SIn 1982 the president of Arista records, Clive Davis, wrote an editorial in Billboard magazine entitled "You can't hum a video game." His point was that, although the then newly-popular pastime of gaming was giving record companies the heebie-jeebies by threatening to eat into the spending power of the youth market, music would always have the upper hand compared to this newfangled bleepy nonsense. Irony, she is a cruel mistress.
Twenty Six years later, Gamasutra reported that Aerosmith have earned more from their Guitar Hero spin-off Guitar Hero:Aerosmith than from any single one of the fourteen albums they have released to date. The A&R man responsible for discovering Aerosmith? Step forward Clive Davis.Music has been a part of gaming since Space Invaders laid down the template for every single techno track ever made. In the last couple of years, though, the two industries have begun to interweave in ways nobody expected. A recent Freakonomics column in the New York Times uncovered some interesting nuggets about how games are affecting sales of recorded music. When The Who released 12 'best of' tracks to Rock Band this year they sold an impressive 715,000 tracks in just two weeks. At the same time, their recorded output (on CD and downloads) saw a sales increase of 159%. Other bands have seen similar boosts in earning purely down to association with videogames. Videogames mean that bands now have a new and exciting channel to pump their music out into the ears of potential punters. It is the ultimate captive audience in a way - thousands of people who not only HAVE to listen to your song but must know it inside out if they are going to progress in a game. From First To Last are a post-hardcore band out of Orlando, Florida. They signed to Electronic Arts' music publishing arm, Artwerk and have been contributing tracks to games ever since. I spoke to Bassist Matt Manning and Keyboard player Chris Lent about what made them get involved. "Oh we are HUGE gamers," says Matt, "I think other than the band, all we do is play video games. That's not even a joke - I wish I could emphasize the extent of that." "Sadly enough, that's a little true," confirms Chris, "I kinda flop between Fallout 3 and playing music, It's kind of an even trade." Matt continues, "When we were looking for publishing for the record [EA]'s publishing arm was pretty young and they had just started a process of trying to get artists. We had a meeting and it was like a kid in a candy store. We love games and so why don't we work with a company that makes games? That would be AWESOME!" Since signing with Artwerk, From First To Last have had tracks featured on the soundtracks of games like Burnout 2, Madden '09, Facebreaker and Nascar '09. Ryan O'Keeffe of Australian rock band Airbourne had a similar experience. "Steve from EA came down to see us at [film and music festival] South by Southwest. We had a meeting, tried a few games and it started to work really well." Airbourne have been even more prolific in their soundtrack placements, with a roster of games including Tony Hawk's Proving Ground, Need for Speed: ProStreet, Skate, NFL Tour, Burnout Paradise , NASCAR 08 and NASCAR 09. As well as a useful marketing channel, both bands are looking to gaming as a source of inspiration and fertile ground to develop new material. I asked Ryan if Airbourne had thought about writing a full score for a game. "That'd be great to do something like that. I'd love to do that later in our careers, maybe an action game or something." "I would love to do that!" Matt agrees, "I wish I could score Call Of Duty 6 whenever it comes out." "I would score any first-person shooter game," Chris adds enthusiastically. From First To Last recently had the opportunity to get remix of Frank Klepacki's Hell March from Command & Conquer for the Red Alert 3 soundtrack. "When we started talking to EA we started talking about doing things not so much like "Ok, her's your song.. ok, lets put it in a game" but actually writing for games that have their own score and getting together with [the composers who write for them]," explains Matt, "EA just said 'hey, do you wanna redo the old C&C song'. We were on tour and we just went in the studio for a day and worked on it. It was really cool opportunity." Neither band are what you would consider 'mainstream' in the Top 40 sense, but through videogames they have been ale to reach huge numbers of potential fans - far more than would get the hear them through conventional means. "The way the Internet is and the way music goes," says Matt Manning, "what's mainstream has become.. vague. There are so many opportunities for different types of music to get popular and to get your music out there, especially through the Internet rather than just relying on radio or MTV." Ryan agrees, "Gaming is seen as the new radio, so it's great to be a part of it. It's just a good to help people entertain themselves in a different way. A lot of people say they don't listen to radio nowadays." "In the day it was like, if you didn't have 'those' people helping you then you couldn't do anything," continues Matt, "but now anyone can do anything they want and put out any music they want." Chris thinks that association with games has definitely given the band vital and unexpected levels of exposure. "It puts it out there to people who would never in a million years hear our band or know what we sound like, which is pretty awesome." "Most of our fans turn out to be as big a gamer nerds as we are so we all just kind of relate," he adds with a laugh, "They give us their gamertags and stuff and we go and play with them. We do get a few people saying 'Hey, I heard you on Burnout or I heard you on Madden..'" Clive Davis is still in the music industry, having recently helped shepherd the career of UK X-Factor winner Leona Lewis. In April he was appointed Creative Director of Sony BMG a company that earns a not-insignificant amount of money from tracks licensed to Guitar Hero, Rock Band and their ilk. Music may have changed games, but games have changed music even more. And it is not just on the business side. None of the musicians I spoke to had envisaged that the rock and roll lifestyle they dreamed of as kids would turn out to include a D-Pad. Whereas Led Zeppelin's rider would typically have included a hug sack of drugs, twelve groupies and a shark, From First To Last are happy with simpler pleasures. "Our drummer checks the TV in hotel rooms for RCA so he can hook his Xbox up," says Matt, "Some bands would ask for a whole bunch of booze and stuff. If we could just get a copy of Madden '09 that'd be cool..."
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