Tech Focus: Sports Music, Part 1 — Increasing Demand Keeps Up With Burgeoning Supply

Music has been overflowing its digital banks lately as laptops replace recording studios, creating a torrent of content, much of it routed through a growing number of production-music libraries, which commission and/or represent what has become millions of songs, snippets, loops, and beats. And broadcast sports have become a major-league client of many of them.

“Sports is like news: it’s always there, and it always needs new music,” says Ron Mendelsohn, president/CEO. Megatrax, a Los Angeles music library that counts Fox Sports, the San Antonio Spurs, the Denver Broncos, and the Calgary Flames among its clients.

The landscape for production music has long been dominated by a few major names, such as FirstCom and Killer Tracks, as well as portals for some of the music industry’s biggest publishers, such as Warner/Chappell. Licensing ranges from one-off uses to blanket licenses for thousands of titles. Fees are similarly wide ranging, with licenses for network use costing thousands of dollars.

However, as the amount of music increases and the number outlets for it grows, especially with newly formed regional and collegiate networks, the landscape is evolving quickly. Newer companies — such as Epidemic Sound, Rumblefish, and AudioBlocks — offer access to vast numbers of tracks created by thousands of composers, some of whom might be little more than hobbyists on laptops, for blanket fees of less then $100 a year for unlimited access.

These new kids on the block are attracting the interest of investors. For instance, Epidemic Sound has raised $5 million in Series A funding from venture-capital firm Creandum, which previously funded Spotify, Wrapp, and other startups. Investors are also beginning to court the fringes of the sports universe. Proclaims Rumblefish’s portal, “We make it easy for a recording artist to get their music in front of a skateboarding teenager who’s making a GoPro video halfway across the world and make art together.”

“Oh, yeah, that influence is being felt,” says Randy Wachtler, CEO of Warner/Chappell Production Music in Nashville. He acknowledges that the proliferation of low-cost production libraries has driven pricing down across the board and may be filling a need among budget-challenged regional sports networks. But, he adds, major leagues and networks tend to stay with the bigger music providers at least for administrative reasons: “When you put music on network television, you really want to make sure the T’s are properly crossed, for legal purposes, and the bigger companies tend to do that better.”

Big Guns and Services
The legacy libraries counter the upstarts with custom-music creation, assurances of provenance and copyrights, and granular curation and search services, as well as an awareness of trends in music. The Seattle Mariners last year asked New York City-based music service Video Helper to choose music tracks for retiring Yankees captain Derek Jeter’s last appearance at Safeco Field. Matt Fondanarosa, a consultant at Video Helper, says the team was looking for “upbeat, inspirational indie rock,” à la Mumford & Sons, to score the farewell video on the stadium’s screen.

“We’ve seen that kind of pop music showing up more and more for sports,” he says. “Networks seem to be moving to more of an indie type of sound, and we’re able to get them exactly the right sound and no issues with clearances.”

Says Mendelsohn, “There’s a lot of music out there, but, when you whittle it down to the [libraries] that can go across all genres, all with a high level of quality and without any legal risks, the numbers are very few.”

Production libraries are reaching beyond their usual composer/producer sources to keep their products as varied and fresh as possible. For instance, APM Music, which has had exclusive relationships in place with NFL Films and the NFL Network and has extended that recently to individual teams in the league, also has a partnership with indie-music online management platform ReverbNation, which provides access to thousands of songs from both up-and-coming and established music artists. That, says Matthew Gutknecht, key account executive at APM Music, is important because of the shift in emphasis to lyrics rather than the instrumental music typical for sports.

“That’s part of the influence that pop music is having on sports,” he says. “If our clients can get the same level of authenticity from that kind of artist, it’s a huge utility to them from a cost perspective.”

Sports has always been a fan of genre-mashing, but the hybrid of orchestral and guitar rock has been giving way in recent years to one of orchestral and electronica. “The influence of [electronic dance music] is definitely growing,” notes Mendelsohn, adding that extreme sports often use unadulterated EDM tracks.

Wachtler sees a turn toward pop, an ongoing trend reflected in the Super Bowl halftime shows, which have been transitioning from classic-rock artists like the Rolling Stones, Tom Perry, The Who, and Bruce Springsteen to pop divas Madonna, Katy Perry, and Beyoncé. However, he interprets that as a network strategy to make sports shows more attractive to female viewers: “We’re seeing searches trending towards pop songs with lyrics, as opposed to the generic up-tempo rock tracks with big drums. They’re looking for a softer, more positive sound overall.”

One very recent trend is reflected in the company’s rerecording of SEC-member theme songs for the SEC Network, using traditional marching-band instrumentation; previous years’ versions of those songs had been leaning progressively deeper into guitar-based rock styles. Wachtler says he’s unsure what’s prompting the SEC Network’s turn to a more traditional sound.

In fact, the conventional team sports have historically tended to stay within relatively narrow musical genres: football prefers brassy triumphal tracks; baseball likes guitars, crunchy or jangly; basketball remains loyal to urban rap and hip-hop; NASCAR still likes the rock/orchestral hybrids. Sports now moving into the mainstream reflect their niche demographics, like UFC and its use of heavy rock. Says Mendelsohn, “It always goes back to the target demo.”

For Tech Focus: Sports Music, Part 2, CLICK HERE.
For Tech Focus, Sports Music, Part 3:
CLICK HERE.