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Introduction

The interest of this article was sparked by a YouTube chance encounter with the video ‘Hear What You Want 2015 — The Next, Chapter’ (Beats by Dre, 2015). The video promotes Beats Electronics’ wireless headphones and is part of the Hear what you want-campaign that was launched in 2014 shortly after Apple purchased the company [29]. The campaign includes commercials with top athletes from different major sports (soccer, tennis, basketball); and in this particular commercial, three renowned American football players are seen on their way to the stadium listening to sports radio and, ultimately, an excerpt from the track ‘Play Ball’ by AC/DC (see AC/DC, 2014, for the track and its video). The commercial was released on YouTube the 10th of January 2015, when the American football league (NFL) was reaching its climax, and all three football stars (who play for the Denver Broncos, the Dallas Cowboys, and the Seattle Seahawks, respectively) were involved in decisive games. In this case, the video was part of a wider transmedial strategy as it was released simultaneously with three TV commercials (approximately 30 seconds each), which featured the individual players, respectively1, that were aired on television during the live transmissions of these games on the 10th and 11th of January.

1 Here, ‘Hear What You Want 2015 — The Next Chapter’ represents an extended ‘social media conglomerate’ of the three shorter commercials which will not be further included in the article, as they do not contain additional audiovisual material that contributes to the potential signification (but you may look them now: 1, 2, 3).

What intrigued us was the choice and use of music in the commercial. First, although AC/DC’s music might appear to be fit for sports settings based on the title, there has been no indication of predilections for “(ball) sports” in the lyrics, history and lifestyle of AC/DC. Indeed, music placement — that is, the placement (typically based on a legal contract) of excerpts from a piece of pre-existing music in the auditory or audiovisual setting of a non-musical product — has not previously been entirely rejected by AC/DC2; however, the band has no significant history of licensing their newly released music for commercials.

2 Examples include a commercial for Nike (2006) featuring excerpts from “Rock’n’Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution” (1980), a commercial for Gap (2007) featuring excerpts from “Back in Black” (1980), and a promotion video for the stock car racing series NASCAR (2010) featuring excerpts from “TNT” (1978).

Second, the video’s cross-promotion of AC/DC’s music and Beats’ headphones is amalgamated in a setting of sports, and the commercial thus exemplifies what has arguably become a compelling trend: “In the past 20 years popular music and sports have become noticeably more aligned and interconnected as cross-marketed, hyper-commodified products of the leisure and entertainment industry” [20, p. 78; see also 27]. However, the music in the Beats commercial does not seem to function simply to influence spectators’ expectations and experiences of particular sports events, which has been considered to be the most common practice in the context of promoting mediated as well as live sports [see e.g. 19; 20].

Based on these impressions, the case seems apt for furthering the understanding of music placement and hereunder aspects of the relationships between music and (mediated) sports. Although there is little knowledge about the actual prevalence of music placement, it appears that recent developments have effectively set the tone for a specific variant, where new tracks (by more or less established artists) are co-promoted in commercial settings. These developments have recently and fruitfully been examined with regard to contextual issues including the involved institutions, legislations, power relations, economics, critics, and ideologies — often relying on the statements, experiences, anecdotes, and opinions of (representatives of) record companies, adverting agencies, creative managers, and artists [see e.g. 4; 9; 17; 21; 22; 31]. However, this body of research has largely refrained from textual analysis, and, consequently, the question of how music is textually positioned — and the possible consequences for the text’s potentials of signification — remains inadequately researched. As the chosen case presents an example of synchronization licensing or synch — that is, “a license to use music in timed synchronization with visual images” [1, p. xiii; italics in original] — it seems all the more important to examine the relationship between the music and the visual setting. Moreover, whereas the issue of how has arguably always been a matter of significance, recent developments in consumer culture seem to have furthered the need to carefully consider the organization of commercial texts; for example: “There is a key difference between the postmodern reliance on parasitic reference (which simply embeds the brand in another valued cultural context) and an artistic use of these same resources (which deploys these texts in an interesting and pleasurable way). This is a great topic for future inquiry” [13, p. 87]. Following this invitation, the article examines the following questions: What functions do AC/DC’s track serve in the commercial? What are the consequences for the potentials of the significance of the music and the brand? And to what extend are the musical functions within the particular setting of sports indicative of an “artistic use” of music?

As implied, the article subjects the chosen commercial to a close textual analysis, and it aims to meet the requirement for this type of analysis of “getting close to the text’s integral compositional elements” [14, p. 2]. The focus on music and musical functions is generally inspired by the notion that music “has the potential for specific meanings to emerge under specific circumstances” [7, p. 181; see also 11]. The specific circumstances in the current study include the setting of sports and the relationship between the music and other audio-/visual elements. The examination of functions will focus on text-internal functions, which here refer to how music operates in relation to its cotexts. It is beyond the scope of the article to examine music’s text external functions (the ways in which the music and commercial actually affect viewers), as well as its broader, contextual implications, although, obviously, music in commercials is generally associated with an anaesthetization of consumer culture and with “economic functions” that apply “to cultures where music making and music production are economic activities and, most especially, where a commercial music industry operates” [3, p. 12]. Following the analysis of the Beats by Dre commercial, the article will discuss the findings from a transtextual, comparative perspective [18] that will consider the relevant aspects of the previous ‘career’ [32] of “Play Ball”. This will serve to illustrate how the same track can be put to use in different ways in different settings. Table 1 presents an overview of the relevant (to this article) placements and distributions of “Play Ball”:

Table 1. Overview of a Selection of Placements and Distributions of AC/DC’s “Play Ball”

Version and media setting

Release date

Excerpt in TBS commercial

September 24, 2014

Full track — e.g. digital download and CD single

October 7, 2014

Full track — Music video

November 11, 2014

Full track — e.g. digital download and CD album

November 28, 2014

Excerpt in Beats commercial

January 10, 2015

The Commercial — an Overview

By way of introduction to the Beats by Dre commercial, Table 2 presents an outline. Following the categorization of commercial formats offered by Stigel in 2001 [30], the video can be considered as a drama including three episodes (involving the three football players, respectively). In addition, by cross-cutting between the episodes, the drama encompasses three individual stories that can be inferred to correspond to the same narrative script, temporarily structured around three settings: A famous athlete is on his solitary journey from one place (urban setting) to another place (stadium setting) while situated in a vehicle (vehicle setting).

Informed principally by Rodman (2010), we differentiate between diegetic, intradiegetic and extradiegetic elements. Textual elements in the diegetic space originate from and constitute the “story world of the text itself”, i.e., are apparently seen and heard by both characters and viewers [25, p. 53]. Intradiegetic space includes those text elements that “call[s] attention to the characters, emotions, settings, and objects in the diegesis without actually being in the diegesis” [25, p. 54], while extradiegetic space includes those elements that resides outside of the narrative. Table 2 also indicates a subdivision of types of sounds. Whereas speech and music present relatively well-established terms for particular types of sound, the term ‘object sounds’ in Table 2 here refers to the residual, nonverbal and non-musical sounds that derive from (the motion of) physical objects.

Table 2. Outline of Beats by Dre commercial “Hear What You Want 2015 — The Next, Chapter”

Episode

Urban Setting

Vehicle Setting

Stadium Setting

Pack Shot

Timecode

0 — 9

9 — 1:53

1:53 — 2:19

2:19 — 2:25

Duration (in seconds)

9

144

66

6

Visuals

Diegetic

American cityscape

Inside moving cars. Details of car and characters’ faces, as well as the outside environment

Indoor parking lot under the stadium

Intradiegetic space

Verbal announcement on screen

Verbal announcement on screen

Verbal announcement on screen

Extradiegetic space

Animated presentation of headphones

Audio

Music

Diegetic

Excerpt from AC/DC’s “Play Ball” (verse)

Intradiegetic

Specific synth notes and a rhythmic motif

Synth chords. Continued rhythmic motif

Extradiegetic

Excerpt from AC/DC’s “Play Ball” (chorus)

Speech

Diegetic

Radio show

Intradiegetic

Radio show

Extradiegetic

Object sound

Diegetic

Howling wind

Noise from engine, tire friction, and door slam

Intradiegetic

Extradiegetic

Urban Setting

The opening shot of the commercial reveals an American cityscape, with two-flat red brick houses and telephone poles occupying the front of the picture, while the city’s skyline hovers in the remote background, lightly covered in mist. This opening scene has a distinct cinematic touch to it, which is underscored by the intradiegetic text element that appears on the screen: ‘b presents’ that imitate the typical opening credits of movies with Beats playing the part of the production company. More specifically, the shot’s composition carries particular connotations to the genre of social realism: we are back in ‘the hood’; in a working-class neighbourhood where wealth and glamour (connoted metonymically by the skyline) is only a faint prospect on the horizon. The following shots of a steel bridge (shot acutely from above) filled with four-lane traffic, and some close-range shots of snow-covered rooftops, and dense blocks with large buildings contribute to this sociographic setting of the story. During the shot of the bridge, the campaign’s slogan is presented as the title of a movie: ‘Hear what you want’ — a message that is intriguing but at this point does not bear any correspondence to the images on the screen. This prelude ends when the camera shifts to the interior of a car — the vehicle setting — and we see a dim human figure approaching the car.

Initially, (min:sec 0:0-4 in the video), the soundscape is dominated by diegetic object sounds in the form of howling winds. The soundscape underscores a scenario of gross realism, and the subsequent shot of the bridge with passing cars is set in slow motion, which supports a sensation of everyday inertia. At this point a musical accompaniment — apparently representing a piece of original commercial music [11] — gradually emerges in the form of sustained individual synth notes that blend with the sound of wind. A rhythmic motif is then introduced presenting a continuous “tic-tac” sound in mid-tempo. The musical accompaniment — representing an intradiegetic element — generally adds to the impression of a melancholic, inertial, lonely and uneasy situation. The music thus functions to help establish specific interpretive categories, and it generates expectations for what is to follow [for similar functions of music in commercials, see 16].

Vehicle Setting

The shift to the vehicle setting is initially marked by a shift in the visual positioning of the viewer, which is when the approaching human being has entered the car. At this point (min:sec 0:15), the sound of the slamming door is foregrounded, and from then on, the outside object sound is shut off. The door slam hence functions as an auditory episode marker, forecasting an analogous function of a similar sound later in the video (see below). The vehicle space is further ‘inaugurated’ shortly thereafter, as two outside shots focus on the features of the car. First, the roaring sound of the engine’s ignition is accompanied by a close-up shot of the exhaust pipe and, second, the sounds of the gas pedal being activated and the resulting car wheel friction are accompanied by a close-up shot of one of the back alloy wheels beginning to role swiftly forward on the snow-covered tarmac. Throughout the rest of the episode, various details from inside of the car — including the steering wheel and a car brand logo in its centre — are shown from various points of view. No additional car object sounds clearly emerge. However, at one point (min:sec 0:31-33) an aspect of the musical accompaniment (continued from the preceding episode) is offered as a potential characterization of an aspect of the car. The above tic-tac-rhythm is thus synchronized with a close-up shot of the car’s activated windscreen wipers, and the rhythmic motif at this particular moment lends itself to be heard as an object sound. Generally, this co-occurrence of visual and musical elements illustrates that “the alignment of the other media with music […] induces a specific perceptual selection from its available attributes” [6, p. 83]. The musical accompaniment increases in volume and density as the second episode unfolds, and it continues to function as an inducement of increasing uneasiness, which is further fuelled by a third auditory element introduced in this episode — the voice of radio host Jim Rome.

The Jim Rome Show has been broadcasted nationally in the US since 1996. As a particular variant of sports radio — “a genre and a format based on live coverage of sporting events and follow-up discussions, analysis and phone-ins” [5, p. 52] — it has been marked by a blunt, critical and, at times, controversial style of discourse regarding for example issues of gender and race in relation to sports [see e.g. 10; 24]. The initial catchphrase “Welcome to the Jungle” (min:sec 0:19) contains a double reference. On one hand, it creates a passage between the urban and the vehicle setting as the jungle is a metaphoric short-hand for the big city, conceived as a rough urban wilderness as implied in the track by Guns ‘n’ Roses that has apparently inspired the catchphrase (Guns ‘n’ Roses’ “Welcome to the jungle” has in fact functioned as the show’s opening theme; see [24, p. 136]). The catchphrase thereby refers to the urban setting in the first episode of the video. On the other hand, what Jim Rome is introducing is not the city, but his own show, the alternate title of which is fittingly The Jungle. The vehicle setting thus turns out to be infused by Jim Rome-styled sports media and, by implication, the antagonistic social positioning and (underlying) notions of “survival of the fittest” that is also present in the city-metaphor.

The radio discourse in the video consists of listener phone-ins and Jim Rome’s subsequent commentaries discussing the three football players in question. The comments do not serve to affirm the players’ virtues as star players. In contrast, they are all of a negative type, as the program’s host and listeners are focusing on the players’ failures and off-field escapades, questioning their values and abilities. The programme is in effect representing a ‘media jungle’ with prying predators attacking the players’ esteem and integrity. During the radio discourse, the explicit mentioning of the three players — as their names appear briefly as an intradiegetic visual element on the screen — occurs in parallel with visual cross-cutting between them. Due to this particular synchronization, the radio discourse serves as introductions to the players, thereby strengthening the discourse’s role as identity tagging. In between the close-up shots of the individual faces, shots of the environment from the respective driver’s perspective function as transitions between shots of the characters. At one particular point in time (min:sec 1:26-30), the radio discourse seems to affect Richard Sherman, as the radio talk is visually paralleled by a slight grimace of disapproval.

Bearing in mind the initial commercial slogan — “hear what you want” — it might seem odd that the players listen to a radio discourse that clearly annoys them. One possible explanation is that the discourse of the media jungle is not really a matter of choice but an indispensable condition. As such the commercial displays the ambiguous contemporary status of the sports celebrity as, simultaneously, an elevated global object of identification, adoration, and commodification, and a lone individual haunted by a psychologically — or even physically — intimidating environment [26, p. 683].

This explanation corresponds with the ambiguous status of the radio sound in terms of its relationship to the diegesis. The fact that the radio begins simultaneously with the start of the car engine suggests that the radio discourse is diegetic. The shifting settings would then imply that the players are on their way to a game while listening to the same, uninterrupted radio flow. However, a radio is never actually depicted in the video. Moreover, while the specific types of vehicle settings differ — most notably, Dez Bryant is riding in a bus and not a car — the sound quality of the radio flow remains the same. This could seem to indicate that the radio flow is an intradiegetic feature (therefore the double position of the radio show in Table 2), and the comments are the players’ own recollection of the jungle of rumours, gossip and publicity in which they are inescapably entwined.

Towards the end of this second episode, the rhetoric of the radio discourse is intensified as the players all arrive at their respective stadium settings. The role of the radio discourse now changes from an obstructing critique to a more supporting function of setting the stage and s(t)imulating the players’ motivation. This is emphasized by the fact that the host’s discourse addresses the players directly through punchlines, — for example: “The question is still out there, Von, is the stage too big?” and the episode ends with Jim Rome epitomizing the situation: “Big game, big stage. All eyes are on you” (min:sec 1:49-51).

Stadium Setting

This last episode is marked by the players leaving their vehicles. The camera cross-cuts between each player presented in various close-up shots walking in slow motion away from their vehicles carrying the headphones in their hands. Several flashing lights suggest that the players are intensely followed by the people who are present in the stadium setting, and the continuous radio discourse adds further to the impression of the players entering a zone of massive pressure and individual accountability. The radio discourse is now clearly intradiegetic, as the sound quality that is offered to the viewers has not changed, although the players have left their vehicles. The radio ends by staging the premises and posing a question: “Welcome to the biggest day of your career; what are you gonna do?”

During this last sentence, the camera cross-cuts between the three players each beginning to put on their headphones (min:sec 1:59 — 2:02). As the question has been posed, the musical accompaniment abruptly stops. The question stands out and underscores that the time has come for the players to (re)act. At this point, the camera focuses on one of the players placing the headphones on his head. Still set in slow motion, this process is ended when the headphones are covering his ears accompanied by a specific object sound that seems to illustrate the slow motion sound process — from the player’s point of audition — of excluding outside, environmental object sounds and entering a kind of auditory ‘refuge’ or ‘cocoon’. The object sounds can be heard as ‘suction sounds’ that level the viewers’ point of audition with the players (although the point of view is still objective). At this point, the excerpt from AC/DC’s “Play Ball” — that is, the first three lines of the song’s first verse and the fourth, last line of the third verse — is introduced, and it dominates the soundscape from here on, as no further object sounds, radio discourse or synth music are heard. Visually, as an intradiegetic feature, the band and album are specified by small white letters on the screen for several seconds.

The music is forcefully introduced as the track’s introductory standalone snare drum beat is heard right after the ending of the ‘suction sound’. The beat functions as a musical episode marker, which indicates that something else is about to begin. Moreover, as an echo of the object sound indicating the door slam (see above), the snare drum beat underscores that outside sounds are now shut off. Generally, the musical style significantly contrasts the preceding original musical accompaniment; for example, the tick-tack-motif is replaced by snare drum “smacks” while distinct and loud guitar riffs have replaced long-drawn synth sounds in the auditory background. The uneasiness of previous situation is suddenly supplanted by self-confidence as the camera follows the players’ determined slow motion walk away from their vehicles towards the supposed big game. The music seems to empower the players, and the grimace of disapproval is substituted by what appears to be a purposefully growing smile on the face of Richard Sherman (min:sec 2:11-14).

The musical empowerment is also indicated by the lyrics of the song. The commercials’ selection of lyrics include a first-person perspective and a number of imperatives that can be interpreted as aiming to bolster and boost the ‘I’-person (e.g. “Pick me up, fill my cup”) and his imminent collective engagements (e.g. “Come on”, “Let’s play ball”). This particular selection of lyrics highlights one possible reading of the lyrics’ potentials for signification while others are omitted, i.e., signifying drinking, partying, promiscuity (e.g. “party time”, “drinks”, “baby”, “gin”). Similarly, the commercial omits the original lyrics’ connotations to “playing ball” as a social experience (“Come in and join the crowd”, which is the original, substituted forth line of verse 1), which would conflict with the narrative’s individualistic scope.3

3 The album version of “Play Ball” compared to the version appearing in the commercials for TBS (Turner Broadcasting System) and Beats by Dre. Lyrics & music: Angus Young/Malcolm Young. © J. Albert & Son, Pty. Ltd/BMG Rights Management GmbH. Printed by permission of BMG Chrysalis Scandinavia AB/Notfabriken Music Publishing AB.

“Play Ball” album version

“Play Ball” in commercial for TBS

“Play Ball” in commercial for Beats

Intro (from 0:00)

Instrumental: Snare drum (on beat four)

Instrumental: 4 bars

Instrumental: 1 bar

Listen!

Instrumental: Snare drum (on beat four)

Instrumental: 4 bars



Instrumental: Snare drum (on beat four)




Verse 1 (from 0:11)

Pick me up

Fill my cup

Pour me another round

Come on in, mix in the sin

Come in and join the crowd




Come on in, [I’m in the mood]

Come in and join the crowd

Pick me up

Fill my cup

Pour me another round

Come on in, mix in the sin


Verse 2 (from 0:28)

(I said) it's party time, when I'm on the loose

Make it feel alright

Listen, drinks all around

I'm in the mood

Because the night is mine

(I said) it's party time, when I'm on the loose










Chorus (from 0:42)

Let’s play ball

Shoot it down the wall

Let’s play ball, baby

Battin' down the stalls

Play, play, play ball











Bridge (from 1:00)

Instrumental: 4 bars

Verse 3 (from 1:08)

(Listen Sid), light me up

I'm in love

I'm all regional now

Dive on in and swim in the gin

Come on, shout it out loud





Come on, shout it out loud





Come on, shout it out loud

Chorus (from 1:24)

Let’s play ball

Shoot it down the wall

Let’s play ball

Battin' down the stalls, yeah

Play, play, play ball

Let’s play ball

Shoot it down the wall

Let’s play ball

Battin' down the stalls, yeah

Play, play, play ball

Let’s play ball

Shoot it down the wall [fade out]




Bridge (from 1:40)

Instrumental (including a few vocal outbursts)

Guitar Solo (from 1:56)

Instrumental (including a few vocal outbursts)

Chorus (from 2:12)

Let’s play ball

Shoot it down the wall, yeah

Let’s play ball

Battin' down the stalls









Bridge / Ending (from 2:28)

Let’s play ball

Let’s play ball

Let’s play ball

Play, play, play ball, yeah


Let’s play ball

Let’s play ball

Play, play, play ball, yeah





Pack Shot

The pack shot is introduced in synch with the pronunciation of “Ball” and hence with the introduction of the track’s chorus. The music is now transferred to the realm of extradiegesis, and this change seems to stress the transition of the players from approaching the game to (conceivably) playing the game. This reading is motivated by the fact that “Play Ball” is the call that formally announces the initiation of a baseball match. However, the phrase is also a call for action in a more general sense in that it can be metaphorically conceived as an invitation to rise to the occasion and fulfil one’s task or mission.4 In this sense, the phrase is also fitting for football players’ taking action in the commercial. It is only when they arrive at the stadium that the players can leave their roles as media personas, transcend their hostile surroundings, and — with the help of AC/DC and Beats’ headphones — become what they truly are.

4 For example, the baseball melodrama The Natural (1984) draws heavily on this double signification as it becomes a verbal leitmotif for the hero’s (played by Robert Redford) surpassing his off-field adversity and returning to glory by fulfilling his true, ‘natural’ potential on the pitch.

The pack shot opens with the presentation on a black background of a set of white headphones so that the Beats’ logo is visible. The co-occurrence of the sung “Ball” and the visually presented ‘b’ — presenting a kind of audio-visual alliteration — welds together the associative link between track, game and product. In the concluding seconds of the pack shot, the headphones slowly rotate in the middle of the screen so that a full visual presentation is accomplished. Although the visual setting has now changed to a non-narrative, extradiegetic universe, the slow rotation of the headphones can be seen to mimic the slow motion of the preceding shots. The slow motion presentation seems to indicate that, apart from being able to exclude surrounding sounds, the product is solid and compact; the firm beat and boogie-woogie-ish guitar riff of the music chorus further add to this impression.

Thus far, we have examined how the interplay of sound and imagery creates specific potentials of signification in the commercial. Next, we will augment the analytical scope and examine the track of AC/DC in another commercial constellation of sports, music, and media.

Discussion — Transtextual Perspectives

In the music video that was made for “Play Ball” (AC/DC, 2014), the cotextualization of the track also encourages associations to (ball) sports. The video cross-cuts between AC/DC performing the track on a studio set and various settings displaying a variety of examples of ball sports. However, as the examples are restricted to show-based, humorously sports-related performances – e.g., horses and nuns playing soccer, old time gymnastics, and pool tricks with female models on the table – the track is not strongly associated with a particular major sport and remains a relatively “open text” that is not predisposed for any one sport in particular.

In contrast, the TBS commercial (2014) — the text that first featured excerpts from “Play Ball” — is structured as a 60 second montage [30] of a baseball event. At first, a baseball stadium is presented from the window of an approaching car, cheering fans enter the gates, and a filled baseball stadium is shown from bird’s-eye view. Next, the video cross-cuts between players from different teams entering the field and cheering fans on the stands. Then, the first ball is thrown, which initiates a series of prototypical clips of pitching, batting and running. Six times during this section, the image of a player is frozen, and the team of the respective players is presented textually on the screen. Eventually, ‘the match’ is concluded with images of teams celebrating victory, and the video is concluded with a repeat of the stadium from a bird’s-eye view, now supplemented with TBS’ logo for the event.

“Play ball” is the dominant auditory element, and the trailer’s abridged version of the track is featured throughout the video. It begins with the initial guitar riff and ends with a ‘rock-roll-ish’ ‘yeah’ from lead singer Brian Johnson. In the instrumental periods of the track, the level is slightly turned down as sounds from live transmissions of baseball games transpire, including the exalted commentators, roaring crowds, and the iconic object sound of the wooden bat hitting the baseball. A couple of times, the track fulfils a commentary function as the semantic relationships between lyrics and images are established. Thus, the arrival of the players to the pitch is accompanied by the line “I’m in the mood”, whereas “Come in and join the crowd” is juxtaposed to images of cheering and festive crowds, and the introduction of the refrain is mirrored by the first baseball hit. Moreover, “Let’s play ball” takes on an interactive function as it is placed in a call-and-response relationship with the images, when the line “Come on shout it out loud” is “responded to” by a group of spectators shouting into the camera. This interaction implies that the music performs a mood-enhancing function to create arousal and excitement.

The embedment of the track here illustrates a performative utterance [2] that seemingly addresses players as well as the audience and urges them to immerse themselves in the event by “…triggering a state of optimism and excitement in the listener that reinforces the paradigmatic heroic narrative of the drama itself” [20, p. 186]. The video’s synchronization of the auditory and visual dimension stresses an analogy between the rock and the sports experience based on energy and the collectively alleviating spectacle of the event [20]. At the same time, to the televisual viewer, the track functions as an indicator and promotion of the excitement of the game as a media experience to which the sounds of the roaring crowd significantly contribute. The crowd is not only a depicted live audience, but it also performs for the camera as part of the spectacular [see also 12].

When comparing the TBS commercial with the Beats by Dre commercial, there are significant differences to be observed with regards to the functions of the music. First, a distinct characteristic of the Beats’ commercial is that the music does not serve an extrovert but introspective function in the film’s narrative. It does not work as a component in staging the sports event as a spectacular, public, social experience, but as a symbolic resource that allows the players to seal themselves off from their surroundings to actually create this spectacular event. The music does not interact with the game directly, but it frames the space around the game as a delimited ritual, and it becomes a marker for the psychological mode that is essential for the athletes’ performance. Thus, the mediated purpose of the music is not effervescence or entertainment but focus and action. This is arguably reflected by its more pronounced appearance in the Beats commercial, although the music only exists briefly at the end compared to the continuous presence in the TBS commercial. The track thus has a strong dramaturgical presence, and it creates a sonic rupture that calls for attention. This effect is enforced by the fact that the track is played at a higher, continuous volume compared to the TBS commercial. This difference can of course be explained diegetically — the music is experienced differently when heard in headphones — but it also points to the distinct functions of the music in the commercials: In the Beats’ commercial, “Play Ball” not only indicates but empowers a psychological transformation. It is not just a call for action but an agent of change. Furthermore, the commercial obviously refers to widespread media images of athletes arriving at a stadium wearing headphones; however, it also indicates a relationship between sports and music that is significantly different from the media’s typical usage of music, specifically, the use of music as a psychological tool for performance enhancement [15]. This aspect is emphasized by the track’s diegetic status as part of the film’s narrative universe: it is not an external, extradiegetic component that belongs to the segregated world of media; rather it is directly embedded in the physical and psychological reality of the game.

As regards the organization of musical elements, the track is obviously cut short in both videos to fit the given time frame. However, in addition to the abbreviation, the track is also reorganized: although the music in the commercials plays uninterrupted, the music does not actually match a continuous sequence of 30 seconds from the album version of the track. The two commercials specifically illustrate two reorganizational practices and hence versions, allowing for two dissimilar selections of musical elements and hence possible readings. While the Beats-version of the track is characterized by a linking of elements, the TBS commercial is further marked by a replacement or swapping of elements. The (audio)visual embedment of the song further adds to the track’s potentials of signification. Whereas the ‘TBS-version’ emphasizes the track’s potentials as an accompaniment for collective entertainment and playfulness (e.g. “party time” and “the crowd”), the Beats-version highlights the track’s — and by implication the headphones’ — potentials as a resource and personal soundtrack for individual empowerment, self-seclusion and contemplation. The Beats commercial thus exemplifies what you can do with the music, and what the music can do to/for you. In its emphasis on the introspective potentials of music, the commercial is reminiscent of, for example, the commercials of the Apple “Silhouette campaign” featuring dark silhouetted characters on a tropical coloured background dancing passionately to specific pieces of music while holding a white iPod [11, p. 17]. However, whereas the silhouette campaign positions the music as a resource for “enjoyment” and festive distraction, the Beats commercial positions the music as a resource for “empowerment” alongside the promoted headphones.

The introspective dimension of the Beats commercial is further supported by the ambiguous movements between private and public space. On one hand, the players’ journeys can be interpreted as a transition from the private sphere of their homes (presumably) through a transport setting partly invaded by the public media discourse, to the stadium — an arena of full public display. On the other hand, the journey can be viewed reversely as a movement from the public space of the urban setting through the semi-private space of (listening to) the media discourse to the withdrawal and seclusion into an individual auditory world, accompanied — and created — by the music and message of AC/DC’s track. Thus, with the object sounds as transition markers, the tripartite spatial composition of the narrative in distinct physical settings is accompanied by an auditory development that implies a gradual enclosure of the characters in soundscapes of increasing auditory intensity and personal authenticity. On a more general note, the players’ journey from the hood to the stadium in the commercial’s narrative can be considered to tap into the ideology of the American dream in the discourse surrounding football, where tales of the sport as a catalyst for, or analogy of, the meritocratic transcendence of disadvantaged social (and racial) conditions to fame and glory are concurrent [33].

Conclusions

Musical functions — that is, what music does in a commercial [25, p. 81] — are generally numerous and multifaceted. The adopted text analytical perspective has identified a number of text internal functions that refer to how music operates in relation to its cotexts. The analysis has indicated how the music helps to structure the commercial (episode marker), establish a level of auditory coherence (mimics non-musical sounds), emphasize particular features through detailed synchronization (the solidity of headphones) and encourage specific associations (connections between the headphones and sports; introvert empowerment and authenticity).

Whereas the music does something to the commercial and promoted product, the cotextual embedment of the music also has consequences for the music. Apart from the fact that the commercial promotes the track (which is presented in writing at the end of the commercial), the placement introduces a “production of” a particular version of the track. This commercial “production” is based on 1) a specific, unique selection and combination of musical elements, and 2) a particular cotextualization and association between the musical elements and the rest of the commercial’s audiovisual elements. The latter includes a range of “cross-fertilizations”. Most significantly, on one hand, AC/DC’s music is positioned as a marker of the headphones and NFL football, and it also serves as the symbolic link that connects them. Therefore, due to the (presumably) widespread recognition of the band’s sound (if not the specific track), the commercial stages a ‘second-hand’ reception [32] of the band’s music, which potentially affects the audience’s subsequent experience of the music, associating it with Beats headphones and NFL football. On the other hand, in addition to this more ‘retrospective’ use of the music based on recognition, the commercial provides an introduction to AC/DC to potential new customers who may be unacquainted with the band. This introductory dimension, which is supported by the textual presentation on the screen, reverses the chain of association as the lure of Beats by Dre headphones is utilized to promote the music of AC/DC to newcomers. Additional commercial resources for “cross-fertilizations” include the German car brand BMW, the sports brand NFL (one of the highest-valued brands in today’s commodified sports industry; [26]), and — although partly ironically — The Jim Rome Show.

The placement allows AD/DC(’s track) to tap into sports, which is one of the “most important and influential of contemporary cultural practices” [8, p. 1]. Music has a long history as an important component in the ideological and commercial staging of sport events and dramas in, e.g. radio, television, films, and video games [20]. In recent years, music has been systematically used as a branding tool for an increasing number of sports to create a holistic identification of certain types of music with the sports [19]. Of course, these alliances between music, sports, and media primarily serve commercial and promotional objectives, as big entertainment businesses aim at strengthening their market position by means of synergetic strategies.

Given this background, the music placement in the commercials for Beats by Dre and TBS produces two variants of the track. The TBS placement produces a version of the track that is apt due to the prevalent use of music to propel images and experiences of particular sports events. With its accentuated beats and powerful sound, “Play Ball” is well suited for the typical musical profile of television sports programming: “[N]etwork football themes rely heavily on musical expressions of power that have been traditionally coded as masculine, including militaristic brass fanfares, aggressive distorted guitar playing and similarly bellicose singing and lyrics” [20, p. 218]. In the Beats by Dre commercial, the diegetic introduction of the music places it in a particularly intimate and integrated relationship with the narrative’s allusions to empowerment and performance readiness. Both forms of “sportification” of the music imply that AC/DC’s music has obtained a lucrative outlet in a setting where the band has not previously prevailed. By implication, the whole back catalogue opens up for placements, as the previous music and lyrics of AC/DC also seem readily associable with various types of sports. The placements thus add to the music’s “potential for specific meanings to emerge under specific circumstances” (as mentioned in the introduction).

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The extent to which the placement of “Play Ball” in the Beats by Dre commercial is indicative of an “artistic” use of music is hard difficult to determine definitely. There is no absolute or standard scale available, and contextual indicators can include, for example, audience responses, possible impact on sales, professional critiques and awards, and previous examples. From the present text analytical perspective, perhaps a level of distinctiveness — to indicate if the music use stands out compared to other uses — can serve as a dimension of “artistic” use. However, distinctiveness is not an absolute indicator, as musical uses can be identified as distinctive in one period but non-distinctive in another period, which seems to illustrate a continuing process of (de)familiarization [28] and “rotation of aesthetic norms” [23, p. 51]. Following this perspective, the commercial’s music placement bears marks of distinctiveness as, first, the specific combination of this particular musical brand and the product in a sports setting stand out, as neither music placement nor sports has been a significant part of the history of (the promotion of) AC/DC’s music. This exemplifies that today no commercial alliance between music and non-musical brands is unthinkable — accusations of artists “selling out” seem long gone, whereas artists aiming to “buy in” on brands seem prevalent. Second, and arguably most significantly, the distinctiveness stems from the novel way of placing music in the commercial: Whereas the TBS commercial is characterized by a more traditional (mutual) ‘parasitic’ attachment of music onto the brand (cf. Holt above), the Beats by Dre commercial displays a more complex and facetted, diegetic placement of the music as soundtrack as well as an agent of empowerment. Perhaps this exemplifies an appeal that aims to meet the challenges of what has been considered the “post-postmodern” condition of brands. Surely, the commercial’s appeal is marked by techniques from the postmodern branding paradigm, for example, life world emplacement, idealization of the pursuit of personal sovereignty, and coattailling on the cultural epicentre of sports [13]. However, the original interplay with the Beats brand might allow the music to play a role in creating a world that “strike[s] consumers’ imaginations, that inspire[s] and provoke[s] and stimulate[s], that help[s] them interpret the world that surrounds them” [13, p. 87]. At any rate, the article has indicated that commercials should not only be considered as “containers” for “placing” music and that brands are not only “gatekeepers” for the selection and inclusion of music. Commercials and brands are effectively “co-producers” of (potentials of) musical signification and hence musical brands.

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