Network News Music is dedicated to preserving news themes and promoting a greater level of appreciation and understanding of the art of news theme music. This website features news theme music from the broadcast networks, much of which has never been heard in its entirety. In an effort to highlight the wonderful qualities of the music and its composers, you can listen to the music in the way it was not intended to be heard: without voice-overs or fade outs to commercial.

Most people don’t consciously listen to the theme music that newscasts use. But it does register on an unconscious level. Without a viewer realizing it, the theme music communicates a lot about the newscast that it introduces. Compositions that make heavy use of synthesizers tend to remind us of tabloidy and sensational news, while we associate big orchestras and a classical sound with serious and substantive journalism. So even though the average viewer might let theme music play by unnoticed, network news executives spend a lot of time and money on getting it ‘just right’.

Why I started Network News Music

The reason that I started Network News Music on January 27, 2002 was simple. I wanted to showcase the most memorable news theme music of the past and present. Having grown up watching a lot of news with my parents, I did notice the music. It was always very easy to hum along to, yet sounded powerful, authoritative and classy. It was too bad that a lot of news music is forgotten after it leaves the air or – worse – original reels get destroyed.

What I noticed when I built the site was that a lot of people also appreciated news music. All the e-mails I get each week suggest that there are quite a few viewers out there who develop an emotional connection with the music. Unexpected, but perhaps not strange. Music conveys emotion really well and the news – especially big events – is usually an emotional ordeal. The news is often about life and death, winning and losing. So the music they heard for so many years on television brings back a certain feeling; something that reminds them of a time that has passed.

Why do newscasts need a theme?

Over time I have had the opportunity to speak with composers and people in charge of selecting music for TV newscasts. I found it fascinating to learn how and why it is used. The primary reason: brand recognition. You know you’re watching ABC News when you hear the four-note signature that used to open every single one of their programs. But it’s also used to grab the attention of viewers and tell them something important is on, hence NBC Nightly News’ opening brass horns, which will command attention no matter what you’re doing. And finally, theme music is a tone-setter

Over the years, the style of news music has changed since the 70’s, when network newscast started using custom music. For one thing, cues have gotten shorter and shorter. Due to the networks’ focus on the younger demographics with their notoriously short attention spans, long opens and closes are a thing of the past. Yet while those cues are getting shorter, we are hearing more and more music. Lots of bumpers, promos and segment opens are now accompanied by music. When John Williams composed the theme music for NBC News in 1985, it consisted of a mere 19 cues. When James Horner composed the theme for CBS News in 2006, it consisted of hundreds of cues. If anything, it illustrates how the times have changed.

While news music has followed some of the trends of contemporary music, network news has been able to resist the influence from local and cable news to sound tabloidy, overly urgent or just generic. Network news themes still embody a certain quality and classiness.

A focus on quality

Achieving that quality is possible because networks still have relatively big budgets for their theme music. Granted, due to increased competition those budgets aren’t what they used to be. But the budgets leave room, for example, for the use of real instruments (or entire orchestras) as opposed to just synthesizers with a few live instruments (as is customary for local news themes).

Great compositions, however, require more than money; they require talented composers. And the best are selected by holding auditions before commissioning a theme. So the composers featured on this website are at the top of their field. These composers work hard to compose a great theme because they know that on a network, their theme is highly visible—potentially the entire nation gets to listen to their music. So composing a network theme is a prestigious gig.

It’s for these reasons that network news themes are often sophisticated compositions which can stand the test of time. In fact, I believe some to be absolute masterpieces! And, as such, they and their composers are deserving of a little bit of the limelight. Network News Music is a one of its kind website that gets about 200 visitors a day and over the years I have helped several reporters and journalists with information and analysis for pieces on news theme music. Thereby I hope to give the music and its composers part of the limelight they deserve.