Music is an essential ingredient to every cheer routine. It’s the driving, uptempo force that has become the backbone for some of the sport’s most unforgettable moments. Finding the perfect cheerleading music blend may feel challenging but it’s easier than you think:
Discover how you can choose the perfect cheer music:
Every year, thousands of cheerleading squads grace the regional, national and even world stages, dazzling with complex and intricate routines that leave audiences breathless. Through the magic of YouTube, the most iconic cheerleading sequences live on and continue to inspire coaches and athletes around the world.
An essential part of any cheer routine that wows on that level is the music. When aerial acrobatics are pulled in beautiful synchronicity with the beat that pulses underneath, you hit the sweet spot that will make jaws drop. Therefore, finding the right backing track for your next cheer routine is incredibly important.
With streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music now a part of our everyday lives, our collective exposure to music and the rate at which we consume has increased dramatically over the last half-decade. However, despite the powerful tools you now have at your disposal, choosing the perfect cheer music now means you must wade through more and more possibilities before you settle on the right sonic combo.
Today, I’m going to give you a complete rundown of music selection basics that every cheerleader, coach and manager should keep in mind before you start prepping that new award-winning routine for your next competition:
Don’t Buy Pre-Mixed Cheer Music
Let’s start with what a lot of people think is an easy solution for their cheerleading squads – those pre-mixed tracks you can find online or (gasp!) on CD at certain retail locations.
My advice is simple: Don’t use them.
Generic pre-mixed reworkings of one or several songs are often the cheapest option on the market. In fact, they often double as instrumentals used in Zumba classes and other aerobic workout sessions. However, if your cheer routine is going to get your squad to the next level, you can’t be using a one-size-fits-all solution.
Instead, seek out the original versions of songs you’re looking to use and see how they blend together. Your routine will sound more professional and have a greater sensory impact, all while avoiding the weird re-recordings of vocals and/or instrumentals that you hear on a lot of those remixed tracks. Permissions and restrictions from artists or record labels may need to be considered but, overall, you shouldn’t settle for anything less than the real thing.
Start simple, by creating an ordered playlist and pick out what sequences or vocals would fit best next to each other. If you’re ready to mix those snippets together into one audio file and want to avoid hours spent working with editing software, network with local DJs or producers – they can help make those transitions sound seamless.
Get a Good Quality Digital Download
When it comes to your source material, you need to strive for audio quality that is pristine instead of merely acceptable or, at worst, mediocre.
I’m not saying that any cheer squad would purposely go out and pick lousy-sounding audio for their new routine but, with factors like speaker setups, headphone signal nuance and more playing a part in how peers and judges will consume your cheer music mix, it’s imperative that you always use high-quality material.
That means, first and foremost, avoiding YouTube, Soundcloud or other streaming rips. Not only will the audio files be very compressed and flat-sounding but the act of doing so isn’t legal. Most of those songs can be found elsewhere online as a download; if the search is proving to be a difficult one, try contacting the artist or their reps for more information.
Other streaming services shouldn’t be used as a reliable source for cheer routine music either (especially not during a competition), since reliable WiFi or data connections in certain venues may be hard to find. In general, a 320 kbps MP3 version of your cheer routine’s track should be fine; however, if you can get a WAV or lossless alternative ready for the performance, you’ll hear the difference on a good sound system.
Finally, ensure that you always have the means to play your routine’s mix in any venue by bringing a spare auxiliary chord and backing up the final file on someone’s smartphone or tablet for easy access. Never leave your cheer squad’s music behind.
Take Counts and Timing in Consideration
Most cheerleading and dance routines are done in the “8 count” format, which means that there is a finite number of steps and counts that you can fit into a routine that is between 1:30 to 2:30 in length. Because of this, you need to take the structure and timing of your desired music into consideration.
For younger cheer teams, it’s often best to avoid time signatures that are outside of your traditional 4 beats-per-bar structure – this way, they’ll be able to pick out those counts with ease and let the rhythm in their moves flow naturally. Even for older, more seasoned squads, choosing songs with slightly more left-of-center construction can throw even the most adept cheerleaders off a little bit. Being different and unique is great but doing so to the degree that the music becomes hard to sync up with the routine can be counterproductive.
Also, make sure you have your cheer routine’s time set or at least ballparked before you start looking for music. If you know how many seconds of time you need to fill with music, transitions and even sound effects, it can be a less stressful process when the times comes to whittling down your musical candidates and settling on tracks that enhance your routine instead of detracting from it.
Pay Attention to Tempo
Cheerleading routines are typically done to music that operates at a high tempo (135 bpm or above), which means the acrobatics come fast and furious. If you’re looking to change the pace of your squad’s next performance, you’ll need to take the changes it brings into consideration as well.
For any style of music, you should be wary of increasing or decreasing that standard tempo dramatically, as it will sharply boost or reduce the amount of 8 counts in the routine, thereby changing the structure of any routine you had planned. A higher number of steps could also mean your team needs a longer rehearsal period to get it down pat.
Also, some faster songs won’t sound like they’re playing at a souped-up tempo, while some slower tracks will sound the opposite of downtempo (e.g. - trap, dubstep and other alternative forms of house music). Make sure you listen to any prospective routine inclusions all the way through, anticipate sudden changes in tempo and adjust accordingly.
At the end of the day, BPM should matter less than how well any track selections meshes with your squad and their abilities. The speed or feel of a piece of music should help flesh out your cheer team and brand’s personality and, depending on what genre you end up choosing, tempo could play a big part in accomplishing that.
Balance Hot Pop Music with a Good Fit
The cheer routine music landscape is filled with its fair share of Top40 hits and for good reason. Pop music is instantly identifiable and can be a strong in-point to audience and judge engagement during your squad’s time on stage. However, while it has its place as a genre, pop shouldn’t be the only musical choice you consider.
It all goes back to what I said earlier about your brand’s personality. If your cheer gym’s flavor is specifically stylized and caters to an equally specific audience or community, then altering your song selections and capturing a more unique feel could be in the cards. Sometimes, determining your musical niche is as simple as asking your athletes to submit suggestions or feedback. What do they love listening to? Some of the choices might surprise you.
Speaking of surprise, you can’t be afraid of changing it up and using your routine’s music to play up that emotional element when your performance time comes. Of course, the firepower of your routine must match the potentially unconventional nature of your song choices but, in order to stand out from the pack, thinking outside the box is usually the best medicine. Be original, even if it means thinking outside the pop spectrum.
Pick Music that’s Right for Your Squad
Sometimes, the obvious choice isn’t the right one for your team. Just like the one item of clothing that has become your go-to, a perfect fit can be stumbled across instead of planned or pre-meditated in any way. In this case, you’ll know when you hear it.
I’ve talked about representation in terms of your cheer gym’s brand, but the song choices also need to reflect the distinct personalities of your squad’s members. Your team is the one totally unique, the irreplaceable element you have, so make sure the vibe of your cheer routine follows suit.
The song should stand out but not dominate or take away from the routine too. It’s a complimentary piece instead of the star of the show, so choose wisely in that regard. Most importantly, go with your gut and build your next showstopping piece around those instincts. When it comes to being creative and expressing yourself in the world of cheerleading, those emotional cues are usually the most accurate ones.
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