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Writing Music for Sports Broadcast with Taylor Ralph

Hi all! Kyle Guffey, Flavorlab’s Director of Music Publishing here. Every year, we get to provide music for back to back playoffs, Super Bowl to March Madness, PGA to the NBA, so I want to break down a topic near, dear, and ever present in my year – music for sports broadcast. No matter the season, no matter the project load, I’m working with Flavorlab Score and the incredible composers of Producer’s Toolbox to deliver driving, upbeat tracks for football, basketball, golf, and more. Over the last 20+ years, the music team has had the good fortune of landing placements on a number of sports networks. And in my four or so years here, our closest partner in hype music magic has been CBS Sports.

The Brief

This year, as in years past, the marathon kicked off in late summer with a brief for NFL and College Football season from CBS Sports’ Music Director, Taylor Ralph. I sat down to discuss all things sports music with Taylor under “The Placement,” but first I’ll go over how we get there. With each new call for tracks, I know I’ll find Graphics, Highlights, and Bumpers. These needs may evolve over the overlapping seasons, categories may be added, new styles may be introduced, but the usage will remain largely the same.

Graphics play under voice over and dialogue. Highlights are used beneath gameplay clips and commentary. Bumpers are the fun transitions that lead us into commercial break. From here, I’ll modify the brief for our composers. Alongside the network references, I’ll send along tracks from our catalog that fit the need and have secured placements in seasons past. I may add simple tips or comments for clarification. For example, if editors seem to prefer a playing style in the horns, I’ll note that.

The Creation

Once the brief hits my outbox, our composers do what they do best. We’ll review submissions, send comments, review again, decide what’s working best, and then mastered tracks are off to the network. Take a look at a couple examples from some of our Producer’s Toolbox producers. Since these are two styles that are meant to be used under voice over, notice the consistent, driving energy throughout; the constant rhythm; and the engaging, but simple melodic elements in both:

Producer’s Toolbox composers Anthony Clint Jr. & Greg Savage breaking down Graphics track, “Savage Gameplay.”
Producer’s Toolbox composer, Chris Justice, breaking down Highlights track, “Machine Baller.”

The Placement

Once the curated playlists are sent, it leaves my domain. We may send another batch or special edit upon request, but my focus turns to the non-athletic. For network music directors like Taylor Ralph, however, it’s only the beginning. So what does it take to pull off great sports programming week after week? Let’s ask the expert!

Hi Taylor! How are you?

Hi Kyle, I’m doing well! How are you doing?

I’m great! Thanks for taking a few minutes to talk sports music with me. So let’s start with the basics. How would you define music for sports? What are some quintessential elements in your experience?

Well, I’d characterize it as energetic, but not the life of the party. Each track needs to have an identity, but even in feature segments, we still have player and announcer calls, so it can’t be too distracting to what’s going on.

Otherwise, music for sports should be upbeat, driving, and fun. What I’m looking for are tracks that move well with a piece and fit the producers vision for the production.

What would you say makes music important to the game viewing experience?

 In a sports game and sports promo, that mood has to stay heightened throughout. For a player feature or documentary the music may be more dramatic or emotional depending on the story. Music is how we can pull people in. Within a game it’s not something a regular sports fan necessarily tunes in to, but if it doesn’t hit quite right, it’s really noticeable to the viewer. It happens occasionally, and part of my job is providing options that work perfectly.

And what makes streamlining those options important to the game programming experience?

I’ll give you an example. Last year, we were on the road for the Army/Navy game. That’s a rivalry people really tune in for and it’s not a typical weekend schedule. Our remote crews were different. Our A1 was switched. The A1 is doing a million things and his main focus is making sure all the talent and production audio levels are correct and sound good, so they don’t have much time before to listen to each and every track and think about what they’re going to play. When we’re finalizing music cuts in that sort of environment you have to have music that you know would sound good for any production element and not be too distracting over the voice over. That’s music you just have to be able to rely on and also know would enhance the production.

Absolutely, so before this point, it’s a whirlwind week of searching and planning. Take me through your week a bit.

Well, I work weekends so I’m back in the office Wednesday responding to a ton of emails. I’ll start sending weekly playlists to our producers and reviewing commercial tracks pitched to us by record labels that can clear easily, as well as tracks from music production vendors. From there, the producers send requests my way. I get familiar with the narrative and stories for the upcoming games, pull in music that could work, and send requests to the labels, publishers, and production music libraries for searches.

Then, I’ll meet with the producers and we’ll finalize what we’re airing. Are all of the commercial tracks cleared? If not, we’ll pivot to a production music library or change up the story we’re telling. On the weekend, I discuss the in-show studio cues with the Director and A1. Saturday is College Football. Sunday is NFL Today.

During this process and when you put out the call for tracks, what are some green flags in a vendor?

Let’s see, green flags:

That they listened to and matched the references, understood the producer’s vision, and sent us exactly what we’re looking for. Asking questions is always a plus. For vocal cuts, the quality of the track should sound as close to a commercial song as possible. That’s what we’re aiming for most times with vocal production songs. We’re finalizing multiple production pieces within the week so we don’t always have the time or can’t always afford to get a Top 40 commercial track. In my opinion the goal is to have the viewer love a song so much that they pull out Shazam. (FYI, there should be Shazam for production music 😊)

And red flags?

Sending something totally different than what we’re looking for. There’s so much to listen to and move through each week, a track may be great, but if it’s totally off the brief, it slows down the process.

Tracks with explicit lyrics. These are family friendly broadcasts!

Tracks that don’t move or build. There are times where we want a consistent energy, but most of the time music should keep moving forward to keep the viewer engaged with a piece.

Awesome Taylor, so my final question is what is your favorite part of the job?

I love watching that beginning to end process come full circle. I always want to execute the producers’ vision and help the artist. My favorite part of the job is searching for music, finding the right song, and seeing it air!

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