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Over the past few decades, video games have become a vital part of the music industry.

With licensed soundtracks, original theme songs and games that are entirely music-based dominating the video game charts, they certainly pack a punch when it comes to promoting popular music.

So let’s take a look at some of the matches made in heaven between popular music and video games…

Licensed soundtracks

Many games have opted to include soundtracks from popular artists to accompany the on-screen action. One of the first was…

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater

Setting a precedent that still goes on today, the Tony Hawk’s franchise incorporated tracks from punk bands and rap artists to perfectly reflect the energy of the extreme sport. Or “X-treme” sport as their marketing team has been trying to tell us.

Anyway, bands like The Vandals, Anthrax and Papa Roach adorned the soundtracks of the first few titles in the series, going on to add Motorhead, Xzibit, House of Pain, Red Hot Chili Peppers and zillions(ish) more. Many young gamers developed their first love of alternative music through these games – I’m sure they played no small part in attributing to the success of some of the younger bands.

However, taking the idea of licensed music a whole step further was…

Grand Theft Auto 3

Amongst other ground-breaking video game firsts, GTA had an in-game radio with multiple stations featuring multiple licensed songs, including from artists as popular as Debby Harry! This theme has continued through the games, with different genres of music on different stations, making the game’s soundtrack appeal to a massive range of gamers with different music tastes.

Original Music

It’s not just licensed music that’s been affected by video games, however…

Nine Inch Nails and Quake

Trent Reznor was the first popular musician to take to video game composition after working on the score for the violent first person shooting game “Quake” in 1996. An inspired teaming as the industrial music fit the grimey, similarly industrial looking visuals in the game.

Kumi Koda and Final Fantasy

However, it’s not just evil music, more recently in Japan, Kumi Koda, essentially Japan’s version of Britney Spears, recorded the vocals for Final Fantasy X-2′s theme songs “Real Emotion” and “1000 words”, even releasing the former as a single! She also did the motion capture for a large introductory CG scene at the start of the game where the main character is performing the song. Now if that doesn’t show the popularity of video games, I don’t know what does.

Halo 2

Going back to the alternative scene for a moment – artists such as Joe Satriani, Incubus, Breaking Benjamin, and Hoobastank all contributed to the soundtrack for the best selling Xbox game ever – Incubus even went as far as to call their album “light grenade” after an in-game weapon.

Music Games

And then we come to games that rely entirely on pop music – these have become so popular that they’ve already made billions, saturated the market and declined in sales. That market saturation has had quite an effect on popular musicians, however…

Guitar Hero

The series that sparked it all in the western world, Guitar Hero put legendary rock band’s songs in the hands of untrained gamers and allowed them to live out their dreams – whilst listening to a host of popular music. This meant a young audience was exposed to older music, giving bands like Black Sabbath and Deep Purple new audiences that may have completely missed them had they not had these games. Newer bands such as Sum 41 and Franz Ferdinand were included as well, however – and there’s little doubt that this propelled their fan base through the roof too.

Singstar

Karaoke has always been popular, but competitive karaoke was popularised by the Singstar games, which actually measured the pitch of the player’s voice. A scary amount of Singstar titles have been released (over 70!), essentially adopting a “NOW that’s what I call music” approach and releasing whatever’s popular at the time. This has become a huge sales phenomenon and opened up a new level of interactivity with the charts for music lovers and a new method of accessing music for gamers.

Audiosurf

It’s not all licensing, though – games like Audiosurf generate the in-game content from music. Audiosurf makes racetracks based upon the music loaded into it, for example.

There are loads of innovative musical games about; as the music industry declines, the ever-growing video game industry will be able to give it a breath of life in the form of vital promotion through popular games. The music charts are already being affected by what people have heard in-game.

Things have come a long way from the blips and bloops of yesteryear, that’s for sure.

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4 Responses to “Pop music <3s video games”

  1. Hey there, interesting article, but I think you forgot to mention that Wipeout XL was really one of the first that featured licensed music, if I recall it was before Tony Hawk. It featured Sasha, Chemical Brothers, Fluke, and I want to say The Prodigy but I could be wrong on that one. Maybe it wasnt mentioned because it wasnt as popular as TH or older?

  2. Or what about Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory

    all the music was done by IDM/DnB producer Amon Tobin (Dave, I really hope you know of amon tobin)

  3. Kevin, that’s a great album <3

  4. I love AudioSurf. :D It’s really fun when playing your cover of ET, Dave!!

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