Videogame tunesmiths attempt to go solo

Eleven years ago NARAS recognized the significance of videogame scores by making them eligible for Grammy consideration in the best score soundtrack album for motion picture, television or other visual media category.

More than a decade later, no videogame score has been among the final five Grammy nominees. Now there is a growing movement for videogame scores to split off and become their own category.

“The bottom line is we feel that today most vital composers are increasingly choosing to create some of their most exciting work in this clearly defined musical field,” says Electronic Arts worldwide executive of music Steve Schnur, who is among those leading a charge for the change. “By not having its own category, it’s not necessarily an insult to the (videogames) medium but a bit of an insult to the composers.”

He adds that he believes that TV, movies and videogames should each have their own category: “I say this with all due respect, NARAS is no stranger to creating new categories. We have best Hawaiian, best Native American …”

Oscar-winning composer Michael Giacchino, who got his start scoring videogames, agrees with Schnur. “Each discipline has its own unique challenges, while at the same time being about the art of storytelling,” he says. “Games nowadays, in particular, probably have the most unique challenge when it comes to structuring a storyline — simply because the user essentially creates their own version of the story being told.”

Sean Murray, who composed the music for “Call of Duty: Black Ops,” adds that videogame sales top movie sales but feels Grammy voters remain “heavily biased” toward film and TV scores. “A gamer will spend hundreds of hours playing, while listening to the score over and over,” he says.

In addition, composers say videogames often contain much more music than film or TV scores. For example, Ramin Djawadi wrote 100 minutes of music for the new “Medal of Honor” game, much more than for his recent “Iron Man” and “Clash of the Titans” scores. Plus, writing for games is a different discipline.

“Music for the videogame isn’t written to synch with the picture,” he says. “You can’t anticipate what’s going to happen, so you’re capturing a mood instead of writing to picture.”

Schnur and his fellow proponents have submitted two proposals to the Recording Academy over the past five years for videogame scores to get their own category and been denied both times. “We’ve been doing a lot of proving that these scores sell on their own,” Schnur says. “We showed the vast variety of game scores available.” Schnur says EA alone released 20 scores last year.

However, those numbers aren’t evident when it comes to submissions, says Bill Freimuth, the Recording Acad’s VP of awards. Of the 114 total scores submitted in the soundtrack category this year, Freimuth says only six are videogame scores, which he says is consistent with the last few years. “Our rules say if you have less than 10 entries, we don’t present that award,” he says. “So even if we had a separate category for video scores, there wouldn’t be enough.”

The videogame industry, he suggests, needs to “make sure that every CD or digital release of a score that is produced gets (submitted). If they had at least 50, their argument is going to get a lot stronger.”

Schnur says he hopes the third time will be the charm. “We’ll go back for round three sooner or later,” he says. “I’m hoping we’re a category by 2012.”

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