N-Dubz - console music

N-Dubz are the latest pop act to use Britain’s multi-billion pound gaming industry to flog their music. Luke Blackall plugs in to find out how
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The Independent Culture

There was a time, not so long ago, when if you wanted to watch a new music video, you flicked on to a music channel on TV and waited until it appeared. Then along came YouTube and make it a whole lot easier. But if UK band N-Dubz’s new video launch is successful, it could mark a change in the way music videos are made – and how we consume them.

This week the band released their new music video,made entirely inside a computer game with tools available to anyone, using a headspin-inducing combination of music, video games and social media. In the video for “Took It All Away”, the three members of N-Dubz all appear as ‘Sackpeople’, the customisable – and very cute – characters who feature in the LittleBigPlanet2 for the PlayStation 3. The game was number one in the British games charts and is the sequel to a title which sold more than a million copies. The N-Dubz video was put together by music video director Henry Scholfield and Partizan productions. They were helped, not only by the game’s developers, but by amateur designers and fans of the game across the world, who volunteered to add new graphics and to create much of the action.

N-Dubz's Little Big Planet2 video

It seems that in the video games community, at least, the concept of The Big Society is alive and well. It also marks a distinct shift from when the only aspect of music in video games was simply its soundtrack. Alan Duncan, the marketing director of PlayStation, who came up with the concept, admitted he spoke to a few people before who “didn’t get it”, but that the response from the music industry was generally positive. “People are becoming aware that stereotypes of gamers being spotty teenagers in their bedrooms aren’t true,” he says. “Gaming has grown up. It’s become a lot more sophisticated on phones and various platforms.” Once it was the games developers who had to convince the record labels to give them the music for their products, and had to convince older, established stars of the benefits of getting their music into video games. Now it’s the other way around, primarily because artists who have allowed their work to be used in games such as Guitar Hero, Rock Band or DJ Hero have seen their sales rocket.

Even the Beatles aren’t immune to the money-making possibilities of lending their image to video games, as the Fab Four appeared in their own mega-selling version of Rock Band. Artists now look to put tracks in games before or even at the same time they are released on download. Some, however, have gone even further. Last year, Linkin Park released their own game, Rebellion for iPhones, while on the same format Lady Gaga teamed up with Tapulous to create her game Tap Tap Revenge, which now has a sequel. “A lot of artists today have grown up with games, and are very digitally aware,” continues Duncan. “Expressing themselves beyond the traditional A&R route.” Which looks like a good thing, since recent research from Deloitte Touche suggests traditional A&R is likely to “decline by roughly $500 million per year globally” and that other sources of funding would be needed to step in “to prevent the well from running dry”. Singer Fazer, 24, from N-Dubz, himself an avid gamer, explains the artist’s point of view.

“We’re expanding each year, looking to do new things to gain new fans in different age groups,” he says. “Artists should be always thinking of new ways to market themselves.” The declining music industry – global sales have fallen dramatically over the past ten years – would do well to learn from the games industry, which has generally seen steady growth. While record labels still haven’t cracked the issues of illegal downloads, the market in paid-for video games continues to thrive. What’s more, a growing number of people are paying subscriptions so they can play their favourite games online. Stuart Dredge, editor of music industry consultancy Music Ally, believes it’s a trend that’s only likely to continue. “I think the music and games industries will continue to look for new ways to partner, particularly as more music stores and services are available on games consoles.” Another area of overlap is the newer trend of user interaction. LittleBigPlanet2 allows users to create their own levels, which they can put online for others to download and play.

Many of the levels created by fans in the first game were included in the sequel. French DJ David Guetta, perhaps inspired by websites such as www.thepublicrecord. com, which allows amateurs to remix professionally produced music clips, the best of which are then put onto a CD, has found success of his own with his new Facebook game Pump It. The gameallows users to play with and remix his music. The best efforts are then awarded prizes. “There’s a lot of interest and debate in the music industry about what it can learn from social games on Facebook, like FarmVille, which are free to play, with a mixture of virtual item sales and advertising bringing in the revenues,” says Dredge. It seems that if you want to be number one in the real world, you need to have a presence in the virtual one.