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SingStar: The Music

Mike Haigh, Kevin Mason and Dave Ranyard reveal the process of bringing real music videos into the game

Today SingStar celebrates is officially five years old, and to mark the occasion GamesIndustry.biz sat down for a chat with three of the people that have helped make it all happen - Mike Haigh, now development director at Sony London Studio, Kevin Mason, principle designer on SingStar, and Dave Ranyard, executive producer.

Following parts one and two, which examined the roots of the franchise and the business decisions that helped its success, here we look into the world of music licensing, and find out what it takes to actually get all of the tracks into the game.

GamesIndustry.biz Licensing, in my mind, seems to be something that's littered with mines - is that true, is it a complete nightmare?
Dave Ranyard

If you're running a business, normally you buy some things from somebody, you might put some things together, and then sell it on. With licensing, anything you want to put through your model is generally owned by more than one person, or more than one company. So that always makes it more complicated.

You've got all of these competing companies - which are our partners - but at the same time as being in competition with each other they'll also share ownership of content. So EMI might own the master to something, but Sony has publishing. Then, it might be written by more than one person, and they're represented by a different company. It's quite easy to describe, but you can imagine what that means.

There might be some brilliant SingStar track that you want to get, but 5 per cent of it is owned by some party that doesn't want to come to the table for whatever reason. Sometimes it's copyright control, and that means that the person who wrote it isn't represented by anybody, and is travelling around the world. You've then got to try and track them down... and without their permission you can't do anything. Quite often there are these amazing songs, but X has got 5 per cent of publishing, and that's your block.

It just means you're not in complete control of your destiny. If your business meant getting components in, you could source then from here, there and everywhere, and find ways to get costs down. But this isn't quite the same, and from a production point of view, the way we work is that for a 30-track disc we might have 80-100 tracks on a wish list - that gives us a good chance to get enough things cleared to make the disc.

It's all about the super fast clearances, and you've got this running total of how many are cleared, how many are part-cleared. You're always hoping that some are going to come up.

And then with all of those partner companies that we work with, they have synchronisation departments whose job it is to deal with too many requests. If they dealt with not enough, they'd have time on their hands, and record companies don't want to be paying people for that... so they've got 100 requests coming in, and they'll be in order of money and interest.

A car advert's going to pay loads, while ring tones maybe these days doesn't pay as much, but they've got all these requests when they then have to prioritise and deal with them - and do that in time. So you've got all of these factors which really aren't in your control, and you have to try and build a production schedule that encompasses insurance positions, and so on.

It's a relationship business - we have lots of good relationships with these companies, and have meetings with them, tell them what we're doing, and so on. That's how we manage this thing - it's quite simple to describe, but it leads to very complex spreadsheets...

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