Tongue in Chic
Depending on your age, you probably think of Nile Rodgers as the guitarist of the funky disco group Chic, the co-producer of such albums as David Bowie’s Let’s Dance and Madonna’s Like A Virgin, or as the guy who co-wrote “Come To Butt-head.” But to gamers, Rodgers is best known for producing the soundtracks to Halo 3 and Perfect Dark Zero, among others. It’s work that, in 1998, prompted Rodgers to form Sumthing Else Music Works, a record label dedicated to video game soundtracks. Since then, they’ve released the music for dozen of games, including Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Halo: Reach, Gears Of War 3, and, most recently, Borderlands 2 and Darksiders II. But as we learned when we talked to Mr. Rodgers recently, Sumthing isn’t just a business, it’s a passion project.
EGM: How did you get started with games?
Nile Rodgers: When I started out as a musician, we didn’t get a lot of money to make our albums, so we would only be able to work in eight hour shifts, and usually the night time shifts at studios, which are cheapest. But when you’re working those long shifts, you’d get brain drain, and there’d be times when you’d have to just chill out for a bit. So we would go to nearby arcades to relax. Gaming was kind of like a palette cleanser for food. And this worked for years, and became a big part of my life.
EGM: When you were with Chic, was there a game that you and the other guys were really big on?
NR: Oh, man, of course, of course. This is going to make me seem really old — but then I am really old, I just turned sixty — but our favorite games in the old days were Asteroids, Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong. But one of our absolute favorite games was the baseball game by Bally’s. The reason why it was so good was that if you were the pitcher, and you wiggled the joystick at the last minute, you could throw a curve ball that was un-hittable. It was unbelievable, and we figured that out completely by accident.
EGM: Did you keep up with games when things moved from the arcade to home machines?
NR: Yeah, when the consoles came along, I started buying everything that was out there. I think I’ve had every platform.
EGM: How did you then go from being into games to doing music for them?
NR: Well, it wasn’t a jump like that. All throughout my career, I’ve done a lot of film work. I’ve scored a lot of pictures, and also done segments for a lot of movies. Like for Thelma & Louise, Hans Zimmer did the score, but I did some key segments. I’ve also done tons of television commercials, like fifty, sixty, a hundred of them. So the opportunity to work on games came about because I had friends who were working on them. I got to work on Rise of Nations because I had friends at Microsoft at the time. Though now that I think about it, before I did that game, I worked on a game called…Outlaw Volleyball. Though I was actually just a music supervisor on that game, working to pick the songs that would be in the game. So games was just an offshoot of stuff I was already doing.
EGM: How did working on those games lead you to start a Sumthing Else, a company that puts out game soundtracks? Because there had to be something that made you think this would be a good investment.
NR: Well, the thing is, when I’m thinking about something being a “good investment,” I’m not thinking that I need to be able to get rich off of it. As long as it breaks even, as long as it doesn’t sink the ship, I was more than excited to do it because I love the music and I love the people. The composers that I work with are some of the coolest people I know. Sure, the Halo 2 soundtrack sold really well, but that was an odd, rare thing. And if we get a hit once in a while, cool, but that’s not why I do it. I want to help composers. I look at what these guys are doing as being modern day classic music.
EGM: Now I assume you’re still play games, right?
NR: Not as much as I’d like, but yeah.
EGM: When deciding what game soundtracks you’re going to put out, how many times have you said, “Well, I’d need to see the game first” because you really just wanted to play the game?
NR: In the beginning, I did that a lot. But there were so many games out there, there just wasn’t enough time. Though in the beginning, I was a pain in the butt. I can’t tell you how many times I went out to Sony in Santa Monica to play stuff.
EGM: If a game has a really bad soundtrack, can it ruin the game for you or do you just turn the music off?
NR: I don’t ever turn the music off, and I’ll tell you why: because I believe that the game was designed that way, and it’s part of the experience, and I want to play it the way they intended.
EGM: But what if the music is terrible or overbearing or something?
NR: Then the game sucks. Well, it may not suck, but it’s not as good as it could’ve been. I don’t think a game can be ruined because of the music.
EGM: So what games have you played lately that you’ve really enjoyed?
NR: Just the other day, me and some friends were playing Halo, and we were having a blast. It was the new version of the first game, but it still, to us, it reminded us of when we first played the game back in the day.