Spot On: Video game music: ticket to fame?

Getting a song on a game soundtrack probably won't make a band an overnight sensation, but it doesn't hurt.

When Ben Rew, the president of the indie label Dead Teenager Records, got the call, he was a bit dubious. An Activision rep wanted to use a few songs from some of his label’s bands in its upcoming Tony Hawk Underground title. "I thought, ‘Well, maybe the guy just wants a couple of free records,’" Rew said.

But Rew figured it was worth the chance and assembled a package, including songs from the Angry Amutees, Flamethrower, and Camarosmith, the band he sings for.

When the check and the free copies of Tony Hawk arrived, Rew was glad he’d participated. Even though it was just a "little, tiny bit of money," it helped pay for extra publicity and gave the band more exposure. What it didn’t do was make Camarosmith or any of the other bands into household names.

While Rew was appreciative of the chance to be featured on the game’s soundtrack--and he’s hoping to get a song on the next Tony Hawk--he doesn’t believe that it has translated into increased album sales.

At Electronic Arts, however, the music mavens believe having a song in a game does lead to increased airplay and sales, and they’re trying to prove it. The publishing giant is working on a study that will reflect what it has been hearing from the artists it works with. "We do have anecdotal evidence from label people and band managers that it does help," EA spokesman Jerris Mungai said.

Unsurprisingly, Steve Schnur, EA’s worldwide director of music, is also a believer. Schnur said the company’s e-mail inbox gets several testimonials per week from bands who say they’ve picked up fans through video games. After the release of Madden 2003, there was a definite impact on radio requests for the bands OK Go and Good Charlotte, which both had songs in the game, Schnur said.

Having a song in a video game is even better than having it in a movie, Schnur claims, because the name of the song and the artist are right on the screen as it’s being played. In addition, the games are aimed at the prime 18-24-year-old music-buying demographic.

But for some of the smaller bands, the biggest benefit has been the increased publicity. Rob Aldinger, the co-owner of Narcofunk Records, said getting the label’s band, The 100th Monkey, on the Project Gotham 2 soundtrack has helped get the word out but hasn’t made the album a best-seller.

"Being on PG2 did not have a serious impact on our sales of The 100th Monkey’s album, despite the fact that we were also released on the accompanying promotional hip-hop CD. We did, however, get a lot more name recognition and visibility from being associated with the project, but it didn’t impact the bottom line very much," Aldinger said.

Indie artist Bif Naked is a video game veteran. Her music has been used in SSX Tricky and Project Gotham 2, and she has been the voice of Zoe Payne on both SSX Tricky and SSX3. She even appeared in the House of the Dead movie, based on a video game.

Like Aldinger, Peter Karroll, who has produced Bif Naked albums, doesn’t see a connection between the games and sales, but nonetheless considers the exposure valuable. "There is a recognition and a cool factor that happens, but these days, cross-marketing is in so many areas, it’s difficult to pinpoint one area as being a record-seller. It still comes down to radio, video, touring, movie soundtracks [and] press as the key determining factors. After that, it’s everything else combines to enhance [sales]."

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