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Tech Focus: Production Music, Part 1: Changes Come to the Sports Sector

15/05/2024

Tech Focus: Production Music, Part 1: Changes Come to the Sports Sector Spurring the changes are increased custom-music demand, RSN turmoil, legal issues, AI By Dan Daley, Audio Editor

Wednesday, May 15, 2024 - 7:00 am

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Production music has been one of the more predictable sectors of the sports-media business: football likes its triumphal horns, baseball has its country-tinged crunchy guitars, golf relies on traditional pastoral themes. Even while following broader cultural trends - for instance, the NBA's decades-long and Super Bowl's comparatively recent emphasis on hip-hop - music choices tend to change slowly in broadcast sports. The production-music houses say sports clients' requests often boil down to more of the same, but different.

Megatrax's Belinda Robles: As more people look for royalty-free tracks, [AI] could be another route for it.

However, according to Belinda Robles, senior music director, Megatrax, which has supplied production tracks for such sports events as the Super Bowl, the increased focus on international sports is broadening the genre range of music requests. She cites the World Cup's spread across three North American countries next year and the Paris Olympics this year, noting, The requests tend to reflect local tastes. People could ask for Edith Piaf for a Paris setup shot, but it might be a hybrid track with an EDM beat behind it.

Says Kent Carter, VP, strategic initiatives, Alibi Music, Location is a big part of what makes the Olympics special, and music is a part of that. His company has provided tracks for such productions as Netflix's Formula One: Drive To Survive and various NFL broadcast promo spots. The music choices are a way to showcase the culture of the Olympics locations.

The RSN Effect As with other sectors in media, a combination of technology and business disruptions - AI and the turmoil around RSNs are two big ones - has been churning the waters around production music, and the players in that market are aware of it. Last year, as those disruptions began to surface, production-music suppliers were unsure how their business might be affected. Now the impact is being felt.

Stephen Arnold Music's Whitney Arnold: There has been an uptick in music demand around regional sports networks and teams going their own way and needing more custom music as a result.

There has been an uptick in music demand around regional sports networks and teams going their own way and needing more custom music as a result, says Whitney Arnold, president, Stephen Arnold Music, citing recent music promo packages assembled for the NBA Mavericks on WFAA in Dallas and the Seattle Seahawks on their NFL Network preseason games. There has been some movement in that regard, but it's still too soon to be sure how that's all going to shake out.

Similarly, artificial intelligence, which has roiled the music business at large, is making its presence felt in the sports sector as well. However, because of the innately commercial nature of production music, AI is seen as less of a threat than a possible collaboration tool. Russell Boiarsky, director, brand strategy, Stephen Arnold Music, notes that a study that the company conducted with UK-based Sound Out, using focus groups and proprietary technology to quantitatively map the emotional impact of sonic branding, found that, although human composers were better at integrating empathy and emotional accuracy in music, AI was quite good at finding musical elements that fit the more practical requirements of projects. Most surprisingly, it found that composers and AI can work together to achieve what a client wants perhaps faster and at least as effectively as humans working alone.

We found that AI can be great at inspiring human composers, not replacing them, Boiarsky says. But to find exactly the feel you want and exactly the right place to put it, you need a human. You have to go beyond the algorithm.

(The speed at which competent music tracks can be created is startling. The platform Udio, developed by former researchers at Google's DeepMind and backed by Silicon Valley venture-capital funds, asserts that its app can generate a new mastered track in under 40 seconds using the same kinds of key-word descriptors that production-music search engines routinely use to scour their own catalogs.)

Legalities The vastly increased use of music for sports, in the venue and on the air, has led to more copyright infringements in recent years, particularly as music played through venue PA systems and ending up on-air via broadcasters' crowd mics becomes an unintentional but potentially actionable unlicensed use. It has generated a cottage industry for specialist legal firms and has affected sports down to the high school level.

APM Music has made the issue its own, cobbling together music-development deals with the NHL in 2021, MLB in 2023, and the WNSL as of mid March, concurrent with that league's 2024 season start. In all cases, the supplier guides the leagues and teams on music choices and develops original compositions, either newly created or from its catalogs, to avoid infringements and further develop its respective brands.

APM Music's Matthew Gutknecht says supplying music means following broadcast-sports schedules and anticipating specific music needs.

We offer proactive services to teams and leagues around music, for in-venue, broadcast, social-media, and other applications, says Matthew Gutknecht, VP, sports entertainment, APM Music, a joint venture of Universal Music Group and Sony Music, two of the world's largest music labels. There's far more awareness now around the issue of music rights, he adds, citing the contretemps between TikTok and Universal.

Part of that proactivity, he says, i
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