Interview with Michael Gluck (EA)

Michael Gluck is a Senior Sales Analyst for EA’s sales team. In his spare time, Michael composes and performs video game music in concert; his shows often attract thousands of people at a time. Given his dual business and creative activities, as well as his remarkable immersion in gamer fan culture, I felt that Michael’s take on music’s place in the video game industry would be interesting…

Please say a little about your concert playing.

I am a pianist specializing in the performance of music from video games. Under the stage name “Piano Squall”, I gave my first concert in 2003 and currently perform about fifteen shows each year.

My only goal as a performer is to share my love of game music with as many people as possible, while raising as much money for charity as possible. I donate everything I make from concerts to The National Multiple Sclerosis Society, which is fighting the disease to which my grandmother succumbed. I also provide Benefit Concerts that support a diversity of charitable causes, such as cancer research, literacy programs, and food drives.

What defines “good” video game music, if such a question can even be asked?

Game music draws upon a variety of musical influences — both modern and classical — and infuses them with a new purpose. The goal is to convey the emotion of a scene, and whether we find ourselves fighting an epic battle, racing a cart, or witnessing the death of our favorite character, the music pulls ours heart into the game and allows us to fully partake in the drama.

When we hear video game music by itself, it carries all of the emotions associated with the original gameplay experience. Good music reminds us of the plot, the characters, the art… it all comes back to us. That’s the true power of video game music — what makes it so different and so special.

To what extent are video game consumers beginning to value game music in and of itself, and how so?

People are coming out in substantial numbers to attend live performances of video game music. Over the last few years, we’ve seen the rise of numerous concert series devoted exclusively to game music — organizations such as Dear Friends, Play!, and Video Games Live have expanded into traditionally classical concert halls, where game music is performed by world renowned orchestras. It’s very exciting to see how this movement has connected fans across continents and brought international attention to this new genre.

How likely is concert attendance to ever break out of the ultra-hardcore consumer segment — or is that irrelevant?

Most of the people who attend my concerts are hardcore gamers between the ages of 16-21. They have all the soundtracks, and they are coming to hear a live performance of music they already know and love.

However, game music is a fusion of many different musical styles, so it can certainly appeal to a diverse audience. There is always a segment of the audience that does not play games, and I meet them at every show. These are music-loving people who read about a piano show in the local paper and just come to check it out. Or sometimes they are parents accompanying their hardcore gamer kids.

The interesting thing is that non-gaming audience members tend to be just as enthusiastic about the show as the gamers are. The only difference? They often tell me how surprised they are to discover that music from a video game can be so beautiful.

Where do you perform in concert, and what was your largest crowd ever?

My concerts have taken me to eighteen different states, and I have had the privilege of performing for audiences as large as three thousand people. Concerts take place at gaming and anime conventions, college campuses, or anywhere fans of gaming live.

How important is music to the success of a video game?

The payoff for developers who invest in high-quality music is tremendous. Perhaps the best example is the music of Square-Enix’s Final Fantasy series, composed by Nobuo Uematsu. For many years, Square-Enix has successfully monetized Final Fantasy music through the sale of soundtracks and sheet music, which are easily accessible both online and in retail stores throughout Asia. In fact, the demand for Master Uematsu’s music reached such a substantial level that it gave rise to a national concert series devoted exclusively to the performance of Final Fantasy music.

I was barley able to get a ticket to the first Final Fantasy Dear Friends concert in Los Angeles because all 2,400 tickets sold out in the first three days. Although I quickly secured my ticket for the second performance in Chicago, I recall waiting a full hour in a half-mile line that snaked around the side of the Rosemont Theatre just to get in the door.

It’s easy to see the payoff for Square-Enix’s investment in game music through sales of soundtracks, sheet music, and concert tickets, but perhaps the best evidence of payoff is the multitude of fan websites that exist solely to draw attention to the music. Online music-centric fan communities have turned into massive gathering places, which only serve to strengthen the loyalty that fans have towards a particular franchise and developer. I myself have been so inspired by Square-Enix music that I choose to spend my weekends performing it for no profit. When your own consumers love you so much that they become self-motivated evangelists, who needs ad spend?

Unfortunately, Michael was unable to publicly comment on more of my sales-related questions, so just imagine some really good dialogue in that vein… ;-)

If you’d like to learn more about Michael’s concerts, visit his homepage.

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