EA keeping music to itself

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Video game publisher Electronics Arts is expanding its footprint within the music industry by starting a record label.

The company has tapped longtime partner Nettwerk Music Group to form the label under the auspices of a joint venture called Artwerk. The unprecedented deal finds Nettwerk handling physical and digital distribution, licensing and promotional activities, while EA will do the majority of A&R work as well as feature music from the label's artists in its video games.

The first act signed to Artwerk is Junkie XL, whose songs have been heard in such video games as "The Sims 2: Nightlife," "Destroy All Humans" and the entire soundtracks to "Forza Motorsport" and "SSX Blur."

EA worldwide executive of music Steve Schnur said the gamemaker wanted to more directly benefit from its practice of breaking new acts via the video game platform. "We can cite many times that we've put a band in a game and helped that artist get signed," he said. "Now, it's in our collective interest to find a home for that artist with us."

EA can now directly profit from subsequent albums sold as a result of inclusion in a video game soundtrack.

"Usually when an unsigned band gets onto a big EA game, all the majors wake up and want to try to sign them," Nettwerk founder and CEO Terry McBride said. "Video games arguably have more impact on a new artist than radio does right now."

The deal also includes a publishing arm, a potential resource for artists signed to other labels who do not have a publishing deal.

Additionally, EA has ended its joint venture with publishing firm Cherry Lane's Next Level Music, which formed to license EA's original game soundtracks to advertising, TV and film spots. That partnership resulted in what Schnur calls "a few" licensing deals but ultimately fell short of expectations. As such, Nettwerk's film and TV synch licensing department will take over those duties under the Artwerk venture.

"At the end of the day, we felt that by aligning ourselves with Nettwerk's film and synch department, we could aggressively" get a lot more licensing deals, Schnur said.

Under an existing deal, Nettwerk has served for two years as the digital distribution arm for EA, making EA-owned music like original game soundtracks available on iTunes and other digital services. In February, Nettwerk and EA teamed to make all EA soundtracks available for download directly from the EA Web site through a service called EA Trax (HR 3/1). Both activities now fall under the Artwerk mantle.

Antony Bruno is a contributor to Billboard.
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