According to Forbes, NBA2k18 was the highest selling sports game of 2017. Outside of the special effects and virtual advances everyone looks forward to in the game every year, another aspect that every consumer and fan looks forward to within the game is it’s soundtrack. While the virtual outlet started off as just a video game, it has evolved into a unique part of the culture and especially within the hip hop community. Just like in real life how the NBA and music go hand in hand these days go, that same energy is transferred and used within the setting of the virtual and cultural phenomenon. These days our favorite players are bumping their favorite music at the moment through social media and through their brand commercials (like when Russell Brook danced to Lil Uzi in the Jordan Brand commercial back in 2016). When it comes to the game however, who exactly is responsible for bringing artists on the rise and what’s fresh in the current music climate to the NBA2K table ? NBA2K Soundtrack Curator, Michael Howard.
At first NBA2K wasn’t too sure on what music would appeal to their audience but that all came to a closure once Howard stepped up to the plate. With only a high-school diploma, Michael managed to lock a job as a tester right after graduation and gradually moved up to marketing, and eventually decided to use his passion for music to make changes within the brand. One day Howard suggested songs like “Grindin” by Clipse and Pharrell’s “How Does It Feel?” to break up the cycle of the rock and roll classics the team had already conditioned themselves to. Once the team reached out to Pharrell with Michael’s suggestions, the legend complimented the choosing of tracks that Michael wanted to utilize. From there, Howard would carve out a whole new position within the brand that would have no choice but to be reckoned with. Not only would music from all levels now have a shot at being heard, but he would now have the upper hand in contributing to an artist’s extensive reach in audience. With the steps Michael has taken within the NBA2k brand, many artist outside of mainstream can have a shot at being publishable within one of the most popular games in the culture which is a conversation that hasn’t been voiced until now.
During the interview, Michael and I talk about discovering artists through SoundCloud, why Michael is excited about Pierre Bourne being apart of this year’s edition and why, what NBA2K looks for in a track and in the artist in order to consider them as “publishable”, and who has his eye in music regarding underground vs mainstream
EB:So as the sound curator of NBA2K, who do you have more interest in? Underground artists or mainstream ?
Michael: That’s a really good question. For me personally, obviously you got to have the big name artists because that’s a big deal but for me I like highlighting new underground talent or up and coming bubbling artists. The big names are going to get placements and get put on the radio more often than a new artist. I like to be able to help a new artist and get people to see what this person is doing from their own town like a Cousin Stizz from Boston, Vintage Lee, even like a Linda Lind from LA. There’s different types of artists that I like to mess with. It can be EDM, pop, rap, but I look for a number of things.
EB: That’s really awesome.Who are some of the artists you were excited about for this year’s soundtrack and why ?
Michael: So I was really excited to hear and work with Pierre Bourne. I make beats so I really enjoy just listening to his music, his production, what he’s doing, and how far he’s come along as well. He has an amazing story so that to me is an artist that I looked forward to putting on the soundtrack and working with.
EB: Pierre has really done so much including things for Adidas so he’s truly taking over. Do you feel like the SoundCloud era has benefited NBA2K in anyway ?
Michael: That’s a really good question. What I love about the internet and music being so accessible is that you’re seeing a lot of people create music and they’re influenced by so many different things. It can be cartoons, older music from the 80s and 70s, movies, and things like that. I think these different platforms are allowing any type of artist to upload music and be discovered. You can even look at Lil Uzi Vert right and he’s on the 2K soundtrack but he started on SoundCloud. Look at where he’s at now doing big shows, Rolling Loud, and things like that. I think it’s not only influenced not just video games but sports , fashion, and different avenues as well.
EB: What are some characteristics of music as well as characteristics of an artist that would appeal to a platform such as NBA2K?
Michael: So when i look at artists as a curator, they definitely have to match NBA 2K’s lifestyle. NBA2K has become much more of a pop cultural piece. Of course it started off as a video game but now it’s used to bond with a friend then it leads to the jokes talking about “who’s better at 2k?” so I think it has to match the lifestyle of things. Also, it has to match the energy. I really like to hear music that makes me to want to play sports, get on the court, and shoot hoops. You gotta remember that there are NBA players listening to this as well so it definitely has to match the energy and get people pumped up so yeah, energy and lifestyle.
EB: Is there any advice you could possibly give to artists on the rise who would want to be featured on the highly anticipated soundtrack such as this one?
Michael: That’s actually a question I get more often than most. I think for the most part I would say that if you are making a song and you want it to get placed not just for 2K but for other brands, make sure the song is marketable. Make sure there’s not alot of references to guns and alcohol and things like that. If there are curse words, it can be edited out. Make sure there’s a clean version of the song that 9 and 11 year old kids can listen to and it’s not going to be an issue. Think about that when making songs for big brands.
EB: Who are some of your favorite underground artists right now ?
Michael: So this list is interesting because for me I listen to things that are so cutting edge and fresh at times but there’s this kid Sammy K. I just listened to his stuff at A3C, it was amazing. I also listened to this kid Isaiah Raps, he’s amazing, pretty lyrical, got energy as well, and then Lil Mosey. I feel like he’s really melodic, he definitely has the choruses, he’s amazing, and I like him as well.
EB: What are your thoughts on utilizing urban dances in video games ?
Michael: There’s so many games who are utilizing dances in pop culture. I think it’s one of those lash out elements that NBA2K brings to a game. We have signature dance moves and we also have walk animations and running animations. So you can do these crazy dance moves that everyone is doing on tv and music videos and still run around like an anime character. I think it’s something we’ll try to do more of in the following years but yeah we want to make sure we’re right there with the internet.
EB:Do you see any cons as far as how games such as fortnite or even pop cultural games such as 2K utilize the dances that people create ?
Michael: Honestly I’m not really quite sure how all of that works to tell you the truth. I do know that if you do something and you’re really good at doing it, make sure people know you created that. I would look at it like music or anything you’re doing in business. Make sure before you put something out there, you’re the owner of it. That’s just my personal opinion.
EB:Great answer. Last but not least, could we possibly ever see a showcase or concert for future releases of NBA2K soundtracks ?
Michael: I think we’re interested in doing something like that. We’ve definitely talked about doing a showcase and being apart of festivals.I think we’re possibly going to be apart of festivals in the coming future but yeah we’re really interested in it. Just seeing a lot of the artists backstage play 2K before they go on stage and after they go on stage, it just makes sense to do a tournament or throw some event with these guys. Even if we’re just playing hoops in the back.
EB:Right, it’s culture
Michael:Yeah so we’re definitely interested in it, it just has to make sense for everybody and we never really want to do something to just do it so it would really have to be something cool.
EB: Well thank you Michael. This has been awesome, thank you for your time.
Michael: No problem, thanks for having me!