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Off The Record

Music & Recording Industry News
By Dan Daley

The sports and music industries make better teammates than you might at first think.

Musicians and athletes have been partners for decades. Both of their respective industries hit the big time, financially speaking, around the same time, in the 1970s. Before that, the best a typical retiring major‑league baseball player could hope for might be a small pension and a junior partnership in a local beer distributor or car dealership, which could trade on a semi‑famous name. And they may still have done better than many music artists in that era, before record labels began handing out deals like coupons at a county fair.

Once the music business had righted itself after its wobbly disco years, it ran into the digital era. With the advent of the CD in 1982, the money rocket had its fuse lit, and the sheer amount of money printed by the record business between then and 2001, when the real bite of online piracy was felt, was astounding: at its height in 1999 the industry was worth $38 billion globally.

The sports business had its own rocket, but unlike the music industry's its still in the ascendent. Once 'free agency', which let players offer their services to the highest bidding team, became widespread by the early 1980s (curiously coincidental with the arrival of the CD), soaring salaries propelled new TV licensing deals and immensely more revenue. PriceWaterhouseCooper predicts that sports as a business will generate an estimated $145.3 billion over the period 2010 to 2015. Annually, that compares favourably with the music industry at its height. If you include infrastructure construction, sporting goods, licensed products and other ancillary revenue — a reasonable calculation, given the facility holdings of Live Nation and AEG Live — the number goes even higher.

Mutual Benefit

But there's no need for those in the music production business to feel too envious. As it turns out, sports and music are continuing a mutually beneficial partnership that's only grown stronger in the last decade. On the broadcast side, in addition to the blanket‑licenced music culled from commercial recordings, sports on TV and radio, the sports industry has become a voracious consumer of both library tracks and independent music from the likes of Taxi (www.taxi.com). There's no specific research, but the sheer size and growth of broadcast sports suggests that royalties, residuals and sync fees exceed tens of millions of dollars annually. Much of the content comes out of private recording studios, but it keeps a small army of composers, musicians and recordists in rent money and then some. A dozen or so music houses occupied a section of the floor at the NAB Show in Las Vegas, underscoring a growing relationship.

One of the great things about sports music is that it is transparently and unabashedly trend‑following: Katy Perry's hot this week? Gimme some 'Roar' knock‑offs. That offers some guidance as to what the broadcast giants want. For instance, in the States we've been hearing a lot more Latin‑influenced tracks, a foreshadowing of this year's World Cup in Brazil, as well as the growth of Latino sports franchises and networks in general.

At the same time, sports music is also becoming increasingly curated, with shows and networks turning to music supervisors to more closely match the song to the action and the emotion. Once the purview of film and episodic television, music supervision has taken on a new importance in sports. And it has had to: even an imperial power like the US has needed to adjust its sensitivities in a global marketplace. As Carl Peel, Vice President of music at the Universal‑owned Killer Tracks music library, told me: "If you're watching something about a Brazilian soccer player but the music behind it is Cuban salsa or Mexican mariachi, unless you're a gringo it's embarrassing. You lose all your credibility with that community.”

In fact, music is changing sports, at least on a perceptual level. The US Open golf tournament recently used the music of Latin‑tinged hip‑hop artist Dangerflow, who is more often heard on edgier shows like on ESPN's X Games. Since then, it hasn't been unusual to hear crunchy rock tracks heralding golf shows, reflecting a larger strategy to attract younger viewers (and players). Golf courses across the US are closing at a rate of more than 100 per year, and it's possible that a bit of the Clash will get some Gen‑X attention.

Live Sound

The sports industry is impacting pro audio in other ways. All of the major live‑sound companies scramble to get into new stadiums and arenas, extending a virtually complete renovation of sports‑venue infrastructure that began over two decades ago. You can't build a basketball arena these days without using multiple subwoofers, thanks to how deeply hip‑hop has become synonymous with the NBA. (When the Brooklyn Nets opened their new Barclays Arena last year, it was with a concert by co‑owner Jay‑Z.) Acoustics, once an afterthought (if it was thought of at all), is now integrated into the CAD stage of stadium pre‑construction planning.

Sports music may have come full circle, creating viable commercial recording artists as a result of their popularity as musical wallpaper for sports broadcasts. Music house Killer Tracks signed hard rockers Rev Theory, whose aggressive tracks had already been a favourite for sports themes and bumper music. And several of the 285 bands whose music is part of music house 5 Alarm Music's roster have performed for CBS's March Madness basketball events, and provided tracks for the network's Alt Games extreme‑sports event.

For all its edginess, most sports music remains rooted in the triumphant trumpets and crunchy guitars we've become used to on TV, not unlike the music business, where the same 10 artists still get 90 percent of the airplay. Like any multi‑million‑dollar business, sports wants predictability and familiarity. But when you consider how deep and pervasive sports has become, it's easy to see that in addition to a manager, some in the music business might also consider a coach and a referee as well.  

Published July 2014