October 11, 2016
This veteran record executive held positions at Warner Music Group, EMI and BMG/Arista in New York, Los Angeles and Nashville, while also working as an independent music supervisor, including for Sandra Bullock's Fortis Films on several movies, including "Miss Congeniality 1" and "2." Steve segued into the videogame business 15 years ago this November at Electronic Arts, working on such popular titles as "Battlefield," "Star Wars," "The Sims," "Madden NFL" and "FIFA," among many others, revolutionizing the use of both original scores and contemporary music within the increasingly elaborate productions. An industry activist, Schnur is also a board member of the City of Hope's annual Songs of Hope benefit, a voting member of The Recording Academy and its Producer and Engineer Wing, a former board member of the Country Music Association and Chairman Emeritus of the Grammy Foundation.
You had to be happy with this year's Songs Of Hope raising a record amount, and presenting the award to composer John Debney.
He was the composer for "The Jungle Book," so it was a good year to honor him. It was a groundbreaking year, both from an attendance and financial perspective. The composers we've honored over the last six years have been the crème de la crème, including Randy Newman, Trevor Rabin, Mark Mothersbaugh, Brian Tyler and Christophe Beck, who composed "Frozen." It's a phenomenal event. I like its informality, an intimate heartwarming fund-raiser where you don't have to sit down at a table and eat another chicken dinner.
What intrigued you about joining EA 15 years ago?
I was really frustrated by the state of the record industry at the time. And while sales were still strong, it was the beginning of the end. The gatekeepers were limited at the time to one medium only, radio. My hunch was that people were not relying on just one source to discover new music. With all the problems of the business over the past 15 years, the one thing that hasn't decreased is people's love and need for music. When I first walked into the EA building in Vancouver, I felt an energy that I hadn't felt since MTV in the '80s. It felt young, exciting and enthusiastic. I thought you could use those platforms to launch artists, and create these epic scores, like John Williams' classic soundtracks for "Star Wars" and "Raiders Of The Lost Ark" in a relevant and exciting medium. Therefore, it took me leaving the record business to get into the music business. There were only two or three people who thought I was a genius; the rest thought I was crazy for leaving. But I was able to provide an audience for artists that they might not have otherwise found. What made the transition easier for me was the fact all the artists were also gamers, so they got it from day one. They understood how to use that real estate to get their music exposed. What we've done over the last 15 years is changed the way games sound, the expectation of what a game is ... And it's only getting bigger and better. Mobile is now making the point of entry level much easier. Everyone's got a phone. Games are now ubiquitous.
How has the role of music in video games evolved over that time?
We've learned a lot from gamers about what works and what doesn't. In the world of sports games, we continue to license new music that is coming out in the future, that we believe will make a difference in people's lives. We don't follow trends or what's playing on the radio; we want new music that can be discoverable on a global scale. We now consult U.S. men's and women's soccer as well as Major League Soccer on the music they play in their actual stadiums, so we can guide fans towards the new sound of soccer. This will define what the sport will sound like in North America in 10-15 years. Many kids are being introduced to soccer through our FIFA game before they even play it on the field. And there's a particular global sound we've developed for that virtual experience which will influence the actual version. And that audience doesn't want to hear Queen or Gary Glitter. They'd rather hear Diplo, Logic, Zedd and Steve Aoki. We're also working with several NFL teams such as the Tennessee Titans, being that they are in Music City. When the literal sport starts to emulate and take on the musical personality of the virtual sport, that is a measure of our great success.
You've been commissioning original songs, too.
We had a title over the summer, "Mirror's Edge Catalyst," that Chvrches wrote the theme song for, which continues to be one of Spotify's most-streamed songs. And the same goes for our scores. We spend a great deal of time developing that with our composer hires, recording it with the world's best orchestras. We're the music department for the world's biggest major interactive animated film studio, not unlike Sony, Paramount or Universal.
What's happening on the publishing front since your Artwerk deal with Nettwerk Music Group ended after their sale to Kobalt?
We have a successful production library deal with Sony/ATV's Extreme Music, so all of our scores can be heard in secondary-market usages, through re-licensing opportunities around the world. And it gives our composers a chance to collect more performance royalties. We're expanding our soundtrack division to release vinyl albums. We're putting out a four-album trilogy set for "Mass Effect 1," "2" and "3." And we have a pretty good digital soundtrack business as well. Nettwerk Music Group remains our partner for recordings, while Kobalt is our publishing administrator.
You've called this job the most creative in your career.
No two days are alike. We get to be curators. And we still get to watch these bands grow, expand their audience from a 500-seat venue to a 5,000-seater to a stadium. That never gets old. We get to partner with record labels, radio, streaming services, brands. I get to produce great scores in the studio with the finest orchestras in the world such as the one in Nashville to the London Symphony, which we did for "Battlefront Star Wars." You can't top that for a musician, producer, fan ... This has been one of the greatest experiences on the planet for me. The trailer we did for "Battlefield 1" is reportedly the most-viewed in YouTube history. We brainstorm as a team and come up with these crazy ideas ... There are no rules. There's an open-mindedness that doesn't exist in other industries. A kind of "see if you can pull it off" mentality. I don't want to cut-and-paste.
What have you learned from the gaming business that could help the record industry?
Streaming is so exciting to me because it opens up everything. Untethered programming is already in effect in gaming. Technology has been the evolutionary core of entertainment. We should be forever grateful for the opportunities it's created. People can't hang on to the past ways of doing things. I love the people in the music business, and I love the fact I still get to work with most of them. My relationships go back over the course of my career. What I don't miss are those who want to hang on to what once was. But that complacency is starting to go away. The smartest people in the music business understand the opportunities out there. We're all going to have to adjust to a future of streaming and lack of ownership. We have to understand, as we do in the gaming industry, that you have to be ahead of the curve. In this industry, there's a constant focus on how to get directly to the consumer on a regular basis without selling them packaged goods. Digital only is our compass. How do we continue to get to a free model where we're selling consumers downloadable content? That creates a greater community, a solid consumer base. It's phenomenal to see it in action. The easier the point of entry, the greater the opportunities that lie ahead. It's a way of thinking the record business could do well to embrace. Mobile is the best thing that has happened to gaming. Free downloadable apps which encourages you to purchase more content on a regular basis. Thirteen-14 million people just downloaded a free beta version of "Battlefield 1," which will be the biggest launch in history.
What's in your future career-wise?
I'm not complacent. The minute I get too comfortable is when I'll go do something else. I always want to be challenged, a little level of discomfort on a regular basis. I love the publishing business. It thrills the living hell out of me. I believe in songwriting and the opportunities for revenue on a global scale, especially with synch licensing. That's why I took the job at EA in the first place. I've always loved working with and developing writers and composers. Michael Giacchino, who is taking over "Star Wars" from John Williams, was the first composer I worked with at EA. I still spend half my time in Nashville because I work with orchestras and I love that songwriting community. I'm signed to Brad Paisley's company, Sea Gayle Music, as a songwriter. Go figure, a Jew who writes Country music.