Ask any FIFA fan what they like about the game and they’ll usually stick to the norm; the gameplay, how realistic it is, the graphics, and the pleasure of being able to beat your mates time after time.
But while those characteristics of the game can occasionally fluctuate and frustrate from edition to edition, there’s one part of the game which remains steadfast every year – the soundtrack.
Play anyone of a certain age Idlewild’s classic ‘You Held The World In Your Arms’ and there’s a good chance they’ll say: ‘That was on FIFA 2003, right?’.
Certain songs from years gone by are now simply known as ‘FIFA tunes’.
And while established artists like Blur, Kasabian and Radiohead have all had pride of place in the game’s soundtrack over the years, the consistently brilliant playlist EA Sports manage to compile from ‘unknown’ artists and breakthrough acts is an impressive, and occasionally overlooked, facet of the game.
So how does the game’s soundtrack gets compiled? And what does it takes for an emerging artist to break through into the coveted list?
We spoke to EA Sports Senior Music Supervisor Cybele Pettus about how the franchise discovers new music, compiles the playlist, and what they look for in ‘FIFA-style’ music.
“Being ahead of the curve is the ultimate challenge and reward of curating FIFA, yet it takes an insane amount of hard work and gut instinct to get there,” Cybele told Dream Team.
She continued: “We start the process almost a year before the game is released, so we have to be a combination of ultimate A&R (artists and reportoire) scout and music trend Nostradamus.
“There are an enormous number of artists and bands – both completely unknown and established stars – that want to be part of FIFA because a) they recognise the soundtrack’s global impact and b) they’re huge fans of the game.
“Certainly our professional backgrounds come into play here, as do our relationships with domestic and international labels, publishers, managers and artists.”
An edition of the FIFA game can embrace everything from world sounds to drum and bass, and Pettus says that while there isn’t a particular genre they look for, there is a certain ‘FIFA sound’.
She said: “Although FIFA soundtracks celebrate – and are celebrated for – their international diversity, I believe that our soundtracks have established an identifiable brand all their own.
“It’s a sound that’s globally rhythmic, consistently surprising, and yes, always decidedly ahead of the curve.
“It’s an unprecedented annual opportunity to introduce unknown or developing acts that we believe in, as well as work with established artists to bring their international appeal to a whole new level.
“In fact, I’ve had artists and industry partners pitch their music to me, isolating one song in particular and saying, ‘this sounds like a FIFA song.’ To me, that’s that highest compliment we can get.”
The playlist has become increasingly prestigious over the years, and with online streaming services and a greater choice of downloading sites available to purchase the odd song here and there, getting a nod from the curators can significantly boost an artist’s appeal.
But, perhaps surprisingly, the musical kingmaking team is relatively small, drawing from industry experience and FIFA developers to discuss what the general vibe of the game for that year will be, and how the music should respond.
Cybele explains: “Our core creative team is fairly small, led by Steve Schnur with myself as Senior Music Supervisor.
“Everyone on the team comes from similar backgrounds in music marketing and/or A&R, but we all have different music tastes, genre instincts and international contacts.
“We receive thousands of songs each year for FIFA soundtrack consideration, which must then be whittled down to a manageable pile.
“We listen together as a team, bounce ideas off one another, and often hotly debate about artists and songs we love and feel strongly about.”
The FIFA soundtrack is, to many, something that genuinely matters to the gaming experience.
A good playlist can make the transitions between menus and settings a joy and not a chore, and for the discerning music fan, it can inform your music choices the next time you fire up iTunes or Spotify.
And it’s this importance that isn’t taken lightly by Cybele, Steve and the team at EA Music.
Cybele continues: “The bottom line is, our prime objective is to listen locally and act globally. I work closely with two key members of the FIFA development team over the course of the entire process to reach the final list of songs; they have great taste, open minds and love the challenge.
“Most of all, we use our ears and trust our gut. Like the nature of FIFA itself, the entire EA Music team wants to create – and then market – a soundtrack full of unpredictable excitement where anything can happen at any time from any nation, throughout the FIFA season and the life of the game.”