This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's Feb. 2 Music Issue. Subscribe today!
STEVE SCHNUR AND Cybele Pettus are music tastemakers, like modern Casey Kasems (just not in the grating, Ryan Seacrest kind of way). But instead of delivering a top 40 on your FM dial, they drop their hit list on each EA Sports video game soundtrack.
For more than a decade, Schnur and Pettus have been implanting earworms into FIFA, Madden, NBA and NHL games. And landing on one of the soundtracks can be a career maker for new artists. Imagine Dragons were featured on FIFA 2013 just before "Night Visions" became Spotify's most streamed album in the U.S. that year.
"What once was MTV and radio to an older generation is now FIFA and Madden," says Schnur, EA's top music exec. "We don't take that for granted. We look at 1,000 bands to get to the 40 [on each game]."
Gamers don't always agree with their taste; Pettus, EA's senior music supervisor, considers a soundtrack a success if five to 10 songs resonate with fans. But soon game makers may please all of their users by adding streaming services. Just as gamers can update rosters later in a season, they could stream songs Richard Sherman says are hyping him up pregame.
"Right now, we're tethered to a one-year experience," Schnur says. "But we want the gamer to be able to hear what's cool in Week 7 of the NFL, not just Week 1."
And more songs means more breakthroughs for artists like British band Rudimental, who had its song "Give You Up" on the FIFA 15 soundtrack.
For self-described "massive football fan" Leon Rolle, it was a top-five career highlight. And that's saying something, considering Rudimental has had a pair of U.K. No. 1 singles and, in 2013, was nominated for a Mercury Prize.
"It's such a mad honor for our song to be on FIFA 15," Rolle says. "You've grown up with the brand as a kid, and to finally get to that stage in your career where your song is playing in the background is awesome. Just hearing the list of other artists on the game -- Avicii, Kasabian -- it's not just unknowns, it's big names, too. It's amazing to be a part of."
In fact, finding out Rudimental's song was on the soundtrack led to a bit of a scene at a London video game store last fall.
"I was in the game shop, and all the adverts were on the different screens, and our song first appeared [on the opening sequence]," Rolle says. "It's such a great feeling. Because we're kind of a faceless band, people in the shop didn't understand the reason I was jumping up with joy and getting really excited while I was buying the game."