News

How gaming could reshape music distribution (guest column)


Tags:

This is a guest post by Roman Rappak, of the band Miro Shot, and co-founder of music metaverse startup Ristband. He’s been performing and touring live mixed reality concerts since 2017, creating digital twins of live events in his metaverse platform.

In this article, he writes about the electronic music and digital arts festival MUTEK, and the launch of its new programme, selecting artists from previous festivals and funding the creation of an XR art piece based on their performance, which is then sold on gaming marketplaces. Here, Roman addresses the importance of gaming and interactive culture, and the ways it might reshape the music industry of the future.

VR is still comparatively niche: headset adoption sits at only 14M  devices sold last year, in comparison to the 180M American households alone that have a gaming console (~55% of the population), and the 6bn + people who own a mobile phone worldwide. Immersive technology is a long way from being an everyday consumer item.

It’s a lot like that stupid P2P filesharing/streaming thing in the 90s (Napster/Emule) that never led to anything. People just don’t consume music that way today.” Why should we care?

Roman Rappak

The obvious reason is that the video games industry is worth $300bn, and 30 million kids play Roblox every day. Traditionally, artists and the music industry could only gaze enviously at the sophistication of how the gaming industry is structured.

If you work in music, maybe you get to have a track on the next FIFA game, or perhaps sync the next Assassin’s Creed trailer, but otherwise the music industry’s role in the gaming world is as marginal (and unfairly remunerated) as that of a voiceover agency: simply another service or content provider.

”Here’s a game, we need this performance or content, and are not willing to pay you much, now kindly stand over there while we outsell Michael Jackson’s Thriller…”

The electronic music and digital arts festival MUTEK has taken the unique approach of selecting artists from previous years’ festivals and funding them to create an XR art piece based on their live AV performance, which crucially, they will sell on gaming marketplaces such as Steam, in the same way a game is sold.

Lola Baraldi, MUTEK’s Digital Projects and Partnerships Coordinator, says the festival has a firm commitment to supporting artists through these new approaches:  This is an exercise in how we can diversify production and distribution methods and create new sources of revenue for artists.

Changes that can be made

How can the mechanics of the gaming industry change music? First let’s look at distribution. Why is it that In the world of indie games, a couple of kids with relatively easy to use software (such as Unreal Engine and Unity), and a good idea can create a world of sound and vision that can be sold on Steam for £12.99, in a virtually bulletproof antipiracy infrastructure?

Try playing an illegal copy of Cyberpunk 2077 on your Playstation and watch Sony turn your PS5 into a brick. “Hang on!” I hear you say, “Sounds like the music industry right? Where a couple of kids with a copy of Ableton and a great idea can create a world of sound and vision?”. Not entirely…

For example, a track I released on Spotify got over a million streams, which added up to total of $3K ($0.003 – $0.005 per stream on average). This has to go towards the recording costs, marketing, as well as commissions to publishers and management.

To map this out in cold hard maths, this means an artist can spend a year on an album campaign (music, artwork, videos, marketing), and assuming each track gets a million streams and the record has 11 songs, stand to make less than if they worked in a pub.

As game dev tools become easier to use (using no-code aspects of Unreal Engine such as Blueprints), releasing interactive content on Steam alongside an album, which was traditionally something only acts as big as Radiohead could do, is quickly becoming a reality for the independent artists who make up over $3billion of the music industry (a number which is steadily rising). 

Ignoring the importance of gaming culture (lets call it interactive entertainment) today is like saying in 1964 that the Beatles will “Go Away”. To quote Warner Music Group’s former head of innovation Scott Cohen at his talk in Copenhagen recently: “It’s like ignoring MTV in the late 80s/early 90s”.

The next Elvis/Bowie/Drake will not come out of the traditional approach to music and distribution, and in fact each of those artists achieved their levels of success precisely because of exploiting new technology and listening habits.

Games also have replayability. Even indie games have 50-100 hours of gameplay. Whereas you can listen to a year (or more) of someone’s work to create an album in about 40 minutes, and do this every day for a month for £9.99 on Spotify, or even just listen for free on Youtube.

Games are technically never finished, they can constantly be updated, and have a robust in-app purchase system. When was the last time you bought a band’s TShirt while listening to them on Spotify? 

The future

We are not simply talking about a new revenue stream, we are talking about access to an entirely new industry.

Will the music industry finally get to use the tools (Unreal, Unity) and the marketplaces (Steam, PlayStation, Epic Games store) that have helped the gaming industry grow to over 10x the size of what the music industry at its peak ($25.9bn (£19.5bn in 2021)?

Will it lead to a new form entirely where the boundaries between songwriter and game dev are blurred, where we see collaborations between musician and coder in the same way that we saw artist and producer relationships such as Eno/Byrne, Joy Division/Hannett, Dre/Eminem or Radiohead/Godrich?

While we are only at the very start of this new era, MUTEK’s recent Immersive Collection is a forward-thinking step that could very well be the first rumblings of a point in music history that would be so huge it’s almost impossible to comprehend.

It’s the moment where the music industry stops being the gaming industry’s less wealthy, less healthy little brother; when we can finally stop thinking of music fans and gamers as two separate demographics; and when we can reward artists and music industry professionals fairly.


Written by: Music Ally