Can Video Games Increase Music Sales?

Motion City Soundtrack. Midtown. No Motiv. Reggie and the Full Effect. These are just a few of the bands that I discovered while playing Burnout 3: Takedown. I bought more CDs that year than ever before, all because of the numerous bands – from indie to mainstream – that I was exposed to while playing the likes of NFL Street and NHL 05.

This wasn’t the first time that video games inspired me to purchase new albums. NHL 02, Madden 04, and the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series have done the same thing.

Am I the only one? In conducting a quick survey of family and friends, it seems that everyone I know has purchased or downloaded at least one song after hearing it in a game. While that info is hardly scientific, Zach Horowitz, President and COO of the Universal Music Group, believes that having a song in the Guitar Hero series can increase real-world sales by an average of 200 to 300 percent.

To get a better understanding of the correlation between music sales and video game exposure, I spoke with Steve Schnur, the Worldwide Executive of Music at EA and the President of Artwerk.

“EA has a long history of placing independent artists in games, and we absolutely believe that our commitment to them has had a significant impact on their careers,” he said, noting that EA placed Fall Out Boy in Burnout 3: Takedown while the band was still somewhat of an indie institution. “Avenged Sevenfold were unsigned when we featured them in Madden 04. Within weeks of the game’s release, their independent album sold tens of thousands of copies without radio airplay and they were signed to Warner Bros. soon after.”

“We’ve been placing Deadmau5 and Mickey Factz in games for a while now,” Schnur continues. “We were two to three years ahead of the curve on B.o.B. and Plan B. We first put Chromeo into Need For Speed back in ’07, a year before they signed to Atlantic. And we’ve already had Matt & Kim in FIFA, NBA, NFS Nitro and The Sims.”

They’re Not the Only Ones

DragonForce, whose music has been described as “Nintendo Metal,” saw a massive increase in digital sales after appearing in Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock. Sales of Slipknot and Kill Switch Engage were also enhanced by Guitar Hero III. “You might be surprised. It’s not only digital sales but significant full-length sales of CDs,” Jonas Nachsin, President of Roadrunner Records, told USA Today.

Incredibly, Guitar Hero II and III contributed to the success of older songs as well, including Cheap Trick’s “Surrender,” whose digital sales jumped from 58,000 in 2006 to 161,000 in 2007, and Weezer’s “My Name is Jonas,” whose sales increased tenfold after appearing in the Guitar Hero series.

Even smaller music games can have an impact. “When [Guitar Hero: Aerosmith] came out, there was more than a 40 percent increase in [Aerosmith’s] catalog sales,” said Geoff Mayfield, Senior Analyst and Director of Charts for Billboard magazine.

In the two months following the release of the original Rock Band, more than two million songs were downloaded within the game, creating a new revenue stream for bands and record labels alike.

Pint Shot Riot

Indie Bands Benefit Too

In 2009, Baby Dave (of the indie rock band Pint Shot Riot) told me that he noticed an increase in MySpace and website traffic following the band’s appearance in video games. “We get people coming up to us saying things like, ‘Did you know your music is on Fight Night 4!?’” he said. This year, he is happy to report that being in video games continues to serve them well. “Looking at things like our YouTube channel and our Facebook page, etc., we are still getting messages from people all over the world who are just finding us through games.”

“We definitely noticed a spike in sales, particularly when FIFA 10 was released,” he adds. “At concerts we always get a big reaction to ‘Not Thinking Straight,’” which was featured in FIFA 10 and Need for Speed: Nitro.

Airbourne, whose music has appeared in everything from Madden and Guitar Hero to NHL 11 and the upcoming Twisted Metal reboot, told GameZone that the band estimates that video games account for two or three out of every 10 fans.

Success That’s Hard to Gauge

Despite the mounting evidence, not everyone is convinced that there is a correlation between video games and success. “We first appeared on a video game a couple of years ago and we’ve gotten bigger as a band since then,” said Dan Rice, lead guitarist of Hadouken. (Yes, that Hadouken – the band is named after the famous Street Fighter move.) “But we have so much going on in terms of touring, festival appearances, TV and radio spots and printed press that there is not really any way of knowing where any of our fans discovered us. We’ve had a few fans message us online who’ve mentioned they discovered us on specific video games, which is great. But we don’t really know any more than that.”

Datarock’s Fredrik Saroea concurs. “We already had a global audience, but who knows – perhaps the games helped maintain and build the crowd. We’ve done 700 shows in 32 countries across the world though. [Are] the games something we got because we already had credibility and a large international underground audience of hipsters and young adopters, or did the games play a major part in building the fan base?”

“We’ve been featured in 22 major games so far, exposing us for an estimated minimum of 250,000,000 people,” Saroea adds. “But how many fans we’ve gained I couldn’t say.”


Radio Still Rules

Video games may be a new venue for musicians, but every artist I spoke to believes that radio airplay is still the primary goal. “People put the radio on solely to listen to music and find out what tracks are current and relevant,” said Baby Dave. “It is the truest test of an artist’s music.”

Still, Pint Shot Riot is not about to disregard the fact that video games have changed their lives. “We were able to access millions of people all over the world, which has been amazing. Also, [having] music in a game is an important part of the product and people will listen to your music over and over again so you can really connect with the listener. I think as time goes on, having music in video games will continue to become a more and more important venue as game technology and popularity progresses.”

Rice agrees, noting how vast and varied the video game market has become. “It means we have a chance to reach out to a different group of people who would not have otherwise discovered us through the traditional places music is promoted,” he said. “It’s still early days for us as we’ve only been featured on a few games so far. It will be really interesting to see what happens in the future.”

Meanwhile, Steve Schnur says that he will continue to seek out new and promising artists. “My team and I respond to the power of the music, not the size of the record label. We love the passion and energy of indie acts, and we’ll continue to work with them every chance we get.”