Dildo Sound Effects & Showtunes: The Music Of Saints Row IV
Game Front: Let’s talk about licensed music specifically. Saints Row: The Third had a lot of moments built around licensed tracks, but in Saints Row IV that’s amped up considerably. The use of the Aerosmith song in the beginning, the sing-along moments, but one of the things I noticed while playing the game is that every song feels really appropriate for doing super-powered stuff. (For instance, “Unbelievable” by EMF). Were you play-testing those songs to see how they’d feel during the game before you tried to license them? How did you come about choosing the licensed music for the game?
Brandon Bray: Well, we work with a firm called Heavy Duty Music, they’re based out of New York with a guy named Josh Kessler. We worked with Josh on Saints Row: The Third, so he’s very familiar with the Saints Row style, and he’s got a lot of great contacts in the music industry. And it starts out where he’ll give us hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of tracks. Probably somewhere between 100 and 200 songs per station that we vetted. We went back to him with probably thirty tracks per station, and that gets narrowed down to 15-17 tracks per station.
A lot of that really has to do with clearance. There’s a handful of tracks that wouldn’t clear either because of costs, or because some of these artists and labels don’t appreciate the humor of Saints Row. Which is totally fine, no fault against them.
We really didn’t focus on what would sound best in the open world, we focused on what was the most fun to listen to and what would be the most memorable. The retro station for example is always the most fun for me. I’m in my 30s, I like the throwback stuff, the nostalgia of it all. One of the things on Saints Row: The Third, the retro station was good, but sometimes I was thinking “I kind of remember that song, it sparks a little bit of a memory,” but it wasn’t one of my favorites. This time around, we wanted every single song on that station, when it plays, for someone to be like “Holy crap! Oh man, that’s my song!”
Game Front: Which leads to The Boss shouting “Aw yeah that’s my jam!” when “What Is Love” plays during the escape scene.
Brandon Bray: That’s an instance where we didn’t get a song we originally wanted. When we conceived that scene, we wanted to try to get Danger Zone by Kenny Loggins. But right around that time was when the HD re-release of Top Gun came out, so they wanted an exorbitant amount of money for that track.
Game Front: Did you experience anything similar to how “Mad Men” was able to use a Beatles song, where the artist was willing to let you license the track, but first wanted to see how you were going use it in the game?
Brandon Bray: No, we’re pretty up front about what we want to do in the game. If we would like to use it in gameplay, not just on the radio, we give a description to give them a little bit of an idea of what we would do with it. The [artists] that are cool with it are cool with it.
Game Front: A lot of the musical moments in the game evoke very specific moments in film. Obiously, Aerosmiths’ “I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing” brings Armageddon to mind, and later in the game, when “The Touch” by Stan Bush plays. I’m sure you saw Transformers: The Movie, right?
Brandon Bray: That whole thing was me. I have no shame in saying that whole sequence, I wanted “The Touch” because of that movie. I am a huge Transformers fan, especially the 1986 animated movie. We wanted Stan Bush in Saints Row: The Third, but it just didn’t work out. And the sequence [in Saints Row IV] where you put on the power armor suit and you’re skydiving through Zinyak’s ship, it made absolute sense that it had to be the track. And then, when we got the track, that influenced some of the writing as well. Dialogue between the Boss and Zinyak references that movie as well. That is my favorite music moment in Saints Row, hands down.