Before Ben Carson uttered a word at his 2016 presidential campaign kickoff, a gospel choir belted out the national anthem and a rendition of Eminem’s 2002 hit-single “Lose Yourself.” The Detroit Music Hall crowd went wild.
It wasn’t a typical start to a campaign, and that was the point. “We were trying to show that we were different, we were not the establishment. We wanted people to walk away saying ‘Wow, that was so un-Washington’,” Doug Watts, Carson’s communications director said, recalling how he, campaign manager Barry Bennett, and campaign strategist Ed Brookover spent nearly a full day brainstorming before hitting on the idea to ask the Detroit-famous gospel choir Selected of God to play a starring role.
Not every 2016 candidate created quite that much of a spectacle with a campaign launch. But as White House contenders work to win over the American public, they aren’t leaving anything to chance. That means painstaking deliberation, stressing, and strategizing over every last detail of a candidate’s image—including picking the perfect soundtrack.
The right song can deliver a message, leaving it stuck on loop in the minds of voters. Music sets the tone at campaign rallies and provides a backdrop for videos, television, and radio advertising churned out by the campaign. But there are pitfalls too: Fail to check the right boxes, and you could end up with an angry pop-artist publicly dragging your campaign through the social media mud, or threatening to sue.