Video Game Music: Big Business, Big Money

Tommy Tallarico composes music for video games. Video game music has become a huge business, with game makers spending millions of dollars just on the musical score. Tallarico talks with David Greene about the business of music for video games.

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DAVID GREENE, host:

Okay, here's a golden oldie from 1980.

(Soundbite of "PacMan" music)

GREENE: You recognized it. That's the theme song to "PacMan," and as video game music goes, that wasn't really sophisticated. How things have changed.

(Soundbite of music)

GREENE: That is the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing as a space ship docks and prepares to blast an opponent to smithereens. The recording is part of the soundtrack to a newer game, "Advent Rising." And that score you heard was written by Tommy Tallarico. He's one of the best-known composers of music for video games, and he's appearing next week at a big video game industry conference in LA. He joins us to talk about the growing business of video game music. Welcome to the program.

Mr. TOMMY TALLARICO (Composer): Pleasure to be here.

GREENE: I want to ask you about an example of your music that we're going play a bit of here. I believe this is "Evil Dead Battle."

(Soundbite of music, "Evil Dead Battle")

GREENE: So Mr. Tallarico, one thing you said is that if Beethoven were alive today, he would be composing music for video games. Why exactly do you believe that?

Mr. TALLARICO: Well, Beethoven was always ahead of the curve, right? I mean, he was always one step ahead of everybody else.

GREENE: Cutting edge.

Mr. TALLARICO: The reality is that the difference between being a composer for film and television as opposed to the interactive world of video games is -there's many differences. Film and television tell stories, so a lot of the times the music is underneath the dialogue. They call it background music. Whereas in video games, I like to call it foreground music, because, you know, we get the action scene almost every time.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Group: (Singing) ...eis requiem, dona eis requiem...

GREENE: Given the luxuries and sort of freedom that you have, are there TV-film composers who want to jump into video games, or already have?

Mr. TALLARICO: Oh, absolutely, and it goes both ways, really. Yeah, to name some of the more famous film composers that have done games, Howard Shore of "Lord of the Rings," he did a video game called "Sun." Bill Conti, who's probably best well-known for creating the music for the original "Rocky" films, you know, he's the Italian composer, so they got him to come in and do the score for "The Godfather" video game.

(Soundbite of music)

GREENE: We have some music from a video game called "Fable." And that, I believe, is Danny Elfman, who did the "Batman" movie theme and now worked his way into the world of video game music and did the music for this. Is that right?

Mr. TALLARICO: Yeah. He did the main title theme for "Fable."

(Soundbite of music)

GREENE: How much does it cost to make this kind of music?

Mr. TALLARICO: Yeah, you know what? It really varies. You know, just like in films, you have your blockbuster AAA titles and then you have your independent films. You know, the games could spend anywhere from $50,000 upwards to a million dollars. I would say that probably the average is, you know, anywhere from 250 to 400,000.

(Soundbite of music)

GREENE: I want to play a little bit of a musician who a lot of young people know well, Avril Lavigne.

(Soundbite of song, "Girlfriend")

Ms. AVRIL LAVIGNE (Singer, Songwriter): (Singing) Hey! Hey! You! You! I don't like your girlfriend! No way! No way! I think you need a new one.

GREENE: As I understand it, she actually feels like she was, in a way, discovered through video games. Is that right?

Mr. TALLARICO: Yeah, you know, Avril Lavigne, bands like Good Charlotte, you know, they all, you know, owe a lot of their gaming popularity early on and exposure to, yeah, by having songs in video games. Think about it. With video games, people, you know, sometimes play 20, 30, 40 hours a week. So that music is always kind of, you know, in your face. You're talking hundreds and hundreds of hours of exposure constantly to music. So it's, you know, it's really, a very cool thing.

GREENE: Guess its time to hook up my iPod to video games then and download from there. Tommy Tallarico, video game music composer, enjoy the big music conference in LA next week.

Mr. TALLARICO: Thank you so much.

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