Venues spin records while athletes break them
Music at Pan Am events goes well beyond hitting shuffle on the playlist
Halfway through the Pan Am Games, after multiple venues and more hours on buses than I care to count, Shania Twain and I have become close. Very close, as in, I feel she’s with me all the time. I can sing — albeit badly — every hit she’s ever had and, well, that don’t impress me much.
But Canada’s country-rock star is a regular on the venue soundtracks at these Games and wasn’t chosen randomly; none of the music chosen for this event was.
Just as a cyclist or diver’s every move is designed to achieve a winning outcome in competition, so is every announcement, video or song that’s played at each Pan Am venue. Greg Bowman and his team pick all the music specifically to create the ideal atmosphere — which varies dramatically, depending on the specific sport — and to add local flavour, entertain and prepare the crowd for what’s to come.
“It’s about finding the right moment for the music and the right music for the moment,” said Bowman, the creative director of Great Big Events, which runs everything spectators see and here in a Pan Am Games venue, aside from the sport itself.
It’s a tricky thing to try and create an atmosphere across dozens of venues and for 36 different sports. The typical crowd that gathers to watch rapid fire pistol or double trap shooting isn’t the same one that will turn up at beach volleyball.
“They’re all quite different,” Bowman said, “so we have to get it right for the culture of each sport.”
That doesn’t mean songs about shooting are chosen for the shooting venue; it’s more subtle than that.
“There probably are some, but I don’t know how appropriate they’d be,” he said, laughing.
A classic such as Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” might play briefly following a nice score at a shooting event for example. But generally there’s far less music at the shooting events than at other venues, where it can be near constant.
“Shooting athletes are primarily trying to lower their heart rates and concentrate,” he said. “I don’t think they’d appreciate if we cranked out a 180-beats-per-minute track. It might be a little disturbing for them.”
But at beach volleyball, the absence of music could throw the athletes off their game because they expect to compete in a party atmosphere. To that end, beach volleyball even has its own DJ.
Music and the venue announcer form an important part of preparing spectators who, at a multi-sport games, may be seeing an event live for the first time.
“For us, it’s about the atmosphere and (providing) a bit of context for the competition so they can enjoy it, and have moments where they know it’s fine to celebrate and when they know it’s serious,” Bowman said. “All those cues, we can give by music.”
An example? Just before a Canadian diver heads up the tower at the Pan Am Aquatic Centre in Scarborough, the crowd might hear “We’re All In This Together” by Montreal’s Sam Roberts.
Then, the music cuts out. There’s silence to create the anticipation while the diver prepares. The second he or she hits the water, the music comes back so the audience knows it’s OK to cheer.
If it’s a Canadian diver, it might be a line from “Takin’ Care of Business” from Bachman-Turner Overdrive. If the athlete is from the U.S. (and female) maybe it’s Lenny Kravitz’s version of “American Woman.”
When there’s a break in competition, music is there to keep the crowd energized. So Katy Perry’s “Roar” or Serena Ryder’s Pan Am anthem and songs by Twain — whose lyrics may reside permanently in my head after these Games are over — are among the songs in rotation.
But no matter what is played, it’s impossible to please everyone in the audience all the time.
“You might have an oldie who just wants to sit there and you might have kids that (want) one to jump up and down,” Bowman said. “That’s why variety is key and not playing the same thing over and over again.”
That is advice the bus driver ferrying a load of tired and wet journalists back from canoe/kayak racing in Welland earlier this week could have used.
We heard them all. Over and over again. And when Shania belted out, “you better start talkin’ or you better start walkin’ ” from “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?” — I wished I could have started walking. But I was about 100 kilometres from home.
Regarding Twain, Bowman said she is in heavy rotation at these Pan Am Games to add “nostalgic value” to Canadians in the audience. And, he added, they are “catchy songs that will be stuck in everyone’s head on the way home.”
I can vouch for that — it’s been days since my Twain-heavy bus ride and “Man! I feel like a woman!” still echoes in my head.