Video game soundtracks get their own Grammy category this year

Long relegated to the margins, video game score soundtracks are finally getting recognized with their own category at this year’s Grammy Awards.

Five nominees will compete at Sunday’s show, out of the 70 original scores submitted for the category’s maiden year. The nominees are composers Austin Wintory for Aliens: Fireteam Elite, Stephanie Economou for Assassin’s Creed Valhalla: Dawn of Ragnarok, Bear McCreary for Call of Duty: Vanguard, Richard Jacques for Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy and Christopher Tin for Old World.

The success of video game music coincides with the overall growth of the global games market, which in 2022 generated total revenues of $184.4 billion US and is expected to reach $211.2 billion US in revenue by 2025, according to data analytics firm Newzoo.

The video game industry also flourished during the COVID-19 pandemic as people increasingly turned to digital entertainment during lockdowns.

“It was only a matter of time before the Grammys recognized that there were a lot of soundtracks being produced for video games and they’re all very good,” Tin told Reuters.

Tin’s Baba Yetu theme for the game Civilization IV won the best instrumental arrangement Grammy in 2011, making him the first video game nominee and winner, while Wintory’s soundtrack for the game Journey was nominated in the best score soundtrack for visual media in 2012.

“Video games have been making waves with new revenue streams for some time,” Uziel Colon, who helped develop the new category, told the Grammys. “In the future, video games and music will merge — it’s already happening.”

Eligible since 1999, only one nomination

However, video game music has not always hit all the right notes to be specifically recognized at the Grammys.

“Video game music has been eligible for the Grammys since 1999, and only one score had ever been nominated before, which was ten years ago. There are people who I think were dissatisfied with that,” Wintory told Reuters.

Wintory said video games were not being nominated at all when the category they fell under was best score soundtrack for film, television and other media because being labelled other media was “marginalizing” them as a sort of miscellaneous category.

But game music is breaking ground through technological innovation and new avenues for consumers to experience it.

This includes live immersive video game concerts, video game scores across platforms like YouTube, Twitch, TikTok and Fortnite, remixes and collaborations, augmented and virtual reality, and even eye-tracking technology.

Economou told Reuters that having Grammys recognition provides validation that video game music is shaping “the musical landscape of society.”

‘It’s a close collaboration’

McCreary, who has composed music for popular shows like Battlestar Galactica, The Walking Dead and The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power believes composing for games, movies and TV shows is not so different.

“For me, story and theme are universal,” he told Reuters.

Composer Bear McCreary poses with the Emmy for outstanding original main title theme music for Da Vinci’s Demons at the 65th Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards in Los Angeles in September 2013. (Jonathan Alcorn/Reuters)

Yet, he said video games have unique challenges for composers because they are interactive experiences versus only being witnessed by the audience.

The music must “work in a unique technical capacity, beyond simply supporting narrative,” he said.

Collaborating with game developers and audio teams informs his ability to write music that can be smoothly integrated into a video game.

“It’s a close collaboration unlike anything else in the entertainment industry,” McCreary said.

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