Thousands upon thousands of young people – decked out in branded t-shirts – swarmed around a sold-out Wembley Arena in April this year.
But they weren’t there to see Taylor Swift or Fall Out Boy, these music lovers were queuing up to witness the London Philharmonic Orchestra perform classic songs from The Legend of Zelda video games.
Video games, to me, represent the highest level of artistic talent, even more than films,” insists Jason Michael Paul, the man in charge of pulling The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses together.
These musical scores are being performed by some of the best orchestras in the world, and acceptance by music fans is becoming more common.”
According to The Official Charts Company, video game soundtracks generated 223,000 in the UK last year, which is a relatively miniscule figure but a growing one.
Yet that number only tells part of the story. Last April’s gig was the third time the Zelda concert has toured the UK in the last four years, while a rival event – Video Games Live – has just sold out of three shows in Germany for the beginning of next month.
Meanwhile, anyone who attended Paul McCartney’s recent gigs in the UK may have been surprised to see the song he wrote for the Destiny soundtrack receive a full airing. Video game music has always been popular, but never before have we seen it infiltrate mainstream culture so frequently.
"The average video game soundtrack album
outsells the average movie soundtrack three-to-one."
– Tommy Tallarico, Video Games Live
Video game music has become a part of the fabric of our culture and it’s only going to get bigger,” explains Tommy Tallarico, CEO and producer of Video Games Live ahead of next month’s events.
The average video game soundtrack album outsells the average movie soundtrack three-to-one, andthe Video Games Live national television special in the US on PBS was the eighth highest ranked special over the past 50 years.
Then you can look at websites like OCRemix.org where thousands of people are uploading video game remixes from around the world. Where is the website where people are remixing film scores like this? Orhow about MAGFEST,which has been going for over 13 years and is an entire weekend of video game music cover bands from around the world. The eventnow attracts over 50,000 people a year.”
He continues: Video Games Live has done over 350 performances around the globe in over 30 countries. No matter where we go it is always a huge sell-out crowd. From playing 25,000 seat stadiums in China and Mexico, or 10 years of sell out crowds inBrazil, to shows in the Middle Eastin places like Dubai and Qatar where thousands come out to celebrate their love and passion of video game music.”
"Video game music concerts represent the
future of classical music concerts."
– Jason Michael Paul, The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses
Yet for all of its popularity, what about the medium’s credibility amongst its musical peers?
Just as London’s Zelda concert was to begin, Jason Michael Paul took to the stage and told the audience that: The orchestra feeds of your energy, so make as much noise as you can.” And the fans took that advice and ran with it. They ‘whooped’ whenever they heard a familiar few bars, they whooped whenever Link or Ganondorf or Zelda (and even some of the more obscure characters) appeared on the screen and they whooped, more often than not, because they were told they could.
It was difficult to imagine what the orchestra – more used to playing Debussy’s Clair De Lune than Zelda’s Lullaby – made of it all. In 2012, when Michael Paul put together a Final Fantasy-themed concert in America, one musician told the press that he was effectively playing ‘muzak’.
The perception has definitely changed since then,” insists Michael Paul. Today, many different orchestras are performing my concerts. That was then, this is now. Video game music concerts represent the future of classical music concerts.
He adds: At first many musicians are unsure but once they begin to play the music and see how the arrangements are quality and at the highest level, they ease into to it.
Once they get in front of the enthusiastic audience they really get into it. Many musicians in these orchestras actually see this as the future of symphonic music.”
Tallarico agrees, adding that the credibility issue will go away as the audience for video games ages. It only suffers a credibility issue to people who don’t play video games. Just like Country music suffers a credibility issue from people who don’t listen to or like Country music.
People who grew up on games – folks 50 and under, which is now about half of the world – understand the significance and importance of video game music. And although it’s not considered mainstream because it’s not played on the radio, neither is EDM, yet that form of music has a culture and phenomenon of it’s own as well.
I always say that video gamemusic is still underground, but the reality is that most people are now underground.”
Video game music didn’t appear underground at Wembley Arena. The stadium was packed, t-shirts commemorating the event had sold out long before the orchestra picked up their instruments, and plans are already afoot to bring the show back to the UK for a fourth time.
And it was an impressive event. The music – originally written by Nintendo’s musical maestro Koji Kondo – was beautifully recreated on stage. During the Symphony of the Goddesses, video footage was used to illustrate all of the pieces, but they were largely redundant. The Wind Waker Movement, for instance, immediately conjures images of the open sea, without the aid of a big screen trailer. But the videos themselves were intelligently crafted to match the rises and falls in the music.
"The orchestras that are thriving
are the ones that see this as the bridge to a whole
new demographic, one which breathes
new life into the symphony world."
– Jason Michael Paul, The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses
So although the producers of these concerts may not quite garner the credibility they deserve (Michael Paul admits that he rarely gets interviewed by anyone outside of the video games media) they do put on an impressive show.
Yet neither Michael Paul or Tallarico are seeking respect, not really. Both talk about their mission of attracting younger people to the sort of musical event they would otherwise never dream of attending.
And as those whopping, excitable Nintendo fans made their way home from Wembley – deep in conversation about their favourite movements – it’s clear that they’re succeeding.
Some orchestras are still stuck in the past,” concludes Michael Paul. However, the orchestras that are thriving and succeeding today are the ones that see this as the bridge to a whole new demographic, one which breathes new life into the symphony world and is replacing an older and literally dying audience.”