Bigger than MTV
Can video games save the music industry?
The music industry has been in crisis for many years. The Internet has had a big impact, completely transforming the market, with sales for actual discs in free fall since 2002. Offers for access to legal streaming and uploading have not made up for the decline in sales. And now, one solution for musicians and producers has emerged in a completely different industry…video games!
Vgames have not only helped the music industry survive, but thrive on entirely new levels,” Steve Schnur tells me. As the worldwide executive and president of music at game publisher EA, his team – many of whom have been professional musicians and singer/songwriters – work with some of the biggest music acts in the world, licensing music for video game series like Fifa, Madden NFL, Need for Speed and NHL.
2. Since the 90s, when licensed music became prevalent in games, series such as Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, Grand Theft Auto and Wipeout have become just as well-known for their soundtracks as they are for their gameplay. For millions of people, video games have been a way to discover new favourite bands or dive into other musical genres. And because people discover this music while playing a game they love, they develop a strong emotional attachment to it.
NEW MARKETING TOOL
3. Video games are now an essential part of marketing plans for musicians and managers. The Fifa soundtracks, for instance, are viewed as one of the foremost annual showcases for international artists today. “We often begin working on a soundtrack almost a year in advance, trying to identify new music we believe will define the sound of the coming season,” Schnur says.
4. “We knew that video games could become what MTV and commercial radio had once been in the 80s and 90s. Any given song in Fifa 19 – whether it’s a new track by an established act or the debut of an unknown artist – will be heard around the world nearly 1bn times.
Clearly, no medium in the history of recorded music can deliver such massive and instantaneous global exposure.”
5. While streaming is credited for helping to save the music industry from its stranglehold of illegal downloads and piracy, video games were helping it survive through the dark times of the late 00s. The Aerosmith-themed version of Guitar Hero made the band more money than any of their albums.
6. The heyday of music games like Guitar Hero has passed, but now games integrate with services like Spotify. Beat Fever is a mobile game helping to generate better engagement between players and musicians: players tap along to their favourite music and are then invited to stream the tracks in full on platforms like Spotify and Apple Music. When Steve Aoki’s track Azukita was featured in the game for two weeks, its streams increased by 2.3m.
7. “If you want a really, really interesting, jetpropelled career as a composer you probably wouldn’t go into film anymore; you would go into video games,” says Charles Hazlewood, an international conductor and advocate for the wider appreciation of orchestral music.
8. The vinyl resurgence is also helping to create new opportunities for both video game composers and record labels. Data Discs is a record label solely dedicated to releasing video game music. Working alongside partners such as Sega, Capcom and Konami, they’ve remastered a variety of game soundtracks from their studio in London, including Streets of Rage, Shinobi, and Metal Slug. Their founder, Jamie Crook, tells me this is another way for composers to be paid for their work.
9. “There has been a shift where composers of indie games are retaining the rights to their music much more often, which is obviously a positive thing,” he says. “Publishers seeing that music isn’t a disposable commodity associated with the game in the background, but a valuable asset in its own right – that is satisfying.” 10. It’s no longer rare to see some of the world’s biggest musicians composing music for video games. Trent Reznor, Paul McCartney, Amon Tobin, Hans Zimmer, Health, Neil Davidge, Skrillex, Solar Fields and many more have all done so. “I think, 10 years ago especially, making music for a video game wasn’t seen as a cool thing – but the whole perception has changed now. It’s a very creative form,” says Dwyer. “It’s seen as a new world to start diving into.”
The Fifa soundtracks are viewed as one of the foremost annual showcases for international artists today.