‘Where Amazing’ NBA Commericals Happen
DJ Steve Porter talks about the electric commercials he creates for the NBA.
by Kyle Stack / @NYsportswriter
Not every NBA fan gets the opportunity to work on an advertising campaign for the League during its climactic event–the Finals. Steve Porter is one who has received that opportunity partly based on his work from Press Hop, which is the sports press conference-inspired YouTube video in which various players and coaches have their memorable quotes meshed together in a musical theme.
Porter, a Celtics fan who grew up in Amherst, Mass., is a decorated electronic music producer who’s created a production company, Porterhouse Media, and who has created video remixes to promote new seasons of NBC sitcoms Scrubs and Community. The 11 video remixes he’s created for the NBA to throughout the 2010 postseason has taken his star to a new level. Porter spoke with SLAMonline via phone to discuss the development of his NBA commercials:
SLAM: Did you consider that the Press Hop video would serve as a launching pad into other sports videos?
Steve Porter: Not at all. I was just going about a way creatively, just taking my sports technique to the sports market. I had already been doing some other stuff and I decided to just start tackling sports and trying to integrate sports and music with these video clips. That’s just me being creative; I had no idea it would explode the way it did.
SLAM: Were you cracking up while compiling the Press Hop video?
SP: Yeah, that’s what kind of gets lost in time. Sometimes this has to be about having fun. I had an incredible experience working on all these NBA ads detailing a cool story but with Press Hop, that was just having fun and still making a captivating track. There’s some humor there, with the stuttering with Jim Mora. That [video] was me in my sweet spot. It was about making cool music but also showing I have a light heart as well.
SLAM: I feel like people might know you better for the NBA videos since that has more visibility–on TV and on the Internet–whereas Press Hop is more viral-based.
SP: [Press Hop] will always be what it is. I’m thinking about what a Press Hop 2 would be like. I have been mulling that around and working on a few ideas. I’m taking a little breather here. That’s on the top of my mind.
SLAM: What were your goals for the NBA videos?
SP: The main goal is to make engaging commercials for the people who are watching the games and TV. To lure them in and captivate them during those 30 seconds and to entertain them. The goal is to have them engaged for 30 seconds and try and make cool music out of the content from the NBA. We’re taking press conference clips that are sometimes cool but sometimes a little dull. We’ve put in a little spice to turn them into these tracks. Visually, you want to make it strong. You want to make sure you have the right plays. It takes a lot of work to find the right clips, the right dunks, the right assists and steals and blocks to utilize it. We’re talking about defense, it took some work to find the clips of the guys playing defense. There’s a visual and audio component to it. The most important part is the 30 seconds you have to hook people in and get the point across.
SLAM: Did you ever look at some press conference clips and wonder how you’re going to make any of them interesting from a musical standpoint?
SP: Yeah, I’m not going to lie, some players are natural born stars in front of the microphone and some are a little bit more challenged. We want to focus on as many teams and have as many players to feature as possible, but some players talk a lot more than others. We definitely picked from the winning teams. After a win, players sound more confident and exciting. After a loss…those samples after a loss are pretty dull.
SLAM: Did your perception of press conference quotes change as you worked on these videos?
SP: Definitely, my ear has become so much sharper as this campaign has gone on. By creating these videos, it’s like you hear something and you say ‘that’s a great hook.’ You just know that word is going to roll off the tongue and really going to punch through to what you can use. You start to look under different stones and creatively you stretch it out a little bit. You know where you can go and you know what will work. The muscles inside the brain definitely got a lot stronger as it went along.
SLAM: What were the influences for choosing background music for each video?
SP: That was the most challenging part. I was brought on on the basis of finding my viral videos. I was operating on my basic instincts as far as being a producer, on where to go. As we go along, it’s like you’re creating an album. You don’t want to create the same thing over and over again. In that sense, I pushed the boundaries farther than I ever expect for [choosing music]. These are videos are quite different from each other and from Press Hop, so it’s been a journey through sound, for sure.
SLAM: Are you given creative freedom in terms of what music to choose?
SP: Yeah, I’m basically the maestro of the project. I’m not the only person. I’m working directly with Goodby Silverstein, the NBA’s advertising company, and Brickyard FX. Goodby Silverstein are the ones who brought me on their creative team, saw what I was doing and pitched my stuff to the NBA. From that point on, we’ve all worked as a team. But yet there is a creative team that I was working with that let me know which videos were and weren’t working. I have 10 or 11 unused, B-reel tracks that didn’t make the cut.
Some of those are definitely not as good [as the videos that made the cut]. I think a lot was that they might be good but they’re not different. We’re trying to make every video different. There are some that are slamming and pretty pumping that we could use, but we didn’t because we’re trying to create an album. It’s trying to create something with a lot of different colors and themes and show as much variation as we can rather than pitching the same pumping hip-hop track.
SLAM: What’s the difference in capturing the interest of a viewer in these 30-second spots versus capturing the interest in someone with a track that can be several minutes long?
SP: In 30 seconds, you basically have no time. Every frame matters. You get 20 full frames per second and every single frame matters. I didn’t think of frames before this and now I’m thinking of every moment and every blink of an eye matters in 30 seconds. That includes the music, as well. You have to think inside a tin can as far as creatively you can’t build things out the way you normally build them out.
SLAM: What’s the process in determining what video clips are used?
SP: You’re always looking for the ‘hero’ clip. You’re looking for the home run. And you know when you find it. I was digging around YouTube last September and Magic Johnson, that commercial one with the “Get back into the game” line…that one I heard Magic speak, he said that and I was like “Oh, that’s awesome.” You just know when you have it. If you don’t have that, you have to keep digging for it. [A commercial] isn’t interesting unless [you have] that vocal hook.
SLAM: Do you work alone?
SP: I’m doing everything solo. The whole NBA project has been solo on my mind. I travel a lot to San Francisco with my laptop and my headphones and all my music. I have a company, Porterhouse Media. We facilitate all this stuff. We’re a multimedia company doing all this kind of stuff but the NBA project I basically just took it on by myself.
SLAM: How long does each video take from start to finish?
SP: It depends. The creative process can go either way. You can have something that within an hour have 80 percent of what’s going to be the song. I look it as going to the record store and going through samples, you find that killer disco record, you play it back and you have a disco track. Once you find it, it’s up to you to build that track. If you have a sample, that’s a great source of inspiration in itself.
SLAM: Is there an individual expression in your work that parallels the individualism of basketball?
SP: For sure. There are definitely a lot parallels for me. I had a half-court outside my house when I was a kid. I’ve been a huge fan of NBA basketball all my life. I’m from outside of Boston so it’s really hard not to be. There are a lot of parallels for me, being influenced by NBA campaigns from past years. And being influenced by the [way] the players carried themselves, the confidence they exude…I definitely try to punch that through when picking the spots [for the videos].
SLAM: What’s been the most rewarding part of this experience in working on an NBA ad campaign?
SP: It’s just been amazing. I’ve had to pinch myself the entire way. I hope that it’s something I can look back on years from now and go “Wow, I can’t believe that actually happened.”
SLAM: What do some of your peers–DJs and producers–think of the campaign?
SP: It’s interesting because I come from the club DJ scene. I think it caught people off guard. They were like, “Oh, wow, I had no idea you were doing that.” It’s interesting for them to see what I’m doing. There are so many new people aware of what I’m doing now that I have a different following based on this. There’s been more recognition of my work. I’ve had an interesting career with my club DJing and this is sort of a new phase of my life.
SLAM: In a Bleacher Report article, you were saying that as a musician, you have to work on projects beyond just making an album.
SP: I really believe that. My parents were always lighting a fire under me. Nothing is guaranteed in life. You have to be as creative as you can be. In this day and age, music has a different meaning as opposed to 10, 20 years ago because the industry has changed so much. You have to be as creative as possible, not only musically but how you market it and what in-roads you choose to put your music in.
SLAM: How do you establish a rhythm once you find the quotes you want to use on each commercial?
SP: I certainly want to come up with an idea of whether it’s going to be a slower beat or a faster beat. This is kind of a technical thing but when you’re working within 30 seconds you only have so many options to make. If you start the beat on the first second and you go all the way to 30 seconds, that rhythm might not end at a symmetrical time. There are certain tempos that work for a 30 second ad better than others. You can get an idea about what you want and you basically come up with a beat. I just sit there with a beat machine and just come up with one and have some basic hooks and vocal samples. I try to build the baseline around any samples I use.
SLAM: And you have to time the beat with a player’s movement in the clip, right?
SP: The challenge is just being meticulous. If a guy is hitting the backboard and the beat doesn’t match [that movement], you just have to meticulous. Your visual has to be as tight as your audio. Sometimes these sound effects are in the ads where the sound of a dunk would be where the beat hits. You have to make sure the visual of the dunk meets the sound of the beat. Otherwise, it looks a little wompy.
SLAM: Do you have a favorite moment from any of the videos?
SP: They’re all so different; it’s kind of like having 11 children and picking your favorite. Of my favorite or most proud of is the Dream one that’s on right now. I was a big fan of the ‘clutch’ line. It was a like a climax for me in that it had a pumping attitude and a dramatic theme to it.
SLAM: I like the ‘Amazing is the Dream’ spot. Watching that makes me realize the magnitude of the Finals and all the great moments from the past.
SP: Yeah, that was my goal. That was the most emotional of the pieces as far as the scoring and the music. It was a shot in the dark. I wasn’t sure if that was going to be the right direction for the piece. It works great with the [NBA] legends on top of it. I feel like you’re feeling the nostalgia already with the all the classic clips and an emotional score over it.
SLAM: On the ‘Where Defense Happens’ spot, did that De-fense chant at games just automatically make sense as a possible hook?
SP: In conversations, I asked what if we created a modern-day ‘Defense’ chant instead of just the drum [that's used to spur the chant]. Why don’t I just get a beat and get coaches and players saying ‘defense’ and why don’t I just use that two-tone defense melody? It was really simple and archaic but it was fun.