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Games and Music Strike the Right Note

7 Jul, 2004 By: John Gaudiosi


Just as TV networks are looking for video game-inspired programming to attract the elusive 18-to-34-year-old male demographic, the music industry has turned to video games as the best way to reach its key audience.

Over the past few years, the game industry has moved from licensing old music to debuting new songs in top games. As a result of this shift, coupled with the growing number of gamers playing with friends or online, the game industry has become a potent avenue for launching new bands and introducing new music to the young male demographic. Bands launched via video games include Good Charlotte, OK Go and Autopilot Off.

Chris Hughes, the guitarist for Autopilot Off, said that having “Clockwork” on NHL 2004 and SSX 3, and “Chromatic Fades” on NASCAR Thunder 2004, was a huge boost for the band's just-released CD, Make a Sound.“Video games are like the alternative rock stations of the past,” Hughes said. “It's a great way to get exposure for your band today.”

Another new avenue is the release of stand-alone video game soundtracks, which some believe will eventually evolve into a separate industry just as movie soundtracks have. Atari is the latest video game company to work with the music industry (Epic Records and Nimrod Productions) on an original soundtrack, this one for Driv3r, which features 14 songs.

“We see this as an important opportunity to build new audiences for our artists, and we look forward to working closely with Atari as we introduce this innovative soundtrack to the marketplace,” said Steve Barnett, Epic Records' EVP and GM.

From its collaboration with record labels on Def Jam: Fight for New York — which allows players to choose recording artists like Lil' Kim and DMX and take part in underground street brawls — to the inclusion of original songs on hit game franchises like Madden NFL 2005 and NBA Live 2005, Electronic Arts (EA) continues to lead the way in the convergence of video games and the struggling music industry.

Blasts From the Past
The latest initiative in EA's popular EA Trax music business is an exclusive deal with Rhino Records that will bring Throwback Trax to a new generation of listeners. Rhino will include bands like House of Pain, Pantera, MC Lyte, Faith No More, The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Cure, and Violent Femmes in such new EA Sports games as Madden NFL 2005, NBA Live 2005, FIFA Soccer 2005, NASCAR 2005: Chase for the Cup, Rugby 2005 and NHL 2005.

“Music discovery is about being turned on to a great song that you've never heard before, whether it's brand new or a timeless track,” said David Dorn, SVP of new media strategy for Rhino Records. “Music is an essential part of the gaming experience, and gaming is an essential vehicle today for music discovery. We're obviously thrilled to be working with EA to bring the best music of the past back to those who were there the first time, and to expose today's younger gamers to something that, for them, will be completely new and cool.”

Steve Schnur, EA's VP and worldwide executive of music and audio, said today's consumers expect great music in games. And on the music side, Schnur said that today's record labels vie for inclusion in EA games like the “Madden” series, which sells 4 million copies annually to a targeted North American audience. Each year, Schnur starts out with 3,000 songs and then whittles them down to 200 before selecting the 25 that will be on the soundtrack.

Get in the Game
Music artists are also more active in getting into video games, whether through new music or actual in-game playable characters like the “Def Jam” franchise and James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing, which featured singer Mya as a Bond girl.

Games are also going beyond the music, incorporating pop culture into gaming, such as the licensed clothing that celebrates the hip-hop lifestyle in the “Def Jam” games. According to Schnur, this expands the gaming audience from the hundreds of thousands to the millions.

Looking Ahead
The record industry is looking at video games today as they once looked at MTV, according to Schnur. He said the introduction of next-generation consoles over the next few years will further open the door of possibilities between the music and video game industries.

“Partnerships between game publishers and record labels will evolve into the sharing of revenue,” Schnur said. “Look at how consumers are purchasing cell phone ring tones of songs they already own. Now just think about what we can do with PlayStation 3.”

The online connectivity of the next generation of consoles will change the way game publishers use music in games, he said. In the near future, video game publishers will not only be able to introduce new music to gamers, they'll be able to sell that music and potentially even clothing and ticket sales directly to the targeted gaming demographic.

“By 2009, what we're doing now with music and video game convergence will be the equivalent to black-and-white TV,” he said.

The music space within gaming will continue to grow over the next few years in the console space, in PC games and with new portable game-playing devices like PSP (PlayStation Portable).

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