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Why Do Racing Games Get All the Licensed Music?

On November 5, 2015

by @Vebberim

Yeah, I know, it's a pretty dumb question... But it's a question, nonetheless. An important question. Racing games have one goal: come in first place, no matter what happens. Such a high-stakes, thumb-twitching scenario would require the big action music you'd hear from big bands in some James Bond flick. Usually without the guns and sex, but still enough swagger to save the day.

And yet, we get Lil Jon cranking out a tune about sweat dripping down his overalls or something.

And why is that? In other games, I'd love to be singing along with The Rolling Stones while 360 no-scoping noobs in the latest online shooters like I was some sort of mecha-human placed in Vietnam. The best I've seen is Avenged Sevenfold releasing a single for Call of Duty, but the song was only featured in the end of the campaign mode.

The sandbox shooters have seen some of the best examples of licensed music, but for the most part you have to drive a vehicle to access these songs. I remember when my character in Saints Row 3 was driving to a mission start, and the group started singing Sublime's "What I Got". I laughed during the sequence, purposefully stopping the car just to hear if they would go on! And yet, during the firefights, all I got was violins with violence.

When you drive in your car, you listen to the radio or a CD, or in my case, the portable reel-to-reel (get on my level). Our daily commutes are full of the music commercial artists create and release. We sing along, we air drum out like we're Neil Peart, and then we calmly sit still so nobody at the red light can judge us. So, if you're racing out on the street, would you expect to belt out Fall Out Boy? Or can you honestly say you'd rather play Flight of the Valkyries?

Most likely you went with Fall Out Boy.

It's only logical. Our cars are where we'd expect this kind of music to be played. In a way, we're only getting out more of the experience when we're driving along to a song you know the words to by heart. Shooting, you'd be crazy to spit out Lil Wayne. In an RPG, I'm pretty sure you wouldn't be cranking dat Soulja Boy. And on a platformer, you'd need no education to know that putting "Another Brick in the Wall" just doesn't suit the scene.

You know what kicks ass? Brutal Legend, and it's brutal soundtrack. The licensing for the game suits the character of Eddie as a devoted metal fan throughout the years. So what's better than violins and orchestration? Hearing Black Sabbath crank out "Children of the Grave" as I'm battling demons in the first few minutes of gameplay. In a landscape of desolation and royal empires of disfigured dark figures like something out of a Ozzy Osbourne music video, it's only suiting to hear "Mr. Crowley" in the hub world.

It doesn't always has to be licensed tracks -- there are plenty of composers who don't need the help of big names to sonically fit an environment. If you've ever gotten lost in the deserts and jungles of Minecraft, C418 crafts ambient pieces to perfectly connect the zen-like state of the game to give you zen-like caramel for your ears. Despite later being commercially released later on, at the time the relatively unknown artist managed to help a independent game become one of the biggest adventures of the 21st century.

In hindsight, maybe having big names don't necessarily make the game more interesting. Rather, it's how the music manages to immerse their audience into the game's setting and actions. Whatever music they decide to put in their games, let's just hope we don't find the Benny Hill theme when we're supposed to press X to pay respects.

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