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A Brief History Of, and Comment On, Arena Music

Isn't it supposed to be about the game? In-game sideshows used to be a brief distraction during timeouts but have grown to be almost a soundtrack.

Edited by Tiffany Villigan

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It used to be that most hoops or hockey games had little in the way of musical accompaniment. After all, you paid to see a sports match, not a concert, right? Accompaniment was minimal, often performed on The Mighty Wurlitzer organ. For many fans there's still a certain charm to hearing the organ fanfare followed by the crowd cheering "CHARGE" or "DE-FENSE," and this remains for the most part the favored instrument at baseball games.

Winter sports have been steadily employing more sophisticated light shows and music for almost thirty years now. Advancements in both sound amplification and light systems begun in the mid-to-late '70s resulted in arenas being able to stage larger and larger spectacles beginning in the early '80s, and since owners were steadily hosting more rock concerts in their arenas as well, perhaps it's natural that the line between an arena rock show and a pro sports event began to blur.

As a child attending sports events I don't remember there being anywhere near the amount of musical accompaniment at basketball games there is now. There would be some brief 30- or 60-second organ breaks during time outs and over commercials or announcements that "The lucky fan in Seat #375, section B, Row 11 has just won A MONTH'S SUPPLY OF TACOS!" but that's about it. Nowadays the music almost seems nonstop, as if the leagues are wanting to replicate the video game experience in a live setting, complete with a booming hip-hop and rock score.

There was some use of contemporary rock songs, namely the ubiquitous "Rock N Roll Part 2" and "Another Brick In The Wall Part 2", in the '80s, which seemed to make its way to NBA games via the NFL, but the trend really seemed to get started after the MJ/Pippen-era Chicago Bulls began using "Sirius" by the Alan Parsons Project as part of their pre-game introductions sometime in the late '80s. It seemed like after that everyone else jumped on the bandwagon. The rise of hip-hop also aided this as its heavy use of sampling makes it tailor-made for cutting into 8- and 16-bar chunks, perfect to fill short gaps in the action.

I don't mind a bit of this, but there is a point where it begins to take away from the action on the floor. It's funny to see pro sports audiences now, considering that people seem so tuned in to their phones during the games that the music's there to shock them out of their smartphone reverie to remind them that they just paid an exorbitant price to witness this game in person.

What are your thoughts on in-game accompaniment? Is it too intrusive now, or does it not bother you? Do you have any favorite songs that lend themselves to crowd participation, or favorites from KeyArena/Coliseum days? Tell us below!