In 2007, Electronic Arts partnered with record label Nettwerk One to create a "full service" music company called Artwerk - effectively making EA co-owner of a record publishing label.
The intention of the label is to promote signed and unsigned artists - including Junkie XL and Datarock - and cross-promote them, with many Artwerk musicians having their tracks appear in EA games such as Burnout Paradise
and the Madden
It's an adjunct effort to EA's previously-established EA Trax program of licensed music, and Gamasutra recently spoke to
EA worldwide director of music and marketing Steve Schnur on the program.
After talking to Schnur, Gamasutra caught up with Zac Colwell, keyboardist for Artwerk signing and Brooklynite indie rock band Jupiter One
about his band's connection with Artwerk and EA Trax, and the increasing convergence of the music and video game industry.
Can you give us a little bit of background on your band?
Zac Colwell: Sure. K Ishibashi -- the singer -- and I met during a touring show that took us around the country. We did a nice little job, and we were roommates, and had some common interest in music, and found ourselves in New York a few years later and started the band.
We finally found Dave Heilman -- you know, the right drummer -- and Mocha, K's wife, has been with us all along, too. She started the band with us. It's like, you get to take all these cool people who all do the same thing. Other than that, it's the same old story.
How did you first get involved with EA Trax?
ZC: Artwerk, our publishing company, is run by Steve Schnur. He's a fan of the album, and he's got a great team there who all liked the album, apparently. They figured that a few of the songs from the album... the album's kind of diverse, we tried to make it diverse as possible, and it seems diverse enough to put three or four different songs in different games. It was basically our publishing company who decided. They actively sought out the licensing opportunities for the games.
So Artwerk is a joint venture between EA and Nettwerk Records.
When you got involved with Artwerk, did you know that it was a game-oriented company?
ZC: Yeah, we knew that. We knew when we got involved with them, and we thought it would be a cool thing if we could get into a video game. Most of the bands they have are much bigger, established bands, and we're just a little indie band from New York at this point, you know? We thought that was pretty cool. Yeah, that was one of the cool things that we thought about when we first met them. They mentioned that kind of thing.
So did they put out your CDs as well?
ZC: No. They do publishing, but the label -- it's called Cordless -- it was founded by Jac Holzman, who was the guy who started Elektra back in the day. He was kind of a forward-thinking dude, and Warner had him create Cordless, because when they thought of trying to get on the digital front, they called the guy who was their most forward-thinking, who was Jac Holzman. They started Cordless. Cordless is also associated with some of the staff of Lycos, another Warner Bros. thing. So that's the label. On the publishing side, it's Artwerk, and then they also handle the games.
When you got involved with this, did you think it was more like a marketing opportunity to get exposure for your music?
ZC: It had some appeal. These days, it seems like everyone's so marketing-savvy. Feist is in iPod commercials, and Of Montreal is in an Outback Steakhouse commercial. All that stuff. I think it's interesting that these kinds of media outlets are all right again. Because in the '90s, that was intolerable to fans.
I think it's thrilling that they have real bands in games, instead of just whatever fantastical soundtrack somebody comes up with on a MIDI keyboard, you know? Like last night, we Bowery Ballroom in New York, and one of my friends I hadn't seen in a long time came over and said that her brother, who she doesn't think has very hip taste in music at all... she heard Jupiter One coming from his bedroom, and she peeked in and said, "You've heard of Jupiter One?" And it was because it was in Madden
So yeah, I don't know. For me, basically it's just really surprising to me that this kind of thing happened at all. Who would've thought that bands would be in video games and be promoted that way? I definitely didn't see it coming. But it's a real blessing, and we've made a lot of fans from it.
Do people come up to you or post messages on your MySpace saying, "Hey, I first heard this in Madden?”
ZC: Yeah, it's the majority of our messages, especially YouTube, are from people who heard us in Madden
Did you start to sell more records when you started to get more exposure through EA Games?
ZC: Yeah, a little bit. There's a lot of downloads of single songs that went up. It helped a lot for sure.
When you're writing a song and you know you have this deal, does it affect in any way your creative process? Do you try to write a catchy single, and then think instead of a single that might go on MTV like in the past, that it might be a single that might stand out against the crowd in an EA game?
ZC: No, I don't think so. We didn't do that in the first place, because these songs were written a long time ago. It took so long to get the album made and finished and everything that... the fact that almost every song on the album is licensed to something, whether it's a TV show or whatever, the fact that we didn't have that in mind...
I think maybe the sound of the record is a little cinematic sometimes, and it lends itself well to the cinema, or TV shows, or video games. We just keep doing whatever we do, and I think it's just a coincidence that people think that it fits their media well, you know?
Do you have any control or input into what kind of games your music gets in, or does EA just pick and choose what they like and match it to what they want?
ZC: They choose what they think. They're the experts. But I imagine that we can send them flowers and chocolate and stuff to influence them.
Do you play games at all?
ZC: I'm not good at them. I try. I haven't had a system for a very long time, so whenever I sit down and try to play, it's embarrassing, because I suck. But it is fun to struggle with it.
Maybe you should try Nintendo Wii. That's a little bit different.
ZC: (laughs) Yeah. I tried that for the first time the other day. We were in a van going to DC, and I was just telling the bass player that I tried that. It's really fun. He said those guys are geniuses, referring to video game programmers in general.
Yeah. It's really interesting. Things are changing a lot now. Just this, the fact that a band can get significant exposure from a game, is a big change too, for artists.
ZC: Yeah. It's really interesting to watch. It's like watching New York City change or something. You hear people say, "Oh yeah, things were so much different back then," and next thing you know, you've been here as it changes. But you know, technology and media and all that is changing so fast in our lifetime. I guess it's not any faster than it has been, really, but it feels like it now, because it seems like a lot of miracles that are happening that if you showed it to somebody five or ten years ago, they'd freak out.
When you started the band, did you think you'd be recording and releasing an album, and people would be buying it on a CD, rather than getting your exposure thought YouTube, MySpace, and video games?
ZC: Yeah. I mean, I still buy CDs. I always thought people would be buying CDs, but people like to download a lot and all that. I don't know.
It is kind of interesting, because there's a mixture of established artists and new artists going into the games. EA has another game called Burnout Paradise, and I know you guys have a song in that.
ZC: Yeah, we've got one in there called Fire Away. That's good fun.
We met those folks over there when we were in LA last time at EA. They're just like music fans. They're really cool. They get excited about it, and they go, "Yeah, this would be cool in there." Then they just do it, or their department makes a suggestion.
They make it based on how excited they get about something. It's not really a cold science or anything in picking the tunes. It's just music-loving people over there that try to put good things inside.