The Untapped Music Market Of Aussie Video Games

22 September 2022 | 10:06 am | Emma Whines

"When creating a pop release, there are things that nag at the back of your mind... whereas with making music for games it's more about creating an atmosphere and you have a bit more creative freedom."

'Cult Of The Lamb'

'Cult Of The Lamb'

While composers and soundscape artists have had a monopoly on gaming music for years, commercial artists are starting to break into the scene and form relationships that benefit both sides, pushing for reform in the way that music and gaming co-exist together in a digital space. 

From a music perspective, the gaming industry is a 300 billion dollar industry with over 2.6 billion untapped fans. Similarly, musical artists of note who are both talented and in the public eye can bring a new fan base to the gaming sector and certain artistry that sometimes composers aren’t able to offer.

Just last week Lil Nas X announced his new ‘Presidency Of League Of Legends’ as a publicity stunt for an ongoing relationship between the two conglomerates. The collaboration includes the release of a new Lil Nas X exclusive song Star Walkin' which he will perform at the World Champion Event, an exclusive in-game skin designed by X and an assumedly hefty paycheck. 

As reported by ABC, Lil Nas X’s swift move into the gaming world opens him up to 125 million registered players. That’s in addition to the exclusive viewers who will tap into the World Championships, where he will debut his new exclusive song Star Walkin’. Riot Games reported that last year's event brought in over 30 million viewers and more than 73 million peak concurrent viewers.

On the new collaboration, Lil Nas X released a statement sharing that, “I felt like it was time for me to try something new. I’ve left my mark on pop culture in so many ways, and now it’s time to take on the world of gaming.”

While the collaboration between Lil Nas X and League Of Legends is on a massive scale, there are examples of quieter, less commodified relationships in the music and gaming industry that have focused less on the glitz and glamour and more on creating an exceptional gaming experience. Swedish folk artist José González and the game Red Dead Redemption (created by Rockstar Games) cultivated a relationship and released the song Far Away, a simple guitar song that conveys the dark moody feel that RDR is known for. 

To this day, gaming communities argue that the use of Gonzales' song in RDR is the reason that they dub it one of the best role-playing games in the industry. One reddit user described the moment and detailed that, “Far Away is among my most magic moments of gaming ever.” 

Since the original collaboration, Rockstar games has gone on to collaborate with a plethora of popular musicians for new game releases with much success, even employing the artistry of D’Angelo and Willy Nelson for Red Dead Redemption 2.

But what about the Aussie scene? Small but fast-growing, the Australian gaming scene is opening up and allowing Australian artists to take advantage of the untapped market. One of the most recent success stories is through the new game Cult Of The Lamb designed by Massive Monsters and soundtracked by Aussie artist Narayana Johnson. Formerly known as one half of Willow Beats, Johnson now goes by the musical moniker River Boy, releasing electronic music and playing hundreds of gigs and festivals in the commercial scene. Always wanting to jump into the gaming scene, Johnson essentially thought the leap would be impossible until an unexpected Twitter follow. 

“I’ve always loved playing video games my entire life and I’m quite inspired by the music in video games," Johnson said. "It’s always something I thought would be really cool, but it was kind of one of those things that I didn’t think was an actual thing that real people did. I never thought I’d be able to land that gig or do that. 

“Julian Wilton, who is one of the main guys at Massive Monster, he was a fan of Willow Beats and he liked our music. He’s actually come to a few gigs of ours and he followed me on Twitter one day. I just remember that I happened to be online when he followed us and he had like a game-y looking display picture, and so I went and checked out his profile and I could see pretty quickly that he made video games.

“I dmed him and basically said, ‘Do you make video games, I love video games,’ and he replied saying he loved my music and that we should do something one day. I said, ‘Yes, amazing, that sounds incredible.'

“Originally we made a small phone game together called Unicycle Giraffe and he really liked the music I made for that and then a few years later, he was like, ‘We’re making a bigger game and we’d love to have you on board.’”

Released in August, Cult Of The Lamb rose to popularity exceedingly fast and sold over a million units in its first week - unheard of for an Australian-made game. Even the soundtrack, featuring over 30 songs, has been streamed hundreds of thousands of times. What’s more, is that Massive Monsters told Johnson to ‘just do you’, essentially allowing him to produce the soundtrack as he would for a commercial release and allowing his creative ability to carry him.

“The music in the game definitely has a lot of similarities to what I make anyway but there are things that are quite different," he said.

“When creating a pop release, there are things that nag at the back of your mind. Like, ‘Is it catchy within the first 10 seconds?’, ‘Does it hook the listener?’, ‘Is it dance-y?’, ‘Will it sound good on a big system?’. There are all these things in the back of your mind even if you try to escape them. Whereas with making music for games it's more about creating an atmosphere and you have a bit more creative freedom."

Learning most of what he knew from High Score, a yearly gaming and music conference in Melbourne, Johnston is proud that he will be a guest speaker this year alongside Massive Monster director Julian Wilton. On the event he says he’s keen to discuss his “ability to use new techniques in electronic music” and further explain the success of Cult Of The Lamb, going into depth about the relationship between gaming and music and how it’s benefited both industries. 

High Score will be in Melbourne on the 1st & 2nd of October or alternatively, you can view the conference online. Purchase tickets here.

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