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Nathan Black and Justin Baker need a nickname. How about “Music Moguls” or “Brothers of Beats” or something? Yea, I’m taking suggestions. Justin and Nathan make up the audio team for the Memphis Grizzlies. The music you hear as you walk into FedexForum for Grizzlies games, or during timeouts, or during the action on the court, it all goes through these two guys. For the first part of this story, let’s get to know Nathan Black.

Nathan Black

Nathan is a Memphian, born and raised right here in the “We Don’t Bluff” city. He went to school at Full Sail University for audio. Black is a freelance audio engineer by day having worked on audio for local movies including “Hustle & Flow” and other Craig Brewer productions. He is one of a few employees who has been here since the beginning days at the Pyramid. Before the Grizzlies came in, Running Pony productions owned the contract to run the audio, video and broadcast needs for the Pyramid. However, when the Grizzlies came in, they had their own A/V team, but Nathan being a DJ around town and freelancing for Running Pony productions, was hired by the Grizzlies to fill their need for a part-time audio engineer in 2001 and has been with them ever since.

Nathan is responsible for managing the pre-game audio, music during timeouts as well as mixing microphones for any speaker, singer, MC, and the house band. In addition, he feeds the radio and television broadcasts for their use on air. While some may look at his position as a DJ, much of his work is tech driven, which makes the job an interesting one to fill if he ever has to miss a game.

Being around for 13 years, Black has many memories of the Grizzlies, however his most memorable one is from last year, where in a tight game, during a timeout, he played Future’s “Go Harder” during a timeout, just after TA checked into the game. During the timeout, Tony was out walking around the huddle instead of inside it (because when does Tony ever stand inside the huddle?) bobbing his head and beating his chest. After that timeout, a defensively focused Allen came up with several loose balls and steals in the subsequent possessions, possibly altering the outcome of the game and sending the Grizzlies to a victory. Tony loved it, the crowd loved it, and Nathan loved it.

As for the crowd, everybody loves good crowds, when the fans are into the game, yelling, screaming, cheering, the audio team feeds off of that energy. When crowds are tired, out of it, bored, the audio team, along with the rest of the game ops crew, will try their hardest to pump in some energy and life.

Nathan has seen those tired, sparse crowds at FedexForum. “You try different things. Some things work better when the arena is full, other things work better when there is a weaker crowd.” But it’s a tricky game. There really is no set formula for Black. “Every year there is new music that comes out so you’re trying some of that, plus mixing in the old stuff, it’s been a process, and I’m constantly learning.”

As he has learned over the years and developed a better feel for the games, Black feels much more confident in his ability to read the crowds alongside the play on the court. As soon as the Grizzlies drop a three bomb, or go on a mini run prompting the opposing team to call a timeout, Black has the music queued, ready to click “play.”

With a background as a Memphis DJ, Nathan keeps up with popular music trends, the local bands and the latest beats. He selects most of the music you hear pre-game and during timeouts, and the others are selected in conjunction with the game ops team for a specific moment. As a team the game ops crew goes through a script, having rehearsed every timeout, anthem, and the halftime show all before the doors open to the public. While it may look like it’s off the cuff (and some is, especially the 4th quarter), there is a lot of preparation that goes into creating the fan experience, music being a large part of it.

Nathan was the one responsible for getting Al Kapone to the game in the playoffs against the Clippers for “Whoop that Trick.” “It all grew naturally from playing the beat, and the crowd started the chant, and I knew we had to get him in here,” Nathan told me. So he made the call, took it to the next level, and well, “the rest is history” as they say.

But what about the song? Is it exclusively for the Clippers? I remember hearing it earlier this season against the Nuggets when we were drubbing them in the first half. Nathan explained, “the song wasn’t intended to turn into ‘Whoop that Clip’ but it just happened that the night it was played, we were playing the Clippers and the crowd made it that.”

I was further told, while it isn’t exclusively for the Clippers, it’s reserved for special moments, to energize the crowd and take them to the next level. That’s #MyMemphis.

If you have additional questions or things you’d like to ask Nathan, you can follow him on Twitter here:

Stay tuned for the other half of the audio team, Justin Baker, who is responsible for all of the music clips and beats you hear during the action on the court, coming next week.

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