In Japan, there’s a long tradition of soundtrack albums for video games that seem to sell well. Why do you think that hasn’t happened here?
I would love nothing more than to say that, “Oh yeah, it’s such a big business over there.” But the reality is that it’s actually somewhat of a myth. You can find soundtracks for every single anime that’s probably ever come out, right? I mean, there’s thousands of them over there. Here in America, there is about 70 to 100 video game soundtrack albums released every year, and some of them are selling in the hundreds of thousands of units. Some of them — most of them — the average video game soundtrack does better, sells better than the average film score in America.
We average about 10,000-15,000 in sales, and film scores are in about 5,000-6,000 range. Now, the difference of course being that a big AAA film, like our Titanics or the Avatars or the Spidermans or whatever, their soundtracks will sell in the hundreds of millions. Titanic sold 17 million albums. So we haven’t had our “Titanic” yet but, overall, it’s just as relevant over here. I will give you an example, our album, our first albums that we released, “Video Games Live, Volume 1”, we debut at number 10 on the Billboard Charts. And hoping to take that number 1 spot with our — at least in the classical category, when our second one comes out in a couple of weeks.
So, in terms of the set list and the way it’s evolved, how do you choose new music to put into the concert? Do you make it fit into a larger flow you have in mind for the show?
I don’t care if the game’s come out yet or if it hasn’t sold any units. It has to be great music. When I create a set list for the show, I need it to be dynamic. I don’t want it to just be all of the same style of music. All giant thematic music for two hours gets old really quick. I wanted some interactive fun segments in there. It might be bringing somebody up on stage and having them be the controller of a spaceship from “Space Invaders” and having them run back and forth, and the ship follows him wherever he goes, while the orchestra is playing the music and counting down the level.
Then we have soloists as well. We will bring soloists out like Martin Leung, the Video Game Pianist, who is the kid who blindfolded himself and played the “Mario” theme on piano; he got over 40 million views of that video where he does that. He comes on tour with us, and he is always changing up and doing cool things. And then I will come out with the guitar towards the end of the show to kind of bring a little different feeling there.
It’s probably important to note that I’ve created over 60 segments for Video Games Live, but we can only play about 18-20 of them a night. So I have never actually played the same show twice, ever. For example, this is our fifth year back to LA for E3, and the set list was 90% different than any other show we have ever played there before.
It sounds like you’ve built up a nice repertoire of material.
When I first started Video Games Live over eight years ago, everybody thought I was completely insane. “This isn’t Japan,” they said. Even in Japan, they thought we were nuts. At the first show at the Hollywood Bowl on July 6, 2005, it was the first time that the music to “Metal Gear Solid” had ever been played live.
That’s really surprising, especially for “MGS.”
Amazing, right? And obviously things like “Halo” and “Warcraft” had never been performed live. “Sonic the Hedgehog”, never been performed live until we did it at the Hollywood Bowl. Once we did that first show, and over 11,000 people showed up, people started believing in it. Now, a lot of the publishers are very, very supportive of what we do.
You know, who wouldn’t want their product on something like a PBS, that’s going to reach 90 million households? It really is a positive thing for their product. You know the deal: whenever video games come up in the national media in this day and age, it’s something negative. “Oh, ‘Grand Theft Auto’ and Hot Coffee!” Or, “this guy killed these teenagers and he was playing this game.” “Oh, video games aren’t art” Whatever the national story is at the time, it’s usually negative.
Well, here is something that’s positive. Here is something where video games aren’t what you think they are, for all you non-gamers out there. A small percentage of games actually have an M rating, and a smaller percentage of games are having negative things happen. And here is a celebration of the industry with Video Games Live, in a culturally significant and artistic way.
The Video Games Live special is airing on PBS during July and August. Check your local PBS station to see when it’ll be on.