Music, like voice acting, is an essential element to video games. Creating atmosphere, ambience and emotion through sound, a strong composition has never been more important – arguably none more than an orchestral composition. With Classic FM running their annual “Hall of Fame” chart, we sat down with Mark Robins from Lunch PR to talk everything from the concept behind the campaign which aims to get video games music into the category, the movement of art and music within the industry and why, a campaign like this, is important.
Here’s how we got on:
The Gaming Liberty: Hi Mark, big TGL welcome. Can you tell us about the campaign to get games music into the Classic FM Hall of Fame, and how did the idea come about?
Mark Robins: Well the clue is in the title on this one! Every Easter Classic FM, which I’m a fan of anyway, runs its annual Hall of Fame chart. This run down of the top 300 most popular pieces of classical music, as voted for by the listeners, is the biggest survey of classical music tastes in the world and it’s always a great listen; four solid days of amazing orchestral tracks, both classic and, increasingly, movie scores.
Which got me thinking, if movie soundtracks can feature so heavily – and I fully support any chart that features the talents of John Williams, Howard Shore & Hans Zimmer, to name a few – then I genuinely believe there’s space here for orchestral tracks from video games too. Anybody who’s had the pleasure of seeing one of the Video Games Live concerts will know that there are orchestral pieces of games music that are equally as powerful, moving, exciting and emotional as anything shortlisted for this year’s Best Soundtrack Oscar. And if I think that, there must be other people who do too. And if other people think that, there’s probably enough people out there like me who’d appreciate seeing some kind of recognition for video games tracks in the Hall of Fame – and that’s pretty much what started it.
TGL: With more computer game soundtracks orchestrated than ever before, why do you think games music was never considered before?
MR: A couple of reasons. Firstly, I don’t think the classical video game concert has taken off in Europe in quite the same way it has in the rest of the world. The Japanese have had concert arrangements of video games music for years, and there are several major US tours running, but opportunities to see orchestras perform video games music here in the UK are few and far between. The awareness isn’t here so much, which means you don’t get the tracks playing on the radio. It’s getting much better; last year we had both the Zelda anniversary and Final Fantasy: Distant Worlds concerts in London, the latter of which was a Royal Albert Hall debut and sell out. On top of that, soundtrack CDs/downloads are becoming much easier to get hold of. I think the audience for this kind of music is growing massively.
Secondly, it’s fair to say the there probably hasn’t been much of a cross over between the Classic FM voting demographic and video games players before, but again, I’m hoping that’s something that will change as a result of the campaign.
TGL: Do you think the industry is still struggling to find recognition for talents like art and music?
MR: I wouldn’t say it’s struggling to find recognition necessarily – I think anybody who picked up one of last year’s AAA titles would absolutely be able to recognise the artistic and musical talent that goes into making those games. Every major gaming site has annual awards for best music and art, so I don’t think we have any lack of recognition within the industry.
What I do think, though, is that there are still a huge number of people who don’t play games who have no idea just how sophisticated the music in games has become in recent years. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who still think video game music is few tinny beeps and that if you told them that most big games now use a full orchestra for the music they probably wouldn’t believe you. The irony is, if they heard the music without knowing it was from a game, they’d probably assume it was from a movie and enjoy it for what it is. They just need the opportunity to hear it, which is what I hope this campaign will give them.
TGL: The campaign is lobbying for “Aerith’s Theme” to make the cut, can you tell us why you decided to pick the track, and why do you think it speaks to so many games?
MR: We wanted to pick one track that we could encourage everybody to put a vote towards, so we wouldn’t split the voting too much. When you’re talking orchestral games music, RPGs tend to feature highly. In Aerith’s Theme you’ve got arguably the most popular track from the most popular entry of one of the most popular RPG series of all time. It’s a lovely, simple melody and a very emotional track too – anybody who’s played Final Fantasy VII will know from the first few bars everything that track represents. Crucially it also works as a standalone track as well – assuming we do get a track high-up in the Hall of Fame I wanted a piece that everybody would enjoy, regardless of musical tastes, and you don’t have to know anything about games to enjoy it.
That said, if you simply can’t bring yourself to vote for Aerith’s Theme, don’t let that stop you from voting for something else. After all, the aim is to try and get multiple tracks into the chart. There are big voting pushes for Christopher Tin’s Baba Yetu (Civ IV) – the only video game track to have won a grammy – and Dragonborn, Jeremy Soule’s theme to Skyrim. You get to make three votes, so vote for all three! Or something else! Just make sure you vote.
And just to clarify, while the original version of Aerith’s Theme from the PSOne game wasn’t performed by an orchestra, like many other tracks it has been arranged for orchestra, which makes it a perfectly valid track to vote for.
TGL: Do you enjoy gaming music yourself? If so, what would be your favourite tracks to listen to?
MR: Of course! Otherwise I wouldn’t be doing this!
In terms of favourite tracks that’s kind of hard to pin down to a few. Obviously I’m a fan of Uematsu-san’s work; I’m a big admirer of the way he creates individual themes for each character – that’s a really cinematic way of producing a score and I think it shows in terms of emotional depth. Michael Giacchino’s work on the original Medal of Honor games really pioneered the use of orchestras for video games – and is an amazing listen too. Going further back in time I still have a massive soft-spot for the 16 and 8-bit chip music of the Amiga and C64. Guys like Chris Hülsbeck and Jeroen Tel were masters of pulling really catchy, sophisticated tunes out of basic computer chips. Plus I love the work being put out by ocremix.org – a great site specialising in video game music remixes.
TGL: Have Classic FM responded to the campaign?
MR: Not directly, but I have spoken to them and they’ve been nothing but positive about the campaign. The whole remit of the station is to play popular classical music, and given the response I’ve had from people so far, I’d say this easily qualifies as popular classical music.
So yeah, we’re definitely on their radar and I’ve been told me they’re following the campaign closely – we’ve even had a few retweets from the station, so I feel confident we’re being taken seriously. After all, we’re opening up a whole new audience for them, so there’s no reason for Classic FM to be anything but happy with what we’re trying to achieve.
TGL: Voting closes tomorrow (February the 29th), what are your hopes for not only the campaign, but for the future of Classic FM?
MR: Well I’d like to see some games tracks in the chart first and foremost! That’s our measure of success on this!
In the long term though, if we do get some tracks in there it would be great to see some of the music stay on the station’s play list. I’m not expecting wholesale changes – they’ve got an existing audience of millions who expect the station to play a certain kind of music – but it would really please me if people enjoyed the music enough to be happy to hear it stay on the station for the foreseeable future. Plus, if we can encourage people to put on more live concerts of this kind of music as a result that would be a massive bonus too.
It’s worth saying, it’s never been the aim of the campaign to “crash” the chart or upset Classic FM’s listeners – this is simply about getting better recognition for a really fantastic genre of music. And if gamers get into classical music and live orchestral performances off the back of that, brilliant.
TGL: Finally, can you run us through what people need to do to cast their vote?
MR: It’s simple! Go to www.classicfmhalloffame.co.uk and vote for your three favourite bits of orchestral games music. Tracks have to be ORCHESTRAL and commercially release to count. Many older games have had their music arranged for orchestra, so there’s lots of options to vote for. We just hope you’ll make one of them Aerith’s Theme by Nobuo Uematsu. Also, you may need to enter the tracks manually, as they might not be in the voting database, so don’t forget to hit the “+” button next to the voting box. Just visit www.facebook.com/ClassicVGMusic for all the details – but do it NOW!!
TGL: Thanks Mark, we look forward to the results!