I’ve got a confession to make: sometimes when I get out of my car, come inside the apartment, I turn on Grand Theft Auto V and hijack an innocents car for the sole purpose of listening to one of the game’s 15 radio stations. The sad part? I’m not alone.
Grand Theft Auto V is now the fastest selling entertainment product in history, undoubtedly a triumph in video gaming. However as any music nerd will tell you, one of the standout features of the video game series is its in-game radio stations. These fictional radio stations feature a playlist, commercials and DJ personalities, the catch? Grand Theft Auto’s developer, Rockstar Games, does the ingredients to radio better than radio does.
The first Grand Theft Auto released on PC and the Playstation One in 1997 had seven radio stations featuring music composed by three individuals for the game. The sequel contained an upgraded 11 stations, each station usually had a sound file length of twelve minutes, all of which was music composed for the game. When Grand Theft Auto III was released in 2001, Rockstar Games utilized the next generation of hardware that came on the Playstation 2 and that’s when Grand Theft Auto radio really became something to pay attention to.
A total of nine stations that all contained an incredibly distinct voice, whether it was Double Clef FM: the classical station, or K-Jah that dealt only in Dub and Reggae, or Flash Back FM hosted by DJ Toni and featuring stories of her hedonistic life style alongside 1980’s pop music such as the Scarface classic “Push It To The Limit.” It was one of the first times in video game history that a soundtrack of popular recognizable music became distinctly tied to events and people in-game. The reason why Rockstar Games is so successful with Grand Theft Auto is because of their attention to detail. Driving has always been a huge part of the game so they really had to ask themselves questions like “what is someone in a sports car listening to on a Saturday night?” In the game’s story distinctive gang’s cars would come automatically tuned to a certain radio station - the Hip Hop station Game Radio FM is the favorite of the South Side Hoods for example. This type of mapping music to some sort of identity that started in Grand Theft Auto III feels all too perfected in Grand Theft Auto V; when you hear “Night Moves” by Bob Seger as you rip an aging dad out of his hatchback there is no surprise and it just feels right because that’s what he’d be listening to.
After Grand Theft Auto III came what many people consider their favorite soundtrack: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. The game was a tribute to the excess of the ‘80s, covered in Miami Vice sheen that featured the protagonist in a Hawaiian shirt driving ‘80s corvettes and assisting in cocaine deals on Speedboats. The soundtrack was so perfectly tuned that fan demand led to the release of a seven CD box set of all the music from the game. Gamers could spend hours driving motorcycles in Vice City listening to V-Rock, modeled after an ass-rock station that played songs like “Bark At The Moon” “Turn Up The Radio” while New Wave station Wave 103 introduced them to bands like The Psychedelic Furs, and as much as it pains the older crowd, a large group of millennials first heard “Your Love” by the Outfield not on MTV or the Radio, but on Flash FM while being chased by an onslaught of cops.
When Grand Theft Auto IV came around they bumped up to 16 music stations that included over 200 songs. Grand Theft Auto IV was set in modern times in a fictional New York like area, and being on the east coast the game shined in it’s Hip Hop where not only did it have a modern station that played cuts by artists such as DJ Khaled, Ghost Face Killah, and Nas but a station devoted to Golden Era Hip Hop. At this time the game really became an epicenter for discovering newer indie music, the indie music in the game featured such fan favorites as LCD Sound System, Les Savy Fav, Japanther, The Black Keys (back when they were still a fan favorite) among others. Grand Theft Auto IV has gone on to sell an estimated 25 million copies worldwide, which is 25 million people that at some point or another heard Bad Brains as they yanked a tattooed punk off their motorcycle.
Guess Trevor missed the memo that all he needed to do
was change the station in GTA V if Bob Seger wasn't his thing.
With the release of Grand Theft Auto V, the developers, understanding the potential influence that their game’s soundtrack can have, decided to up the scales again by having music by popular artists made JUST FOR the game. Flying Lotus has his own radio station featuring unreleased material as well as a Tyler, the Creator song penned just for the game. 18 songs of original content that span everyone from Wavves to A$AP Rocky to Chain Gang of 1974 to Twin Shadow to OFF! In fact Wavves recently took to late night television performing their track “Nine Is God” from the game on Conan with front man Nathan sporting a Los Santos Hat, the game’s fictional county. More and more artists realize that getting their music into Grand Theft Auto could be one of the biggest moves of their career. The soundtrack editors are no slouch when it comes to new music either. Vineyard Boulevard the garage rock station devoted to representing the grungy L.A scene has artists like Thee Oh Sees, The Ty Segall Band, Shark? and the Black Angels; artists obscure enough that even the casual Pitchfork reading, College Radio nerd might not know.
In its first 24 hours of being on the market nearly 13 million copies were sold in the U.S, that’s 13 million people that at some point in the game will yank a hipster out of their parents Mercedes and hear Ty Segall, more people than will probably ever attend his shows or buy his records in total. In 2013, if you asked an up and coming band if they’d rather have their single included into rotation at the likes of a taste making radio station like KEXP or KCRW, or included in the next Grand Theft Auto game, it wouldn’t be surprising if they chose the latter. In regards to radio, the game has begun to surpass that which it imitates. A large generation of Millennials will eventually reminisce about growing up listening to Los Santos Rock Radio and not one of the many brainless Clear Channel stations that occupied their non-virtual car’s FM dial.