Music for Sport Founder Simon Webb spoke to InsiderSport about the crucial role music plays when it comes to fan engagement and elevating the experience of sports broadcasting.
InsiderSport: Firstly, can you tell us more about Music for Sport, and how the company was formed?
Simon Webb: Music For Sport is a production music library servicing sports broadcasters worldwide. I came up with the idea in 1992 on my way back from the Cricket World Cup in Australia, sitting in a hotel room on Waikiki beach in Hawaii.
My two main passions in life (alongside my family) have always been sport and music. I had started to make my mark as a composer in TV and for some time I had been looking for a way to combine the two.
I was watching coverage of the Admiral’s Sailing Cup on TV, when I had my light-bulb moment. The coverage was beautifully shot helicopter footage of the regatta, but what made it exceptional was the music. It was a piece I knew, As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls, by Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays, and it just fitted perfectly.
The mood and atmosphere elevated the footage to another level. I realised that this was operating on another level from the way sport was presented in the UK. (Any sailing on UK TV was always accompanied by the sailing soap opera Howards Way theme tune.)
I knew instantly that I had my concept: Great music for great sport. I came back to the UK and produced an album of music for the forthcoming Barcelona Olympics, and persuaded a producer friend to take some copies down to Barcelona, and give them to any TV editors and producers he met. He did. The album was used, royalties came in, and the idea became a reality.
27 years later, I still have a passion for sport and music and Music For Sport has gone from strength to strength and become one of the world’s leading providers of production music for sports broadcasters.
InsiderSport: Are you able to reveal further the process that you embark on when given the task of creating music for a sporting event?
Simon Webb: So when we started, the music team was very small. But now we have over fifty composers from around the world on our books. When producing music for a particular event, the process always begins with a brief, which I spend considerable time developing. I send this out to the composers I think are best suited, and they work their magic. A typical Music for Sport album will have music in a variety of genres and moods to give our users a broad palette of music to choose from.
InsiderSport: How important is music in terms of creating an atmosphere for sports broadcasting?
Simon Webb: Very important! Stephen Spielberg once said that music was over 50% of a film, and I believe music plays a crucial part in high quality sports broadcasting. Of course it can operate on many levels: It can provide excitement; it can inject pace; it can help you get inside the mind of the athlete; it can create pathos; it can inspire; it can menace. Music can add a further dimension. It draws the audience in. It plays a very important part in engaging the viewer.
InsiderSport: In what ways has the landscape for sports backing music changed since the formation of Music for Sport?
Simon Webb: It has changed enormously. When we started, music accompanying sport was usually some kind of musical cliché: The Match Of The Day theme for football footage, the Ski Sunday theme for anything in the snow, Keith Mansfield’s marvellous Wimbledon theme for anything tennis related. You get the picture. Nowadays sports editors and producers have developed the use of music in sport to a high art. There is a great deal of sophistication in the way music is used, and there is a lot more custom music out there to choose from.
InsiderSport: What are some of the key platforms and events you have worked on and can you reveal some of the more memorable moments from these events?
Simon Webb: We produce albums for all the Olympics, Football World Cups, and most of the Winter Olympics, and these are used by sports broadcasters all over the world. We have just released Road To Japan by Japanese composer Yu Namikoshi, for the 2020 Olympic Games.
Thinking about memorable moments, last year I was just sitting down to watch a game in the 2018 Football World Cup when my phone pinged. It was an email from BBC sports producer Mark Woodward in Russia saying that he had heard our track Team Cossack, from our new album A Russian Adventure, and would like to use it for the Japan v Poland game. I sent it over to him, and next day watched it in a sensational video montage before the game. Dave Pine’s quirky dance track perfectly complimented the video.
We were lucky to get quite a lot of BBC usage in that World Cup as one of our tracks, Don’t Be Volga by Steve Shone, was used on Radio 5 Live every day. I used to wake up to it every morning. Which was nice!
However, I still think one of my most memorable moments was unexpectedly hearing a track from our first album, The Inner Game, being used for the Barcelona Olympics. The track was Barcelona Nights and the footage was a nostalgic look back at the games. It was the first time I had heard a Music For Sport track go out live, and I still remember that moment.
There’s nothing quite like hearing your music unexpectedly coming out of the TV. It makes all the hard work worthwhile.