Concert Tours in Peace and War
In 2006, the video game concert scene exploded with the near-simultaneous launches of the worldwide tours PLAY! A Video Game Symphony and Video Games Live. The debut of both these tours was massively successful; their tickets sold out quickly and the performances were generally met with rapturous applause and rave reviews. Such performances were irresistible to so many fans out there, who were able to back into the worlds of their favourite games through lavishly presented symphonies. Such concerts also had a social impact — helping to transform video game music from a fringe, geeky, lonely hobby into something entire families and friendship groups could enjoy. Orchestral game concerts weren’t a new thing — they had been occurring in Japan since the 1980s and were eventually brought to the West through concerts in Germany, Australia, and the USA — but no previous productions had a truly global scope. 2006 was truly a turning point for recognition of video game music.
But despite such an impressive start, there was concern from fans and producers alike whether video game concerts had a long-term future. In 2006, four major concert series were simultaneously being produced: Tommy Tallarico’s Video Games Live, Jason Michael Paul’s PLAY! A Video Game Symphony, Thomas Boecker’s Symphonic Game Music Concerts, and Hiroaki Yura’s A Night of Fantasia. It certainly seemed ambitious, perhaps excessive. Local producers were particularly concerned that their concerts would be dwarved by bigger competitors, and Video Games Live looked like a particularly formidable threat. Learning from their mistakes of their false start in 2005, Tallarico relaunched the tour 2006 with a massive publicity campaign. They aimed to offer the best of all worlds by incorporating most video game favourites and combining musical, visual, and interactive segments, mixing-and-matching original ideas with those inspired by other events. They clearly desired a universal reach — adding tour dates across the world at an almost exponential rate, even daring to enter into the already claimed realms of Germany and Australia. It was clearly a winning format and producers soon compared Video Games Live to Wal-Mart taking over the high street.
Soon enough, war broke out. There were major disagreements and arguments between all four producers behind-the-scenes, with a particularly savage rivalry developing between the overlapping Video Games Live and PLAY! In an ugly succession of events, the war went public through several interviews and forum discussions. The producers sometimes made fundamental comparisons between their concerts, and what they offered in terms of popular appeal and artistic value. But things also turned personal — accusations were flung from all sides, numerous incidents were recounted in different ways, and things often became very personal. The local producers tried to rise above it, but they still ended up being implicated in some way and antagonism eventually emerged between all four. We foolishly and unsuccessfully attempted to alleviate the strain — wanting to provide a chance for each producer to have his say, while noting that the bickering looked unprofessional to fans and artists alike. But for the producers, the war as anything but petty and they felt everything was at stake. They regarded concerts as their babies — things they have invested so much time, energy, and money into — and therefore wanted to do everything to make them grow. What’s more, they felt their industry reputations — and for some, entire livelihoods — were at risk.
There was a direct casualty of the concert wars. Thomas Boecker lost his long-term contract to produce concerts for the Games Convention, after organisers decided Video Games Live was more desirable. PLAY! and A Night in Fantasia also struggled in subsequent years, but competition was not the primary reason — the former suffering from some dubious production choices after its wonderful debut, the latter being extinguished by a spectacular but overbudgetted final concert. But in the long-term, all three producers have bounced back. Thomas Boecker produced the most artistically inspired game concert to date with Symphonic Fantasies and also helped to form the world tour Distant Worlds – Music from Final Fantasy. With the help of Jeron Moore, Jason Michael Paul has brought back PLAY! from the brink of death and conceived the smash hit tour The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses. While Hiroaki Yura’s concert involvement has been humble in recent years, he has refocused him attentions on to music production, having led the excellent recordings of SoulCalibur V and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Indeed, all four concert producers have experienced loss or failure at some point, but went on to successfully reinvent themselves and take a leading place in the industry.
Looking back, was the rivalry really necessary? Definitely not. We now know that there is a very large fanbase out there for video game concerts — from casual gamers and soundtrack collectors alike — in all four corners of the world. As a result, a large number of concert productions — both amateur and professional, orchestral and contemporary — are currently enjoying success across the world. Video Games Live continues to dominate the scene, developing into a truly global, prolific tour that brought video game music to the masses. But other concerts have been able to prosper by incorporating different material or taking contrasting approaches. For instance, whereas Tommy Tallarico has focused on entertaining listeners with approaches paralleling those of rock shows in arenas, Thomas Boecker has focused on reflecting the artistic side of game music with more classically-oriented approaches in concert halls. Appealing to distinct but sometimes overlapping audiences, both approaches have enjoyed enormous success over the years. Producers also now often cooperate rather than compete with each other — for example, Shota Nakama’s Video Game Orchestra has joined forces before with both Video Games Live and Distant Worlds.
In the end, the contribution all four producers have made to video game concerts transcends their rivalry. With their separate productions, they collectively popularised the amazing concept of the game music concert in the West and demonstrated there was a hungry fanbase out there. This required a huge amount of vision and perseverence from each of them. In different ways, they have demonstrated how culturally significant video games have become and have inspired numerous other events. In the Annual Game Music Awards 2012, we unintentionally commemorated the achievements of all four producers in different areas. We gave a special achievement award to Tommy Tallarico and Jack Wall for bringing video game music to the masses in a way that nobody else ever has. But we also commemorated the achievements of Thomas Boecker, Jason Michael Paul, Hiroaki Yura, and their associates for pushing artistic boundaries in their productions, even smaller-scale ones. Even now, it’s difficult to ever imagine the four producers sitting down harmoniously for dinner together. But it’s good to know that the rivalry has quietened down — and even some cooperations have emerged — now that all four producers have made their mark and found their place in the industry.
Posted on January 20, 2013 by Chris Greening. Last modified on March 8, 2014.