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Behind the playlist: How the Utah Jazz use music to hype up the home crowd

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SALT LAKE CITY — It’s five hours until tipoff time, and Jeremy Castro and Meikle LaHue look out over the seats in Vivint Arena. On Saturday night, the arena was decked out in orange and red to match the Utah Jazz’s special City Edition jerseys and court. On Monday afternoon, though, it was a whiteout: Every seat in the arena had a white Jazz shirt draped over it for that night's game.

“I’ve been to a lot of games,” Castro said. “Saturday night was as fun of an environment as I have ever witnessed. It was unbelievable. And to see the fans get so excited, it was so rewarding.”

The Jazz muscled out a victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder Saturday night, putting them up 2-1 in their first-round playoff series. They fared just as well on Monday night, beating the Thunder 113-96. Castro and LaHue oversee the music that gets played at Jazz games — Castro is the senior vice president of content and entertainment, LaHue is vice president of game experience.

For the fans, music plays a big part in any Jazz home game, especially during the playoffs.

Utah Jazz guard Ricky Rubio (3) salutes the crowd after he is pulled once the game is in hand as the Utah Jazz host the Oklahoma City Thunder for game three of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake on Saturday, April 21, 2018.

Utah Jazz guard Ricky Rubio (3) salutes the crowd after he is pulled once the game is in hand as the Utah Jazz host the Oklahoma City Thunder for game three of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake on Saturday, April 21, 2018.

Adam Fondren, Deseret News

“We live in a community where they go back to when we were in the playoffs 20 years in a row, and Utah and BYU football were at the top of their game,” Castro said. “So they kind of expect every year for us to have the best product possible.”

Though Castro has worked for the Jazz for 11 years, this is his first season helming the team’s in-game playlist. For Castro, LaHue and the Jazz, in-game music has to strike a balance between what the fans, players and owners want. During pregame and halftime warmups, the music is culled from a list of requests from the Jazz’s players. As it gets closer to game time, the music becomes more about fan expectations.

“It’s tricky, because you want to play the right thing at the right time. What’s going on down there reflects what we’re playing, too,” LaHue said, pointing toward the court. “So if everyone’s excited, you’re never going to know if it’s the song or is it just the play?”

During the games, LaHue is near the court, fielding a flood of text messages from various Jazz staff members. Castro tends to sit among the crowd, and helps the audio team make various adjustments on the fly.

The music at Jazz games tends to change over time, in step with what’s happening on Top 40 radio. Some songs, though, are Utah Jazz mainstays. Take Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire.” The Jazz stopped playing it for a short time, but fans and sponsors insisted they bring it back.

“I mean, I covered the team in the ’90s, and ‘Great Balls of Fire’ was always part of it,” Castro recalled. “That’s one of those traditional songs that I think will be with us for as long as we can play it.

“Music is one of those things that you’ll only know that you’re doing a good job when you hear that you’re doing a bad job,” he added.

Castro’s favorite in-game song is Eminem’s “Lose Yourself,” which they recently made the lead-up song for playoff games. LaHue is partial to James Brown’s “Get Up Offa That Thing.”

“I think the end goal is you want the crowd to be the loudest,” she explained. “So you kind of do everything you can video-wise and music-wise so that you could have the crowd take over, essentially.”

The arena’s recent renovation/redesign has also served a unique purpose. Walking in the main entrance, fans are now greeted by a large, open view of the court and seating area, with cheers and music escaping out toward the entrance. It’s not just better aesthetically, but acoustically, too.

“When you don’t have the fan noise bouncing off the ceiling, and it can actually escape out, that’s been a huge thing,” Castro said. “There used to be an echo effect: Whatever would happen on the court would go up to the ceiling, and then bounce down, and you would hear it again.”

If the Jazz lose on Wednesday, they'll return to Vivint Arena for a Game 6. If they win on Wednesday, they'll advance to the conference semifinals. Either way, it means more Jazz home games in the near future. Castro and LaHue will have their work cut out for them.

“No matter what we do in here, everything we do is to support those 12 players and the coaching staff,” Castro said. “We try to get the crowd energized, excited and play the right music and have the right atmosphere so they can play better, and we can hopefully bring a championship here.”

Meikle LaHue, left, and Jeremy Castro look out at the seats at Vivint Arena on Monday, April 23, 2018. The two oversee music for the Utah Jazz's home games.

Meikle LaHue, left, and Jeremy Castro look out at the seats at Vivint Arena on Monday, April 23, 2018. The two oversee music for the Utah Jazz’s home games.

Court Mann, Deseret News