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Beyond Jock Jams: How ESPN Uses Music

An essential part of the sports programming you see on ESPN is the music that accompanies it. It's everywhere, from the songs by your favorite artists that are featured during pre-game montages to the background music played during the highlights on Sportscenter. ESPN has a dedicated team that works to find and curate this music, and assure it's legally cleared to be used on the air. That team includes Music Director Kevin Wilson, who stopped by campus last month as part of our ESPN Lecture Series. We had the chance to talk to Kevin a bit more after his presentation, and here's what we learned.

  • Background music. The music you hear in the background during the highlights is called Support Music, and almost all of the time it's instrumental. Most Support Music comes from ESPN's Music Library, a database of thousands of compositions which Kevin helps oversee by working with composers to create original music for the library. According to Kevin, a lot of the is mid to up tempo, like rock, hip-hop, or electronic music. Support Music's biggest job is pretty self-explanatory, it's to support the the sports highlights and the attitude of the particular ESPN program. "If it's doing it's job, you don't even know it's there," says Kevin.
  • Surprising uses. "There's always certain types of music that feel right with certain sports," says Kevin. "What we try to do is break that mold a little bit. I'm open to any song being anywhere by any type of artist. I think the most important thing for us to realize is that a lot of different people are watching ESPN and we want to be sure we're really listening and giving them the right music. We're always looking for new ways to present music."
  • Curating popular music. Commercial Music is what you hear more often on ESPN during live sporting events or right before and after commercial breaks. It includes songs by popular artists, up-and-coming acts, and sometimes, even music recorded by an artist specifically for ESPN. (Rapper 50 Cent once recorded custom verses in conjunction with The Heavy for his song "We Up" and The Heavy's song "How You Like Me Now," to be used during the NFL Draft.) According to Kevin, the commercial music is curated by both the music team and the show's producers when they're looking for something specific. "We're out there searching the web for new bands," says Kevin, "and getting stuff from management, labels, and publishers."
  • Paying attention to new artists and composers. During Kevin's presentation at Full Sail, he encouraged Recording Arts, Music Production, and other students making music to submit tracks to him. (Currently, students in Full Sail's Music Production program have had the chance to submit music to Kevin for inclusion in the ESPN Music Library.) "We've definitely licensed stuff from bands that have solicited me or artists I've discovered online," says Kevin. "And I've hired people [who have submitted original compositions] to write something. Sometimes it takes a little while, but I always tell people to stay in touch with me."

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