Monday, August 12, 2013

Daily Show and Trends of News Music

Recently, John Oliver of the Daily Show took on the use of music on news shows, especially CNN. The trend, he explains, is for cable news shows to run dancy, beat-driven background music on top of serious stories. Here's the clip (4.5 minutes):

Oliver's argument hinges on two ideas: 1) musical appropriateness, something that we take for granted and is actually very subjective; and 2) hearing background/foreground, meaning that our minds can determine that the spoken words are more important than their surrounding music.

On musical appropriateness, have these programs (in Oliver's words) "sucked the weight out of news" by using this music? Well, given our cultural connection with the type of music played, this is probably the case (and both the songs we heard on the "Rock Block" were definitely pop and not actually rock music). On the other hand, this type of music fits the aesthetic of CNN's morning show, which is all about being upbeat and full energy.*

On background/foreground, having music that can support words, say in a movie where someone is giving a stirring speech, can add weight to a message. But it's also possible to have music that's overpowering or distracting so much that it takes away from the message. What about Oliver's examples? I think their ability to be backgrounded differed in each case. Some of the music played, though beat-heavy and perhaps not the appropriate moods, was very easily backgrounded. The backgrounded music had thin textures and usually did not have words. Were any of those example soundtracks cacophonous, as Oliver claims? Well, some of them (especially those with words) competed for our attention perhaps too much, but for the most part, I would say they weren't just noise that was thrown out there; instead, they were an attempt at painting a certain aesthetic. Perhaps the mixture of the music and speaking might be labeled cacophony All the same, the "Marching Band News You Can Barely Hear" is pretty funny, because that music and visual is not easily dismissed.

Perhaps these cable networks need to hire a better music supervisors/librarians, which I guess is not on the top of company's most wanted lists. As we see here, however, these positions can make a difference.

What do think? Was this music inappropriate, or competing with our attention with the news? Or are these music supervisors doing a good job? Should morning news shows just not share depressing news?

As always, please come over to the blog to leave comments! Also, I've been ramping up my musical tweeting, so if you want a piece of that action, follow me at @SignifyingSound.

Vocab: beat driven, cacophonous

*On the other hand, one might argue that the Daily Show's sarcastic style sucks the weight out of news. I think Oliver would argue that what they do actually adds weight to the news—they are truth tellers in a world of spin.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. My favorite intentional use of inappropriate music comes from this scene in Veronica Mars