Video game music is not limited to listening during a console or PC game. It also invites itself onto vinyl turntables. The audience is small, but the demand for pressings of several hundred to several thousand copies is increasing.
Since the soundtracks of titles more than twenty years old, such as those of Devil II (in pre-order) and its misty realms, to more recent references, such as Road 96, the catalog of the distributor of video games and French derivatives Just For Games has two hundred titles. For its part, the German Black Screen Records offers a hundred. Both plan to take advantage of Record Store Day, Saturday, April 23, to promote their activity by offering some discounts on their virtual stores dedicated to video game music.
“Today, most media is digitized. But there is a large part of the public, especially collectors or fans, who still want to own objects.” notes Kevin Schulz, founder and director of Black Screen Records, one of the European leaders in the sector. His company is sold out every year “several tens of thousands of vinyl records”, he explains during a video conference call with The world†
It is difficult to obtain precise sales figures in this highly specialized market. However, Kevin Schulz assures us that France is his third market, linked to the United Kingdom, after the Germans and the Americans. A love of support barely cooled by the shipping costs, however prohibitive, of these discs often imported from Germany or the United States.
This boom, dating back to the mid-2010s, is accompanied by that of the vinyl market in France: 5.2 million black records were sold in 2021, three times more than in 2016, according to the National Syndicate of the SNEP phonographic edition.
A surprising success
Kevin Schulz founded his company in 2015. At the time, this 22-year-old student was eager to play the soundtrack ofOddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty (2014), remake of a great classic released on Playstation in 1997, featuring ” back to childhood. Since the object doesn’t exist, why not create it yourself? The young man then contacts the studio responsible for the game by email:
“They came back to me within half an hour and gave me their permission. I thought : “Thin! It was just a joke, a random idea…” But from there, since they said they were interested, I had to continue. †
Some acquaintances in the record industry describe the project as: ” stupid “. But the demand is high on the internet: Kevin Schulz manages to finance the first printing of a thousand copies thanks to pre-orders.
Even today, the majority of sales take place online. If Black Screen Records still offers a few “house” vinyls, it has mainly established itself by distributing albums from foreign labels such as Mondo, Milan Records or Laced Records.
Since September 2021, he has been trying to expand his audience by opening Popsub, his own store dedicated to video game music, in Cologne. The jovial thirty-something still can’t believe his own success:
“It’s crazy… It’s a dream for me, I never thought I could pay a dozen employees and fund this store with music from video games. †
Flatters the eyes as much as the ears
The French from G4F, a studio specializing in video game sound (sound effects, music, voice, dubbing, etc.), know Kevin Schulz’s online store. The company founded in 2008 has been working with him since it started producing vinyl in 2016. The founder and director, Vincent Percevault, explains to the monde that adapting game music on a microgroove disc is not done with the snap of a finger. It is first accompanied by a specific treatment at mastering level, the last production stage, to harmonize the sounds with the particularities of the wearer. The choice of tracks then depends on the timing of each side. A process that is carried out in collaboration with the composers, who influence “almost always” copyright on this record sale.
Finally, he reminds us that these discs should not only flatter the ear, but also be beautiful to look at:
“We are in the return to the physical. It must therefore be a beautiful object. We are here to offer high added value collectibles. It should be both graphic and sound. †
Since the design is therefore essential for these small prints, Vincent Percevault continues:
“We try to stick to the universe of the game. Each object must be really unique. It is also necessary to take care of the physical aspect, for example the texture of the paper or the rendering of the print.”
Their formula was born when they played the soundtrack of Open from French studio The Game Bakers, which includes titles by artists Carpenter Brut, Lorn and Danger. They decide to make their first “collector” vinyl record because they believe that this hard-hitting album of synthwave, a retrofuturistic electro genre, could appeal to outside the circle of indie game enthusiasts. The bet pays: six years have passed “several thousand copies” according to the leader of G4F, and remains their best seller.
According to Julien Cluet, director of sales at the distributor Just For Games, video game vinyls stand out in the record bins: “If we look at the records of labels [de musique de jeux vidéo] like for example I Am 8 Bit, you can see the difference. Marbled colored discs, expertly turned-up sleeves and original designs… The object has a strong appeal. I even know people who buy these vinyls if they don’t have a record player”promotes the one who already collected vinyl records before he started selling them.
The worlds of vinyl and video games may seem far apart, but they’re complementary, notes Julien Cluet:
† The typical vinyl buyer is generally in their thirties or even younger. It’s the same generation we focus on with our video game related products. People who go into professional life or who are leaders, and who have the means to have fun. †
The prizes may also appeal to lovers of products from the world of pop culture: “Apart from a few large boxes, vinyl costs on average between 20 and 40 euros”, explains Julien Cluet. “It is a price range that is much more affordable for the general public than, for example, figurines, which quickly add up to 100 euros”he believes.
However, the bill for some Deluxe boxes can be high. The “Deluxe” edition, four discs in honor of the trilogy mass effect, is sold for 140 euros. that of disaster goes up to almost 100 euros, which does not prevent it from being regularly sold out.
However, production problems hamper this dynamic, complains Vincent Percevault.
“The press is being choked by the orders of the record majors suppressing their entire catalog. Where it used to take us three months to get a record, now we need at least six or seven. † Difficult to match the release of a video game and that of the accompanying vinyl under these circumstances.
Another disadvantage: the delays to obtain new pressings are long. In February, when the game-adapted series was released on Netflix cup (2017), the soundtrack was sold out. It took several months for fans of this tribute to 1930s cartoons to put the vinyl on their turntables and listen to the artificially sputtering jazzy music.