Some of the world’s most iconic gaming franchises like Tekken, Resident Evil, or Street Fighter wouldn’t be the same without one key element: music. We’ve all got those theme tunes or niche pieces of score that take a game’s story one step further. As vinyl sees a consistent rise in popularity, lead music producer Ben Parker of Laced Records gives The Loadout his perspective on the industry’s growth, its future, and putting some of gaming’s greatest scores on wax.
“My predominant role is working across game soundtracks, whether that be a full bespoke score, licensing commercial songs or a mix of the two. I also deal regularly with publishers and labels and am constantly seeking out new music to work with,” Parker says of his role within the UK-based label.
“Having composed music myself, working in production was always something I wanted to try at some point. Being the ‘middle-man’ between game companies and composers is a really interesting experience,” he remarks on bridging the gap between creation and production. The fruits of that labour are evident, not just for Laced Records, but for the music industry at large too. Last year, vinyl sales cleared an immense record, with the largest volume of vinyl records sold since 1990. The brilliant thing about this vinyl resurgence is the opportunities afforded to the gaming industry. Laced Records is aware of this, citing the pandemic as a catalyst for a “huge increase in gaming.”
Alongside “the growth of social media and platforms such as Twitch”, Parker believes “artists have realised that gaming is a vital market to tap into […] You only have to look at the hype around the release of the FIFA soundtrack, or games where artists have actually been featured like Dr Dre in GTA 5, Marshmello in Fortnite, or David Guetta in Roblox.”
The actual process of making coveted releases like Laced Records’ Devil May Cry or the excellent Sifu score from Howie Lee available is a labour of love. “There’s a research stage about getting the best possible audio sourced and sequenced. This can sometimes be dead simple, or it can be a huge challenge depending on the age of the game. Alongside that, the art and design team will work closely with everyone involved to see what original art is available from the game’s production and marketing period. This could be concept art, key art, or sometimes previously unreleased material. They then make a call whether anything needs to be created from scratch by commissioned illustrators, as we’ve done from several products across Tekken, Street Fighter and Resident Evil.”
Bringing on distinct illustrators is vital, according to Parker, who endeavours to offer a “homogenous” vision across releases. The passion going into Laced Records’ is felt heavily by the fans putting their money into these projects. “As a team, we strongly believe in the format as enabling a tactile, engaging listening experience,” he says. “Since digital videogames began replacing boxed copies — and now subscription models are picking up steam — fans seem to increasingly crave physical mementoes of the immense amount of time they’ve spent in the worlds of Lordran, Los Santos, or Skyrim.”
Taking that need for immersion to another level is vital and there’s a special place for vinyl in that experience – even if you’re not committing the wax to your turntable. “Soundtrack vinyl sits in the merchandise category alongside posters, t-shirts, and statues as much as it exists alongside other music release formats. If a fan buys a videogame vinyl principally for the object, the artwork, and the unboxing experience, and doesn’t even spin the records, more power to them.”
Looking into the future of gaming music consumption is nothing but exciting for Laced Records. “If we look at the last few years though, we see everybody across the board treating soundtracks with more respect. There’s now a dedicated GRAMMY Award; the Proms held its first videogame concert; there are various concerts, industry events, and meet-ups across the globe dedicated to game music; game companies generally prioritise a title’s soundtrack release as a prestigious marketing beat; and fans eagerly await new work by their favourite composers or in their favourite series, even creating covers and arrangements the moment a new trailer drops.”
The appreciation for gaming music continues to evolve too, as Parker says “what is remarkable and heartening is that the indie games scene has continued to throw up dynamite composers and soundtracks that have lit up the industry — whether through sheer popularity, originality, retro appeal, or a combination thereof […] I’d argue that for years the importance and creativity that goes into crafting a game soundtrack has been undervalued, so it’s much overdue.”
While Parker has helped oversee the release of numerous scores for some of the best games of all time, Parker still has some goals of his own to fulfil at Laced Records. “It would be great to work with either Bear McCreary or Gustavo Santaolalla. Their work on God of War & The Last Of Us respectively is fantastic. I was gutted to miss Gustavo performing his work live at the Barbican last year, so hopefully there’s another opportunity! I would also love to work with Ilan Eshkeri. His soundtrack on Ghost of Tsushima (together with Shigeru Umebayashi) is amazing.”
As arguably the most tangible form of music consumption out there, the love for vinyl is infectious and can add a new layer to appreciating the worlds, characters, and stories in our go-to games. Where the resurgence goes next remains to be seen, but for now, the likes of Laced Records will continue to provide the soundtrack.