The creation of a record label exclusively for video game remixes, GameChops, was, as its founder Chris Davidson said, a “real no-brainer.”
A local Philadelphian, Davidson, also known as Dj CUTMAN, is one of many who creates and performs dance remixes of soundtracks to classic video games like “The Legend of Zelda” and “Sonic the Hedgehog.” He said he founded GameChops in 2012, which became a registered business in Pennsylvania in 2014, to “legitimize” video game music.
“With GameChops, I had hoped, and I think we achieved, creating these professional video game remixes that people around the gaming industry and music industry are starting to recognize as professional-level music, and I think that’s really awesome,” Davidson said.
As a platform for producers on the label to release high-quality remix albums and singles, GameChops pays a small fee to license original music from game publishers like Nintendo and Sega so that the artists are able to, essentially, make an “electronic cover” by rewriting and re-composing the music.
Originally, Davidson had to go through a tedious process of getting licenses, but with partners at Loudr.fm, an online music licensing service that takes care of the small fee, he said it has made things easier.
“It’s freed me up … instead of worrying about licensing and finding out who owns the rights, I’m just able to focus on making great music,” Davidson said.
Licensing video game remixes allowed GameChops’ artists to not only make a profit from what they produce, but to also support the game publishers and original composers of the video game music that inspired them.
“While money is never the goal of this whole thing, being able to, as adults who are out of school, produce music that generates a little bit of money definitely goes a long way in helping us make more music in the future,” he said.
Benjamin Briggs, a full-time game remixer living in Florida, is one of the 14 other artists associated with GameChops. He said it is fortunate to be part of a label that doesn’t change his music, since Davidson doesn’t sign artists under binding contracts.
“It doesn’t really change the creative process, it just changes the way I view my music as a marketable product and really thinking about what we can do to reach the most people,” Briggs said.
Blake Colello, also known as Pixel8ter, is another Philadelphian part of GameChops. As a chiptune artist, which involves synthesizing electronic music from sound chips of vintage Game Boys and computers, he said he finds game and electronic music special in its adaptability.
“I like electronic music; it doesn’t have to have some specific formula or format to it,” Colello said. “The nice thing about video game music is that somehow you can apply it to all those different styles and it can still work if you find the right sound waves, right modulation or right loop from a video game soundtrack.”
Davidson said he has professional experience in studio sound engineering and a passion for video games and game music, so he said it was important to produce tracks that could hold up to the growing popularity of game remixes.
“For kids, for adults, anyone of any age who plays video games, the music that’s contained in those games, I feel, has a special meaning and that’s why it was so important for me to get this music out in a professional manner, because it’s seriously important to me as a person,” Davidson said.
Events like MAGFest, an annual festival where tens of thousands of video game music fans gather, are signs of how popular this kind of music is today. Colello, who will be performing with Davidson live at the April 17 kick-off event for Philly Tech Week, said he believes the scene’s growth is because of its welcoming nature.
“It’s a really cool environment to be a part of if you’re genuine about it, and that’s one of the reasons I think it’s been able to grow like that, is because it’s accepting,” Colello said.
Grant Kirkhope, the original composer of the classic Nintendo 64 game Banjo-Kazooie, praised Briggs on his remix of Kirkhope’s soundtrack on Twitter. Briggs said that just speaks to how memories of playing these games and listening to its music has an impact on people.
“That’s why I got into it – I had nostalgia for video game soundtracks and I wanted to pay tribute, I wanted to upgrade them,” Briggs said. “People are nostalgic for these songs and when they hear someone tribute it in a new style, they can appreciate it more than anyone else because they have a nostalgic attachment to that tune.”
Albert Hong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.