Video game music is not limited to listening during a console or PC game. It also invites itself on vinyl turntables. The public is small but demand is on the rise for pressings that sell between a few hundred and a few thousand copies.
Since the soundtracks of titles over twenty years old, like that of Diablo II (in pre-order) and its misty atmospheres, up to more recent references, like Road 96, the catalog of the distributor of video games and French derivative products Just For Games has two hundred titles. For its part, the German Black Screen Records offers a hundred. Both intend 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 are being digitized. But there is a good part of the public, in particular collectors or fans, who still want to own objects”, observes Kevin Schulz, founder and director of Black Screen Records, one of the European leaders in the sector. His business sells out every year “several tens of thousands of vinyl records”, he explains during a videoconference interview with The world.
On this very specialized market, it is difficult to obtain precise sales figures. Kevin Schulz assures us, however, that France is its third market, tied with the United Kingdom, behind the Germans and the Americans. A love for the support hardly cooled by the shipping costs, however prohibitive, of these discs often imported from Germany or the United States.
This boom, which dates back to the mid-2010s, accompanies that of the vinyl market in France: in 2021, 5.2 million black records were sold there, i.e. three times more than in 2016, according to the National Syndicate. of the SNEP phonographic edition.
A surprise success
Kevin Schulz founded his company in 2015. At the time, this 22-year-old student was dying to add the soundtrack ofOddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty (2014), remake of a great classic released on Playstation in 1997, which has ” back to childhood. Since the object does not exist, why not make it yourself? The young man then contacts the studio responsible for the game by email:
“They came back to me in half an hour giving me their agreement. I thought : “Slim ! It was just a joke, a random idea…” But from there, as they said they were interested, I had to continue. »
Some acquaintances in the record industry describe the project as ” stupid “. But on the Internet, the demand is very present: Kevin Schulz manages to finance the first pressing of a thousand copies thanks to pre-orders.
Even today, the majority of sales are made 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 sought 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 completely crazy… It’s a dream for me, I would never have imagined being able to pay a dozen employees and finance this store with music from video games. »
Flatter the eyes as much as the ears
The French from G4F, a studio specializing in sound in video games (sound effects, music, voice, dubbing, etc.), are familiar with Kevin Schulz’s online store. The company founded in 2008 has been working with him since it started producing vinyl in 2016. Its founder and director, Vincent Percevault, explains to the World that the adaptation of game music on a microgroove disc is not done with the snap of a finger. It is first accompanied by a specific treatment at the mastering level, the final production phase, in order to harmonize the sounds with the particularities of the support. The choice of tracks then depends on the timing of each side. A process that is carried out in conjunction with the composers, who affect “almost always” copyright on these record sales.
Finally, he reminds us that these discs must not only flatter the ear but also be beautiful to see:
“We are in the return to the physical. It must therefore be a beautiful object. We are here to offer collectibles with high added value. It must be both graphic and sound. »
Because the design is thus essential for these small prints, continues Vincent Percevault:
“We try to stick with the universe of the game. Each object must be truly unique. It is also necessary to take care of the physical aspect, for example the texture of the paper or the rendering of the printing. »
Their formula was born when they were in charge of the soundtrack of Furi from the French studio The Game Bakers, which includes titles by artists Carpenter Brut, Lorn and Danger. They decide to create their first “collector” vinyl record because they consider that this hard-hitting album of synthwave, a retrofuturistic electro genre, can appeal beyond the circle of lovers of indie games. The bet pays off: six years have elapsed “several thousand copies” according to the leader of G4F, and remains their best seller.
According to Julien Cluet, sales director at the distributor Just For Games, video game vinyls stand out in the record bins: “When we look at the records of labels [de musique de jeux vidéo] like I Am 8 Bit, for example, you can see the difference. Marbled color discs, skilfully folded sleeves and original designs… The object has a strong appeal. I even know people who buy these vinyls when they don’t own a turntable”advances the one who already collected vinyl records before starting to sell them.
The worlds of vinyl and video games may seem far apart, yet they are complementary, observes Julien Cluet:
“ The typical vinyl buyer, in general, is often in their thirties or even younger. It’s the same generation that we are targeting with our products related to video games. People who are entering working life or who are executives, and who have the means to have fun. »
The prices can also appeal to fans 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’s a price range that is much more affordable for the general public compared to figurines, for example, which quickly rise to a hundred euros”he believes.
However, the bill for some Deluxe boxes can be steep. The “Deluxe” edition, four discs celebrating the trilogy Mass Effect, is sold for 140 euros. That of doom rises to almost 100 euros, which does not prevent it from being regularly out of stock.
However, manufacturing difficulties are hampering this dynamic, laments Vincent Percevault.
“The pressers are suffocated by the orders of the record majors who repress their entire catalog. Whereas before it took us three months to get a record, now we need at least six or seven. » Difficult, under these conditions, to coincide the release of a video game and that of the associated vinyl.
Another downside: the delays to obtain new pressings are long. In February, when the series adapted from the game was released on Netflix Cuphead (2017), its soundtrack was sold out. It took several months for fans of this tribute to 1930s cartoons to be able to put the vinyl on their turntables and listen to its artificially sputtering jazzy music.