You have probably heard that, for the first time in history, a soundtrack album from a videogame, Austin Wintory’s spellbinding soundtrack for Journey, has been nominated for a Grammy Award, “Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media.” (http://www.grammy.com/nominees?genre=11).
Austin’s game soundtrack will be directly competing with Film soundtracks from Hugo, The Dark Knight Rises, The Artist, Tintin and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Yes, Austin is up against legendary film composers John Willliams, Hans Zimmer, Howard Shore and Trent Reznor.
What you may not know is the tremendous amount of the behind-the-scenes work and effort that went in making it even possible for a game soundtrack to even be nominated…
Rewind to 1999, when composer Chance Thomas, put together a group of ten of the top game composers to formally lobby NARAS, the group which organizes the Grammys, to create a new Grammy category for videogame music. At the time, the Grammy for original score was called “Best Instrumental Composition Writing for a Motion Picture or for Television.” Videogame soundtracks weren’t even eligible to even be nominated for a Grammy.
Chance and those of us in that group showed how game music had changed—it was no longer Pacman and Donkey Kong-- but often included full orchestral scores deserving of recognition by the music industry. It was slow work, and NARAS declined to create a new category.
However after continued lobbying, in 2001 NARAS agreed that videogame soundtracks warranted a closer look, and became technically eligible, as the soundtrack category was modified to become “Best instrumental Composition Written for Motion Pictures, Television or Other Visual Media”. Yes, 2 years of lobbying resulted in adding 4 words to the existing soundtrack category, with videogames falling under the catchall of “other visual media.”
While significant, this still somehow put videogames below Motion Pictures and TV. A renewed concentrated effort was orchestrated by Chance, the Game Audio Network Guild, through its founder Tommy Tallarico and President Paul Lipson as well as EA’s Steve Schnur, and NARAS’s Leslie Ann Jones and Greg Gordon and many others.
Fast forward, and in 2011, Videogame music made history, getting additional attention from the music industry, as a song originally recorded for Civilization IV, included on Christopher Tin’s album of original music, Baba Yetu, won the Grammy for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalists.” Although released on a solo album, that represented the first time a Grammy was awarded to a song that was originally written for a videogame!
In 2012, recognizing the importance of the artform of videogame music, NARAS decided to place videogames, Movies and Television on equal footing, re-naming the soundtrack category “Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media.” It is in that category, along with soundtracks for Films composed by John Williams, Hans Zimmer and Howard Shore that Austin’s Journey soundtrack will compete for the Grammy this weekend. I asked Chance to think back to those meetings and here’s what he said:
“I am thrilled that the Journey soundtrack by Austin Wintory is nominated for a Grammy Award. It’s about time! For those who worked so long and hard to bring game music into the Grammy Awards, this is a gratifying day. And for game music fans worldwide, it’s a milestone achievement.” - Chance Thomas
So tune in to the Grammys this weekend. Should Austin Wintory’s Journey Soundtrack win, you’ll see video game history being made.
Brian Schmidt is a 25-year game audio veteran and an independent Game Audio Consultant, Composer and Sound Designer at Brian Schmidt Studios, LLC and is founder of the audio game company, Eargames. He is also the founder and Executive Director ofGameSoundCon. Brian sits on the GDC Advisory Board and is President of the Game Audio Network Guild