Frequently Asked Questions

I haven't seen much action on your website since the 2016 campaign ended, so what are your plans going forward?

Retirement? Just kidding! We are still here and working and we continue to speak at workshops and conferences. Also check out ths list of our team's most recent publications!

We will not be posting essays regularly just yet, but work on the 2020 Trail Trax database is well underway.


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

1.   Candidate campaign theme song
A campaign theme song can be a preexisting song (an unaltered popular song already known to the public) or a newly composed song (a song created specifically for a candidate).

Donald Trump uses the preexisting song “Rockin’ in the Free World,” much to the chagrin of artist Neil Young.

Rick Santorum uses a newly composed song called “Take Back America,” created specifically for his campaign.

2.  Playlists posted online or compiled for live events, such as rallies, speeches, or conventions

Spotify users often feel inspired to create a playlist in honor of their chosen candidate. Take, for example, this playlist that a citizen created in response to Bernie Sanders’ candidacy:

Candidates use Spotify as well (both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney did in 2012). The day Hillary Clinton launched her 2016 campaign, she released her first of three playlists on the popular music-streaming site:

Each song that is used in a live context is tracked separately in our database, but you can compile the playlist heard at specific events. For example, a search under “Scott Walker” and “campaign launch” reveals that the candidate offered the following playlist:

Only in America                                      Brooks & Dunn

Middle of America                                 Will Hoge

Comin' to Your City                                Big + Rich

American Child                                       Phil Vassar

National Anthem

Independence Day                                 Martina McBride

Heads Carolina, Tails California         Jo Dee Messina

Isn't She Lovely                                      Stevie Wonder

Life is a Highway                                   Rascal Flatts

3.  Parody songs on sites such as YouTube and CollegeHumor

The creators of parody songs take a preexisting tune and set it to a candidate-specific text. A group called Well Strung created a parody called “Chelsea’s Mom” (sung to the tune of Fountains of Wayne’s “Stacy’s Mom”) in honor of Hillary Clinton.

Before the 1970s, candidate’s typically relied on parody songs for their live events. While most parody offerings in the 21st century come from the citizenry rather than the official campaign, there are sometimes exceptions. Here is Martin O’Malley singing his own newly penned autobiographical text to the tune of Johnny Cash’s “I’ve Been Everywhere”:

4.  Underscoring used in television or Internet advertisements and candidate videos

Most campaign advertisements use some kind of musical underscore (background music) in order to intensify the narrative. See, for example, this advertisement created by Marco Rubio:

Candidates post footage of their appearances on the campaign trail on social media and often set these videos to music. In this candidate video, John Kasich shares highlights from his day in New Hampshire:

5.   Candidate performances on the campaign trail

While most candidates rely on pre-recorded playlists of preexisting songs, local performers, or celebrity singers to create the soundtracks for their live events, on occasion, candidates themselves pick up the microphone. Martin O’Malley has greeted his supporters with music on more than one occasion. Here O’Malley sings perennial favorite “This Land is Your Land”:

6.  Artist performances at concerts or events that benefit candidates

Celebrities often endorse candidates and even perform concerts on their behalf. Lisa Kekaula performed “Whole Lotta Love” at #RockinTheBern—A Concert for Bernie Sanders on October 23, 2015:

7. Dubs

Sometimes creative types remix candidate speeches and use them as the basis for new musical compositions. For this video, the user mixes snippets of Donald Trump’s speeches and sets them to a beat:

8. Newly composed music created by the public

While the public has always played a role in creating the campaign soundscape, technologies such as YouTube afford the citizenry a platform where they can easily and rapidly disseminate their creations. Some create parody songs like “Chelsea’s Mom,” but others create newly composed songs with candidate-specific texts. Take for example the song and video “Heal-Inspire-Revive,” inspired by Ben Carson’s campaign:

The Key that is included with our database gives additional information on the musical activities the research team is tracking.


Where do you locate the material that you catalogue in your database?

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.


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. We are still backtracking to pick up data from 2015. 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 document their musical activities.


How often is the database updated?

The 2016 campaign has concluded, but the Trax on the Trail team is still working to build the database. If you would like to learn more about our database, please check out the poster we created for the 2016 American Musicological Society Conference.


How do I find a 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. We also search for interviews and other audiovisual material in which candidates comment on music. This data is not yet available on our site. 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?

Please check out the “For Scholars” tab on our homepage. 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. The most publicized example of this to date is Neil Young’s response to Donald Trump using his song “Rockin’ in the Free World.”


How large is the database?

As of November 10, 2016 the Trail Trax 2016 database was at 8000 entries. The Trail trax 2020 database is currently at about 250 entries, but it is not yet publically available on our website.


Does the database include music from earlier presidential elections?

Our site focuses on the 2016 electoral cycle.


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.


For further bibliographic work on the topic, please see the work of William Miles and Danny O. Crew:


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.


Please see the Trax on the Trail bibliography (under the For Scholars tab) 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. The Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Kenneth Procter, the chair of the Department of Music, Dr. Sergio Ruiz, and the Director of the Center for Faculty Development, Dr. Steven Jones, were instrumental in our efforts to bring this project to fruition. 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 and James Deaville, would be happy to speak with you. We can be contacted at Moreover, each contributor’s email is included with their bio on the contributor page. Feel free to reach out to them as well.