From Beeps to Billboard

By Olga Kharif Tommy Tallarico has yet to achieve the fame and fortune enjoyed by cousin Steven Tyler of famed band Aerosmith. While Tyler (real name Steven Tallarico) is a household name, his relation, who composed the scores for such popular video games as Tony Hawk's Pro-Skater, is a star only among gamers.

And that feels like not being a star at all. While Tyler has reaped millions from concerts, CDs, and song downloads, Tallarico has managed only a decent living selling music to game publishers. For now, instead of mingling with movie stars and dating supermodels, Tommy Tallarico plays Prince of Persia and Beyond Good & Evil during his spare time.

BIG BOYS AND TOYS. But the celebrity that has eluded Tallarico may be moving closer. Recently he has been approached about starring in a reality TV show. And his famous cousin has talked with him about possibly recording a soundtrack for a video game.

Indeed, video games may stand on the brink of pop-culture consciousness. "Video games are where the film industry was in the 1920s," says Tallarico. Back then, Warner Bros. released Don Juan and The Jazz Singer, the first films with sound. Not long after, the hottest musical acts were vying to get into movies, hoping for fame that would boost record and concert sales. Video games -- an industry whose $10 billion revenues rival box office receipts -- could experience the same phenomenon.

Male consumers already spend more money on video games than they do on music, according to Nielsen Entertainment. Thanks to the latest gaming console technology (see BW Online, 4/25/05, "An X-Factor for the New Xbox?"), video game music has attained higher quality than that of CDs.

SOUND PROSPECTS. No longer a series of beeps and bleeps, video-game music has evolved into an intricate art form, designed for a listening duration of up to 100 hours of play time, vs. the 90 minutes of a movie, explains Andy Brick, who composed scores for The Sims II role-playing game.

The soundtrack for Halo 2, a game in which a genetically enhanced supersoldier battles evil, has sold more than 90,000 copies since its release last November. Peaking at No. 162, it marked game music's first entry into the Billboard 200 chart. (A typical movie soundtrack, on the other hand, sells only 10,000 copies and never comes even close to the chart.)

Video-game music downloads are turning into big moneymakers, too. Tracks from several video games, including Final Fantasy and various Grand Theft Auto titles, have made it onto the top-100 iTunes chart. Their climb could hasten now that Internet service provider America Online (TWX) has launched the world's first Web-based video-game music radio station. Introduced in May, the Video Game Scores station currently plays about 400 hit game songs and is rapidly rising in popularity.

UNPRECEDENTED TOUR. The new video-game music station is attracting as many listeners as older AOL radio stations New Wave, Punk U, All Pearl Jam, and All Green Day.ideo-game music concerts are also drawing bigger crowds. Symphony performances featuring music from Final Fantasy, in which the hero travels through amazing new worlds, have been selling out during the past two years.

Tallarico and a business partner are putting together the first-ever Video Games Live Tour, with 24 concerts planned for this summer. The tour will be promoted by the almighty Clear Channel (CCU), a conglomerate consisting of radio stations and billboards. "We've identified video games as a major competitor for the entertainment dollars for the past 10 years, but, until [this tour], we've never been able to figure out how to integrate our agenda with video games," says Brad Wavra, vice-president of touring for Clear Channel Music Group. Tour organizers have sold more than 2,000 tickets, costing $20 to $55, in the first week of sale.

The concerts exemplify multimedia, complete with staged reenactments from the world's most popular games, a light show, and performances by a 54-piece orchestra. "Even if you know nothing about video games at all, you are going to want to go to the show," says Tallarico. Caving to demands of European fans who, via e-mail, have lamented their inability to easily see the U.S. shows, the organizers are considering filming a DVD. The performances might also be recorded on CDs to sell to attendees following each concert.

WHAT A BLAST. Even game-music ring tones could attain hit status. Composer Jack Wall, responsible for the score in several Myst games, is in talks with Britain-based Retro Ringtones, which has expressed interest in offering video-game sound effects to cell phone users. Imagine hearing a loud explosion every time your mom rings you up.

Game publishers are just now awakening to gaming music's possibilities. Game scores and songs are finding their way into films, movie trailers, and television commercials. "The TV and movie business is starting to look to us for new ideas," says Richard Jacques, whose Headhunter game score will accompany a movie trailer from Columbia TriStar Films this summer.

Activision (ATVI) is starting to use game-music for marketing its new titles. This summer, the company plans to give away, through retailer Best Buy (BBY), 40,000 free CDs featuring songs from its upcoming Fantastic Four title. The world's largest game publisher, Electronic Arts (ERTS), has promoted games by allowing fans to download soundtracks from its site.

"VITAL PART OF THE PLAN." Of course, most game publishers aren't ready to evolve into music publishers, particularly considering that not all soundtracks do as well as Halo 2. Instead, some are working with outfits like Sumthing, a record distribution company created by Nile Rodgers, who produced the record-breaking Halo 2 soundtrack (as well as David Bowie's "Let's Dance" and Duran Duran's "The Reflex"). Perhaps later, more game publishers will change their minds about getting into the business, as game music's fan base grows.

Attesting to the genre's increasing importance, most music labels pitch their artists' songs to video game publishers before shopping it to movie studios and radio stations. "The games are a very vital part of the plan now," says Daniel Glass, CEO of Artemis Records, which has signed performing groups Sugarcult and the Baha Men. "People go to video games now to find new music. The exposure factor and the coolness factor is what the artists want."

Money, more so than fame, will turn the tide. Already, during the last four years, video-game composer compensation has grown by 60%, to about $150,000 per game, estimates Bob Rice, an agent representing top game composers. That's still a far cry from the $1 million-and-up a star composer typically gets from a big-budget Hollywood movie, but the gap is narrowing.

After all, as video games realize their place as the new Hollywood sound-movies, they are where artists like Outkast, Avril Lavigne, and -- oh, yes, Aerosmith -- will want to go. Kharif is a writer for BusinessWeek Online in Portland, Ore.

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