The People Behind Hurricane Sandy’s Soundtrack

Ocean surface winds for Hurricane Sandy observed on Oct. 29. Colors indicate wind speed and arrows indicate direction Photograph by ISRO/NASA/JPL-Caltech

At this point in the endless news coverage of Hurricane Sandy, we’re all familiar with the swelling, emotional orchestral works that play over montages of the devastating destruction. So where does that music come from? TV studios, of course, don’t have orchestras in their production rooms. Instead, they download event-appropriate tracks from music libraries, such as New York’s Audio Network, which services media globally, including Bloomberg.

Bloomberg Businessweek tracked down Chris Egan, a London musician who in 2009 co-wrote Flying Fortress, one of the tracks Bloomberg Television has been using for Hurricane Sandy reports.

“When we composed the piece, we thought about the following images: military, warfare, devastation. Sadly, Sandy falls into the last part,” he writes in an e-mail. “When writing production music, we always have a very clear vision of the mood and emotion we are trying to portray with the track. … Otherwise, you just end up with generic music that doesn’t do anything.”

News producers working on hurricane stories may have found tracks by searching under such keywords as “urgent, news, tension,” Audio Network spokesperson Kristen Harold explains. For aftermath stories, they might search under “sad, reflective, orchestral.”

At Audio Network, downloads of tracks in the news and current affairs genre during the hurricane increased 200 percent to 300 percent, to more than 10,000, says Harold. “This has certainly been the biggest news event for us this year,” she says.

According to Miami musician Tim Devine, one of Audio Network’s most-used composers, “news networks use a somber tenor, or an inspirational tenor if it’s a tale of survival,” he says. “Obviously, with something as terrible as a hurricane, you can’t be flip with the music—it has to be meaningful, but not take over the story.”