Games and Music: The Soundtrack of the Game

A few days ago, I started thinking about the music in my favourite video games. What started as a brief post on the subject grew to what I'm hoping will be a short series on the interconnection between video games and music.

Music has always been a part of video games, from the earliest bloops and beeps, right through to today's sweeping cinematic scores. As we've replayed level after level, so too have we listened to the same game sounds again and again. I'll bet that most of the readers of this blog still have the Mario or Tetris songs stuck in their head. These were simply, and partly so memorable because there was only so much music that could fit onto a game cartridge before it got in the way of memory needed to play the game.

As technology improved, so did the music. I remember liking the soundtrack to the original Wipeout game almost more than the actual game. Wipeout XL one-upped this by having a soundtrack with music by The Chemical Brothers, Daft Punk and Orbital.

That's why it comes as no surprise to read that games are still turning to some heavy-hitters when it comes to recording soundtracks. Apparently, the new Medal of Honor game was scored by the guy that did Iron Man while my go-to favourite, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, was scored by Hans Zimmer (peep those stats!).

Not surprisingly, Wikipedia is a great resource on this subject and even identifies game music as a genre with the following typical characteristics:

-Pieces designed to loop endlessly

-Pieces lacking lyrics, and designed to be played over game sounds

-Limited polyphony (though this last one probably more applicable to old-style video game music due to the limitations of the systems)

NPR has an excellent article and accompanying audio piece about the subject of video game soundtracks, and suggests that one of the goals of the first video game soundtracks, Space Invaders, was designed to get the users heart rate to increase as the game progressed. I think this line of thinking can certainly be seen in today's games, with their atmospheric soundtracks.

What do you think about the music in video games? Do you have a favorite video game song? Is there one that is particularly stuck in your head?


PS: If you're looking for that classic video game tune, you can probably find it at

Spreading The Noise

As regular readers of BlogCampaigning might know, I also write a music blog. That means aspiring artists, their labels and their PR people always email me new music. Some of it is good. Most of it isn't. Nearly all of the pitches I get are amateurish at best, and nearly all of them are poorly targeted.

However, one name has consistently stood out over the past few months for sending me music that I usually like wrapped in well written emails: Alastair Sloan from Spread The Noise. Curious to find out more about what he's doing, I wrote him an email and he was nice enough to answer some of my questions.

Describing his company as a "music marketing agency specializing in digital relations", Alastair explained to me via email that he got his start because his own music blog, Noise Porn, received so many poorly written pitches that he recognized a need in the market.

Alastair also mentioned that he doesn't have any formal marketing or communications training, but rather draws on his experience as a music blogger and from time spent working for newspapers and the PR department of a major organization. I think we'll see a lot more of this in the future, as PR education programs start to focus on production and internships rather than teaching the theory, while many more self-taught online communicators will have the skill and self-confidence to start their own companies or enter the working world.

Since I've always got an interest in how artists feel about giving away their music for free, I asked Alastair for his thoughts on it.

"It tends to be larger labels with an established position within the industry who are less keen to give away music", he wrote. "Sometimes I convince them; sometimes I don't. The important issue to point out here is that the business model of the record industry can have a 'free' aspect to it. Building your profile online can lead to more gigs, and more money. And building that profile is a lot easier if you're prepared to give away something to the bloggers." He goes on to mention that in a lot of cases, the artists he represents are actually paying him to see that their music is given away to the blogs, quite the reverse of the traditional model.

His parting advice for others wanting to reach out to bloggers and the online community is to be personable and not too formal. "Follow up your emails, and show you care", he says. He also adds that if you are a large PR agency, you shouldn't be sending the same formal news release to blogs that you would send to more traditional publications.

From what I can tell, this British bloke seems to be doing pretty well for himself, so go check out to see for yourself.

For some more posts on music blogging from BlogCampaigning, check out A Round Table of Music Blogging Knights and Music Blogging: Posting, Pitching and PR


More thoughts on laptop DJing (in response to...)

Recently I wrote a post for BlogCampaigning on my experience transitioning from a vinyl DJ to a laptop DJ, which, from personal comments, appears to have been generally well received. But the only comment anyone actually posted on the blog was quite negative and passively critical. Initially, I wanted to tell the semi-anonymous commenter where to go, but I decided to take the high road, thanking the fellow for his post and offering a very brief apologetic response. I was wrong. I've thought about it, and I now recognize that that person's comment was uninformed and thoughtless, and I had no reason to apologize. I don't want to insult him, and I hope this response doesn't simply come off as petty. I have a far more appropriate response in mind, and it is basically a brief description of the nature of entertainment media today.

In his passive-aggressive note, the commenter appears to make three points:

1. DJs who use iTunes (or similar software) don't deserve to entertain club or bar crowds. 2. Whatever happened to DJs who can match beats by simply listening to songs (as opposed to using software to digitally and automatically beat-match)? 3. DJs today suck.

Where to begin?

First, the nature of DJing has changed completely in recent years, and "disc jockeying" is basically an anachronism in the same way as "film processing" or "going to print". With digital music collections advancing far faster than physical collections, and the ease of collecting and transporting digital music, it should be no surprise that DJs are turning to software solutions. And now, there are hardware solutions, as well, to replace bulky turntables and CD players. Everyone who wants to be a DJ has already got a laptop. A DJ starting out now would almost be a fool to choose physical media over virtual. As for iTunes, well, as I said in my original post, it's not good for DJing, and it's not appropriate for DJing, but in a pinch, which is where I found myself on that night, it will perform the required function.

What software or hardware one chooses to use, however, is basically irrelevant—a simple matter of pleasure or circumstance. I started DJing on a kit hobbled together from whatever bits of stereo equipment my friends, Josh and James, and I had at home—and later some rented gear. Even when MP3s came around, I only used them to create mixes that I could play on CD decks. But if the software existed at the time, I almost certainly would have chosen to use a laptop over CDs. (Vinyl is always a special case.) The only relevant question is: how well does the DJ entertain the crowd?

So, complain all you want, but this mode of DJing is just the way it is and will be. Frankly, these days I'd be more surprised to see a DJ using turntables at a club than using a laptop—with or without some extra hardware.

(I'm not saying I fully approve of the rise of the laptop DJ. As with photography, and journalism, and any other medium that has found itself in a similar situation, not everyone who performs as a DJ deserves to call themselves a DJ. There is a core skill set that one must develop, and no software or hardware can allow a person to bypass that process. No doubt many DJs today never bother to acquire those skills; but this has ever been the case.)

The other thing is that the digital revolution has caused a tsunami of DJs, just as it has turned everyone into a photographer, and a web designer, and an illustrator, and a journalist, and a media expert, and so on. There's more to this: I don't want to get into the details, but the expanding middle class has somehow achieved a sort of critical nexus of leisure time and disposable income that practically compels their young to go to bars and clubs and dance. In Toronto, at least, new bars, clubs, and restaurants open all the time and everywhere. Each one of them needs to entertain their clientele—ideally at a low cost—and more than ever now the common factor is the DJ.

More venues + more leisure time and money = more DJs

Unfortunately, as I touched on above—and in this I agree with the commenter—more DJs doesn't mean more quality. In fact, it almost definitely means lower quality overall; but it doesn't simply mean that all laptop DJs are awful or that the club owner has hired his inexperienced cousin who just downloaded some trial software and wants to give it a go. There are certainly many experienced and skilled DJs who use (and choose) computers over traditional DJ gear.

You know what, I'm not even ashamed to say that I have played a song here and there from YouTube when I haven't found it in my collection. I would never do this in a club or bar with a high-quality sound system, but for a private party or a standard bar night, why not? If you can mix it and make it fit, and it sounds good, that is really the only issue.

You'll probably be better off paying attention to what music the DJ is playing and how well she does it, rather than the gear she is using. If you find it still doesn't live up to your standards, you can always try your hand at DJing yourself.

Thanks for your comment.

The DJ Edits My Blog

Adam Gorley is BlogCampaigning's resident copy-editor, but he also moonlights as a DJ. Here's his take on using a laptop to spin tracks. Imagine this: you’re the DJ at a bar—the night’s entertainment. You’re using a laptop; you’ve got some software that you’ve tried out before and you like better than anything else you’ve tried for the purpose.

Things are going pretty well, until right in the middle of the tenth song or so the application quits unexpectedly with no warning and no message—what! You scramble to switch to another program (iTunes is all you’ve got available) and find a song quickly to fill the gap. Then you load up the application again—it probably just crashed, right?—surely it won’t happen again. But no, it does happen again after another ten songs, and you realize it’s because you’re using a trial version of the software. Well, bloody hell, a little warning somewhere would have been nice, you think, and you spend the rest of the night cueing songs in iTunes and hoping nobody notices—and of course, cursing the company that made that other application.

Well, that happened to me about eight weeks ago at The Painted Lady—the first time I played at that bar—and, man, was I unhappy about it, by which I mean Embarrassed. I won’t name the application that closed down on me, because I don’t want anyone to use it, which is a shame, because otherwise it’s a decent lightweight laptop DJing app.

I might sound like an ass for trying to use a software trial to DJ a party, but, you know what? To me, that’s the purpose of a trial: to try the product out—not for ten songs, not for 100 songs, but until I’m ready to buy it. I would prefer to have the functionality of the application somehow restricted rather than face a completely unexpected shutdown. All I’m asking for is a warning here software developers, that’s all I’m saying.

It turns out that iTunes is an acceptable—if very weak—substitute for bare bones software. (You might laugh—please feel free—but I can say this confidently because I’ve had to use it exclusively on three occasions now.) And by adding a few features, it could actually be good—yes, iTunes could be a reasonably good (basic) DJing application, with the addition of greater crossfading control, current song protection, and two music windows. That’s all. It would be far from great, but in a pinch, I wouldn’t worry about using it.

Of course, none of that can take away the fact that I’m using a laptop and a mouse (or, worse, a trackpad) to DJ, but that’s another story.

So, maybe you can help me find a good free/open source mixing application for Macs?—the simpler the better. And if it’s compatible with the M-Audio Torq Xponent, I like that too.

-Adam Gorley

Check out Gorley's playlist from that night on

The Future Of Music (It Was A Good Day)

It has been fairly obvious that the record industry is in decline, has been for years, and will probably continue to decline for some time. That's because the RECORD industry is based on a decades-old business model of selling discs of either the vinyl or laser-read variety. The music industry, it seems, has never been better.

Artists and record labels that have embraced the internet and new ways of doing business are being rewarded. Imogen Heap, a 31-year old recording artist from England (formerly of the band Frou Frou) is a great example of this. As a recent article on the Telegraph website says, she  "has a lucrative sideline in “sync deals”—licensing her songs for use on television and in ads and film soundtracks."

I truly believe that this sort of licensing of music will be the future of the music industry. Fans will still get to hear and share the music they love and artists will still be rewarded for their hard work. The difference is that it will be companies paying the artist's salary via these licensing deals. The more popular an artist is, the more choices they'll have when it comes to aligning their music with a brand.

A great example of this in action can be seen in this ad from Nike SB featuring pro-skaters Paul Rodriguez and Eric Koston, basketball superstar Kobe Bryant, and music from Ice Cube (SB is Nike's surf/skateboard/snowboard brand):

(Yeah, you can watch it here on BlogCampaigning or your RSS reader, but I highly recommend you watch the full-screen version with the sound on.)

I was out riding my skateboard through the streets of Toronto's Little Italy neighbourhood within two hours of seeing the video. I had that song stuck in my head (and will forever associate it with Nike), and although I was wearing a pair of Nikes, they're two years old and the video has me thinking about buying new ones.

I've never been a fan of Ice Cube's music, and didn't even know that the song in the video ("Today Was A Good Day") was was by him.

The result of this video was that I was entertained by a commercial so much that I watched it a few times and shared it with some friends. I became a fan of Ice Cube's song, and he probably got rewarded by Nike for having it play along with the video.

The New Music Industry

The New Music Industry Part One: Little Boots As I've alluded to a few times here, I've been working on a music blog as a side project. One of the coolest things about it is that artists are constantly sending me tracks to listen to and post on the blog. They recognize the power of the internet and music blogs as promotional tools. These artists know that they are only worth as much as the number of people that listen to their music.

This wasn't always the case.

It used to be that an artists worth was measured in how many physical copies of the music they could sell. That is because in order to listen to and enjoy the music at home, you had to buy a physical copy of that music. Throughout the ages, this meant buying CDs, tapes, records and (way back in the day) actual sheet music. Record companies were necessary in order to professionally record, produce then distribute these physical copies of the music. It was an expensive process, and record labels took chance on artists by fronting the cost of all this work in exchange for part of the revenue that would eventually be

Part of the reason that people who would probably never shoplift a CD from their local record store "steal" music all the time by downloading it is because they don't feel like they've taken anything. They aren't holding an object in their hands, and someone else isn't physically out an object.

And that's because it hasn't been stolen. It has only been copied .

Music is no longer a scarce object, tied to physical objects. Like most of society's information, it has become an infinite good that can be copied endlessly for a negligible cost and with out any loss of quality (props to Mike Masnick and the Techdirt crew for drilling this concept into my head).

That's why I was so disapointed to read the comment that the artist Little Boots left on a music blog that had posted one of her songs after ripping it from her MySpace page:

hi, would really appreciate if you wouldn't rip tracks off my myspace. the whole point is to preview them on there for people a week at a time. thanks, little boots.

Yes, it was great of Little Boots to recognize the promotional value of letting her track stream freely on her MySpace page. However, what she doesn't recognize is the statement I made earlier: she is only worth as much as the number of people that listen to her music.

The New Music Industry Part Two: Selling Out So how does the number of people listening to an artist create value?

It does so by driving the demand for that artist up. The more people that listen to a particular artist, the more opportunities there are for that artists. By giving away music for free, artists are making it easier for people to become fans of their music. Rather than relying on fans for revenue, artists can look for corporate sponsorships and I have no problem with this.

Goldfrapp has given her music to Target.

Chris Brown even wrote a song for Wrigley gum, and its pretty catchy (below)

I'm not advocating that every artist write a jingle for a mega-corporation or (though the payday might be worth it). Rather, they should align themselves with brands that they care about. Or, like Gwen Stefani and her L.A.M.B line of clothing, and Kid Rock and his beer, create their own brands.

With this kind of solution, artists get to make money and have a large number of people listen to their music. Is this selling out? Maybe. But I think that it is also considered "being successful" and is something that artists strive for.

Everyone wins.


On Piracy and The Future of the Entertainment Industry

I'm a "pirate." Everyday, I steal. I steal music, by downloading it from music blogs.

I steal movies, by downloading them or streaming them from websites.

I steal information, by reading it online.

Except that stealing information isn't exactly stealing it. Websites everywhere are giving it away. People set up blogs for the sole purpose of giving away what they write for free. News organizations do the same thing all the time: they post content on their website, and give it away freely.

And stealing music and movies isn't stealing either. It's piracy. Stealing removes the original, while piracy merely makes a copy (see this diagram by Danielle for help understanding this concept).

So what is the difference between the print publications (those, not including the Globe and Mail, that realize they can still have a profitable business by giving away content for free) and the entertainment industry that refuses to change its business model in the face of the internet?

Its not like there aren't successful examples of entertainment organizations giving away their content for free and exploring different models.

Michael Moore recently allowed his film "Slacker Uprising" to be downloaded for free. Techdirt reports that Wayne Wang (director of the Joy Luck Club and Maid In Manhattan) is giving away his most recent film for free via YouTube.

As I've pointed out before, BMW gave away a number of short films they created with actor Clive Owen. There's no reason that kind of model of corporate sponsorship (in exchange for product placement) can't work in a future of legal, free downloads.

Similarly, both Radiohead and the Nine Inch Nails have seen a great deal of success in giving away albums or allowing fans to pay what they want for them. Rapper Lil Wayne is constantly giving away his music for free, and that hasn't stopped him from near-record breaking sales.

At least one record label seems to understand this concept, even if their hosting company doesn't. According to this story, Quote Unquote Records worked on a model that allowed fans to download albums and songs from the label's catologue for free. Unfortunately, the company that owned the space they were hosting their content on didn't understand this concept and took down their site for copyright infringement.

South Korean Jin-Young Park also seems to get the new economy. According to an article in Portfolio a few months ago, his entertainment company (I hesitate to call it a music label) is worth over $100 million US, and music sales only make up a small part of that fortune. That's because Jin-Young Park recognizes that the music promotional, and can be used to sell other products and services that his company offers related to that music. This includes concert tickets, cell phones and more.

Oh, and to the American record labels that are lamenting the loss of revenue as a result of declining CD sales: Jin-Young Park created his company in a country where CD sales declined 80% from 2000 to 2006.

The world has changed, and the failure of organizations to realize that they will be unable to profit in ways that they were accustomed to will be their downfall. Those that are capable of adapting will prosper.


Hype Machine Rocks User Stats

One of my favourite websites is The Hype Machine, a music blog aggregator. What it does is search through a directory of music blogs, allowing you to listen to the tracks without visiting each site individually. Think of it as an MP3 RSS reader. Start using it, and you'll become more common with CSS standing for "Cansei de Ser Sexy" (which translates from Brazilian Portuguese into "I'm tired of being sexy") rather than Cascading Style Sheets. Hype Machine logo

I've discovered a ton of new music through the site, and have even ended up buying a few albums as a result of listening to songs first through Hype Machine. I've even started my own music blog with dreams of hitting it big and getting listed on the Hype Machine

In looking over the site earlier today, I noticed one of their older blog entries that has the results of one of their users surveys. It is from the end of May, only has a sample size of about 2000, but provides a great look into the way people are using music online.

Music has always been the predecessor to the way other types of popular media (movies, books, video games) are used and consumed, so this is a fascinating little survey. Among the findings are the 91% of HypeMachine users find new music online, and that 47% of them buy their music online.

So what are some other cool things that you can do with Hype Machine? Well, like all Social Media sites you can add a badge from Hype Machine showing what you've been into lately on your blog, and you can also integrate Hype Machine with Twitter so that every "heart" a song, your Twitter followers will know. I wish more people used this feature, and I promise to start doing so in the near future.

I also just learned from the comments on this Tech Crunch post that you can easily browse all tracks listed on the Hype Machine via at Http:// Not only can you browse them from here, but you can also stream them - that's Web 2.0 action at its best.

And while we're on the topic, a recent article in the Financial Times about a recent study (paid for by the music industry!) says that the big record labels should embrace piracy and start offering tracks for free (via Slashdot).

Have you used Hype Machine before? Do you read music blogs at all? If so, recommend some good stuff in the comments.


PS: Definitely check out Yelle on Hype Machine. My roommate got me into this French discobelle a few weeks ago and I've been digging her ever since. And also check out some tracks by the aforementioned CSS. They do electro right.

Believe The Hype(Machine)

First there was Napster. When that fell, we had Kazaa and a host of imitators. Pandora rose to prominence a few years ago, but seems to be plagued by the same copyright and licensing limitations that the other systems had. There are BitTorrents, but these seem to be only good for popular or newly released albums.

The next best solution is music blogs. These sites are a great alternative to both Pandora and BitTorrents because they offer tracks that you might not have heard about (but might enjoy because of someone's suggestion) or that are not otherwise available for download. As best as I can determine, they operate on the edge of legality and quickly take their content off line if they are deemed to be infringing on some (ridiculous) copyright law.

A step up from the music blog is The Hype Machine, a music blog aggregator. It takes all these great blogs, lets you listen to the song before taking you to the place where you can download it. Rather than being a "walled-garden" like the above mentioned services, then entire internet is your playground when you use The Hype Machine.

While you've heard of bands that have made it big by way of MySpace, I've heard (mostly by word of mouth) that a number of bands are starting to come out of the music blog scene.

An example of this is the amount of excitement surrounding Parisian electro phenom Uffie. In anticipation of an upcoming album release, she's been releasing tracks to various music blogs for the past year or so.

Check it out.

(for my personal recommendation,  shit doesn't get much hotter than Uffie's track "Pop The Glock")