In my part one of this post, I took a look at how digital video and audio recorders and portable devices have changed the way I consume and perceive media. What I’m most interested in is music – and I discussed that because of the ability to hold all of my music library in one place and the ability to get music from many sources free on demand, I’ve started listening to music on a very superficial level, and don’t give albums concurrent repeated listens.
If I have this problem – others probably do to, and may even be perfectly happy to be oblivious to this.
This is also a problem for musicians. If people give music only superficial listens, and are just as happy to move onto the next song by a different artist, why would a musician have fans that bother coming to shows, buy t-shirts, or buy follow-up works by that musician? Isn’t it easier just to turn on an internet stream and listen on shuffle than to seek out and buy an album or see who’s playing in your town on Friday night? It’s as though being a fan is becoming a lot less fanatical.
My concern over this is that music will be written to appreciate on a superficial level – will only make you nod your head to a beat. Of course it’s already been happening in pop music for years. Musicians will only get their “radio friendly” hit song played wide-spread. But many times, this radio-friendly song will be the gateway drug that leads you into the album, and get you to repeatedly listen to all songs by the artist. Other songs on the album could provide deeper enjoyment.
Whether this problem is new and exasperated by our digital devices, or an old problem but just becoming apparent to me as I change my listening habits, I have to wonder what we can do to change these habits and produce ways to make people want to listen over and over again and come to a deeper appreciation for the music and the artist. Listening to music over and over again can even make things more memorable. How many times have listening to a song for the first time in years bring you back to old times when you were listening to that song constantly. It can be very nostalgic.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about music and video games (as you can infer from my blog posts). I think that games like Dance Dance Revolution, Guitar Hero, Rock Band, etc do go quite a way in invoking repeated listening habits in music. Pressing buttons in time to a beat, however, is just one direction to take this – I would call this a music creation game (even though you aren’t actually creating the music, there’s the illusion that you are). I’m quite interested in exploring a game where music is creating the game play environment that you’re in.
Another way to put this is I’d like to explore what games can be to music as what music videos are to music. The best music videos, in my mind, produce another world where people break into singing and dance. A mailbox will spring to life on the street and dance with Bjork. Christopher Walken will dance his way down an escalator and fly through the air in grand choreographed moves. Weezer will give a show to screaming members of the Happy Days cast. You get my escapist point (and my Spike Jonz fixation). I’m not a musical theater fan, though Gilbert and Sullivan have a lot of experience with this too, and they go a little farther back than MTV. From what I understand, even the ancient Greeks had musical theater.
Bringing it back to games – a lot of great work has been put into cinematic gaming soundtracks, but to my knowledge, they are just soundtracks and don’t really change what happens in the game. A change in tempo doesn’t make more bad guys come out to hurt you, a minor chord struck doesn’t usually signify coming doom. I shouldn’t say never. I’m not an avid gamer – I just hadn’t ever heard of this attention to music detail. In fact – it’s quite the opposite – more bad guys coming out will change the tempo of the music – and coming doom, will change the music to a minor key. Game composers will typically write tiny segments that can be switched depending on what happens in the gameplay.
So, how can we produce a truly musical game? One that gives a level of escapism straight from Broadway and MTV, gives music a forum to be listened to again and again, and is fun? One where the music isn’t changed for it’s gameplay, but where gameplay revolves around the music?
(Yah, I’ll answer that question next, or at least try to)