On Friday night I had the rare opportunity to play a pre-game DJ set and throw the ceremonial first pitch for the Los Angeles Dodgers. I’ve played big festivals but stadiums are a whole other beast. The sound is dramatically different, especially when you’re DJ’ing on top of the dugout, and not centered on a stage. Everything echoes and there’s a time-delay with everything, especially when you’re talking on the mic. But what was I going to play? I wanted to showcase my own music, but include one or two crowd favorites that baseball fans would appreciate. I had only 15 minutes to make an impression.
Preparing for the set, I researched all the guilty pleasure stadium anthems: “Zombie Nation” “Seven Nation Army” “Sandstorm” “Calabria” “We Will Rock You” “Rock & Roll Pt 2” What makes these song penetrate our consciousness and stand the test of time? How are instrumentals so effective? They only way to answer this is to break it down into the common elements all of these anthems share. Once you understand what makes these songs tick, there are important lessons to apply to your own music.
1. Simplicity: Very simple drum parts, very simple lyrics, very simple leads using only a handful of notes. Sonically this is the only option because the sounds must travel huge distances. The mix must be open so it can translate over the house system and “bloom” properly, letting all the notes ring out. The rule of three applies here, and I’d even say all successful stadium tracks whittle it down to two. That’s only two distinct musical elements going on at the same time. Any more layers and it gets muddy, complex, and confusing for the crowd. Typically the “hook” is only 2 bars (“Seven Nation Army”) or 4 bars (“Zombie Nation”). Listen to how the different parts take turns in “Rock ‘n Roll Pt 2.” Most stadium songs are reduced to a quick edit that can be squeezed into the game.
2. Participation: Simplicity allows the crowd to participate – singing and vocalizing the bass line of “Seven Nation Army” without knowing any lyrics. Even if you have never heard the song before, the short 2 bar hook allows you to join in quickly. Typically in these songs you’re singing a single melody (not many harmonies going on), doing a chant, or stomping/clapping. You feel obligated to participate – either singing, dancing, or smacking some object, because it’s rewarding and just part of crowd dynamics and human nature.
3. Tone – less important than the first two, but still a common theme. The tone of the song must drive you to move or act. Tempos and genres vary wildly between stadium anthems, but the theme is always important. Even if the song is happy, there’s still a sense of urgency needed to create drama for the game and create that stadium experience.
Make sure to study the examples below. There’s a surprising amount to learn from all of them!
Recap: Recipe for stadium anthems:
– Only two elements playing simultaneously
– Short repetitive hooks
– Sparse mix
– Vocalizations or leads that can be vocalized
– Crowd must be able to participate without knowing the song
– Tone must motivate the crowd
The White Stripes – “Seven Nation Army”
Kernkraft 400 – “Zombie Nation”
Gary Glitter – “Rock ‘N Roll Pt 2”
Darude – “Sandstorm”
Enur feat Natasia – “Calabria”
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