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Bands Find Fame in Videogames

Singer-guitarist Walter de Castro couldn't believe his luck when he found out his band's song "The Core" would be featured on "FIFA 2008," the Electronic Arts popular soccer game.

"It's super! It's what a lot of people crave -- a way to reach a large audience very quickly," said Castro, who plays in the French electro pop rock act Babamars.

"We are not a traditional rock band, so it's going be a long and tough road to make a name for ourselves on the live circuit. If you are in a videogame, your name will go around fast," he said. "It will snowball."

At a time when the music industry is dealing with falling sales, videogames provide an unprecedented way for people to discover new music and for aspiring artists to reach a wide audience.

"This may be the best time in the history of the industry for little-known bands to get mainstream exposure via videogames," said Steve Schnur, the worldwide executive of music at EA, which is the world's largest videogame company.

Schnur's staff scour the globe for new music talent.

"The truth is that consumers now spend more time playing videogames than listening to the radio or watching TV," he said.

Aspiring hitmakers should take note: EA sports games have been credited with helping to launch the careers of bands such as Good Charlotte, Avril Lavigne, Franz Ferdinand and Scissor Sisters.

A recent poll of core gamers ages 13 to 32 shows that 55 percent of them learned about new artists from videogames.

Over one-third of them said they downloaded a song because they heard it in a game and more than 20 percent purchased that artist's CD.

"FIFA 2008," which hit Europe in September and North America this month, is projected to sell between 6 and 7 million units around the world, Schnur said.

And because playing sports videogames fuels track repetition, he said, "within six months, any given song in that game will be heard and identified nearly 1 billion times."

"No movie soundtrack, television commercial or radio/video hit can deliver that level of instantaneous global exposure," Schnur added.

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Such exposure is a dream come true for bands like Babamars, whose first album sold around 1,000 copies.

"Small labels no longer have the means to invest in development and, with CD sales on the decline, one must find indirect promotional ways," said Jessica Ibgui, manager of French label Warm Music, who worked with Babamars.

"If people like the song while playing the game, they will go on the Web to check it out and maybe buy it," she said. "In any case it will boost the band's notoriety and credibility."

The Cool Factor

Nearly 95 percent of all the music in EA games comes from new acts and the company sees rewards in being perceived as cool.

"Every gamer wants the feeling that they've personally discovered a song that's going to be big...and then, a month later, they hear it on the radio," Schnur said.

"They will always associate that music with their gaming experience. Gamers want to feel they're in the know before anyone else. Around the world, this is what the cool kids and trendsetters crave, and that's why they are loyal to us," he said.

EA recently took steps to more directly benefit from its practice of introducing new acts via video games, setting up Artwerk in March, a joint venture with record label Nettwerk.

"With Artwerk, we can now directly sign, launch and grow our own unique [artist] roster via our own full-service music company," said Schnur.

Artwerk has signed four artists since its launch. They include Dutch musician Junkie XL, the Norwegian band Datarock, Australian rockers Airbourne, and New York band Jupiter One.

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