Music Licensing: ‘Grand Theft Auto V’ Takes Music Licensing To The Next Level

It isn’t often that we get to learn about the vision behind the musical selections — including licensed music, commissioned music and collaborations — directly from the music supervisors of entertainment products; especially music supervisors of video games. So, this interview of Rockstar Games’ music supervisor Ivan Pavlovich by The Hollywood Reporter on his work for Grand Theft Auto V is a rare peak behind the curtain of creating the sonic identity of one of the top video games of all time. And boy is it insightful! 

Rockstar has done an amazing job of taking the use of music in a video game to the next level. It’s not just the fact that the music works, its the fact that they’ve been able to translate a musical experience to its wide and diverse fanbase whose taste in musical genres are just as wide and diverse as their geographic locations. They achieved this by working with some very talented artists, DJs and composers:

“The game’s tracklist is impressive in depth and dimension. With more than 240 songs licensed to play on 15 in-game music radio stations hosted by A-list DJs that ranges from funk legend Bootsy Collins to the members of Wavves, the GTA V soundtrack also includes songs written specifically for the game by A$AP Rocky, Tyler the Creator, Flying Lotus, Twin Shadow, Neon Indian, Yeasayer, OFF!, HEALTH and others. Meanwhile, the game’s soundtrack was scored as a collaborative effort by German electronic music pioneer Tangerine Dream, hip-hop producers The Alchemist and Oh No, and composer Woody Jackson, who has worked with Rockstar on several games before.”

Video games have become a significant marketing platform for artists and new music. When video games reach hundreds of thousands of fans who play these games several times a week, musical works can earn exposure that it may not have received otherwise; or at least the exposure supplements the exposure it is already generating from the marketing efforts of record companies.

In 2012, the Los Angeles-based Red Bull Records band AWOLNATION released Megalithic Mayhem, a video game based on their music video for the single Not Your Fault. It was initially available on the internet and Facebook and later as free a iTunes app. The concept was received well and generated a lot of buzz for the band and the song.

While fees paid to artists for licensed music range from small to large, the true benefit is the exposure they earn. Generally, video games serve as free marketing for artists. GTA’s in-game radio stations have been a key element in recent releases; adding not only to the players’ experience, but to the marketing of music.

So how can the video game medium continue to evolve as a marketing platform for artists and new music? I’d like to see the growth of soundtrack sales for video games. There’s no reason why video games can’t sell soundtracks, or offer a bundled version of the video game that comes with the soundtrack — with the cost of the soundtrack built into the bundle price. It looks like GTA is already doing this with the score, but I’m not sure if that includes some of the commissioned songs from the likes of A$AP Rocky and Tyler The Creator.

Another way the video game medium can evolve is integrating more in-game simulated “live” performances by artists. Maybe for GTA VI, one of the missions can take place at a Jay Z concert. So, not only do you have the artist music, their image and likeness is marketed as well. And maybe for online versions of the game, the concert experience updates with the artist’s then-current tour.

As far as licensing issues, one issue I can think of is the possibility of end-users recording the original songs and then posting it on their social media or distributing an MP3 via torrents. That isn’t something Rockstar can police or control. Rockstar has all the appropriate licenses in place for its licensed music, so their responsibility to rights owners has been covered. But end-users can infringe on copyrights just like any other entertainment medium.

Ultimately, Rockstar has done an incredible job of integrating music into its GTA V video game in a meaningful way. Other companies need to take note.

Read the interview here: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/rockstar-music-head-grand-theft-649258

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About Dae Bogan

Dae Bogan is a music industry professional. Connect with Dae on Twitter at @DaeBoganMusic.

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