Offended By Your Favorite Artists Being Licensed For Videogames? Let It Be By Chris JonesPosted on August 3rd, 2012 by Thomas in Music Technology, Offbeat
No one reading this is unaware of the current flux in the music business. Record sales have been steadily cut in half since 2000 (triggered by a maybe chaotic series of technological, economic, and social events including but not limited to: MP3 compression technology, ubiquitous mobile devices, wi-fi and broadband networking). Music publishers are the fittest in that survival game and with physical media sales dwindling, a significant portion of revenue previously created by the selling of popular music is gone forever.
By the post-grunge, late-90s, artists and publishers needed to find new venues to exploit their recordings. TV programming was going though its own paradigm shift with ad nauseam drag ‘n drop docu-reality pap, the emerging Tween market, and the ingenious exploitation of A&R function, talent scouting, and artist branding into its own stand-alone public dramatic production. Pop music quality such as good artists and good songs was (ironically) at an all-time low. All I remember is rave-this, Alanis-that, and the signing of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. It’s almost like they knew the end was near and kept pressing back-catalogs while the pressing of back-catalogs was good.
What did seem to be growing in this period was the interactive and gaming industry. Faster computers, 3D standard, cheaper/bigger storage, many stand-alone systems or custom modular options, and forgettable cruddy music. All the ingredients were in place to make modern gaming a $10B business. The Internet had (and still has) to prove it’s a new venue for exploiting master recording synchronization fees or a performance royalty. That may be some blanket deal in the future but I’m not expecting much. More like a shawl. Unless TV and Internet become Vnet or something.
Strictly mechanically speaking, producing and selling games seems to be more profitable than producing and selling CDs and DVDs combined. Required hardware sale with higher sticker price, franchise ability beyond what’s acceptable in film, game production value now allows for usual peripheral commerce like advertising and licensing, low-cost production includes crowd-sourcing users as 4th party developers and cheap 3D labor is plentiful. As 3D graphics get deeper and acceptable resolutions for digital cinema become shallower we will meet in the sought after Middle. Users will pay extra (until it’s standard) for personal rotoscoping and to heck with this character picking nonsense. Point: Gaming, no, interactive entertainment is tip of the iceberg in every way. And, I’m not even a gamer.
What sticks in my craw is this: People negatively, blindly, categorically and wrongly accusing artists of selling out their precious Hymnal Of Master Recordings Sent By Ancient Gods to a videogame. I’m talking to the cynics and the annoying FM sycophants.
Come now. Music and gaming have been intertwined throughout the ages. Zoomusicology proves music’s existence within the animal kingdom, and prehistoric human civilizations used music to augment everything in their lives, including games. But skip ahead to post-industrial world. Marching bands come to mind. Soccer chants. In popular music, “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” by Albert Von Tilzer and Jack Norworth. There is no greater and complete omen of what the future of music publishing would become (and how little would change) over a century later than that song. How could that premeditated post-First World Series act of musical commerce and Cracker Jack product placement not have sprang from the minds of whalebone and necktie salesmen turned music moguls: Tin Pan Alley. Before TV, the RIAA, ASCAP, Gramophone and Columbia combined, there was that crew traipsing around the Flatiron with sheet music, serious moxie, and bar tabs for pretty singers.
I think of Pinball Wizard. We’ve had videogame mania enough to allow the Buckner and Garcia single (and full length album) “Pac-Man Fever” to exist and be a Top Ten hit. Jerry Buckner and Gary Garcia being jingle writers in Atlanta and having their first hit with “Merry Christmas In The NFL.”
Don’t tell me that’s not connected. That’s more moxie.
We make music with our old videogames via chiptune, circuit bending, and other hardware hacking. We four-finger tap the Mario Brothers theme. Journey had an arcade game and every brand on earth seemed compelled to promote themselves via the pinball machine platform from Evil Knievel to Playboy to Roy Clark to Pac-Man again in an infinite loop. Elvis Presley, The Rolling Stones, The Who, KISS, GNR, Ozzy, Elton John, and “Beat Time” (which is a unlicensed Beatles machine) seem to have all existed.
We have games based on film, films based on games, soundtrack albums to games (both original and compilation), trailers for games. We have concerts programmed with music scores to games because the key demographic (18-34) that is non-existent within the classical music market is home playing videogames. iPhone instrument apps to sound-only games (bit Gen’s Soundvoyager). John Fogerty “Centerfield” to Bernie Williams “Moving Forward.”
Point: our pop culture, in particular music and games, is stacked. Don’t say “videogame” like a derisive epithet for “stupid piece of trash that doesn’t deserve my favorite record.” Now, we have games with guitar shaped controllers where you hammer out (albeit remedial blocky abstractions of playing chords like Simon for your fingers) patterns (not to make music) but to score points. Speaking of unlicensed Beatles merchandise.
The Beatles: Rock Band dropped (fully licensed) on 9/9/09 as anticipated. It was developed by Harmonix, the development company responsible for Guitar Hero (RedOctane via Activision) and then Rock Band (via Electronic Arts and MTV). The team started while at MIT after they saw a demonstration of an algorithmic music generation system. They took it further and experimented with joystick control of said system. After several other projects they were approached by RedOctane to create a guitar-controller game based on the successful Japanese game GuitarFreaks. That was released in 2005 as Guitar Hero and coincidentally that same year, EA formed Next Level Music with Cherry Lane Music Publishing, which was considered a bold model of publisher designed to promote CLMP artists in videogames, game soundtrack recordings as license and everything in between. When Activision acquired RedOctane in 2006, companies scrambled to acquire Harmonix and MTV did to the tune of $175M. The talks of The Beatles: Rock Band supposedly started right there and then.
People seem psyched about The Beatles: Rock Band. Disappointed at the short 45-song set list as Beatle fans, but hysterical as gamers. You have to admit it’s brilliant. The developers and publishers have combined the fun of gaming, jukeboxes and karaoke with an embedded linear drama (story mode) that we so crave superimposed on the drama of competition in one all-entertaining Product Model and Publishing Exploitation Platform.
Another huge question out there: Why isn’t The Beatles catalog available digitally?
Well, it sort of is now. There’s a rumor that Apple CEO Steve Jobs bought the digital rights to The Beatles (EMI) catalog in March of 2008 but many articles refute this. The deals supposedly fall through at the EMI level who (ironically) released rights to DRM-free downloads to its catalog in 2007 including solo Beatle recordings. Hmmm, was Apple late to start with DRM-free downloads? Now these remasters are out and EMI is hunting down the 1987 releases to destroy I’m sure. Given the publisher just rolled out good CD versions 22 years later and Apple and The Beatles have been in and out of court for eons, I’m thinking this is not happening either. EMI’s got hard product out now, Apple! And the rumor that Michael Jackson bequeathed his (pawned years ago) portion of the Beatles catalog to Sir Paul is just crazy. Michael merged his ATV catalog (that included Beatles music except the first two singles) with Sony in 1995 and borrowed against it for all the crazy stuff he bought. And you can be sure he had his own videogame.
I’m excited about new models in music exploitation. Interactive entertainment is now thinking for artists, bands, composers, producers, and publishers. I do cringe at the sight of real guitar collecting dust in the corner while its owner shells out a few hundred for the whole orgy. But maybe the controllers will advance to be real guitars with some sick tracking.
Maybe every big band will have a Rock Band skin. Maybe TV, Internet, and gaming systems will just merge into one personal online system accidentally combining the TV and monitor manufacturers and killing the cable provider industry (this will be a good thing). Maybe the Beatles iPod is coming (for real this time) at Christmas in a massive brainwashing peace treaty campaign between the Apples after the remasters flag. Maybe the longer we listen to cruddy compression algorithms, the more we’ll love our vinyl?
Written for Music-Jobs by Chris Jones.