I definitely heard AC/DC’s “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Fifth Avenue on Monday. This made me happy. So as college bands gear up for March Madness, the Times takes a look at the set list:
Pep bands may provide the N.C.A.A. tournament’s greatest culture clash — giving a time-warped soundtrack to games that decide this year’s champion.
At last weekend’s Pacific-10 Conference tournament in Los Angeles, Staples Center was periodically filled with horn-tooting variations of songs by Bon Jovi (“Livin’ on a Prayer”), Boston (“More Than a Feeling”), Ozzy Osbourne (“Crazy Train”), the Police (“Message in a Bottle”) and KC and the Sunshine Band (“Get Down Tonight”).
Across the country, during the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden, the well-worn strains of Michael Jackson (“Thriller”), Kansas (“Carry On Wayward Son”), Guns N’ Roses (“Paradise City”) and the Doobie Brothers (“Long Train Runnin’ ”) helped fill the downtime when the court was empty.
It can seem that the pep bands are forever behind the times, playing from song lists borrowed from classic-rock radio stations and wedding-reception D.J.s.
But there is a method to their madness — and to their Madness (“Our House”).
“We try to play songs that not only appeal to the blue-hairs in the crowd, but also to our students,” said Jim Hudson, director of athletic bands at Arizona State.
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Updating the songbook is an annual tug-of-war. Most bands hold year-end votes for band members. At U.C.L.A., the bottom five songs are dropped. Five new ones are added.
“‘Build Me Up Buttercup’ is the most controversial song we have,” said Reesa Jones, the undergraduate teaching assistant leading U.C.L.A.’s band at the Pac-10 tournament. “Some love it, some hate it. Tubas love it, because it’s their one chance for a solo. But a lot of others just hate it.”
U.C.L.A. recently added songs by the Red Hot Chili Peppers (“Can’t Stop”) and Matchbox Twenty (“How Far We’ve Come”). The band also regularly plays the theme song from the 1970s television show “The Jeffersons” (“Movin’ on Up”).
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Choosing the right mix has legal complexities, too. Music is copyrighted, so bands typically cannot simply choose a song and start playing it — although many do.
In theory, bands need to get approval and pay for the rights to use songs. They often start with the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (Ascap) or Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI), which license music and distribute royalties to songwriters and composers. They deal with sheet-music publishers, such as Hal Leonard or Alfred Publishing, which combine to control the majority of the popular-music catalog.
Rights to a song can cost $50 to $350, according to Jeni Paulson, president of CopyCat Music Licensing. Her company, a type of middleman, works with many Pac-10 and Big Ten band directors. They call, usually in the summer after making a wish list for the coming school year, and say which songs they want to use. CopyCat does the research on licensing and returns with a price.
“Not all directors know that they’re supposed to ask permission,” Paulson said.
Some artists and songs are simply off limits. Van Halen’s “Jump” is a popular request, but always denied. So are the works of the composer John Williams, meaning that the familiar chords of “Jaws,” “Star Wars” or “Raiders of the Lost Ark” should not be heard blaring through arenas.