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Working the Grammy Angle

February 25, 2000 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

As the curtain rises on the 42nd Annual Grammy Award ceremony, the legitimacy and expectations of game music will rise with it. The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) Board of Trustees, last year, approved opening 3 categories to include music written for the continuously evolving digital arena that is video games: Best Soundtrack Album for Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media; Best Song for a Motion Picture, Television, or Other Visual Media; and Best Instrumental Composition for Motion Picture, Television, or Other Visual Media. 'Other Visual Media' is the term designed to encompass video and computer games, multimedia and the future possibilities of the internet into one tidy little package. Although no game music was nominated this year, the ball has begun its roll. I call upon you to help keep it rolling.

Game music has traveled from the bleeps and bloops of yesteryear to an art form now recognized on par with Motion Picture and Television Scores, with full orchestration and ever growing recording budgets and techniques. The line is quickly becoming blurred as years of hard work and dedication by outstanding composers culminate. Incredible efforts by our very own game industry music notables, lead in force by powerhouse Chance Thomas (Quest for Glory V, Middle Earth) and supporting cast (Tommy Tallarico, Mark Miller, Ron Hubbard, Brian Schmidt, George Sanger, Bobby Prince, Tom White, Michael Land, Alexander Brandon, Murray Allen, Greg Rahn and others) presented a strong case to the Awards Committee which could not be disregarded. We owe them all a great deal of gratitude for their spirit and tenacity.

A couple years back I was invited to the studio of TV theme great, Mike Post, for an afternoon of musical rapture. He was writing and recording a theme for a shows pilot episode, the studio was abuzz, creativity was oozing, and I was sitting next to a man I had admired for years as he played guitar. We talked about alot that day, our mutual love for music, flying and the industry. But time passes and my memory fades as I struggle to hold on to this highlight of my life. The one moment I will never forget, though, is the site of all his Grammy Awards lined up on a glass shelf just outside the studio door. I remember standing there in complete awe, unbreathing for several minutes, having what could only be described as a religious experience. From that moment on, I've wanted one and now I am thankful to be working in an industry where the pinnacle of music awards is at last attainable.

In The Beginning

And to think this all simply started by accident. Chance Thomas had met one of the key leaders of the academy and during a conversation, mentioned composing for video games. This man of great stature and influence scoffed, wrinkled his nose and said, "You mean like PacMan and Donkey Kong?" Well, not only did the public need a little re-education, but so did those of this prestigious organization. If only outwardly unaffected by the situation, Chance explained he had just completed a game soundtrack using a live orchestra and other high brow instrumentation like classical guitars and layered voices. The nose became unwrinkled and eyebrows raised in pleasant surprise. Now that he had his attention, he casually asked if there could ever be a Grammy category for game scores. The answer surprised even Chance, he was to write up a formal proposal and send it to the address on the business card which was being thrust into his hand.

Chance Thomas

Thus began a 2 year journey into what Chance has described as "like getting a bill passed through Congress." Endless letters, emails, phone calls, faxes, meetings and an ever growing number of allies on the inside led the Awards and Nominations Committee to eventually review the proposal. Their interest became evident when they scheduled a Game Music Summit in December 1998 with a dozen of the game industry's top music professionals. This 'Working Group on Game Music Awards and Membership" opened the eyes of the committee, giving them clear insight into the quality of game music. On May 6, 1999, NARAS made the announcement many had eagerly anticipated, that game scores would be allowed to compete for a Grammy Award beginning with the years 42nd awards ceremony.

Many key players helped with certain direction and backing to make this all a reality. Behind the scenes efforts were especially concentrated during vital phases, by individuals which Chance, and others, wish to also recognize. "There were two individuals at NARAS that played pivotal roles in getting game music included in the Grammy Awards. Without the guidance, support, and campaigning of these two amazing ladies, it would have never happened: Diane Theriot (Vice President of Awards) got me started in the right direction, was an early supporter of this initiative, and came through with some turnkey information at a critical time in our campaign. Leslie Ann Jones (National Chairperson) was the rock solid support who brought tremendous clout to our proposal and worked it effectively on the inside. Important support also came from San Francisco chapter president Steve Savage and from Mix magazine founder Hillel Resnor. Both of these men opened up opportunities for influential stories on game music in widely read NARAS publications. One more person who deserves recognition and high praise for his role in this is my former boss at Yosemite Entertainment, Craig Alexander. It was his bankroll that paid for my lobbying trips to Los Angeles and San Francisco, the phone bill for all the long distance calls to drum up support, and my time (on the clock) that I spent drafting proposals, gathering support materials, and leading the campaign. He was a big believer in it right from the start and it probably wouldn't have happened without his support."

Another one of the essential pieces of this grand puzzle was the original proposal submitted to the Academy. As an interesting historical note, and for those who are curious, Chance has made this labor of love available for download. The document is quite impressive and spotlights many areas which you will find thoroughly thought provoking. Click here to download the Grammy proposal.

Prominence in the Industry.

This new attention can only be positive to gaming and to the music makers within the industry. There is no better advertisement that putting "Musical Score by Grammy Award Winner… " on the box cover and the buying public will respond in force. Besides the obvious affects, that game composers would receive mainstream recognition and that perhaps even established recording artists and composers might find our trade more attractive, there are others worth considering.

"As far as legitimizing the craft, it would do alot in that sense, I think. Those that do it feel the music we write is as valid as on any movie or TV show. It would be nice to get out from behind the scenes, quit being that bastard child of the music production world." says Jamey Scott, Presto's in-house composer and sound designer. Efforts by industry composers has been tremendous and development of game scores is obvious. The Grammy's would encourage more growth, expansion and the continued pursuit of musical excellence in games.

Tim Larkin, currently the audio director at Cyan, agrees that game music receiving recognition on its own merits is important. "I hope it will raise the awareness within the musical community that music can be made as well and be just as effective for a gaming environment as any other. I imagine that it won't hurt game sales either."

Besides the increase of music budgets, Jon Holland, composer of the upcoming Ms. Pacman Playstation game, Baseball 2000, the Vectorman series and others, had some thoughts as well. "It would probably be taken more seriously. Budgets would go up and we would start to hear more robust, serious music in games. That grand style of music is out there, it seems to me that every successful game that has an epic orchestral score gets taken very seriously - Game of the Year! It would force a new perspective on game scores from the developers standpoint. And I don't feel that only orchestral scores should be eligible for this award. Any good score should have the chance to win, Electronica included. Great music should translate in any medium."

The Grammy's could also standardize game soundtrack release by the composer, opening greater possibilities for getting the music 'out there' and receiving added income. While soundtracks become elevated to this new level of credibility and share shelf space in music stores, there are side effects which should be monitored. If the composer is able to maintain certain rights, especially for commercial release of the music, then our perfect world will indeed exist. But as publishers and developers enter the record business, composers will need to ensure they receive compensation for that extra product income.

Joey Kuras, sound designer at Tommy Tallarico Studios is also excited about the prospects. "We would definitely get better quality music knowing that a Grammy could come from it and more people would get involved. Back in the '80's video game music was just simple little melodies but now it is music like movie scores or pop albums or other commercial music. It's up to that level now, just not getting the same exposure. I think more soundtracks will be released to compete. I would love to pop in a CD of my favorite game." And think about if everyone felt that way. It would inflame the growth of music product being released by the industry musicians. More soundtrack albums and enhanced music CD's would mean greater career opportunities and revenue for more and more recording professionals such as composers, musicians, engineers and producers. A win-win proposition for all of us.

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