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Arena Rock

Confessions of a Professional Basketball Music Programmer

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Nowhere is the connection between "rock" and "jock" more direct than at a professional basketball game, where pop music samples, percussive loops, and sound effects bombard the crowd and the players at every opportunity. It all has to be planned out, of course, and in Portland it's Craig Miller, AKA the Director of Event Presentation, who works year round to make sure your Trail Blazers games at least never sound boring. On a day when he should have been working on PR events for the upcoming announcement of Brandon Roy's NBA Rookie of the Year honor, Miller very kindly took time to talk to me about the inner workings of basketball arena music programming.

MERCURY: So, will this Rookie of the Year Award affect what music you play for Brandon Roy next season?

MILLER: We actually don't have a signature sting for Brandon yet, so maybe it'll force us to finally think of something.

Is that what you call an individual player's theme music? A "sting"?

Yeah, we have little stingers we use for each guy when they go in and out of the game, or when they step up to the foul line or something. For Jarrett Jack, for instance, we use a little piece of "Jumpin' Jack Flash." For Travis Outlaw we use a piece from a Sergio Leone western.

Do players ever give feedback on the music you pick for them?

Yeah, they do. One of the things we did this year was let the players choose the music that plays before the warm-ups. Sometimes the teammates would give each other a really hard time about it, like when Jamaal Magloire picked calypso [music] early in the season.

How do you pick the music that plays during the introduction of the starting lineup?

Those are big, bold, in-your-face [musical] statements that go with distinct visual looks. The one that's most popular has Carl Orff's "O Fortuna" playing on the speakers—a classic piece, a huge, ominous-sounding piece—and the video [accompanying it] has the players cast as Greek gods. Another one has a Sin City look, and is cut to My Chemical Romance's "This Is How I Disappear."

At the last Blazers game I attended, I noticed a distinct, disappointing lack of the "charge" anthem.

We have charges of different types now. We have the horn version. We have the elongated bugle version. We have the single charge, we have the triple charge. We have the Mexican Hat Dance.

What keeps you from just blasting a super-loud horn blat right as the opponent is shooting a three?

There are times when the music can be played, and other times when we're restricted by league rules. There is also a decibel limit we adhere to for [when the ball is] in play and out of play. 85 is the peak for when the ball is in play, versus 95 when it is not in play. If we exceed those we could be fined.

So, you could play the horn blat as long as it's kept to 85 decibels...?

I suppose we could play things that are really distracting, but we try to play something that blends in with the game. We're always trying to keep it upbeat and positive. Certainly we want to be playful, but we also want to be good sports.

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