EA's Steve Schnur Explains The Hype Behind The Madden Soundtrack

EA seems to want to make it clear that the announcement of Madden 09's official soundtrack is an event, and music boss Steve Schnur told Kotaku about a few more promotions to drive the point home: First, Target's pre-order bonus for the game will be an iTunes card that lets you download ten of the soundtrack songs free. Second, an artist from the soundtrack will be playing nightly on the Jimmy Kimmel Show beginning August 4th, and third, both past and current Madden artists will play at the first-ever "Maddenpalooza," an all-day music and gaming event in conjunction with the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on August 11th.

We were curious: why is this massive music promotion for Madden such a huge deal to EA? It seems perplexing at first to see a publisher throw so much muscle behind a soundtrack. But it turns out there's a rather sensible motivation behind it that seems to be a win-win for EA, music artists, and for the gaming audience (or would that be a win-win-win?)

Hit the jump for Kotaku's full interview with Schnur:

Schnur admits that licensed music in games is subjective, and often a contentious topic. "I do remember seeing a blog once where somebody accused me of 'doing it wrong' in Madden a couple of years ago because we didn't have any Miles Davis in there," he said.

"It was just one guy, but his comment stood in my head... I don't know how many bodies I want to crush on the football field while listening to smooth jazz. My point is, you can't please everyone."

Discovering new music is something that all people generally enjoy, said Schnur; it's not especially particular to gamers. "But the problem in the last ten years specifically is that radio and music television have failed kids," he said.

Schnur recalled an era that you don't have to be very aged to look back on — a time when fans of certain musical genres or artists would unite under the banner of a favorite radio station and wear its bumper sticker on their cars. But radio is much more genre-restricted now and circulates the same careful list of top hits, making the days of radio and music television as the primary means of music discovery largely obsolete.

"The consolidation of radio has ensured that the music that I grew up with would never be able to be discovered in 2008, because radio plays the same 20 songs across America," he said.

"So how do people discover music, or the new coolest band? Through the places where they spend time, and that's online and playing games. So we decided to take that simple thought process of bringing new bands, new songs, to where kids were."

In that way, Schnur hopes games can become a new music discovery tool for today's audiences. Many gamers, he said, have become turned on to a new artist by enjoying their level in a game like Rock Band or Guitar Hero, or by developing a positive association with it through Madden.

An added benefit to introducing music through games is that it removes the genre-bound context of radio. "We believe that hip-hop, rock, other forms of music... there's no reason to put up walls between them. Hip-hop artists love rock songs because of Madden and vice versa, when we don't hear them separated out on the dial."

Granted, Schnur doesn't expect gamers will like every song that makes a soundtrack. "If there are 30 songs in Madden, we're not going to bat a thousand, because obviously it's subjective. But the goal was that after you played Madden in 2004, 2006, 2009... 3 months later when you hear that Trivium song, you're gonna go, 'Oh, Madden'."

See where the 'win' for EA comes in?

And it goes a bit further — what if, by earning the fealty of young people's tastes through the connection to popular music, sports games could actually influence the aesthetic of real-world sports? Schnur said that in Madden's early days some players complained that there were too few traditional AC/DC or Gary Glitter-style "stadium songs" on the soundtrack like you'd hear at a real football game.

"Now, we have stadiums from Foxboro to Oakland playing the music of Madden," said Schnur. "Because what they've learned is that younger people get into sports initially through the virtual experience of playing games." Whereas ten years ago kids' primary intro to sports would be playing out in the street, today the sports video game is a significant part of many kids' diet, and the real world is now tasked with keeping up.

It becomes somewhat of a virtuous cycle, said Schnur, in which new music can use games to reach its audience better, games can use licensed music to richen the experience of games, and in a sports title, it completes the loop of an overall cultural experience, because sports are also participatory events in which music plays a role.

So what determined the songs that made it onto the recently-revealed Madden soundtrack? Schnur said it took two colleagues and himself from January and May to distill the final list down from 4,000 possible candidates.

"What a song has to do is, it has to serve the game - in the case of Madden, get you pumped up. We have to... see how it fits within the game, and if that band could potentially have an impact on people going forward." The latter refers to a timing issue, he said, in that he seeks out bands on a rising career arc or with a chance for wider success in whatever the present climate happens to be, rather than picking songs that were popular years ago.

And the artist, Schnur said, will have gotten 1 billion impressions from its turn in the game, more than it would have had on the radio. Gamers are happy to discover a new favorite song, and that benefits the artists, too, in obvious ways.

"Some of the bands may never get on the radio. But some might just change your life, musically speaking; you might end up buying tickets to one of their concerts in the future."

And when you're at that life-changing concert, you'll have Madden in mind, which has got to work out well for EA. Win-win-win.