Play Lists Merger of Music and Gaming XL-erates

Play Lists Merger of Music and Gaming XL-erates
Games haven’t killed the video star — y’all can blame reality programming for that — but they are an increasingly important part of the new music industry, wielding an influence well beyond your guitar-shaped controller.

"The truth is that consumers now spend far more time playing video games than listening to the radio or watching TV,” says Steve Schnur, worldwide music exec for Electronic Arts, the globe’s biggest game company (and ex-Capital Records exec). He argues inclusion in a game like Burnout Paradise, the latest in EA’s iconic car crash series, can help launch careers and bring radio and video channels onside. "Perhaps the biggest winners of all — besides gamers — are the bands themselves. Being associated with a top game makes a band’s image — as well as their records, concert tickets and merchandise — an even bigger part of their fans’ lives. No matter what genre they represent, bands want their music in games for the most lucrative reason of all: massive and instantaneous global exposure.”

It may sound hyperbolic, but Schnur is bombarded by labels trying to get their songs into his games. Online gripers regularly slag EA Trax — the company’s music division that also sells soundtracks on iTunes — but it often aims indie, with the likes of Black Keys, the Cool Kids, Simian Mobile Disco and Bonde do Role. Plus, they got Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh to score Sims 2 and Lily Allen to re-recorded "Smile” in the game’s faux language, Simlish. Not surprisingly, Burnout Paradise’s licensed soundtrack is led by Guns n’ Roses’ "Paradise City” alongside other high-profile acts like Jane’s Addiction, Depeche Mode and Jimmy Eat World. But you‘ll also notice a bevy of little-known artists — Kerli from Estonia, Japan’s B’z, Beijing punks Brain Failure and Dutch electronic producer Junkie XL (born Tom Holkenborg), who contributed his cover of Siouxsie & the Banshees’ "Cities In Dust.”

"I would highly doubt that any of the songs on my new album would be played on traditional radio as we know it. Satellite radio, yes, and some specialty programs, but having your track in a videogame you get that exposure of millions and millions of copies sold worldwide,” says Holkenborg over the phone from his Venice, California home. "If you take a game like Need For Speed that I did last year — the game went on sale last November and now there are seven million sold worldwide. Every game can be played by four people, so there are up to 28 million people that have heard Junkie XL music in the last couple of months. That would be pretty much impossible for me to achieve through normal radio and TV.” And this is coming from an artist whose 2002 remix of Elvis Presley’s "A Little Less Conversation” hit number one in 24 countries.

Holkenborg actually started getting his music in games back in the mid-’90s on Test Drive 5 and since then his beats have been on everything from The Sims 2: Nightlife and FIFA soccer games to God of War 2 and Destroy All Humans! In 2005, he debuted his single "Today” on Burnout: Legends before his album came out and pulled the same trick again by launching his club track "More” on Need for Speed: Pro Street months before the March release of his sixth artist album Booming Back At You. That album also happens to the very first to be released by Artwerk, a joint venture between Vancouver-based indie Nettwerk and EA, which Schnur describes as "‘Music 2.0,’ where music, games and digital entertainment come together like never before.” Other acts signed to the newbie imprint include Australian retro-rockers Airbourne, New York dance-rockers Jupiter One and Norwegian indie dance squad Datarock, all of whom enjoy prime placement on EA game soundtracks.

"At the end of the day Artwerk is a traditional record company, but it has a broader view of where to take music in the coming years — how to approach licensing, whether it’s game companies or movie producers, also how to deal with ringtones and other websites,” says Holkenborg. "They‘re just more creative. And that’s why I signed with them. I really liked that open-minded approach.”

But it’s not all about licensing. Holkenborg is also a game composer — he scored Microsoft’s Forza, EA’s snowboard title SSX Blur and Need for Speed: Pro Street (and has a couple classified projects in the pipeline). "If you make something for a soundtrack, you’re still talking a song — a linear experience. You have your choruses, verses, breakdown, whatever. But with interactive music it’s completely different. It’s music that has the opportunity to change how the player is playing. A track is built out of 50 to 60 elements and they all will appear depending on gameplay,” he says.

"Writing a song is cool, but that’s what I’ve been doing all my life. The new consoles can handle interactive music and have really complicated audio engines. It brings the game experience to a whole different level and I find that experience really challenging.” So where does this marriage of music and gaming go from here? Hell, nobody knows. Not long ago, rhythm games were a tiny cult fad and now they can’t build Rock Band drum kits fast enough. "Video gaming is perhaps the fastest-growing form of entertainment our global culture has ever seen,” proselytizes Schnur. "Thirty-five years after the first electronic blips of Pong, videogames — and the music we can deliver within them — are becoming the most essential new cultural force of our time.”