The blockbuster pop music and gaming industries have been collaborating almost as long as gaming has existed, at least since 1983, when Journey got its own Midway arcade cabinet. That kind of branding has only grown over time, especially in online games like Fortnite, which has grown from a simple multiplayer battle royale to a unique multimedia experience. Pop music has had an audible presence in Fortnite for years now, with artists like Travis Scott and Ariana Grande spearheading the virtual concert trend that has spread to other platforms like Roblox.
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Epic Games even has purchasable skins inspired by musicians like Bruno Mars, J Balvin, and Kid Laroi, and countless emotes with every song, from “Gangnam Style” to NBA Youngboy’s “Pump Up The Jam” and “Right Foot Creep.” There is a feedback loop between the music you listen to on Fortnite and music going viral elsewhere – sometimes I can’t tell if a song is on Fortnite because it’s a TikTok trend, or if it’s a TikTok trend because it was on Fortnite.
now you are listening Fortnite radio
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Fortnite introduced its in-game radio feature as a fun easter egg for players in June 2020, with stations like “Beat Box” and “Rock & Royale” available for your listening pleasure whenever you enter a vehicle, and a new selection of songs released every hour of an update or season release. Initially, the music featured leaned towards what you might expect to hear in an online game, mostly instrumental pieces from FortniteHis own soundtrack, glitchy electronic cuts and lo-fi beats. Then it started to change.
While most of Epic’s previous collaborations with musicians have been visual, the expansion of in-game radio created a new aural market for placing music in-game: in my own in-game session hours, I’ve heard everything on the Fortnite radio stations. from Drake to German techno, from Rosalía to Korn. And now, Epic Games has taken its music licensing to a whole new dimension, as Battle Royale has begun to position itself not just as a virtual billboard to promote pop artists, but as its own kind of full-service streaming platform.
Of course, the obvious model here is something like Grand Theft Auto, which has featured a large selection of music on its stations from the likes of Flying Lotus and The Blessed Madonna. but games like gta are fundamentally more static than Fortnite—the soundtrack may be new when the game launches, but it will inevitably be outdated until the next DLC comes out. FortniteEpic’s existence as a never-ending online experience, with new seasons of content and constant updates, has allowed for the growth of a whole new market, as Epic is able to constantly update its own playlists.
Increasingly, Fortnite has been offering a space for artists who aren’t brand names or who work in genres other than what we conventionally call “video game music.” Chris Burque is one of the co-founders of Ghost Town, a company that manages media licenses for artists like Sufjan Stevens and Son Lux. With a client list that leans toward indie and experimental music, Ghost Town has generally done more work in film and television than games, but the Chicago-based firm has licensed music to beloved critics like Hotline Miami and Life is strangeand helped curate a soundtrack by local Chicago artists for the first Watch dogs game. Since the expansion of FortniteGhost Town, the in-game radio service, has seen its business grow in the gaming industry as Epic Games brings together a diverse spectrum of sounds to suit its equally diverse player base.
Fortnite and music licenses
Regardless of any specific genre or artist, Burque explains that when Epic approached his company with licensing opportunities, they are more interested in what’s new and upcoming than a specific sound: the first Ghost Town song licensed to Fortnite was from Sufjan. Stevens and Angelo’s 2021 album by Augustine A beginner’s mind.
Since the purchase of Bandcamp, Epic also has its own stream of indie music readily available for ripping, with a Selection curated by Bandcamp recently appeared on the game’s Radio Underground station. Even if Fortnite still representing a smaller portion of Ghost Town’s business than television, Burque sees this emerging platform as representative of a larger boom in streaming content: “Especially in the last few years, there’s an endless stream of content being created, so that there are more opportunities than ever to license music, even if it’s just a song playing in the background in a bar on a TV show.” Fortnite offers similar potential for optimizing the background, such as a party scene in Successionsince Epic finds new spaces to insert licensed music.
Josh Briggs oversees the licensing team at Terrorbird Media, a full-service music management company and label that also handles publishing for artists like Deerhoof, Kathleen Hanna, and Shamir. “At Terrorbird, we especially focus on artists that you might consider left-of-center, so we’re always looking for mainstream outlets for that type of music,” he explains. “It’s exciting when something like Fortnite It comes in a space like gaming that has been harder to take advantage of.” Briggs notes that in the past, most of Terrorbird’s work with game developers has been for promotional purposes: its first game-related license was the use of a song in a commercial for the PlayStation Vita.
Next to Grand Theft AutoBriggs points to titles like Guitar Hero and Professional skateboarder Tony Hawk as games that helped open up the genre to a wide range of music genres, along with licensing powerhouses like fifa and 2k. but unlike Fortnitethose games have still been limited to a more limited soundtrack; in many ways, having a track licensed to Fortnite it’s more like being placed on a Spotify or Apple Music playlist than being featured in a conventional video game.
He Fortnite bulk
It’s obviously still a win-win financial opportunity for artists, but Briggs points out that placement in a game like Fortnite doesn’t necessarily lead to more exposure – you spend less game time inside a car than something like gta, so there’s less opportunity to fully inspect all the stations, and a track can go back and forth in the game’s playlist before you even get a chance to listen to it. Plus, there’s no DJ to read the track or artist name, and probably little time to whip out your phone and Shazam something that catches your eye, given the game’s fast pace.
He explains: “The hard part is, how do you prevent someone from being obsessed with your song on Fortnite, and make them jump from the closed ecosystem to the rest of your catalog, or to see you play live? Licenses for a platform like Fortnite it offers a new source of income and may be a first-time achievement for musicians who are also gamers, but it’s hard to discern what kind of impact it really has on a broader audience.
Briggs notes that Epic’s increased interest in the music space is part of a broader strategy that nearly all content providers are embracing: In an attempt to fracture attention, streaming platforms are increasingly morphing into media spaces. They try to satisfy all our sensory needs. “A big driver for streaming platforms is time spent on the platform, so they’re doing everything they can to keep people in their ecosystem, which I think means a conscious effort to consolidate. Like, why go sit down and listen to Spotify when they can bring you music? Why jump to Netflix or Twitch or TikTok if we can bring what they do here? If you are hanging out with your friends all the time in Fortnitethat becomes where you listen to music or go to concerts, instead of going to another platform.”
Of course, some of those fans are the very musicians whose music could end up in Fortnite radio. “A lot of artists are gamers,” says Briggs. “On tour or in the studio, there can be intense downtime for musicians. We’re waiting for soundcheck, or we’re driving to the next place, or we’re waiting for the drums to be recorded, so we’re just hanging out here and playing Switch to pass the time.”
The expansion of music licenses in Fortnite It shows just how deeply ingrained multiplayer gaming has become in pop culture, as Battle Royale transforms from a simple game concept to a massive streaming portal for media of all kinds. “A constant conversation with our artists is not just how you monetize the music, but how you connect with the fans.” explains Briggs. “If your fans spend their social time on a platform like Fortniteyou have to meet them there.”