cantankerous state.
Why is new music a constant chase? Popular music is transitory, sometimes ephemeral. This means most of it, no matter how favorable in the moment, will not survive the test of time. What must be played this year has a big chance of being a pariah the following. At any given point, I only chase 5-10 new songs. The young are capricious. Over chasing the fashionable of the day invariably leads to consternation and, ultimately, acquiescence. But don’t give up! Chase in moderation.
So, what’s the recommendation? Ask them. What?! Ask them. I’ve asked my own children many times. I get them to ask their friends. Asking the college interns in the press box is a good plan, too. Who knows their music better than them? Common sense, right?
Now, you must be intelligent about it as well. If you listen and there’s too much profanity, sex or inciting, scratch!!! Sorry, newer hard rock choices from the young are awesome but, not quite what’s needed to help keep a crowd on a two-hour high. One or two selections will work out best.
Oh, how it hurts. It does. Yes, the bulk of new music must be pop or hip-hop. For many, it would be more appealing to spend time circling around in the microwave. For me, I care about the energy it creates. I get a reasonable list of what’s new and when I play a new one, I watch the reactions of …the cheerleading team.
You bet. If I get the cheerleading team to move, I’ve picked a good groove. If they begin bopping around to any song, I, immediately, observe the fans the teams to see…who else? Yep, a solid chance other people will be tapping their feet and hands and singing. It is an amazing thing. Not everyone, however. Don’t worry though. Enough will be be-bopping that the energy level is up with the right song. On music at a game, like it or not, cheerleaders are excellent barometer thermometers. If you’ve played a contemporary tune and you get no cheer team response, scrap it going forward. It doesn’t work.
Therefore, I implore you, “Ask them.” They know. And as someone who regularly plays music, I ask often. I am curious and, it changes often. I, myself, never like approaching the cheerleaders or the teams directly so, I will go through a team parent, team manager or coach. I, also, have access to interns in press boxes. They are all the right age and provide effective answers. They are great sources!
Now, do I like a lot of this new music? No. No. No. They do and, I am part of the happiness crew. I like to see a great game in a high-energy, positive environment. Music can make or hurt this. If there is to be happiness under my watch and I own the music, I most definitely want to be playing some of their music. Energy gives folks a good feeling. Energy makes the same want to come again. Energy will encourage those same folks to bring their friends.
I don’t advise anyone to be so hard-core and rigid that they close themselves off to what makes the attendees with the most natural energy of all, 15-25 year-old people, happy. Music does this. Music has always done this. Remember when each of us was 15-25, we identified ourselves with music of the time that meant something personal. It has never changed. It never will.
Even centuries back, young men and women had tastes of music and dances they did and did not like. In the year 152,784, it will not be any darn different, people. Ask those in the know and get some new tunes on your ever-aging music list. No. You will NOT be in the know. Yes, right now, Cardi B will enter your music list. Take some aspirin. You will be fine. I promise. Deliver some of their music to the gym or ball field and, you, my friend, will see a difference.
Now, be wary of any music you fear will incite. For instance, I refuse to ever play “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye”. Why? You want to incite unnecessary anger. Play some mess to the opposition who is losing. What’s the point? Your team is winning. The other team is losing. It’s enough. I am NOT a fan of generating ill-will in any way, shape or form. Happiness crew, remember? In kind, I’m not a supporter of “All I Do is Win”. The scoreboard speaks. The fans will be speaking, too. They do NOT need your help getting riled up. It’s bad for business. High-energy does not equal instigating. The message? Be careful.
Much ado about nothing? Possibly. No doubt one can play all the old tried and true Beatles, AC/DC, Neil Diamond, etc. favorites and they will be just fine. Will they generate the same energy level? No. But right now, turn up Cardi B at high school basketball and watch the cheerleaders pop off the bench. Watch young fans pop off the bench.
It astonishes me what gets everyone excited over time. A few years back a singer named Adele released a ballad called “Hello”. I was at a high school football game announcing and doing music. As a gaff, I played “Hello” just to see what would happen. I knew “Hello” was the biggest in the land at the time. My curiosity got the best of me so, I there I went. The place went nuts. Easily, a couple thousand folks were singing at the top of their lungs. At a football game? Adele? Ballad? Really?! Shaking my head, I reassert that what excites everyone up amazes me every day.
Ask them. I sound like a broken record don’t I. However, my advice is correct. My kids, when they were younger, watched the dreaded Disney Channel’s “Wizards of Waverly Place”. Announcing one of their Little League games, I played the theme song for the heck of it. The kids went haywire. The young have never changed. What we assess as awful and dumb, they think is hot stuff. Crazy, right?
Ok. Ok. Do not play only their new stuff over the PA system. Mix it in with a assortment of choices. Variety is the spice of everything. A bit of Beatles, a touch of seventies rock, adding Michael Jackson, drop of Spice Girls and insertion of Cardi B composes a winning combination. The good news? Since the 1950s, a cornucopia of popular music has fallen from the clouds. Keep in mind, a diversity of people in the stands will value a variation of music in the air. The argument presented in this piece is that a solid injection of high-energy new music, socially attached to the 15-25 generation, must be in the playlist for the game mood to be nearing the ultimate.
Watch and Listen
As an announcer, I am always watching and listening. I watch the game. I observe the crowd. I look around at the others in the press box. I listen to comments from the crowd. I watch and observe the officials and their reactions to the press box or scorer’s table. I watch and listen to what I say on and off the mic. I am always thinking and adjusting. Even if I am not assigned to music, I listen to what’s playing and watch the cheer squad, the players, and the fans for chemistry to the music.
Why am I watching the press box folks or the scorers table people? We are a team. If a person in the press box is not going right, it affects the rest of us. If I see something wrong, I speak up. I’m known for it. I am very high on open communications. I like to see the team around me feeling energetic and strong. The game goes better. So…I watch…I listen…
Watch and listen fellow announcers. The more you do, the more you’ll learn. This is how you will discern what music works and not. I never let my own arrogance cause me to rue the day. I take advice always and give advice when I can. Watching, listening, thinking, adjusting as well as taking and giving advice are best practices. They most certainly are.
Remember, the best engines fire on all cylinders. The teams, the game, the crowd, the band, the cheerleaders, the music, the food AND the announcer present an unimaginable symbiosis at an event. If have some components, it’s great but not what it could be. However, each proper component add is an incremental improvement over none.
So, get and play some of their music at events. It will work out. I promise. I know some it is not so much fun for you to hear but, it’s fun for them. Try your best to get what’s hot from them. Ask them. They know. They will be in a big giant hurry to tell you, too. Observe and learn from the cheerleaders, players and the crowd. If you see them tapping, dancing and singing, you’ve hit a chord and you’ll feel the difference in energy-level around you. A happiness arises out of the simplest stuff. Music is simple if we make it simple. Music is awesome if some of its theirs. So, ask them. Get a shot in the arm of their music. Play it then, sit back and watch the weather change at your event.
If you disagree with me, great! Debate makes the world spin faster. I like it. My views result from experience and experimentation on the matter. I’m sure your views are from your journeys as well. Share. Don’t complain. Share. I learn more from others than any other source.