Last week was a sad week for fans of Nintendo’s music. Out of nowhere, after years of activity, prominent YouTube channels known for uploading video game soundtracks — like Crunchii, GilvaSunner, MasterEnex, and BrawlBRSTMs — were either terminated or had thousands of uploads taken down due to copyright violation notices from the Big N.
Now, I get it. Nintendo is well within their rights to flex their legal muscles to protect their intellectual properties. Straight music uploads ripped from their games are not considered transformative works, and therefore do not fall under fair use protection. As these uploads violate copyright, last week’s events were always an inevitability. It was only a matter of time before Nintendo took those channels down.
Unfortunately, Nintendo’s actions only drew the company widespread ire and contempt from their own fans, because regardless of copyright or legality, these channels provided a service Nintendo still refuses to offer. The company only accomplished one thing by terminating these music channels: they shone a glaring light on the distinct lack of their soundtracks on major music distribution and streaming platforms.
Hoarding a goldmine of music
I think I speak for all of us when I say that Nintendo games overall have absolutely fantastic soundtracks. From the catchy ditties of the original Super Mario Bros. to the orchestrally complex compositions behind the latest Fire Emblem games, from the moving Hylian melodies of The Legend of Zelda to an insane breadth of genres under Kid Icarus: Uprising, music has always been one of Nintendo’s strongest suits. How can they go wrong, with names like Koji Kondo, Mahito Yokota, Hirotaku “Chip” Tanaka, Yuka Tsujiyoko, and more?
With a history of amazing songs, composed and performed by talented musicians, Nintendo would naturally start selling their music separately. Since the NES, they wasted no time in selling soundtrack CDs in Japan. However, the music distribution game has evolved considerably since the 90s. Platforms like iTunes and Spotify have allowed direct access to an entire world of music from the comfort of your own home. These have granted artists and record labels easier access to consumers’ wallets.
Sadly, Nintendo does very little to take advantage of such services. The only piece of music advertised from Nintendo lately is a meager Super Mario Odyssey sound selection. The fact that Japanese fans can purchase the entire soundtrack just makes it all feel incredibly unfair in comparison.
Sega et al. do what Nintendon’t
Meanwhile, one need only take a quick look at other major gaming companies to know what they’re missing. If I had to pick just the one, then just look at Nintendo’s former business rivals at Sega. Since Sonic the Hedgehog‘s 20th anniversary in 2011, Sega had been pushing their games’ iconic soundtracks on digital streaming services for anyone and everyone to enjoy.
Those who loved Team Sonic Racing‘s music earlier this year only had to wait another week after launch. Sega took little time in selling and streaming its soundtrack, and I hopped on it immediately. And it’s not just Sonic — you can go on these services right now for many other Sega soundtracks. Jet Set Radio, NiGHTS, Bayonetta, Shinobi, Skies of Arcadia, Space Harrier, et cetera — it’s all there!
And it’s not just Sega. During their E3 2019 show, Square Enix announced that every mainline Final Fantasy soundtrack can now be streamed from a wide variety of platforms. How convenient! Are you in the mood for tunes from Monster Hunter: World, Resident Evil 7, or some of the Mega Man X games? Capcom has you covered. Prince of Persia, Assassin’s Creed, Rayman Origins and Legends? Soundtracks are all on iTunes, courtesy of Ubisoft. Dare I list the metric ton of indie game soundtracks you can already find?
Partners and subsidiaries step up
Hell, even more glaringly, some of Nintendo’s own partners and subsidiaries are distributing their music! Since the release of Pokémon X and Y, The Pokémon Company has gone over their back catalog, and now you can find the soundtracks of almost every core Pokémon release in digital stores. Last year, HAL Laboratories made Kirby: Planet Robobot‘s soundtrack, the album for the 25th Anniversary Orchestra Concert, and an arrangement album available for everyone around the world.
Aside from HAL, do you have any idea how ecstatic I was when I heard that Xenoblade Chronicles 2‘s phenomenal soundtrack would be distributed worldwide? I was overjoyed beyond belief! I fell in love with the world of Alrest, and that game’s score moved me to tears. Personally, I would consider Xenoblade 2‘s music as one of the greatest of all time in the history of gaming. There was no way I would pass up the official OST release, and today I still listen to it every chance I get.
That said, I don’t remember Nintendo advertising any of these themselves, aside from the Super Mario Odyssey sound selection. I’ll play devil’s advocate for a moment, but I understand copyright is a complicated beast, even within a company as big as Nintendo’s. HAL and Monolith Soft sharing their own music likely gave us a possible glimpse into the legal spiderweb of who owns what, record labels-wise. Nonetheless, seeing other companies within and outside of Nintendo putting their music out there still leaves one scratching their heads over what’s held them up after all of these years.
If you want a job done right…
All of that said, I’m not outright endorsing piracy. But what legal alternative can I even suggest instead? Exuberantly expensive imports? Rewards program-only music albums, secondhand from scalpers? Sound selection CDs from out-of-print special collector’s editions of Nintendo’s own games? Carrying around our bulky and fragile Nintendo Switch systems for a given game’s sound test? None of these options will ever beat the convenience of now-defunct soundtrack channels like GilvaSunner’s.
Plus, while Nintendo was in their legal right to do so, this is a short-term solution that accomplishes absolutely nothing in solving the bigger problem. Even as I speak, there are still other music re-uploaders on YouTube. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Nintendo’s actions only spurred new channels into existence out of spite, despite BrawlBRSTMs urging otherwise. For example, some daredevil actually got away with uploading the Super Mario 64 and Star Fox 64 soundtracks on Spotify.
If Nintendo really wants to nip this problem in the bud, then they should abandon the legal scare tactics. We won’t have to look elsewhere if we could just stream or buy these soundtracks from digital stores! Be it on iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Music… Buying their music from our mobile devices is so much more appealing than dubious YouTube channels. After all, these channels just exist because they are the only real means we have to listen to Nintendo’s music. So long as Nintendo refuses to sell, these channels will continue to thrive, one way or another.
We’ve been waiting for your massive library of incredible scores to become easily and legally purchasable for a long, long time, Nintendo. Please don’t pass up our demand for your soundtracks. As a huge fan of your company’s music, this is all I ask for.