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Musicians Are Making Tracks to Video Games

Popularity of Interactive Play Has Artists Battling to Be Heard

By Jose Antonio Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 9, 2004; Page A01

The Game -- aka Jayceon Taylor -- isn't a star. Not yet, at least. But it helps that big-shot producer Dr. Dre is on his side, working on a few cuts on the Game's debut album, set to drop in mid-January.

To break into the sardine-can hip-hop scene, the Game needs to tour, hit the FM waves, make the rounds on MTV.

Fledgling hip-hop artist Jayceon Taylor, known as the Game, is hoping to make the soundtrack of a popular video game. (Jonathan Mannion)

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One more thing: "It'd be really, really hot to get on Madden," the 25-year-old MC says from a recording studio in California's San Fernando Valley.

He's talking about the most lucrative franchise in the multibillion-dollar video game industry, selling more than 40 million units since its launch in 1989. Madden NFL 2004 was last year's top-selling game, and Madden NFL 2005 is poised to be near the top again this year.

The competition to get onto the game's soundtrack -- a lineup of thumping, furious, go-play-ball songs -- is fierce. Last year record labels sent more than 2,500 songs to vie for the game's 21 tracks, which included Hoobastank's "Same Direction," New Found Glory's "This Disaster" and Yung Wun's "Yung Wun Anthem."

In the past three years, particularly this year, the link between the music industry and the video game industry -- the former in a revenue slump, the latter on a revenue high -- has gotten only closer. For example, the rock-punk band Incubus wrote music for Halo 2, and Snoop Dogg's cover of the Doors classic "Riders on the Storm" made its debut on Need for Speed Underground 2. Both games were released last month.

For artists as established as Green Day, whose "American Idiot" has just been nominated for a Grammy as record of the year, winning a spot on Madden NFL's soundtrack is like having a 20-second commercial on "Monday Night Football" or "Desperate Housewives." For an up-and-comer such as the Game, it's an even bigger deal, the kind of break that gives instant celebrity. For both, it's a new route to an old audience, as sure a bet as any when it comes to grabbing a prized demographic: 18-to-34-year-old males, 75 percent of whom play video games, according to Nielsen Interactive Entertainment.

"I play Madden, like, 30 hours or 40 hours a week, easy," says Nick Schwartz, 24, standing outside the Black Cat, a popular indie-rock club on 14th Street NW. The software technician says he first heard the song "American Idiot" on Madden NFL 2005, not on the radio or MTV. The song is also the title of Green Day's punk-rock album, which this week scored six Grammy nominations. Justin Yu, a friend of Schwartz's, interrupts. The 27-year-old Web designer, a "huge basketball fanatic," says he discovered the rapper Fabolous two years ago, on NBA Live 2003. With his busy work schedule, "playing basketball means taking out the PlayStation."

In the past five years, that 18-to-34 male demographic has been increasingly turning on the television not to watch a show but to play video games, says Michael Dowling, general manager of Nielsen Interactive.

"Music in video game soundtracks has become a place for retro-classics, to hear new artists and for exciting artists to stretch and do different kinds of material," says Casey Patterson of the MTV spinoff Spike TV, the self-described first network for men. On Nov. 30 the network, with Artemis Records, released a compilation CD, "Hits Vol. 1: Best of Video Game Music," and on Tuesday it will hold its second annual Video Game Awards. Snoop Dogg, a big gamer himself, is the host.

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