Someone once told me “if you like music, don’t work in the music industry”. After all, beyond the glamour, the fun, the creativity, the sex-drugs-and-rock-n-roll, it is a business. It’s all about money.
Perhaps that’s why so many video games focus on the end product. The Guitar and DJ Heros. The Singstars. The Dance Dance Revolutions. Here is a packaged version of fame that makes you feel like a star in your own living room. Music talent – arguably – not required.
And while that may be true of the music industry in some ways, what about a video game that requires not only musical knowledge but business knowledge too? A game to make you feel like the ultimate, all-powerful music mogul? (And no, I’m not talking about that Pop Idol game on PS2 with the terrifying Cel-shaded Simon Cowell )
The music business is fraught with decision making and variables. With so many cogs in the machine, there are tonnes of components that can go right or wrong on the journey to a hit record. Songwriter and producer Max Martin may have developed his own form of Melodic Maths in creating a song, but industry success is an inexact science with no formula to follow. Cold hard cash is the key outcome, but it’s a bi-product in the business of developing and shaping culture. And how do you go about doing that?
That unpredictability is why the music business is so ripe for gaming. You can have the most well-oiled machine and a surefire hit, but for some reason it just doesn’t connect with the fans. Or a masterpiece rises from disaster as a fresh chart-topping opportunity. There are always new ways to make money, game the system and keep your record label afloat. Even within the corporate world, there is room for creativity.
A ‘Theme Record Label’ would be a fun place to start, parodying the industry and its artists. Design and upgrade your office; fill it with staff of varying ability split between A&R, marketing, press, radio and lawyers; steer them to sign the best (or worst) acts in music history and watch dollar signs explode across the screen.
But there’s also room for a more serious, Football Manager-esque simulation with intricate decision-making. How will your management cope with a diva’s demands? How will your press team spin a controversial drunken speech at an awards show? Will your merchandise designs make money while the artist tours the world? What sync and licensing opportunities will you choose to get your artist’s music on the latest hot film or viral advert?
What’s more, industry-wide and global events could pop up to throw a spanner in the works. An underground piracy movement puts the industry in crisis until a new format is invested in, only to be monopolised by a global giant. Artists are accused of plagiary and thrown into unexpected and expensive legal battles. A new social media network arises that’s seen as the secret to success, until it fails. A virus causes a global pandemic and the complete collapse of the live music industry.
Perhaps all this saps the joy out of music. Perhaps it unveils the trick behind the magic. But there’s a special kind of satisfaction in spearheading success, seeing all your hard-working departments come together to move culture with a record that defines a generation. A special magic in making money.