Walk-Up Revolution: Royce Clayton’s Pitch to Change MLB At-Bat Music
Imagine, at the start of each day, if your favorite song dropped the moment you stepped through your office door. Heads would turn, keyboards would stop clacking and your boss would finally get around to approving your vacation days.
Unfortunately for us, the privilege of walk-up music is reserved for professional wrestlers, brides and baseball players, the latter of whom draw inspiration from pre-selected tunes played during their (now brisker, given baseball’s new rules) walk to home plate. But Royce Clayton, an ex-player who had grown tired of baseball – and who once played another player, Miguel Tejada, in the movie version of Moneyball – isn’t content to hear the same recycled arena rock on his visits to the ballpark. He worries that the game is getting stale. Boring, even.
“We’re losing kids to other sports,” the former All-Star says.
His solution: customized walk-up songs, produced through his company MUSIQ Locker.
While walk-up music may seem like mere fluff – little more than added musical entertainment for the audience – many players take their song selections very seriously.
“A lot of it is preparation – there are certain things that inspire you, that can trigger focus, whether it’s the rhythm or lyrics,” says Clayton, who used songs like LL Cool J’s “Rock the Bells” and 2Pac’s “California Love” as at-bat music during his 17-year career. “Music moves people in all different ways, and it doesn’t change when it comes to baseball walk-up songs.”
As his playing career wound down in 2007, Clayton started considering his options. Recognizing the potential to merge baseball with other forms of entertainment, he began mulling how he might combine the game he loved with his passion for music. During celebrity softball games and appearances with buddies Snoop Dogg and LL Cool J, the wheels started spinning.
“I struck up conversations with LL and Snoop and talked about how I’d used their songs in the past, and they were aware of the walk-up song situation,” Clayton says. “They were pumped that their songs were being used.”
Although Clayton had put a lot of thought into his choice of songs as a player, he knew little about the logistics of song rights and licensing.
“I was curious, how does a guy like Trevor Hoffman use ‘Hells Bells‘ for 20 years?” he says.
Clayton set out to better understand the way the music industry works, learning how artists earn payment through contracts with publishers tasked with distributing their clients’ music. MLB players could choose their song from the massive libraries licensed by the publishers to the league, but Clayton wanted to find a way to change the equation.
“As long as we’re marketing and promoting this music, it’d be cool if, first off, we had more involvement with the song and if it was more branded towards us,” he says. “And secondly, it would be cool if we could figure out a way to monetize it for the players.”
In 2013, this brainstorm led to the formation of MUSIQ Locker, which inked an exclusive deal with the MLB Players Association to produce custom walk-up songs for every interested major leaguer. Clayton’s company recently finished producing songs for Chris Carter and Jimmy Rollins, and has tunes for David Ortiz, George Springer, Mike Trout and Michael Brantley in the pipeline.
“I think,” Clayton says, “we can be a key influence in making the game cool again.”