Every day at Pixelkin we have the opportunity to meet people in unusual careers in the video game industry. Much like the film industry, the video game industry has created millions of different ways for passionate people to support themselves and their families while doing something they love.
Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with Jesse Buddington of Loudr. Loudr helps independent musicians legally publish and distribute their music, and they specialize in helping out video game composers and cover artists (which often includes musicians covering songs from video games). Among their many services are regularly hosted Game Music Bundles, where anyone can buy a bundle of game soundtracks for whatever price they like (much like video game bundles). All in all, Loudr is providing a resource that is practical, optimistic, and respectful for musicians and fans alike.
Where did Loudr come from?
A couple of years ago, some of the folks I went to music school with decided to start a music company that eventually turned into Loudr. We realized that a lot of musicians don’t know about (or want to have to care about) the business part of the music business. So rather than just being a store to put their stuff on, Loudr tries to give them the tools they need to manage their careers so they can keep focusing on actually making art.
So what does your company provide for its musicians?
One of the biggest things we offer to musicians is cover song licensing—this enables us to sell everything from piano versions to string quartet versions to electro-dance versions to a cappella versions of popular video game themes. The original songwriters or publishers get compensated for every sale, and the artist doesn’t have to worry about getting a C&D from an angry publisher.
This ties into our work with the Game Music Bundles, making sure composers are respected and compensated for their awesome scores. (Usually, video game composers don’t make money directly from sales of the games that feature their works.) We also allow artists to collaborate with one another and split the revenue per sale any way they’d like.
Something that makes Loudr unique is that we’re essentially focused on ethical behavior and good will—we realize that piracy is a thing, and that no one has to pay for anything digital if they don’t want to. By convincing artists to do the legal thing and license their cover songs, and by convincing fans to support their favorite artists directly, we’re trying to encourage people to voluntarily pay a fair amount for their music. And so far that’s been really successful.
Sounds like you’ve made an awesome career for yourself.
It’s funny. I didn’t really expect to be super-passionate about all this stuff. Copyright is pretty dry. But it’s a really broken system, and if we can do something to make it better for the reality of today’s artists, then in my mind that’s a success.
What’s your favorite video game soundtrack?
I really hit my gaming stride with the SNES, so it’s a toss-up between The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (one of the console’s first major titles) and Chrono Trigger (one of its last). Koji Kondo and Yasunori Mitsuda (with help from Nobuo Uematsu on Chrono Trigger) are these legendary composers, and I’ve spent many, many hours listening to their soundtracks, especially as I occasionally dust off my SNES and have another go at my old favorites (I’m looking at you, New Game +)!
What are some of the obstacles you faced when entering this non-traditional career?
The big one was that we started with virtually nothing. Our first record label launched while in college, and in those early days we had no money, and minimal connections, knowledge, or resources. We had to teach ourselves copyright and digital distribution. After gaining some experience through supporting traditional cover bands, college a cappella groups, and so on, we set our sights on the world of video game music—which is one of our major passions.
This was especially challenging because even though video game publishers own musical compositions as part of their games, they don’t consider themselves music publishers. The reality is that most game companies aren’t making full use of their various copyrights, and we’ve had to encourage them not only to participate in an unfamiliar industry, but to actively support their fan community in the creation of new works over which they don’t have complete creative authority.
Not a lot of people are well-versed in copyright law—what’s the most common misconception you’ve come across?
Far and away, the biggest single misconception about copyright is that if you give it away for free, you don’t need a license. Copyright only cares about who can and cannot make copies of a work—whether or not those copies are given away for free. In fact, the penalties for copyright infringement aren’t based on how much—or how little—you give away a copy for. Even in clear-cut cases of Fair Use, if you’re using someone else’s work, you should always obtain permission and a license from them. Sometimes, they’ll be so impressed that you took the time to go the legal route, they’ll even help promote your work!
What has been the most rewarding part of your experience?
The most rewarding part is feeling like we’re helping change copyright and the music industry for the better. We get to talk to passionate and intelligent creators who, like us, are fans of video game music. As musicians ourselves, we even get to jam with some of these talented folks when we’re lucky enough to be in the same place.
We regularly hear stories about former pirates and underground artists choosing to participate in copyright and legal, above-table sales because we’ve made it so easy for them, and we’ve even helped a couple really dedicated artists form self-sustaining careers based solely on their art.
What advice would you give to young people about turning geeky passions into a career?
Figure out what drives you to pursue your passion, and follow that as well as you can. Don’t try to do everything by yourself unless that’s truly what you feel you have to do. Demonstrate, talk about, or share what you love with others. Always take the time to honestly and openly answer people’s questions about what you do. Make friends who appreciate what you do and who do something that you respect, and work together with them to make something awesome. Don’t give up when times are rough, and be sure to take the time to celebrate your successes.
Above all, never forget those first days when you had nothing but your passion and a vision for the future—you’ll meet a lot of “you” on the way.
To learn more about Loudr and the work Jesse does, visit their website by clicking here.