Since the 19th century and the advent of organized sport, cheerleading has been a way for fans and students to show their school spirit and pride. The organization of dedicated students cheering for and supporting their fellow student-athletes has an almost 200-year-old history. However, cheerleading was an almost exclusively male activity until the last 70 years.
That all changed during the 1940s, where World War II required that most collegiate age men be involved in the war effort, and cheerleading became a primarily female sport. The arrival of women as the primary athletes involved in cheer meant new choreography and dance as part of the crowd appeal. That meant incorporating music into cheerleading routines.
By the 1970s, professional squads like the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders began performing during the Superbowl. Their high-energy routines, based exclusively on dance, were a huge hit and brought the dance element of cheer into the forefront, trickling into high school and college cheer squads. The nascence of competitive cheer in the late 1970s amplified the importance of dance, and along with that the importance of cheerleading music more broadly.
Different performance venues require different music
Sideline cheer focuses primarily on band dances, with the marching band providing the soundtrack. A few teams might occasionally bring a loudspeaker system and perform to recorded music, but the majority of the performances are to live music. At pep rallies and competitions, however, the music has transitioned almost exclusively to recorded music, with energetic mixes of independently recorded tracks mixed together. In the last decade, the laws governing music licensing have been more rigorously enforced in cheer, making it necessary to either get permission from the recording artists, or use a company which has secured those permissions to provide the music.
Modern cheer music is critical to locking in the best possible performance from the athletes on the floor. The use of custom cheer songs and voice-overs allow cheerleaders to create energetic and intricate routines that showcase a variety of skills. Tumbling, stunting, and dance are all essential elements, and each one requires music which highlights the unique stylistic requirements and syncopation of that particular section.
How cheer music transforms the visual experience
When a team is doing synchronized running tumbling, where multiple athletes are performing dangerous skills in intricate patterns at high levels of speed, the tempo and energy of the music in that part of the routine needs to reflect the challenge of those skills. Sound effects highlighting twisting skills are different from the ones that highlight skills that do not twist. Selecting music that both captures the frenetic energy of the section while also emphasizing the most important elements is important not only to invigorating the athletes as they perform, but also enhancing the experience for the audience and judges watching the performance. The same is true for stunting and dance: the best cheerleading music will enhance the visual experience of the routine in a way that results in greater enthusiasm from the audience and higher scores from the judges.
How cheer music transforms the experience for the performers
The right cheerleading music does more than put critical moments of a cheerleading routine into proper focus. The best cheer music inspires the athletes performing the routine to give their maximum effort. Music that captures the spirit and energy of a squad can help to lift the entire team, breathing new life into their execution. When the music speaks to the athletes of any sport it can help them accomplish their goals, but the perfect cheer mix can be transformative, making their exhibition more attention-grabbing and dynamic. Music tells a story, and when the music and the story are in effortless alignment, it results in a similarly effortless show.
Synchronization of movement and music has been shown in physiological research to reduce fatigue and push athletes beyond their normal capacity. Having custom music makes the routine’s soundtrack more than just a storytelling experience, it makes the music a possession of the athletes, something they can own. The opportunity to demonstrate that ownership, and pride in the music can inspire a team to reach new levels. Finding that new level music can increase athlete confidence, and a confident team that can execute a mistake-free performance is a team that will do well on the scoresheet.
Music can set the pace and the stage for a cheerleading routine. The right music can give the athletes performing it confidence and inspiration. Having music that is uniquely tailored to the style and attitude of the team can make that music a source of identity and pride. Combining all those elements with the perfect cheer music track is central to a perfect performance and higher scores.