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Renaissance of Classical Music: Video Games Lead the Charge

An unexpected mix of video games and classical music leads to a new era of orchestral soundtracks, turning new generations from TikTok tunes to Beethoven.

Photo by Yura Timoshenko / Unsplash

The worlds of Skyrim, The Witcher, and Final Fantasy, far removed from concert halls and symphonies, have become fertile grounds for sowing seeds of interest in classical music among youngsters. As controllers vibrate with the thrill of adventure, so do the strings, horns, and keys of orchestras, crafting soundtracks that bridge centuries and genres. Let’s figure out how that happened and what to expect next.

The evolution of game soundtracks

As the global gaming market balloons to an expected 503.14 billion U.S. dollars by 2025, a quiet revolution brews in the pixelated corners of our favorite digital realms. From the dusty shelves of irrelevance, an unexpected hero has emerged: classical (-ish) music.

The role of orchestral soundtracks in video games has changed from mere background noise to a critical piece of the narrative puzzle, wrapping players in a cocoon of sound that amplifies every triumph, tragedy, and treacherous turn.

Picture the scene: you're facing the final boss, sweat beads forming on your brow, and what's this? A full orchestral score crescendos, your heart races, and is that... yes, you're moved, possibly even to tears, by the sheer drama of it all. Games like "The Last of Us Part II" have mastered this emotional puppetry, turning players into unwitting subjects of a classical conditioning experiment where Beethoven equals bravery, and Chopin signals a looming crisis.

Consider the case of NES Tetris, a game as old as the hills in the digital age, yet its use of Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker" has implanted classical strains in the minds of gamers long before they could spell Tchaikovsky.

And yet, the legitimacy of these compositions as bona fide masterpieces of music has only recently begun to be recognized, breaking down the highbrow barriers that once relegated game soundtracks to the realm of "not real music." One survey has emphasized this shift, revealing that 95% of people found their way to orchestral music through other mediums, including video games, indicating a significant change in how we discover and appreciate the classics.

As orchestral game soundtracks continue to rise in popularity, the uninitiated become unwitting aficionados of classical music. Who knew that chasing pixels could lead to a passion for Puccini?

The craft behind the scores

Gone are the days of Tetris and earworm simplicity of its soundtrack. Nowadays, composers are tasked with creating complex soundscapes that rival the Sistine Chapel. They're crafting auditory experiences that change on the fly, adapting to the player's every move with the grace of a gazelle—if gazelles were into horizontal re-sequencing and complex chord progressions, that is.

And it comes with a price tag. According to redditors composing a minute of music can cost anywhere from $750 to a whopping $1,500, depending on how well you've convinced the development team of your musical genius. And if you're an indie composer, prepare to adjust those rates to reflect the size of the indie budget.

The GameSoundCon survey also spills the beans on the going rates, with composers charging anywhere from $100 to $1,000 per minute of music.

As the video game industry balloons, so do the opportunities for composers to make a name for themselves. The rise of indie games and platforms like Steam have turned the market into a composer's playground—if that playground was made of gold and lined with copyright claims.

The art of crafting video game scores is a tightrope walk between artistic ambition and financial ruin. It's a world where composers are the unsung heroes (because their music is too expensive to sing along to). But why go through all this trouble? Because in the realm of video games, music is the unsung hero that can elevate a game from good to legendary.

Gaming's impact on classical music interest

In an era where the youth's musical diet is largely composed of TikTok snippets and auto-tuned pop anthems, for the very least, it’s comforting to know that classical music finds its unlikely savior: the video game industry.

The classical pieces that have stealthily infiltrated these virtual worlds are not just elevator music for the loading screen. Take, for example, the delicate strains of Debussy’s "Clair de lune" in "The Evil Within," transforming safe points into havens not just from virtual danger, but from the cacophony of modern life's soundtrack. Or Mozart’s "Requiem in D minor" in "Bioshock Infinite," lending an air of gravitas to the game's already thick atmosphere.

According to Deloitte’s insights, the video game orchestra has more than just a background role. With 42% of Gen Z gamers tuning into other music while gaming and a significant 34% seeking out tracks heard in-game for their personal playlists. So, it’s clear that video games are not just a visual but a musical experience.

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’s recent findings give further solid proof for this trend, with a jump in orchestral music interest among the under-25 crowd from 6% to 17% in just one year. It seems the gaming console is the new concert hall.

Spotify's data shows a mixed bag of most-played game soundtracks, from black metal to hip-hop, but significant half are still "orchestra-ish."

Meanwhile, a full-scale debate rages on Reddit, where gamers passionately argue over which game boasts the best orchestral soundtrack and subject, which is seemingly near and dear to many.

So, what are we to make of this phenomenon? With their robust narratives and immersive worlds, video games offer classical music a contemporary stage. Classical music lends games a depth and dignity that synth beats and pop tracks can seldom achieve. It's a win-win, a fusion of old and new that enriches both mediums, proving that culture’s evolution sometimes comes from the most unexpected places.

When the concert hall meets the console

In an age where classical music and video games dance in a digital ballet, the echo of this partnership goes far beyond the living room and into the hallowed halls of concert venues worldwide. This isn't your grandfather's night at the Philharmonic.

Enter the stage, the Assassin's Creed Symphony World Tour, featuring over a decade of Assassin's Creed's auditory heritage, guided by the baton of a conductor instead of a joystick.

Then there's The 8-Bit Big Band, turning the nostalgic bleeps and bloops of gaming's golden age into jazz and pop orchestra masterpieces.

Video Games Live takes it up a notch, blending music from a smorgasbord of games with synchronized lights and interactive elements, proving that game music isn't just background noise—it's a headliner.

And the thirst for these experiences is real. That’s why Game Music Festival Vol. 5 tickets vanished faster than a health potion in a boss fight. "The Symphony of the Realms" and "The Sounds of the Fireflies" concerts, spotlighting the scores of Baldur's Gate 3 and The Last Of Us, respectively, sold out in record time. Video game music is dragging classical orchestral concerts kicking and screaming into the 21st century, proving that the divide between high art and popular culture is as thin as the latest OLED screen. And as the lines between digital and traditional continue to blur, one thing remains clear: the future of music is a game worth playing (or at least watching).

Future harmonies

As video game narratives deepen and technologies such as VR become more pervasive, the demand for immersive and emotive soundtracks will likely surge. It could lead to more collaborative projects, where composers traditionally rooted in classical music venture into game scoring, bringing new textures and depth to game soundtracks.

For the classical music industry, this trend represents a vibrant avenue for reaching younger, more diverse audiences. Concerts featuring video game music, already gaining popularity, could become a staple, encouraging classical music institutions to innovate and diversify their offerings. This convergence will likely continue, with several potential outcomes for both industries.

  • Enhanced collaboration: We may see more composers traditionally associated with the classical music world venturing into video game scoring. This collaboration could elevate the status of video game music, attracting a broader audience to both sectors.
  • Educational opportunities: Using classical music in games could lead to innovative educational programs that use gaming to introduce younger generations to classical music, fostering a new wave of appreciation and understanding.
  • Live performance integration: The success of video game music concerts could inspire more gaming companies to integrate live performances into game launches or special events, further blurring the lines between the concert hall and the gaming experience.
  • Technological changes: As technology advances, the integration of dynamic, responsive music that adapts to gameplay could become more sophisticated. This might involve AI-driven music that changes based on player decisions, creating a personalized classical music experience within the game.
  • Cross-promotional ventures: The gaming and music industries could explore joint ventures, such as albums of game soundtracks performed by classical musicians or special in-game events featuring live orchestral performances.

All of these have the potential to enrich both industries, nurturing a cultural exchange that benefits composers, gamers, and classical music enthusiasts.