The Marketer’s Guide to Music and Gaming

While the music industry has long had distinguished partnerships with the film and television industry, more and more labels, music groups, and audio brands have turned their attention to another prominent entertainment vertical — games. As gaming has continued to blossom in today’s ecosystem of digital media, it’s practically guaranteed that there’s an overlap between the audiences for music and games.

The data proves that this intersection is here to stay. Spotify music streaming on gaming consoles increased by 31% in the US between Q1 2020 and Q1 2021, and our own research has shown that the general gaming audience regularly listens to out-of-game music and audio while playing games. Music streaming platforms aren’t the only place with a prominent overlap; the music category on Twitch has averaged over 15 million hours watched per month for more than the past year.

With such an undeniable connective force between the two, it makes sense that music brands are interested in deepening their relationship to games. Here’s our basic guide to music and gaming partnerships.

In-Game Music and Soundtracks

Licensing and music sync are familiar territory for most music labels due to the connections between film and TV, but music sync partnerships can also be done with game studios. Most major game studios have a department for such partnerships, and smaller studios can also be open to outreach. 

The most straightforward place to look would be at music and rhythm games like Rock Band or Beat Saber. But games of other genres and styles are just as likely to develop music partnerships. 

For example, vehicular soccer game Rocket League has an ongoing partnership with EDM music label Monstercat, and Grand Theft Auto Online features in-game “radio” stations with extensive playlists of licensed music and hosts like Frank Ocean, Keith Morris, and Bootsy Collins. Even smaller indie games feature licensed music; the Life is Strange series tends to match their alternative, cinematic narrative games with licensed tracks from the likes of Mura Masa, Alt-J, Sufjan Stevens, and Bright Eyes. 

Licensing isn’t the only option for music in gaming. Artists can also be commissioned to contribute to original soundtracks. Cyberpunk 2077 features artists with in-game characters and pseudonyms, including Grimes as “Lizzy Wizzy,” Run The Jewels as “Yankee and the Brave,” and SOPHIE and Shygirl as “Clockwork Venus.” League of Legends creates fictional bands with their characters while partnering with real-world artists: their fictional K-pop group K/DA features the voices of real K-pop artists from (G)I-dle, while hip-hop/pop group True Damage features the voices of Becky G, Duckwrth, and Keke Palmer. Developers will even tap musicians to compose entire soundtracks, such as HEALTH’s soundtracks for Max Payne 3 and GTA Online: Arena War

Look for opportunities to connect and build relationships with game studios to get your music featured on their soundtracks, paying close attention to the thematic overlaps that can be amplified.

The Power of Playlists

Even if you can’t get onto an official soundtrack, you can still develop or curate music for gamers to listen to while they play. Music streaming platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, SoundCloud, and YouTube have all taken note of the desire for playlists for gaming. According to Spotify, 65% of millennial gamers and 56% of Gen Z gamers agree that curating their music choices while gaming is important. 

Consider how different genres of games might intersect with genres of music. There might even be specific in-game activities and behaviors that would lend themselves well to some musical accompaniment. What music on your roster would be good for power leveling in Destiny 2 or for superstructure building in Minecraft? How can you make grinding more entertaining?

Enable Streamers and Content Creators

Video game content creators are also often in need of a soundtrack. Whether it be ambient beats on stream or having tracks play during intermissions and breaks, it can be useful to include some additional music and audio to sustain the flow of long-form content. 

However, the complexities of music copyright can make this difficult for streamers and content creators, and many struggle with finding music that is available for use without the risk of DMCA violations. Some music companies have tried to mitigate this by partnering with platforms, such as by joining the Twitch Soundtrack program, to enable streamers to promote music and provide some revenue share to the musicians as well.

Other companies have created their own services for content creators. Monstercat’s Gold program allows subscribers to access a catalog of thousands of songs to include in their streams and other content while also offering a variety of other perks.

Consider how you want to get involved by getting your music into the hands of streamers and content creators. It might be a good idea to foster partnerships and joint relationships in these spaces.

Elevate Musicians’ Relationships to Gaming

Just as it’s likely for your listener audience to overlap with the gaming audience, it’s also highly likely that your own musical talent has an overlap with gaming too. You can encourage your artists to develop a presence in gaming content by getting them into game streams.

There’s a wide range of possibilities when it comes to streaming; artists can commit to regularly streaming, but they can also just do so occasionally or in one-off events. T-Pain has been streaming on Twitch since 2016, sharing his love of both games as well as his music production to thousands of people each week. Some other artists that stream regularly on Twitch include Shura, Matt Heafy of Trivium, Ladyhawke, and Brendon Urie of Panic! at the Disco. 

As an alternative to the high commitment of regular streaming, getting artists involved in events is another way to gain visibility in the gaming scene. Events like Fortnite Pro-Am tournaments might look for musicians as celebrity guests, and artists that qualify for Twitch Rivals can get involved in ongoing competitions. Music brands can even host their own streamed competition (with game developer permission) to pit their own artists against each other, such as the case of SoundCloud Player One

When developing a plan to get your musicians on-stream, it’s best to start with those that already have a passion for gaming. Then consider how much effort and investment you want to spend in helping them develop their streams. 

In-Game Events

Especially over the course of the pandemic, in-game music events and concerts have made headlines, such as Travis Scott’s Astronomical event in Fortnite and Lil Nas X’s concerts in Roblox. There are even whole organizations that put together in-game music festivals such as Open Pit which hosts music festivals in Minecraft.

While these events are definitely eye-catching, they require a lot of work and resources to coordinate. Developing these events with game studios is time-intensive, and many require a lofty budget to create impactful moments with meaningful payoff. Depending on your listeners, your audience might not be as interested in events in games, or they might be very particular about the type of events they would be willing to attend. 

While considering creating an in-game event or concert, it may be worth weighing out your options and possibly looking into smaller-scale activations around games before diving into the deep end with bespoke game event design.

Which Strategy Is Best?

Every kind of activation to connect music to gaming will vary and scale. From low-touch to high-touch, short-term to long-term, it’s important to root every strategy in specific goals. Why do you want your music amplified to gamers? 

That question will guide you to establishing partnerships in the gaming world, as well as honing your own tone and unique values. But if you still need help fine-tuning your strategic direction, or if you’re looking for more out-of-the-box strategies, feel free to drop us a line. We’ll help you cut through the noise.