I haven’t seen much action on your site in a while. Are you folks still up and running?

We are! Typically we take a two-year hiatus after the general election has concluded. However, we are now gearing up for 2024 and plan to roll out in early November.

What is campaign music?

For the purposes of our project, we define “campaign music” as any type of music (vocal or instrumental, preexisting or newly composed) that is used in association with a presidential campaign. Campaign music can be created or disseminated by the official campaign, celebrity endorsers, political organizations, parties, or the public. 

What is the Trax Database?

The Trax on the Trail team searches the Internet for campaign music in its many iterations and catalogues it right here in the Trail Trax database. Our database allows you to research the music strategy of a particular candidate, create a snapshot of the soundscape on a given day, examine the evolution of the soundscape over the course of the election, or even create a catalogue of sounds heard in a particular city. Search filters allow you to narrow your search according to campaign, candidate, genre, and type of music. The results of your search can be displayed in table or map view (available for 2020 only).

What types of music do you catalogue?

Here are some examples of campaign music located by the research team:

mock or parody advertisement – Video segments created by a person or group unaffiliated with the campaign which mimic the aural and visual rhetoric of their official counterparts. These are often on websites like CollegeHumor or YouTube. When a genre is indicated in the database, the genre listed is in reference to the original tune. 

newly composed song – a song created for a specific candidate, party, or issue, usually with a candidate- or campaign-specific text. These may be solicited or unsolicited by the official campaign.

Ex: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wi1VbF8O4MA

parody song – A song that features a preexisting tune set to a candidate-, issue-, or party-specific text. These can be created by official campaign teams or unaffiliated persons/groups.

Ex: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SrEmQk3u88U

Ex: https://twitter.com/TheDailyShow/status/656248787459960836

preexisting song – An unaltered popular song already known to the public that is used in various campaign contexts, typically rallies, conventions, and campaign stops.

underscore – Background music, usually instrumental. Underscore is typically used in advertisements and candidate videos. In most instances, titles and composers cannot be identified. 

songify – A remixed version of a candidate’s speeches or appearances used as the foundation for a new musical composition.

Ex: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V5n7FbQ5I2U

impromptu chant – Moments at live campaign events where citizens musicalize the candidate’s name or voice support for a concept. Collective rhythm is key here.

How do you find out what music the candidates are using?

We follow what the candidates are using by following their official media, but we also investigate other types of musical activity on the trail. The Trax on the Trail research team runs regular searches on user-generated content sites such as YouTube, music streaming sites such as Spotify, and candidate websites. The team also makes use of research tools such as Google Alerts, LexisNexis, and Factiva, and the social media management system Hoot Suite. C-SPAN is great for locating videos of live events such as rallies. Where possible, we try to locate video clips of the music we catalogue in our database. While we keep our feelers out for the musical activities of all declared candidates, media chatter tends to focus on those most likely to make the cut. Our database reflects this reality.

Here is a list of some of the events, media types, and platforms where we find campaign music:

advertisement – An informational audio or video segment designed to sell a candidate, attack a candidate, or highlight an issue; usually financed by the official campaign, party, or a PAC (political action committee). 

Ex: https://www.facebook.com/realbencarson/videos/vb.138691142964027/538996192933518/?type=3&theater


  1. A playlist created by a candidate and shared with the public via a music-streaming platform such as Spotify. These lists may be the candidate’s personal music choices or compilations of music that they use at live events. 

Ex: https://play.spotify.com/user/hillaryclinton/playlist/43JJ50RsHoyUXj8eI8FaPQ

  1. A candidate- or campaign-themed playlist created by a person or group unaffiliated with the official campaign, often under the guise of “suggesting” music for a candidate. These playlists may also be a musical tribute to a candidate, or a thinly veiled attack. 

Ex: https://open.spotify.com/user/lynnguist/playlist/67lQ0i0uePEbCwb9PuAXhp

candidate video – Videos generated by the official campaign; usually posted on the candidate’s social media or webpage; candidate videos typically feature underscore, but on occasion include preexisting or newly composed songs. Usually longer than an advertisement.

Ex: https://www.facebook.com/mikehuckabee/videos/vb.6934857868/10153234570062869/?type=3&video_source=pages_video_set

YouTube video – general designation for any video posted on YouTube

fundraiser – any event sponsored by a campaign, party, or unaffiliated person/group that is intended to raise funds for a campaign

campaign launch – The event (typically a rally) where someone formally announces his/her candidacy.

campaign rally –Large-scale candidate- or party-sponsored event, typically held in an outdoor space or arena where the candidate appears and gives a speech.

campaign stop – Similar to a campaign rally, but typically in a smaller venue such as a coffee shop.

convention – Large conference or assembly sponsored by a political organization.

summit – Meeting between heads of government. 

town hall meeting – Candidate Q&A; generally held at smaller venues.

late night talk show – Evening programming; including variety or satirical news shows (e.g., Saturday Night LiveThe Stephen Colbert Show).

daytime talk show – Daytime news/entertainment-oriented shows (e.g., EllenThe View).

fundraising concert – Music performance organized (typically by a person or group unaffiliated with the official campaign) to raise funds for a campaign.

concert – Music performance organized (typically by a person or group unaffiliated with an official campaign) where there is no explicit mention of fundraising.

What is new for 2024?

In 2020 we worked with a new developer, Zach Sheffield, to create a new Trail Trax database. A far more powerful research tool than its predecessor, Trail Trax 2020 includes sophisticated mapping and timeline functions. Embedded links in each individual record allow media on Spotify, YouTube, or SoundCloud to be accessed from each entry’s main page. Additionally, the new database features improved search functions and enhanced visual displays which make for faster and more fluid engagement with the data. The 2024 data will be added the the existing database, therefore campaign music from 2016, 2020, and 2024 will all be catalogued in the same place.

Our database allows you to research the music strategy of a particular candidate, create a snapshot of the soundscape on a given day, examine the evolution of the soundscape over the course of the election, or even create a catalogue of sounds heard in a particular city. Search filters allow you to narrow your search according to campaign, candidate, genre, and type of music. The results of your search can be displayed in table or map view (available for 2020 and 2024 only).

Where did the 2016 database go?

The original version of the 2016 database is no longer available online, however, the contents of the original Trail Trax 2016 database are now incorporated in our new Trail Trax database. Some features are only available for 2020 and 2024 data: 1. The mapping function is only available for 2020 and 2024; 2. For 2020 and 2024 data we indicate whether the song or media item is pro-candidate or anti-candidate. This feature is not available for 2016 data, but you can usually figure it out by listening to the track.

Why are some links in the database broken?

Some links have been removed due to copyright violations and others have been taken down by users. Unfortunately, we have no way of determining when a link is no longer functioning.

Does your database include every example of music on the campaign trail?

No. Our researchers try to locate as much material as possible, but invariably we miss things. The activities of lesser-known major party candidates and minor party candidates are not well documented in the mainstream press; therefore, it is difficult to accurately account for their musical activities.

How do I find video footage of the music played at rallies?

When possible, we try to include a link to a video of the music that we are cataloguing. In the case of rallies or speeches, we try to include footage from the actual event. When we cannot find such footage, we just include a link to the original song, usually on YouTube. Some of the videos that were posted during the election have been taken down, so please be aware that some of the links in our database may be broken.

How would I search for candidate comments on music?

Articles that address the candidates’ tastes in music are included in our bibliography, which is separate from the Trail Trax database.  We also search for interviews and other audiovisual material in which candidates comment on music. If you have questions about a specific candidate, please feel free to contact us.

Are there any press reviews of campaign music, and how would I locate them?

Our bibliography lists articles on the topic of campaign music, news about artist endorsements, and critiques on specific candidates’ music strategies.

Do you include celebrity endorsements, and if so, where?

Some of the articles in our bibliography include brief mention of endorsements. If you are looking for endorsements of a specific candidate, you can search our bibliography under the candidate’s last name. The bibliography also includes articles that analyze the candidate’s use of music and artists’ responses to the misuse of their music.

Is there a history of campaign music?

There are a few key sources that would be good places to start. The most comprehensive treatment of the subject was penned by two of our contributors, Benjamin Schoening and Eric Kasper.

Schoening, Benjamin S., and Eric T. Kasper. Don’t Stop Thinking about the Music: The Politics of Songs and Musicians in Presidential Campaigns. Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2012.

William Miles. Songs, Odes, Glees, and Ballads: A Bibliography of American Presidential Campaign Songsters. New York: Greenwood Press, 1990.

Crew, Danny O. Presidential Sheet Music: An Illustrated Catalogue of Published Music Associated with the American Presidency and Those who Sought the Office. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2001

Crew, Danny O. American Political Music: A State-by-State Catalog of Printed and Recorded Music Related to Local, State and National Politics, 1756-2004. 2 vols. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2006

In November 2015, the journal Music & Politics published a special issue on the 2012 presidential campaign. Trax on the Trail co-editors, Dana Gorzelany-Mostak and James Deaville, and Trax on the Trail contributors, Joanna Love and Michael Saffle, each contributed to this issue. American Music released a special issue on the 2016 election in Winter of 2017. This issue was co-edited by Trax contributors Dana Gorzelany-Mostak and Sally Bick. Also see Trax contributors Eric T. Kasper and Benjamin S. Schoening’s You Shook Me All Campaign Long: Music in the 2016 Presidential Election and Beyond.

Please see the Trax on the Trail bibliography for a complete list of scholarly sources on the topic.

Does your website include printed music?

No. We do not reproduce or sell printed music.

Who are your contributors?

Our interdisciplinary team includes academic experts from the fields of political science, musicology, sociology, history, communications, and ethnomusicology, as well as industry professionals and students. We are always on the lookout for new contributors. If you are interested, please feel free to contact us.

Do I need to subscribe to use the database?

No, the database is free and available to anyone who wants to learn more about campaign music.

Who is the site’s sponsor? Does Trax on the Trail have any party affiliations?

Georgia College is hosting and sponsoring the website and related activities. Trax on the Trail is a non-partisan public access website, free from any commercial or political interests.

Can I use your material in a class that I teach?

Yes. Our website offers instructors teaching materials on the topic of campaign music. Please see the “For Teachers” tab for lesson plans, PowerPoint slides, videos, and podcasts for classroom use in both secondary and post-secondary settings. 

Are any of the editors/contributors available for interviews?

Yes. The site’s co-editors, Dana Gorzelany-Mostak, Naomi Graber, and James Deaville, would be happy to speak with you. We can be contacted at traxonthetrail@gmail.com. Moreover, each contributor’s email is included with their bio on the contributor page. Feel free to reach out to them as well.

To learn more about our project, check out this 2020 promo video!