Local Current Blog

JAM Live video game hopes to bring Minnesotan artists to the masses

Credit: Ben Clark

In the heart of the North Loop of downtown Minneapolis, next door to the now-abandoned nightclub Trocaderos, sits a small start-up development company called Zivix. Down one hallway, company president and CTO Dan Sullivan stands amidst disassembled guitar fretboards and wires, tinkering with a sensor technology he recently patented that will allow gamers to play Guitar Hero and Rock Band with actual stringed electric guitars, learning the instrument as they play. In another office, music director JR Hadaway is disassembling an Atmosphere track for a new Xbox game, JAM Live, that Zivix will launch at this year’s SXSW music festival.

Welcome to the coolest music jobs you never even knew existed.

For Hadaway, 24, he says he came into the job through his involvement with Institute of Production & Recording, where he studied production. After graduating at the top of his class, the school recommended him to Zivix as a potential candidate to help them steer their music department, and he’s since helped to develop sound effects for iPhone apps, select playlists for the company’s music-oriented video games, and work with a lawyer to negotiate with bands and managers to license songs.

With the company’s newest game, JAM Live, which will be available to download on Xbox, Hadaway has paired big tracks from national acts like Modest Mouse and Fall Out Boy with songs from larger Minnesota acts like Atmosphere, Lipps, Inc. (yes, “Funkytown”) and Owl City and more regionally popular bands like Rogue Valley, Dearling Physique, and Halloween, Alaska.

Much like how Guitar Hero and Rock Band put Boston electro band Freezepop on the map nationally by using their songs in the games, Hadaway hopes that JAM Live will expose gamers to tracks from local bands and get them more intimately involved with how songs are created. “It all started with just basically making music more accessible to the general public,” he says. As part of the game, players can deconstruct songs down to their most basic “stems” and mix different parts together to create entirely new tracks. “I love it, it gives me chills up my spine, still, playing the game,” he grins. “It’s cool, we hope that other people can get that feeling.”

The Set at Last Triumph’s SXSW send-off at the Cabooze; more photos here

Hadaway has also taken some of the skills he’s learned at his day job and translated them into helping artists produce their albums and license their songs for use on television and games. One such band, The Set, is working intimately with Hadaway as part of his sprawling creative collective, Last Triumph, and has already had their tracks used on shows like Real World and Keeping Up With the Kardashians despite being relatively under-the-radar in Minneapolis.

“With most of my artists on Last Triumph, I’m the publisher and we might have one writer, to make it super easy to license,” he explains. “And we’ve had a lot of licensing on like MTV and VH1 and E! Network because we send our music to music supervisors and they’re like, yeah, this stuff sounds good, but how easy is it to clear? And that’s why they’re not clearing big major label music — it’s because it’s so hard to clear and so expensive, just for one song. So when I work with artists, a lot of artists in Minneapolis don’t know about licensing and ASCAP and getting money for your songs and things, but there’s a whole world out there and money that can make it so you can sustain and do music. Licensing is huge. If you can get licensing going, it’s a definitely a good source of income.”

Hadaway gathered up a lot of the like-minded artists in his Last Triumph collective last night at the Cabooze for a SXSW send-off, where he showcased bands like The Set and live hip-hop crew Crunchy Kids on stage and had the JAM Live game set up for attendees to try off stage. Meanwhile, a female painter who is part of the collective swirled together a colorful mushroom on a technicolor canvas while another friend in a Last Triumph t-shirt displayed his line of skateboards; the entire room seemed to pulse with a restless, creative energy.

Crunchy Kids perform at the Cabooze; more photos here

They will bring that giddy community vibe down to Austin, Texas next week for a series of shows, some of the more unique events amidst a laudry list of Minnesota-affiliated showcases and day parties happening this year. Like many artists, the bands who are performing are gambling on the possibility that the festival will give them a boost in exposure, or at the very least a few new fans — but for Hadaway, he’s hoping that his company’s game will catch on and win over new fans of Minnesota music across the world.

Here’s the intitial track listing for JAM Live Music Arcade:

1. Machines Can Do The Work by Fatboy Slim
2. Bow Down by Hogni
3. New Vibe by JayTech
4. I Know by Citizens Icon
5. Move Your Body by Tyler Hampton (Mpls local)
6. Louder by Chris Willis
7. Just For Show by Atmosphere (Mpls local)
8. Check Me Out by Radagun
9. Um, Circles and Squares by Dosh (Mpls local)
10. Still by The Set (Mpls local)
11. Running With Wolves by Cloud Cult (Mpls local)
12. Bring Me Water by Nick Africano (Mpls local)
13. Bloody Poetry by Grieves
14. Sugar, We’re Goin Down by Fall Out Boy
15. Downtown by Halloween Alaska (Mpls local)
16. Fallin’ 4 U by Donnie Klang
17. I Need I Want by John Dungey (Mpls local)
18. No Love by Filter
19. Rock This Club by Mixwell
20. Grace by Bran Van 3000
21. Fireflies by Owl City (MN local)
22. Chelsea by The Summer Set
23. iPeople by Nitrous Oxide
24. Funkytown by Lipps, Inc. (Mpls local)
25. Discipline Your Hands by Dearling Physique (Mpls local)
26. Change Is Coming by Heiruspecs (Mpls local)
27. English Ivy by Rogue Valley (Mpls local)
28. Smash and Grab by Alison Scott (Mpls local)
29. Soar by Roster McCabe (Mpls local)
30. Dirty Style by DaCav5
31. Float On by Modest Mouse
32. Black Is The New Yellow by Super8 & Tab

For more on the intersection between music and video games, check out MPR’s Emily Reese and her podcast Top Score. For more on Zivix and JAM Live, visit their site here, and find more photos from the Cabooze show here.