Steve Schnur Interview – Part One

Music is the pinnacle of our lives. Take a long hard think about this. Where would you be without music? Some of you may not express any interest at all in the creative medium and if you don’t, for shame.

Over in the other corner we have videogames, another institution in their own right. But what happens when you fuse both mediums together, how important is music in video gaming and more importantly how important has videogames become for music?

In this series of articles, we’ll be talking to those upcoming bands that feature in the music you hear today in some of the top videogame franchises, as well as taking a look at how music in videogames has progressed in the past four decades. From Pong to Rock Band, we’ll be delving deep into the archives to check out how music has changed and what it means to consumers now.

Firstly then, we kick things off by chatting to Steve Schnur who is the worldwide executive of music for EA and President of Artwerk music.

Artwerk were set up to try and establish new talent within the music industry but in particular to try and enable bands to get a foot in the door and showcase themselves within videogames.

Electronic Arts themselves have been the showcase for many new talents over the past ten years, since the dawn of the millennium. In that short time, we’ve seen bands such as Good Charlotte, Franz Ferdinand, The Hives, Fall Out Boy and Arctic Monkeys becoming mainstream talent on the back of videogames. All of those are now fully recognised within the music industry, with all of them achieving commercial success across the world. Surprisingly, it was EA who nurtured this new talent first.

It was in 2007, EA decided to formalise things further and create a fully-fledged music label which they would dub ‘Artwerk’. In a brand new partnership with Nettwerk One Music, the new label would primarily seek out that new talent that EA had done so well previously. Based in LA, Artwerk were now in a position to sign new artist, produce music alongside them and publish the songs including master recordings. This was a new milestone for the company and one which would have to fit within the saturated music market as Steve explains:

“Whilst Artwerk is a label, we’re not in the record business. The truth is that the traditional record label business model is now dead.” Steve continues: “Today’s new ‘Digital Reality’ demands that labels respect the consumers, the artists and the music, all while doing smart, fair and innovative business on a global scale”.

Artwerk currently has twelve artists under its belt and they include Matt & Kim, Junkie XL, Airbourne, Datarock, Ladytron and Chromeo just to name a few.

“They all represent everything a cool label should be,” says Steve. “Aggressively diversified, ferociously independent and insanely talented.” And he means business when he says that. After all Artwerk has high profile deals already in place with all of their artists thanks to placements within games; it is something Steve and the team will look to build upon in the future. Over 8000 worldwide EA employees are involved in work with the artists, an impressive figure by any means.

The company ethos is quite powerful: “Artwerk is Music 2.0: Where music, games and global digital entertainment all come together to re-write the rules forever,” Steve explains proudly.

What was the turning point for music in videogames? In the 16-bit era, music was basic and technically limited but with the rise of consoles such as the Nintendo 64 and Sony PlayStation, music was finally becoming important to gamers.

“Simply put, the industry learned that the right music enhances the videogame experience,” comments Steve.

Despite EA being one of the major software publishers who have embraced music, Steve is quick to dispel any myth that they may have invented it: “[We didn’t invent it], but I believe that we did perfect it.”

It’s a bold statement, but one that couldn’t be further from the truth. This was the company who introduced EA Trax into their most popular franchises from FIFA Football and Tiger Woods to the Madden and NBA series as well as the popular Need for Speed racing franchise. No genre was over-looked when it came to unique soundtracks for EA’s biggest titles.

“At EA, our major contribution was – and always will be – ensuring that all our music is specifically designed to maximize the emotional lift needed to create even greater game-play,” says Steve.

They had nailed it on the head; finally music was being taken seriously by gamers embracing the sounds that greeted them in their favourite franchises; EA were at the forefront of these changes:

“Our innovation and skill in the licensing and/or creation of new music – whether in a soundtrack of songs or wholly original score – has been essential to EA’s role as the world’s leading game developer.” Steve continues: “And the bottom line is that we’ve enabled millions of music fans to discover their favourite new bands and songs through the experience of an EA game.”

At the turn of the millennium for the first time, games such as FIFA and Madden would carry fully licensed soundtracks, a far cry from the basic music (perhaps that isn’t the word to use) on the Sega Megadrive and Super Nintendo Entertainment System in the 1990s.

The key factor for EA and the newly formed Artwerk in 2007 was to seek out independent bands which could showcase their talent to potential customers through the medium of videogames rather than the traditional format on radio and television, as Steve explains:

“Our sole goal is to find the best new music possible for our games and for the music fans that play them. We love working with independent bands and adventurous artists that share our passion for taking risks.”

Risk is something that most developers and publishers would be trying to avoid, but not EA, who pushed and pushed to try and ensure that the bands and artists in their most popular franchises flourished in the music world. They were interested in raw talent, the talent that would enable them to showcase music from their own label on the radio, in commercials, films and around sports arenas, but of the utmost important was how it sounded in the game.

“It may sound like a cliché, but I know it when I hear it. And when I hear it, I have to believe 1000% that a band will affect gamers the same way it hits me,” Steve proudly announces.

Careful selection is required though to ensure that the right talent is cherry-picked into the right videogame. It is important that a conflict of interests does not affect how a band is portrayed and stylized within a game and so selection is important. If it doesn’t work in a football game, then emphasis will be to shift that song into a game that it does suit.

“The constant challenge of creating a soundtrack is always to define the game’s audio personality.

“The bands and songs we choose must fit a game’s energy trigger an emotional response and take game play to another level,” says Steve.

His ethos is that music must give you the ability to ‘run faster and hit harder’. Creating a buzz is what makes music synonymous with videogames. For the bands though, it is the chance to show their creative talent to the world through this unique format. Being associated with the top titles is certainly something not to sniff at; in the process expanding coverage and potentially turning over more profits from sales of records, tickets and possibly band merchandise.

As Steve concurs: “All the artists we work with understand this because they’re all gamers”.

In Part 2, we’ll be hearing about the rise of Rock Band and finding out if Steve has a personal favourite videogame soundtrack.

You can visit the EA Music Blog to find out the latest news or the EA Trax facebook page.

Check out part 2 of our interview and keep an eye out for our vote on your favourite music videogame! What do you think of Artwerk and what they do? Post below.

Rob Rymond

Currently residing between Solihull and Stoke, Rob is training to be a professional journalist at Staffordshire University. He has a wealth of experience under his belt and has been writing for 7 years despite only being 19. He thrives on news and reporting it but also dabbles with reviews as well from time to time. Outside of video games he is also a radio broadcaster (or DJ to me and you) and spends time with his girlfriend.

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