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  • Games That Launched the Band

    - staff
  •  Steve Schnur is worldwide executive of music and marketing for Electronic Arts. It's a high-level job that puts him in charge of the company's overall musical standing -- he is responsible for the pursuit, creation, and continuous development of the global vision for music in EA games.

    He believes that musical artists in the past few years have begun to see video games not as a product in which to license their music, but as an integral role in their careers. spoke to him about his work in the game industry and his views on music in games. Tell us about your first job in either music or video games.  

    Steve Schnur: I became part of the original programming team at MTV as a college intern, and the experience taught me more than I ever learned at NYU. In fact, much of what I absorbed at MTV remains with me to this day.

    I distinctly remember attending a focus group there in which a 15-year old was asked about videos compared to songs on the radio.  His comment back was, "A song only becomes real to me when I see it." 

    I still think about the implications of that kid's statement. You should, too. Since MTV first appeared in 1981, an entire generation has been raised with an expectation of visuals attached to audio. We are continuing a trend already in motion for more than 25 years, a trend already indelibly ingrained in future generations, generations raised on video games as a major entertainment source in their lives, generations raised on discovering music through these games.

    For this generation, the song now becomes real when they "play it."

    After MTV, I went on to more than two decades in radio promotion, A&R, marketing, and as a music supervisor for movies. ... But over the years, I began to sense a growing cultural shift that would lead me away from the traditional record business to where I am today.

    The most important lesson I've learned in 20 years is that the record business and the music industry are two distinctly different entities. And the most essential fact I know is that these last seven years at EA have been the most creatively rewarding of my entire career.

    GCG: What is the difference between the record business and the music industry?

    SS: Beginning in the mid to late 1990s, the record business fatefully chose short-term payoffs instead of long-term vision. They chased and milked trends rather than investing in creating them. They continued to believe that retail album sales were the only income that mattered. They allowed cookie-cutter radio play lists to fragment and sanitize the market. They ignored -- and often fought -- new media and digital technologies.

    When P2P file sharing appeared, total control suddenly belonged not to the record industry, but to the true music fans. And by using this digital technology, true music fans -- otherwise known as the consumers -- took it upon themselves to transform the industry like never before. Mergers and ownership by non-entertainment multinationals took care of the rest. When the smoke cleared, the traditional record business as we had known it was officially dead.

    Smart artists and their management have now finally begun to take their business to the next level. Within the past six months alone, three of the biggest acts in the world -- The Eagles, Madonna, and Radiohead -- have very publicly and profitably eschewed traditional record labels and retail distribution. Many more will follow. Deals like this are an essential part of the new music industry, growing hand-in-hand with widespread broadband access, the next generation of home entertainment systems, multi-function PDAs, and beyond. And while the traditional record business is all but buried, the music industry is about to enter one of the most extraordinary and exciting growth periods in our history.

    GCG: What kinds of trends do you see happening right now in video game audio?

    SS: I'm proud of the unprecedented relationships we've created between games and the music industry. What used to be a purely buy-sell licensing arrangement is now an ongoing series of groundbreaking co-marketing partnerships.

    Today, labels around the world are launching artists' entire careers around their inclusion in a top-selling title like Madden, FIFA, or Need for Speed. Radio is adding songs based on a band's inclusion in these games. Video channels are creating playlists based not on radio airplay, but on video game soundtracks. Even sports leagues are using our music selections to guide their future marketing. In less than seven years, video games have become the most effective -- and essential -- way of breaking new music in our world today. 

    GCG: Who, for example? 

    SS: Epic Records credits Madden 2003 as being instrumental in the breaking of Good Charlotte. Avril Lavigne was first introduced to European audiences through FIFA 2003. Fabolous was first introduced in America via NBA Live, and went on to sell over 2 million albums here. JET got their American iPod commercial based on exposure in Madden 2004. Avenged Sevenfold were an unsigned act when we featured them in Madden 2004. In the weeks following the game's release, their independent album sold tens of thousands of copies without radio airplay, and they were signed to a major label soon after. Our FIFA 2005 soundtrack featured the earliest appearances of Franz Ferdinand, Marcelo D2, and Scissor Sisters. Sony Records credits Madden 2005 as being instrumental in the breaking of Franz Ferdinand in North America. Ozomatli, a band that has existed for years with minimal sales and exposure, got an iPod commercial, a career-changing sales jump, and a Grammy nomination based on their exposure in Madden 2005. Def Jam Vendetta single-handedly created a new global market for hip-hop.

    Within the past two years, we've seen major international breakthroughs from acts that include Robyn, Mando Diao, Arctic Monkeys, Klaxons, Bloc Party, LCD Soundsystem, Dúné, Tribalista, Go Team, Bullet for My Valentine, The Caesars, Kasabian, Lupe Fiasco, MIA, Wolfmother, Hawthorne Heights, and others. That's just a small sampling of what we've helped make happen. It's all real and exciting proof that video games are a critical component of the new industry paradigm.


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