Liner Notes: The Marriage Between Music and Sports

It is past mid September already, and as summer washes into fall more and more each day, a lot of us are ending with the summertime fun and falling into the traditions of autumn. In America, there is one pastime that is as synonymous with fall as Christmas is to Winter—the good ol’ game of football. Now what does a radio station that features break out bands in New York City have anything to do with football? The answer is, “not much;” at least not on the surface anyhow.

BreakThru Radio does not even have a sports section, let alone any programming dedicated to sports news. This week’s edition of Liner Notes does not seek to give you a top ten list of 2010’s college football teams, debate the NFL’s upcoming games, or discuss who I think will win the World Series of Baseball. What I do intend to do is to make you think of the relationship between sports and music in a way that perhaps you haven’t before.

Arguably, sports and music account for one-half of the four institutions that most greatly effect and influence modern popular culture (fashion and technology being the other two). So what is the relationship between these two faculties? How does one play off the other? Are they interrelated, or are they two separate customs that have nothing to do with one another?

Sports, specifically college sports, have come to incorporate popular music into everything they do. Music is played by the bands at half time; during the warm-ups it is used to motivate the athletes; and sound clips from the day’s current top forty are inserted during breakage of play to keep the level of intensity and excitement high in the stands. Whether you are aware of it or not, music and sports are tightly braided pair.

One of the leading academic experts on the matter is University of Toronto musicology professor Kenneth McLeod. Pointing out in many articles how “music and sports connect in a number of ways: aesthetics, marketing approaches, and performance strategies,” McLeod asserts that the relationship between sports and music is a way many societies “construct gender and racial identity.” The role of pop music in sports, and vice versa, subconsciously assists in the creation of masculine and feminine roles in our society as well as separate and tie racial identities. Hip-Hop—Basketball—Black; Country—Nascar—White; Cheerleading—Football—Feminine. These are all samples of what McLeod is referring to.

Let me give you another example. Think of a recent Nike or Gatorade advertisement you saw on T.V. Now ask yourself not only how these companies use music to sell their product, but also how the music chosen creates the image of a professional athlete. Popular music is a marketing tool that is wisely used to inspire its viewer. A viewer will watch the sixty-second spot and make a subconscious connection between the athlete/sport and the music being played. What emerges is a blending effect, or what McLeod refers to as “sport-rock crossover” (although I would argue the connection goes beyond the genre of rock and into the other genres as well). For those of you who work out, how many of you do it to music and why do you think that is? Is it because you aim to imitate the image of your favorite athlete you saw on the Gatorade commercial? Or is it because the Gatorade commercial inspired you to workout and you imagined your workout to be just like the one you saw in the commercial?

Moving beyond advertising, how many of you have ever been to a live sporting event? Was there a band? Did the fans involve themselves in chanting or singing hometown ra-ra songs? Did the MC of the game play popular tracks in between plays and periods? Perhaps more prominent in soccer than any other sporting culture is the existence of the fan-chant; the world recognized “Olé” perhaps being the strongest example. In a lot of college football games here in the U.S., marching bands have recently evolved to include a mix of traditional marching songs with modern day popular tracks. Just look at this video of the Delaware State University marching band doing a medley of “Sweet Dreams” by Beyoncé, “One” by Mary J. Blige, “Death of Autotune” by Jay-Z, and “Boom, Boom, Pow” by the Black Eyed Peas as a prime example.

The last thing I will say on the matter is about the relationship between music and racial identity. Because I was a football player in college, the locker room is a scene I know all too well: one stereo; sixty young men from all different walks of life who are all trying to get jacked up at the same time for the same event. When I was playing ball, it was a constant battle between my black teammates wanting to hear DMX’s “What’s My Name” and my white teammates wanting to hear “Break Stuff” by Limp Bizkit. Of course what happens over the course of a season as a team bonds with one another, is that both songs come to motivate both groups of players and a cultural or racial fusion occurs. Sports and music bring together black and white. A little cliché for today’s time, I know, but this phenomenon has been around since the fifties and sixties and has played a major role in the coming together of two groups of people (look at the film Remember the Titans as an example).

So if you are a big music fan, and care nothing for sports, that’s fine. But don’t think that the music you make, or the music you like, doesn’t have an effect on athletes and the culture in which you live. Sports culture is massive all around the world, and what becomes popular in music sometimes does so because of a giant push from sports. Even ultimate indie hipsters in their skinny jeans and horizontally striped French navy tank tops can’t bypass the relationship between the two. As strange as it may be, world’s apart in style, there is still a common denominator between the Dallas Maverick fan and the Arcade Fire Fan.

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– Kory French

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