If you follow Awards Season, then you know the Grammys are this weekend. Just about a year ago, The Feed featured my thoughts on why video game music deserves a dedicated Grammy Award. In the intervening year, the Grammys have gone through a major overhaul, reducing the total number of categories from 109 down to 78. While this may sound like a bad thing for video game music, it really isn’t. In truth, both original and compilation game soundtrack albums (and individual songs) have been eligible to win a Grammy award, just not in a dedicated category. Be that as it may, if we as game music fans had any say in the nominations or categories, things might be different.
Video game soundtrack albums and original songs created for games are eligible in a minimum of three Grammy categories:
Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media
Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media
Best Song Written for Visual Media
The first Grammy going to a piece of music from a game, however, came from an entirely different category. Last year, Christopher Tin won the award for Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalists for his composition, "Baba Yetu." This track was released commercially for the first time within last year’s nomination window, despite dating back to 2005 when it was featured in Civilization IV. This was the first time a piece of music originally created for a video game won a Grammy Award. Incidentally, Christopher Tin is about to release a new album of original electronic music called “God of Love” on February 14th, (excellent timing!) under the name, Stereo Alchemy.
Hypothetically, what would a dedicated Video Game Grammy category look like this year, if such a thing existed? Let’s start with X-Play’s Best of 2011 as a base list. Their nominees for Best Soundtrack were:
Now, let’s be fair and apply the same rules the Grammys use to determine if an album is eligible for nomination. First and foremost, yes, each of these games released a soundtrack album. Deus Ex: Human Revolution received physical and digital releases from Sumthing Else Music. Skyrim composer Jeremy Soule released a mammoth, four-disc set through his own label. The Skyward Sword soundtrack was packed in with the game (THANK YOU, Nintendo!). The smart people at Valve gave their music away for free leading up to Portal 2’s release. And Jim Guthrie’s Sword & Sworcery LP – The Ballad of the Space Babies was released in a glorious 180 gram vinyl edition, which sold out incredibly fast (but is receiving a second printing) along with a Bandcamp digital edition.
The next step is, were these albums released within the eligibility window for Sunday’s awards? That window was from September 1, 2010 to September 30, 2011. Unfortunately, that puts Deus Ex and Skyrim out of the running for a nomination this year, as they were released after the nomination window (but there is definitely next year! Hint, hint!). The same goes for Skyward Sword. The music for Portal 2 began releasing in May of 2011, so it makes it through. Sword & Sworcery released in April, so we have two eligible nominees so far. What to do with the other three slots in our imaginary category?
Let’s start by consulting some true experts in the field of video game music, the Game Audio Network Guild, who just this week announced their own list of nominees for the G.A.N.G. Awards. Their picks for Best Soundtrack Album are:
Using the same set of rules as we did for the X-Play nominees, you eliminate all the albums (based on their release dates) except for Jason Graves’ chilling soundtrack to Dead Space 2, which is truly worthy of consideration.
Next, let’s look to the indie games world for other potential nominees, starting with Minecraft. The music for this unique building game, composed by artist C418, received both a digital and physical release within the nomination window, as did Danny Baranowsky’s wonderful music for Super Meat Boy.
The AAA games world gave us a trio of potential nominees. Russell Shaw’s music for Fable III is eligible and definitely a worthy consideration. Next is Halo: Reach, Martin O’Donnell, and Michael Salvatori’s coda for the Halo Verse. Then there is Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, which ranks up there as some of Jesper Kyd’s finest work in the AC franchise. Had there been a soundtrack release for James Bond 007: Blood Stone, it would most definitely have deserved consideration, as Richard Jacques knows how to craft Bondian themes.
And, whoops, well, that would make eight nominees wouldn’t it? Ok, you know what, there are often more than five nominees in some categories and since this is pretend anyway, let’s consider all eight of these amazing releases for this exercise, shall we?
Now, here is where we can have some fun. You get to decide which album would win, if this Grammy category existed. Pretend you are a member of the academy and vote now for “Best Video Game Soundtrack Album” with a comment below!
Note: There is a pixel of hope that an album more that is more than tangentially related to games could take home the Grammy for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media on Sunday, as Daft Punk’s incredible score to Tron Legacy is among the nominees.
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