Composing a Theme: Premier Hockey Federation Sings a New Song
Boutique agency Audiobrain crafted the league’s anthem for branding and broadcast
There are many pieces of the live viewing experience that sear lifelong memories into the minds — and hearts — of sports fans. Perhaps one of the more underrated elements of madeleine in our collective sports conscious is music.
That is especially true of the sport of hockey, where, just last year, one of the most talked-about storylines of the NHL’s reunion with ESPN was the return of the brand’s iconic theme song.
On the women’s side of the game, the top-flight North American women’s professional hockey league was rebranding itself, and the Premier Hockey Federation (PHF) was looking to bring a fresh audible identity to its newly minted brand.
The PHF turned to the team at Audiobrain, a boutique “sonic-branding” agency based in New York City, to develop a pulsating, energetic theme that would not only accompany the league’s new name and logo but debut on broadcast alongside a season-long live-distribution deal with ESPN in the U.S.
“You have to engage and bring emotion to the consumer,” says Audrey Arbeeny, owner and Emmy-winning executive producer/creative director, Audiobrain. “They have to feel something. I’ve been doing this a really long time, and, when I listen to this piece of music, I get excited.”
The process of developing a sports-television theme is an intriguing one, and, for the team at Audiobrain, it’s one that includes a lengthy research process. Composers consumed anything they could about the league to identify its brand energy. That included watching multiple NWHL (the league’s former name) games, consuming press conference, and talking to key stakeholders in the league: executives, coaches, and players.
“By the time we start writing,” says Arbeeny, “we all sit down, and we say, “What makes this different? What’s going to make this stand out? And that music is so unexpected. It is as strong as any broadcast-brand theme that we’ve ever written.”
According to Arbeeny, the key qualities that were identified — and ultimately influenced the final product — were empowerment, inclusivity, and integrity. The team also aimed for a gender-neutral feel in its use of strings and brass.
“We follow a branding process,” she explains. “There’s a discovery, and there’s research. How is the brand positioning itself, what does it stand for, what are its values, and what are its core attributes?
“We’re not just writing 15 demos and saying, ‘Tell me which one you like,’” she continues. “Every one that we write, every concept that we write, the composers tie it back to what we heard from the brand, and that’s how we get the right characteristics into the sound.”
Audiobrain has quite a legacy in media music and sound effects: its résumé includes some Olympics work for NBC, the Microsoft Xbox 360, and a past edition of the Major League Soccer anthem. The group currently has six award-winning composers on its staff and has been serving the industry for more than two decades.
“I knew not only of Audrey’s [ability] to create and understand music as a business but [her ability to] understand how to use music to brand,” says PHF’s executive media consultant Michael Cohen. “That was important for this project because, as the Premier Hockey Federation enters its seventh season, it’s the most extensive production ever of games being on-air anywhere. We didn’t want to just start and throw these things on a media platform without really starting with ‘What is [the league] supposed to feel like, look like, and, importantly, sound like?’”
In addition to the primary theme, the Audiobrain team also worked closely with Cohen and the broadcast side to develop a variety of teases and bumpers that fit a traditional broadcast package. What will hit viewers’ ears at the top of a game broadcast vs. the open of a league-branded podcast, or when the game goes to a commercial in the middle of the second period, or during a Goal of the Week segment at an intermission break.
The PHF established this theme to be universal, not one designed just for the live game broadcast. This is a theme that will accompany the league in all environments, be it in-venue or on content across social platforms.
“It’s a cohesive, unified communication, which is where all of voice and sound are going now,” says Arbeeny. “It is gigantic.”
The Premier Hockey Federation returns to action on Saturday wen the Metropolitan Riveters visit the Connecticut Whale at 1 p.m. ET and the Buffalo Beauts visit the Toronto Six at 2 p.m. Both games will stream live in the U.S. on ESPN+.