Beyond beep beep: Video game music goes to next level at Grammys

LOS ANGELES, Feb 3 (Reuters) - Whether it is the catchy chime of a chip tune, the melodies of the metaverse or the latest trending “Super Mario Bros” remix — video game music is seemingly boundless.

Now the growing popularity of the video game industry and years of advocacy from game composers will be reflected in the 2023 Grammy Awards as the Recording Academy announced its inaugural “Best Score Soundtrack for Video Games and Other Interactive Media” category.

Five nominees will compete at Sunday's Grammys, out of the 70 original scores submitted for the category's maiden year. The nominees are composers Austin Wintory for “Aliens: Fireteam Elite,” Stephanie Economou for “Assassin’s Creed Valhalla: Dawn of Ragnarok,” Bear McCreary for “Call of Duty: Vanguard,” Richard Jacques for “Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy” and Christopher Tin for “Old World.”

The success of video game music coincides with the overall growth of the global games market, which in 2022 generated total revenues of $184.4 billion and is expected to reach $211.2 billion revenue by 2025, according to data analytics firm Newzoo.

The video game industry also flourished during the COVID-19 pandemic as people increasingly turned to digital entertainment during lockdowns."It was only a matter of time before the Grammys recognized that there were a lot of soundtracks being produced for video games and they're all very good,” Tin told Reuters.

Tin’s "Baba Yetu" theme for the game “Civilization IV" won the “Best Instrumental Arrangement” Grammy in 2011, making him the first video game nominee and winner, while Wintory’s soundtrack for the game “Journey” was nominated in the “Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media” in 2012.

"Video games have been making waves with new revenue streams for some time," Uziel Colon, who helped develop the new category, told the Grammys. "In the future, video games and music will merge — it’s already happening."

However, video game music has not always hit all the right notes to be specifically recognized at the Grammys.

“Video game music has been eligible for the Grammys since 1999, and only one score had ever been nominated before, which was ten years ago. There are people who I think were dissatisfied with that,” Wintory told Reuters.

Wintory said video games were not being nominated at all when the category they fell under was “Best Score Soundtrack for Film, Television, and Other Media” because being labeled “Other Media” was “marginalizing” them as a sort of miscellaneous category.

But game music is breaking ground through technological innovation and new avenues for consumers to experience it.

This includes live immersive video game concerts, video game scores across platforms like YouTube,Twitch, TikTok and Fortnite, remixes and collaborations, augmented and virtual reality and even eye-tracking technology.

Economou told Reuters that having Grammys recognition provides validation that video game music is shaping “the musical landscape of society.”

McCreary, who has composed music for popular shows like "Battlestar Galactica,” “The Walking Dead,” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” believes composing for games, movies and TV shows is not so different.

“For me, story and theme are universal,” he told Reuters.

Yet, he said video games have unique challenges for composers because they are interactive experiences versus only being witnessed by the audience.

The music must “work in a unique technical capacity, beyond simply supporting narrative,” he added.

Collaborating with game developers and audio teams informs his ability to write music that can be smoothly integrated into a video game.

“It’s a close collaboration unlike anything else in the entertainment industry,” McCreary said.

Reporting by Danielle Broadway; Editing by Mary Milliken and Josie Kao

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Danielle Broadway covers topics that range from film premieres, celebrity news, Hollywood legal proceedings, theater, press junkets, enterprise stories and more at Thomson Reuters. She has a bachelor's and a master's degree in English Literature from Cal State Long Beach and previously worked at the Los Angeles Times and freelanced at Teen Vogue, USA Today, Black Girl Nerds and other outlets. Danielle won an LA Press Club award for her Los Angeles Times cover story about South Los Angeles representation in the show "Insecure" and is a GLAAD Media Award nominee for her work on the PBS series "Subcultured" episode about the gay rodeo. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association, Hollywood Critics Association and GALECA.