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“Consider this: An average of 2.5 people play each one of our sports games sold for somewhere between 50 and 90 hours, and we rotate songs to play at least two times an hour. That means a song will get upwards of a billion spins in a game.”
THE NEW GATEKEEPERS, PT. 2:
EA KICKS OUT THE JAMS
HITS Gets Schooled by Steve Schnur, “the Clive Davis of the Video-Game Industry”
By Jon O'Hara

The first story in this series detailed the rise of AOL Music and Yahoo! Music (formerly LAUNCH) as “gatekeepers” alongside radio and MTV in exposing audiences to new music. We turn now to video game behemoth Electronic Arts. Through a uniquely proactive music program and their unquestionable dominance in the gaming industry, EA has become a key ingredient in breaking both new artists and new music from established acts.

“This is the only video game company in the world where the halls are lined with gold and platinum records, because of the stance we take,” says Electronic Arts’ Worldwide Executive of Music and Audio Steve Schnur, the music guru whom the Washington Post has called “the Clive Davis of the video-game industry.”

In what has become a $25 billion business worldwide, EA is #1 by far, bigger than the four next-biggest companies combined. With annual revenue of $3 billion, only EA can say that one out of every four video games sold is theirs.

Since joining EA just three years ago, Schnur has led the charge in making music—specifically, music from new or unfamiliar artists and new music from known artists—a major element of the EA game experience. The company’s most popular franchise, Madden NFL Football, typically features 20 or more full-length songs, each of which gets its own Chyron—the MTV-like identifier at the corner of the screen telling artist, title and label.

“We brought that in because we felt that young people raised on MTV in the last 20-something years expected to be given that information,” says Schnur, who notes that a recent poll found that 55% of gamers ages 13-32 learned about a new artist by hearing a song in a video game. Over one-third went on to download a song, and more than 20% purchased the artist’s CD.

“Consider this,” he says. “An average of 2.5 people play each one of our sports games sold—that’s Madden, that’s FIFA (a soccer game), that’s NBA Live, and so on—for somewhere between 50 and 90 hours, and we rotate songs to play at least two times an hour. That means a song will get upwards of a billion spins in a game.”

Schnur says all that exposure can affect the marketing and promotion equation for a record in tangible ways. “We know for a fact that presence in a major video game affects the research at radio. Take the Blink-182 song from Madden 2004, which came out in August 2005, by the time that song got to radio, it was already testing almost 100% familiar.”

The list of bands that EA has helped expose to the millions of gamers in the U.S. alone (not to mention their major international operation) is a long one and includes such now-familiar names as Franz Ferdinand, Jet and Yellowcard.

The secret, Schnur says is to “think like a 14-year-old. Stop remembering what a good time you had listening to Chumbawamba, because the 16-year-old playing FIFA isn’t going to have that same good time. They’re going to get off on The Bravery.”

Schnur and his surprisingly small team consists of music supervisor Cydele Pettus, assistant music supervisor Raphi Lima, licensing pros Gina Ferranti, Beverly Koeckeritz and Antje Fallen, and publicist Tammy Schachter. Yet this small group will put out over 30 games this year, each with around 20 songs, not to mention original scoring.

“To get to the final 20 in Madden, we’ll have gone through over 2,000 songs,” Schnur says by way of example. But despite the crushing workload, the team doesn’t skimp on research. “We are online constantly, talking to real kids about what they’re listening to. Basically, we’re A&Ring and music supervising the hell out of our games.”

While Schnur and company are also in constant touch with a deep network of label execs, lawyers and managers, he says they strive to keep open minds. “If it’s quality, and we feel that it’s something that will stick and grow, you’re in.”

EA also maintains extensive Web sites for each of its games (there are a lot; check EA.com), which include pages to help market the music as well as the game. Schnur offers another stat: EA.com is the #4 most-visited site on the Internet after AOL, Yahoo! and MSN. Next up, he says, the company will focus on “mobile gaming,” including Sony’s new PlayStation Portable, which will have the ability to play videos of songs included in the games.

As for the current bonanza, he says, “We did 27 last year; 22 of them sold at least a million units; the other five sold over 5 million units. That’s how we’re able to adapt and work with labels and artists. We have platinum titles coming out almost every month, so we can be in line with the launch of a record, whenever it comes out.

“Three years ago, we had to court every single band that ended up in our games,” Schnur notes. “Now we get the calls.”

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