It’s in the game
Man this town can slow down in a hurry. One month you’re knee-deep in powder, the next you’re neck-high in boredom. What’s there to do until it’s time to bust out the mountain bike/raft/kayak? Well there’s always Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. Sure it’s no substitute for Blue Ox bumps, but for many in the surf/skate/snow culture it’s the next best thing.If you’ve taken a hiatus from video games over the last few years you’re in for a shock. Yeah, the graphics rock, but it’s the soundtrack that’ll really grab you. Gone are the “putt-putt-putt” sound effect of Asteroids. Now a video game is likely to feature music by Green Day, blink-182 and a hundred new bands you can’t even get on XM radio.From the very beginning Hawk’s Pro Skater was celebrated for its soundtrack. It includes Goldfinger, the Dead Kennedys and Primus, so Pro Skater had street cred with both skate punks and wannabe skate punks. The Hawk follow-ups only buttressed the franchise’s reputation as the game to play if you wanted to hear a blend of the coolest and newest punk, rap and metal.”Tony’s game is one of the games that every band wants to be in,” says Jesse Fritsch of the up-and-coming punk band Operatic. “There’s Tony’s game, John Madden and Grand Theft Auto. It’s basically these three that are at the top, but any skate or snow game is good.”Operatic landed a spot on Hawk’s latest, “Tony Hawk Underground: 2,” which was released last October. Fritsch’s band isn’t on a record label, but their song “Interested in Madness” is in heavy rotation alongside The Doors’ “Break on Through,” The Ramones’ “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” and Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.”The serendipity and absurdity of the situation is not lost on Fritsch. When he first started playing the promotional copy of the game, he didn’t know when his song would pop up. After five minutes, “Interested in Madness” came pulsing through his speakers.”It was crazy. I think it was the third song I heard,” he says. “It came up between Metallica and Jimmy Eat World. It’s great to be next to those bands.”Fritsch says the song has “become the closest thing his band has to a hit single.” Operatic has already been approached by major labels (Fritsch won’t say which ones because the band is still in talks). But it’s not the industry inroads that Fritsch considers the biggest benefit. Instead, he points to the fact that kids (and a couple million adults) play games for so many hours that soundtracks are permanently etched into their memories. Video game soundtracks (thanks to the fusion of commerce and D.I.Y. punk) have joined radio and MTV as a legitimate medium in the process of “breaking the band.” And unlike radio and MTV, video games don’t have a stigma of being corporate, even though they are.”Growing up, I never listened to the radio. I listened to the bands that friends told me about and bands in skateboard videos,” says Fritsch. “I would watch a video a thousand times, if not more, and I don’t really know if I liked the bands at first, but because they were associated with something I really liked, I got into them. That’s how I heard of bands like Sonic Youth and fIREHOUSE. Well, now video games are the new skating videos. If a song is in a skating video game, a kid’s going to have a connection with it.”Buckfast Superbee yet another new punk outfit has seen the same results as Operatic after two of their songs appeared on the “MLB Slugfest: Loaded” soundtrack.”We got a sh**load of e-mails from all over the country from that video game alone,” says TJ of Buckfast. “We got 120 e-mails from Arkansas. I don’t know if it was all the same kids, but it’s still crazy. I even got a couple e-mails from Japan.”Yet no one really knows what kind of impact having a song in a game has on a band’s album sales, says Steve Schnur, worldwide executive of music for Electronic Arts (EA).”There’s no equation to figure out if being on a game equates to record sales,” he says.If anyone knows how game soundtracks have influenced the music business, it’s Schnur. He started at MTV in the early ’80s and went on to work as a staff producer, A&R man and executive for Electra, Arista and Capital Records. Simultaneously, he worked for film companies producing soundtracks. About four years ago, he was recruited by EA the biggest independent game publisher with the widest variety of hit titles to run its music department.Schnur says it was only natural that video game soundtracks evolved from blips and beeps to big-name bands.”It’s like films moving from player pianos to Lil’ Kim, Christina Aguilera, Mya & Pink singing the theme from Moulin Rouge,” he says. “The bottom line is this is now a mainstream form of entertainment.”Next to, or possibly above, Tony Hawk’s franchise is John Madden’s EA published games. Though not the sports icon you most identify with hip-hop or punk, Madden has become synonymous with the best-selling series and the soundtracks it’s spawned.Before “American Idiot” was a hit single, a video or a Grammy nominee, Green Day’s comeback anthem was on “Madden NFL 2004.” Last year, record labels submitted more than 2,500 songs to compete for the game’s 21 slots, so it’s no surprise that the Madden and Hawk soundtracks read like a playlist of the year’s top singles. “Idiot,” Jimmy Eat World’s “Pain,” Chevelle’s “The Clincher” and Franz Ferdinand’s “Take Me Out” were all featured on the soundtracks.Video games sales are already outpacing Hollywood’s box-office receipts. EA alone took in about $3 billion last year. This indicates that it’s games, not TV or film, that dominate and drive youth culture.”Hey, look, there was no kid asking for a DVD for Christmas this year it’s all about Play Station,” says Buckfast’s TJ. VT By Jed Gottlieb
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