If your idea of a video game soundtrack is an electronic flurry at the start of an arcade classic like Pac-Man or the chromatic bass notes of Space Invaders, you might be surprised to learn that the medium has come a long way.
Now a video game’s audio offering can be just as integral, cinematic and spectacular as its uncanny graphics and - with more and more developers looking to license both catalogue and contemporary tracks from artists big and small for multi-million pound franchises - the sync opportunities can be pretty special as well.
Microsoft’s newest console, Xbox One, is set for release on November 22 and the brand’s online Xbox Live Gold gaming community currently boasts 48 million paying subscribers. Having spoken at London’s video game music conference Game Music Connect last month, Microsoft Studios music and audio director Paul Lipson tells us about his company’s vision for music and games and the opportunities on the horizon with the next generation of consoles.
How has music in video games developed?
Music for games has come so far over the past decade, it really is remarkable. We have reached a level of creative output that certainly rivals the biggest blockbuster experiences – on any screen or stage.
Games have actually fostered a resurgence in large ensemble composition and recording – bringing the orchestra back to the forefront of popular culture. We are finding ways to express themes and define interactive worlds with music of all sizes, types, styles, and genres. I’ve worked on some projects that have had four feature films worth of music, all recorded with 85-plus players – mixed and mastered to perfection. Other projects might feature leading electronica artists, or cultural wind experts, or master jazz musicians.
The tech limitations of yesteryear have largely been addressed – and our ability to create bespoke content to support new fiction and franchises is limited only by our imagination and ingenuity.
What opportunities are there for music publishers and record labels when it comes to console video games? Is music limited to bespoke instrument/orchestral pieces?
Labels and publishers have a huge opportunity in games – to not only align with franchises and innovative experiences, but also utilise distribution mechanisms driven by an enthused and engaged audience. Xbox Live has 48 million users, so if an artist can become synonymous with IP and drive the creative identity of a title, it’ll translate back to the identity of the artist, which is mutually beneficial. You see this model with top sports franchises but, beyond that, working with games of all types only drives discoverability for an the artist, which is a winning scenario for everyone.
How closely does the music industry and the video games industry work together in 2013?
We are working across the industry in partnerships that are helping us achieve class-leading results for our releases. On the bespoke content side, we work with musicians throughout the US and the UK to record our scores – and enjoy a relationship with the AFM (the American Federation of Musicians, largest union in the USA/Canada), and facilities like Skywalker Sound, Abbey Road, etc.
We commission scores from some of the best composers working today, and encourage innovation and new approaches to original music. We also work with labels and publishers of all sizes to source and integrate work from artists across genres and styles.
Why should music companies take an interest in the Xbox One and the next generation of consoles in general?
Xbox One represents a bold vision for experiencing entertainment, and gives users the power to bring the best interactive and linear content together in a way never seen before. Our studios leadership team has a strong vision for integration and cross-screen engagement, which translates into real opportunities for artists. Considering how music is being integrated into our games, and distributed through channels like Xbox Music, now is the time to pay attention and get involved.
Come Together: London’s first games and music conference
Paul Lipson hosted panels at London’s Game Music Connect conference at London’s Southbank Centre at the beginning of last month. "Game Music Connect, by all accounts, appears to have been both a critical success and a thoroughly enjoyable day for speakers and audience alike,” said BAFTA award-winning composer and event co-founder James Hannigan.
“Having conceived the formula for it with co-founder, John Broomhall, over a year ago now, I can only say how delighted we are that, after all the hard work to make it a reality, the inaugural event has been so well-attended and well-received. In light of the fantastic reaction and ongoing interest we've received from all quarters, rest assured, we will be back..."