If your exposure to pop music is mostly limited to the things you see and hear on TV, you could be forgiven for thinking that Pitbull's “Bad Man” is a big hit. The Frankenstein’s monster of a song, which features contributions from Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry, Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker and Canadian soul singer Robin Thicke, was featured during Pitbull’s performance at the Grammy Awards in February.
Now, thanks to its status as the official theme song of TNT’s NBA Playoffs coverage, basketball fans will hear the song, or at least snippets of it, approximately 90 bajillion times over the next six weeks, starting Sunday, when the Charlotte Hornets square off against the Miami Heat.
But unlike most songs featured on Grammy telecasts, or many of the songs that have girded NBA Playoffs coverage in the past, “Bad Man” isn’t being pushed on the radio, and it’s not yet a big seller. Instead, it’s a song that was designed to get its featured performers on television.
For Pitbull and his distinguished guests, “Bad Man” is a chance to stay in front of the public for weeks at a time, an exposure vehicle all four headliners welcome, since they all have new albums coming out soon.
“Syncs like these aren’t just looked upon favorably,” said David M. Ehrlich, an entertainment attorney and artist manager. “They’re actively sought. These types of mass media exposure opportunities are like gold.”
Today, television exposure has never been more important to musicians. With radio playlists shorter than ever, and more and more people consuming music served up via Pandora, YouTube and Spotify’s algorithms, any platform that can deliver a musician’s music – or his or her face – to an enormous number of people over and over again is incredibly powerful.
This NBA Playoffs sync is absolutely one of those. Over the next six weeks, TNT will broadcast more than three dozen playoff games, with most of them guaranteed to draw not just NBA junkies but casual fans and homers in some of the largest markets in North America, including Los Angeles, Boston and Toronto.
A good chunk of those people will tune in to dozens of these games, and they will hear “Bad Man” more times than they can count (more on them later). But a much bigger chunk will only watch a couple of games, and TNT would like to greet them with something that sounds and looks familiar. “We want to entertain,” said Drew Watkins, the creative director at Turner Sports responsible for the NBA on TNT. “We don’t want to tailor anything to people who only follow basketball.”
Watkins, along with his predecessor at Turner, have made pop songs an ingredient in their playoff coverage since 2004, a trend that's been followed by everybody from fellow NBA broadcaster ESPN to rival leagues like Major League Baseball. Over the years, the leagues and broadcasters have alternated from rising artists to established ones, and both have seen the lift.
Pitbull last got one in 2014, when his song “Timber” was used for NBA Playoffs coverage, and he let it be known in NBA circles he’d be amenable to doing one again.
To ensure he’d have the inside track, he decided to get as many familiar names and faces into “Bad Man” as possible. The song, produced by Ricky Reed and Tom Peyton, was served up to Pitbull alone, but he decided to have famous rockers lay down parts, and a prominent vocalist sing the hook. Those contributions were all secured separately; the first time the four performers got into the same room was at a rehearsal for the song’s performance at the Grammys.
Cut-and-paste collaborations like “Bad Man” have been standard operating procedure in pop music for years now. And while Watkins was surely drawn to the song's star power, what was most important to TNT was the fact that the song’s four stars were also available for a quick video shoot, a vital ingredient for a network that uses the song in lots of different production and highlight packages.
When Watkins got word that the four of them would be available, that just about clinched it. “That put this song so far ahead that we didn't even really go down the road of lining up other alternatives,” Watkins said.
Whether “Bad Man” appeals to a listener on first hearing or not is one thing. For some NBA die-hards, who look forward to the near-daily smorgasbord of playoff games, the songs TNT and ESPN choose every year wind up becoming a kind of endurance test.
“That’s the dark side of sync,” said Mark Frieser, the founder and CEO of Sync Exchange. “People have discovered your song, and they've discovered it so much they never want to hear it again.”
But to the artists and their managers, a few annoyed NBA junkies are worth the exposure. “If 10 percent [of listeners] are annoyed, but I have a hit,” Frieser said, “I'll take the hit.”