When you mention video game music, you might be forgiven for thinking of retro 8-bit or sweeping, filmic orchestral scores which are produced specifically for that project. However, a well selected licensed track can easily equal (and quite often surpass) a hand crafted, bespoke soundtrack in terms of impacting a players experience/mood. A licensed song can help to elevate a scene in a game to the next level – providing a sense of time and place, making a game world seem far more realistic, or even subtly hinting at themes and story threads etc.
So, on that note, here are my four personal favourite uses of licensed music in video games. Enjoy!
1. Fallout 3 (2008) – Track: I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire – The Ink Spots
Songs by The Ink Spots have appeared in a multitude of Fallout games, but pairing ‘I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire’ – emanating from a damaged bus stereo – with a slow camera track through the shattered remains of Washington DC, while the song echoes hauntingly through the city, is pure genius. Not forgetting that, even though not a direct reference, the lyrics can be interpreted as commenting on the nuclear fallout – ‘I Don’t want to Set the World on Fire’. Too late.
You can check out the rest of the Fallout 3 soundtrack here :
2. Red Dead Redemption (2010) – Track: Far Away – José González
An incredible western on par with Sergio Leone’s legendary ‘The Good, The Bad and the Ugly’, RDR has a number of incredible sync placements across the course of the game, but none more so than the use of José González’s ‘Far Away’. While crossing the border from America to Mexico, the track fades in, infusing the scene with the sense of longing that the main character has to see his family again (who are being held hostage by the government), as well as hinting at the physical distance that is now between them. It also successfully captures the isolation and emptiness of the wild west setting.
3. The Last of Us (2013) – Track: Alone and Forsaken – Hank Williams
Set in an extremely bleak, post apocalyptic world (I’m sensing a bit of a theme here) reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’, the game has a consistently oppressive tone throughout, which is reflected in the licensed tracks used in the game. Playing from a tape over the car radio, ‘Alone and Forsaken’ quietly plays in the background of this scene which precedes an ambush. As well as commenting on the state of the world and the characters place in it, it is a throwback to the world that existed before – a stark reminder that what came before is now gone.
4. Batman: Arkham Knight (2015) – Track: I’ve Got You Under My Skin – Frank Sinatra
During the first cinematic at the very start of the game, The Joker’s body is being burned, soundtracked by the dulcet tones of Frank Sinatra singing the classic track ‘I’ve got you under my skin’. This is clever for two reasons. The first is that the song nicely juxtaposes the imagery – a comforting, chirpy, big-band arrangement is the complete opposite to the dark visuals that accompany it.
The second is down to the lyrics. “I’ve got you under my skin. I’ve got you deep in the heart of me. So deep in my heart that you’re really a part of me”. These lyrics cleverly foreshadow upcoming events in the story. In the game, Batman has regular hallucinations involving The Joker, which he cannot rid himself of, hence being ‘under my skin’.
When it comes to a song placement in a video game, the potential for a large amount of new and existing fans to discover/hear your music is huge. For example, in Grand Theft Auto V alone there are sixteen radio stations playing around 441 tracks of licensed music. Add to this the fact that GTA V was recently crowned the most successful media title of all time (chalking up 90 million sales worldwide to date), makes getting your song in any video game an extremely appealing and potentially lucrative proposition. The aforementioned exposure for artists from a successful video game sync can be massive – a study by Electric Artists revealed 40% of hardcore gamers discovered new music via games, of which 27% went on to purchase that music.
There are no backend royalties from a video game sync, just the initial sync fee, which will vary due to the budget of the game, profile of the artist, how important the track being used is to the game etc. However it is possible instead of a flat fee that you may receive a fee per unit sold, or a fee that changes depending if/when the game hits or surpasses outlined sales targets.
As part of the sync team, we are constantly pitching your music for placement in video games, TV, film and advertising, so be sure to check out the sync portal here and start submitting your tracks on the multitude of opportunities we currently have live!