Electronic based music with video games – a match made in audio-visual heaven. Those addicting bass lines, synths synergized with rapid kick drums, and fluctuating BPM tracks that have caught our hearts have also captured the attention of the video game industry. In the case of movie soundtracks, matching the music with the emotion or concept behind each scene can make or break what the director is attempting to convey. Video games and their scores operate the same – a mood must be set sonically to accompany the missions. EDM brings a touch of realism to the gaming world of fantasy.
Sports and racing style games lend themselves as the perfect backdrop to club hits. Take the thrilling race car game, Need for Speed, as an example. Congorock and Nom De Strip’s collaborative record, “Minerals,” made the cut for the game’s soundtrack. "I still have no idea where or how it is used," Nom says in honesty and with a laugh. "I was basically told that it had happened and was given a contract to sign! I assume it was all handled through Three Six Zero (his management)," Nom says. The partnership between video game teams with an artist and management is much like a successful marriage. Communication is crucial in order to produce an exceptional product. In Nom’s case – as well as many other artists – song placement in a video game is the result of dialogue and planning between music supervisors and artists’ management. Music supervisors that work on video games lock in track licensing and maintain relationships with record labels – much like the correspondence between a writer and a publicist. Ariel Gross, Studio Audio Director at Volition – home of the Saints Row series – understands the impact that the right soundtrack can have on a video game. The free-roaming Saints gang leader-transitioned-US President plotline in the latest Saints Row installment (Saints Row IV) featured a long list of dance music producers. "Matching the music to the game’s story can create moments that the player will remember forever. We got some great songs for Saints Row: The Third and Saints Row IV, and our fans loved when we played them during missions. The music helps put the player in the right frame of mind for the story we’re trying to tell," states Ariel.
Partnerships with the diverse range of artists on Saints Row IV particularly helps the player to get involved in the game and may even introduce them to new artists. Therefore, electronic dance music is spread to a broad crowd of gamers that were perhaps only accustomed to the sounds of rock and hip hop (GTA San Andreas, anyone?) featured in a game. Open world games like Crackdown, Fallout, Saints Row, and the Grand Theft Auto series – along with a few others – feature inbuilt radio stations as part of the game. Diplo’s label, Mad Decent, hosted their label-curated 106.9 radio station on Saints Row IV. Jasper Goggins, the GM of Mad Decent, reflects in fondness over the label’s partnership with the Saints Row team. “Going back and forth on the catalog is always the fun part - it's like putting together a mixtape of your favorite songs in your record collection,” Jasper expresses. The music supervisors work with the artists to help catch the mood the developer is looking for. Jasper expounds, "We worked very closely with the supervisors to go through our catalog and make sure we were getting a wide selection of artists and styles represented."
Dutch DJ-producers, Noisia, are renowned for their DnB, dubstep, and hybrid house tracks. However, their sphere of influence extends outside the confines of productions created for their artist releases. Noisia worked alongside Ninja Theory and produced over three hours’ worth of music for the DmC: Devil May Cry soundtrack. The 36-track album was released through Division (Noisia’s label) last January. Nik Roos, a member of Noisia, states "We (Noisia) have been playing video games for a long time. [We] have always been inspired by them and how some of them would push exciting new music into the world along with an exciting interactive experience - Wipeout would be the main example of this back in the day." Prior to DmC – aforementioned by Nik – Noisia wrote music for WipEout Pulse, WipEout HD, and Wipeout HD Fury – as well as composing remixes and tracks for other video games. The group received their invitation to produce the DmC score unofficially via Facebook message and the management-supervisor formalities then followed.
Unlike producing a LP, such as the trio’s Split the Atom (released 2010), there’s more creative freedom when it comes to composing a video game score. Instead of being concerned about whether or not a track is versatile enough for a record and live DJ play, the main focus is on developing an engaging experience for the player – a soundtrack that actively moves with you and helps in setting the tone of the mission. "[There’s] much more space to play with, not needing to make mixdowns for the dance floor, time to build up tension, knowing your music won't always take front stage, [and] having to write to specific characters - there are tons of differences," Nik says regarding the dissimilarities between an artist album and a video game soundtrack. Noisia received most of the DmC video and still shots in advance in order to write tracks to accompany the cutscene (shows the storyline of a quest) and mood. Nik further adds, "With this game, they were after our typical darker moods and sound design which kind of comes naturally, so therein does lie a similarity."
Of course with any project you take on, it always helps when you’re actually passionate about the subject. Hence, this reinforces the importance of presenting video footage and imagery prior to the artist’s involvement. Ariel interjects, “We load our composers up with as much content as we can to help them get into the right head space…we don’t hold back at all. We want our composers to have the context to make the right decisions while they’re composing.” Such was the case with Don Diablo's contribution of the track, “Origins” to the game, Batman: Arkham Origins. "The representatives from Warner Brothers came by my studio, we watched the pre-game footage and some of the gameplay and it's safe to say that this got me even more excited and inspired to get to work," Don says. In partnership with Warner Brothers Entertainment, the official music video for "Origins" (released via Spinnin’ Records) also doubled as a trailer for the release of the video game. "Origins" serves as the quintessential example of why DJ-producers are a perfect pairing with game developers. As stated in the outset, the outreach for expanding an artist’s fan base (GTA V made over $1 billion in sales – just saying) through a video game grows much quicker as opposed to a usually non-EDM fan stumbling across the music randomly through concerts or Spotify. Don sums it up best, "I have always been a huge Batman fan and this was a big opportunity for me to reach a big amount of people who have never come across my music before."
words: Gabrielle Pharms