Dance

Label Look: How Monstercat's Gaming Partnerships Have Helped Its Acts Thrive Through the Pandemic

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In an industry driven largely by live events, many DJs have scrambled to find new sources of income since the pandemic forced them off the road nearly a year ago. Livestream sets have offered a stopgap for some, while others have relied on streaming revenue and savings.

But for the roughly 140 acts who released music in 2020 via indie electronic label Monstercat, based in Vancouver, Canada, a solution to this dilemma is built right into their deals.

Both before and during COVID-19, Monstercat has scored major wins by integrating its clients’ music into the gaming space via partnerships with gaming giants like Epic Games and its Psyonix subsidiary -- makers of Fortnite and the popular soccer game Rocket League -- the beat matching game Beat Saber, the online game creation platform Roblox and more.

While crowds haven't gathered at clubs or festivals since last spring, they're still assembling en masse inside these games. And by providing them with music from its artists both huge and rising, Monstercat is helping its acts earn money, visibility and new fans.

“[The pandemic] has really accelerated the need to be involved in gaming,” says Gavin Johnson, who leads Monstercat's gaming department. “We’re trying to create games as a pillar for music discovery. We’re almost treating them as a DSP, like a Spotify.”

Johnson joined Monstercat in 2012 to build out its gaming department, a task he started by reaching out to gaming content creators on YouTube and Twitch to offer music they could use without fear of content ID claims and takedowns. Monstercat, which launched in 2011, owns the masters and publishing rights for nearly 70 percent its roughly 5,000 track catalog, giving them an agility with such integrations that many of its label peers don't possess.

"We very strongly feel that a content creator’s content should be protected and that they shouldn’t have to worry about takedowns," Johnson says. "It's important to us to be there for [them] and make sure they can share their gaming content." Label acts including Sullivan King and Vicetone have both gone viral on TikTok with their Monstercat releases.

Offering legal music to content creators helped earn Monstercat a winning reputation in the gaming industry, with these synchs leading to more formal long-term gaming partnerships like the one with Rocket League, which launched in 2017.

Monstercat music appears in games in myriad ways. Rocket League has a feature called "Rocket League Radio" specifically designed to promote music within the game. When a player launches Rocket League, they immediately hear music by a Monstercat artist, with the lead track rotated whenever new music drops within the game. (This partnership is non-exclusive, meaning Rocket League can integrate music from other labels as well.) A playlist also appears with a Spotify button, so players can add music from the game to their Spotify playlists and follow new artists through the game. Roughly 100 Monstercat tracks -- from heavy dubstep to pop-leaning EDM -- have been launched in Rocket League since 2017,  resulting in approximately 500 million streams.

With Beat Saber, the partnership features a rotation of Monstercat songs for players to beat match to. ("Overkill" -- a track by dance act Riot -- earned notoriety as one of the game's most difficult songs and helped earn the track 10 million Spotify streams.) For Roblox, the label put 50 tracks spanning its entire roster forward for content creation. With most games updated on an almost daily basis, Monstercat is able to integrate new music into the games whenever they see fit.

"It’s unlocking a new audience that can instantly engage with the music," Johnson says. "That's creating almost this drop mentality, where fans of these games are getting just as excited to hear new music in the games as they are to unlock the new car or the new level or new item. That’s the vision we’ve been giving our artists and their teams."

Such integrations have made Monstercat well-known and respected throughout the gaming space, with one industry insider noting that their annual E3 party is one of the gaming convention's hardest to get into.

Such integrations are also translating to unprecedented numbers. In September, Monstercat artist Slushii debuted his single "All I Need" via a live performance on Fortnite's Party Royale Main Stage. That same month, he also kicked off Rocket League and Fortnite's Llama-Rama crossover event, with "All I Need" serving as the game's lead song for a month. The song quickly became the fastest-growing track ever released by Monstercat, with 30 million streams and counting.

To integrate tracks into various games, Johnson works closely with each game's respective music supervisor, sending all of the label's upcoming records to decide what music is right for which game. ("It’s just like an A&R process," Johnson says.) In 2020, Monstercat placed roughly 400 songs into video games, helping create revenue for its acts through these synchs -- and, in the case of Beat Saber, through the sale of music packs.

“Doing this integration definitely helped with expenses and life,” Slushii says. “The livestream model that everyone tried to launch when the pandemic started never really panned out. No one has really been able to figure out a sustainable way for artists to make money from concert or festival live streams. So when an opportunity like this aligns so authentically with myself as an artist and also creates some income, it's a godsend.”

Such visibility also has value for more established acts. In December and January, scene star Kaskade premiered his tracks "Flip Reset," "Solid Ground" and "Closer" within Rocket League, helping him reach new fans during a time when he can't connect IRL.

"[Live shows] are the place where you create lifelong fans,” says Kaskade. “Understanding that, it became a game of trying anything new to reach my people. [Now], it’s not about making hits or charting or streams. It’s about scratching an itch to connect in a new way.”

This bid for connection worked, with Kaskade's three tracks earning a combined 18 million streams since their release. These tracks, along with a new single -- "Miles to Go" with Ella Vos -- will be released Friday (March 5)  on an EP called Reset. (The project will arrive on Monstercat Silk, a brand formed in February when Monstercat acquired L.A.-based progressive/deep house and chill label, Silk Music.)

Those tracks, along with Slushii's "All I Need," have been played more than two billion times in Rocket League since being added to the game. Data that pulled the first week of streams for each track released in 2020 showed that Rocket League tracks on Spotify earned, on average, 47% more streams than non-Rocket League tracks. Rocket League tracks on Apple Music earned, on average, 120% more streams than tracks not in the game.

"I’m seeing a lot of new people showing up on my social media platforms saying stuff like, 'I just heard 'Flip Reset' in Rocket League and want to hear more, where do I start?'" Kaskade says. "That, to me, is the thing that matters -- is someone new ready to dive into my discography? Streaming numbers don’t tell you that. While I like those tallies, what feels better is seeing some new skin in my game."

Certainly the crossover between gaming and electronic music isn't new. Billions of minutes of music have been streamed via the iconic Grand Theft Auto, which has featured avatars of DJs including Solomun, The Blessed Madonna and Dixon. Marshmello's 2019 Fortnite set drew 10 million virtual attendees. In October, FIFA 21 debuted a Diplo avatar. HARD Records, under parent company Insomniac Events, recently launched Try Hard events, which features gaming stars and DJs facing off on Twitch, with the success of livestream events on that platform during the pandemic increasingly blurring the lines between gaming and electronic music.

But with its long-term partnerships, Monstercat's presence in the gaming space is unlike anything currently being done by any other indie dance label. These integrations provide artists with consistent opportunities, while helping games establish themselves as tastemakers.

"In our minds, we have succeeded if people incorporate music into their lives that they’ve heard in Rocket League," says the game's audio director Mike Ault. "Because then they identify that song with their fond experience of our game, and recognize that they can find other new favorites from us."