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How Music is Used by Performance Sports

A multi million dollar lawsuit against the Cheerleading industry in the USA from Sony Music in 2014 highlighted the issue of copyright infringement and the difficulties faced by sports when trying to license music to use as part of their routines.

Yet the performance sports market is one that is still largely not addressed as a new revenue stream by the music industry.

What is Performance Sport:

As a brief introduction, a performance sport is any sport or activity where music is intrinsic to the performance itself; this includes figure skating, gymnastics, cheerleading, fitness and dance to name just a few.

Rights Needed:

Each of these sports use different genres of music in different ways, but all require the same set of principal music rights, which are in addition to the usual ‘pubic performing rights’ needed by the venues where the routines are carried out, and already handled by collecting societies;

Adaptation: To create a “mix” of various tracks to perform to, possibly changing the BPM and adding additional voiceovers, beats and sound effects. The Marching Arts, such as drum corps and marching band, require arrangement and sheet music rights for compositions to suit the particular orchestration of instruments in each group.

Choreography: To be able to put a choreographed routine to the music they’re licensing.

Create Copies: To make and distribute copies of the mix to members of the group / team for practice purposes.

How Music is Selected:

One thing that makes performance sports unique, and creates a level playing field for the music industry, whether they are a major with chart topping success, or an indie focused on building the reputation of their roster, is that it works thematically. Each competitor will decide on a theme for their routines and will look to license music that fits with that, regardless of whether it is a well known track or not.

Example Characteristics of Music Use in each Sport:


The Cheerleading market possibly requires more tracks in their mixes than most sports,with each team typically using 6-8 tracks in a routine that are used to identify and highlight the different sections of the routine via music changes. They look for different genres to fit with the spirit of each section.

Varying from high energy hip hop or mainstream/traditional pop for their openings and final dance, fast paced indie or rock tracks that accompany their running tumble skills, to massive ballads for memorable pyramid stunting.

Jump Rope

Jump Rope competitors look to use a similar high energy mix of music for their routines, whether that’s in their duo sections which utilises hip-hop, pop or pop-punk to highlight their choreography, jumps, and timing, EDM to showcase their individual freestyle ability, or sometimes a bit of old fashioned rockabilly or rock’n’roll during double dutch sections.

More established sports

By contrast, the world of figure skating and artistic swimming have traditionally used more single piece classical or instrumental tracks to showcase the various lifts, jumps and choreographed partner work, in no small part to avoid the copyright issues inherent in using popular tracks.

Now, though, more and more competitors in these sports are looking to join in with the latest trend that gymnastics has been active in, by using more modern music.

For more information and background see our earlier blog ‘Via Dennis's Black excellence UCLA Floor Routine’:

In particular singer/songwriter pop songs that are instantly recognisable, enhancing the enjoyment of their athletes which comes across to the audience and judges as they compete in their routines.


The world of Dance is incredibly diverse with various verticals that require a whole range of very specific genres of music to perform to, from regional specific salsa for its own namesake in the sport world, rockabilly that’s utilised by rock’n’roll, to relaxed singer songwriter tracks that help accompany lyrical routines.

Online Events

So far we have dealt with how teams need to use music. But when teams go to competition, a whole new set of rights come into play if the organisers of the competition want to maximise the online engagement of their event.

The trend to live stream events and create catch-up video on demand content was certainly evident before Covid, but was given a tremendous boost by the pandemic. Its here to stay, as competition organisers and governing bodies look to increase participation and online reach in this digital word.

Event organisers need to ensure that everyone competing has licensed the rights needed for their routine. Once this is in place, they can then license the commercial live stream and / or video on demand rights they need.

For more information and background see our earlier blog ‘Easily License Music for Live Streaming and Video on Demand’

In Summary

There is no doubt that music and sport combined together form an intoxicating mixture, that each elevates the other to new heights.

Our earlier blog ‘Music is a Performance Enhancing Substance - and its mostly legal’ explains more:

Performance sports are a large potential target for music rightsholders, and sports governing bodies want to license music.

But both sides need a low-friction mechsim that they can use to access the huge number of licenses that are needed each year - ClicknClear estimates about 1 BILLION licenses are needed each year when fractional ownership publishing is taken into account.

That’s why we’ve created a tech-enabled channel that aggregates all the content, rights, and worldwide demand in one online marketplace, and offers online tools to manage licenses plus verify and report usage to help event organisers and governing bodies easily navigate the complexities of music licensing of the specialist rights they need.

This provides a high value-added channel for rights holders to address this large new market for music licenses.

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