Playing Music For A Few Seconds Whenever Somebody Blows A Whistle Is Harder Than It Sounds

Alan Cross spent a couple of years working with the Toronto Maple Leafs, helping to redesign the musical experience that anybody who has ever watched or been to a sporting event is likely familiar with. He recently wrote an article about what exactly that involves, and surprisingly it’s a hell of a lot more than you might think.

We began by researching the musical preferences of Leaf fans using data from a number of proprietary sources used by radio stations and record labels. Songs evaluated on the basis of era, energy, genre, key, subject matter, and even the image and reputation of the artist. For example, Gary Glitter’s Rock and Roll Part 2, once a global sports anthem, is completely toxic since Glitter’s conviction on pedophile charges.

Knowing the Toronto hockey fans are steeped in tradition and had strong opinions about everything involved in going to a game, we ran a preliminary list of songs past game ops and several people in the front office. At the time, fan sentiment leaned strongly towards rock, which was also the safest when it came to intergenerational tastes. We also sprinkled things with a few current pop, country, dance, and hip-hop tracks that we’d end up changing up every six weeks. The longest conversation was the goal song, the track played every time the Leafs scored. (We eventually decided on Feelin’ Good by The Sheepdogs.)
Another consideration was the needs of a major record label who paid for the privilege of having a slight majority of a game’s music come from artists on its roster. Anything played during the game had to conform to the terms of that contract.
There are anywhere from 60-80 moments within a game during which the DJ needs to play something appropriate for the situation. He or she needs to create a soundtrack for the game in real time. To increase the DJ’s reaction time, some 500 songs are plugged into a spreadsheet and then separated into categories for use in specific situations.

He goes on to list some of those categories and give examples of songs that fit into them. He also drops a lot of other details on us, including one I’ve never thought about but that made absolute sense as soon as he mentioned it.

Once all the songs were neatly categories, MP3s were loaded into a special music playback program similar to iTunes but much, much more powerful and specifically designed for live sporting events. It allowed for even more manipulation of the music for ultra-fast access. With only a second or two to react, you can’t have the DJ fumbling to fast-forward to the chorus of Rock and Roll All Nite from KISS. With this software, that clip and hundreds of others can be prepared for instant playback.

Like duh, of course that’s how they do that so quickly. But now I can’t help but wonder how it used to be done decades ago when that sort of computing power didn’t exist.

Anyway, this is a cool read if you’re interested in these things at all. I suggest checking it out.

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