Ghost Ramp is pioneering physical video game soundtracks like no other.

It’s not often artists like Weezer and Courtney Love are mentioned in the same breath as Hollow Knight, Darkest Dungeon and Nuclear Throne. For Ghost Ramp, a boutique record label based in Southern California, representing video games soundtracks alongside traditional music is a typical day at the office.

Founded in 2008 as the music blog of Nathan Williams, the frontman of San Diego punk/pop group Wavves, Ghost Ramp evolved into a fully-blown independent record label in 2011, when it backed a handful of west coast indie acts such as Antwon, Cloud Nothings and So Stressed.

Fast forward to 2015 and Ghost Ramp extended its purview to video games, when Williams and label manager Patrick McDermott – both lifelong gamers – pressed an official limited-edition vinyl run of Austin Jorgensen’s score for the quirky post-apocalyptic side-scrolling role-player LISA.


They’ve since given Crypt of the Necrodancer, Hollow Knight, Darkest Dungeon, Nuclear Throne, Night in the Woods, The Norwood Suite, Pikuniku and Minit similar treatment with equally gorgeous results, each with its own eye-catching and bespoke sleeve art.

Despite the company’s penchant for peculiar indie projects, though, Ghost Ramp’s games industry roots really couldn’t have come from a more commercial source.

Looking at that line-up, it’s clear music-forward games tend to catch the eye of Ghost Ramp, not least Crypt of the Necrodancer. Of course, Necrodancer’s developer, Brace Yourself Games, just announced Crypt of the Necodancer/Zelda mashup Cadence of Hyrule, underscoring the relevancy of rhythm games today in the process.

Despite the company’s penchant for peculiar indie projects, though, Ghost Ramp’s games industry roots really couldn’t have come from a more commercial source.

“What really was the genesis of the games side was being involved with Grand Theft Auto 5,” says McDermott. Nathan curated the in-game radio station named Vinewood Boulevard, and him and Stephen Pope from Wavves fully-voiced some of the radio cues in-game.


“One of the Wavves songs was used in the end credits, when you finish up the narrative portion of the game, which was awesome. We are all lifelong gamers, and that was such an amazing moment for him and the band. Rockstar Games were so good too, its music supervision team really treated us like family and that was our first dabbling with games industry stuff.”

Through this, McDermott says he and Williams quickly realised that while Rockstar sits in a league of its own, the ways in which it combines the worlds of traditional music – the stuff sold by popular high street or online music retailers – with games.

It was around this time that the Ghost Ramp guys made their first deep dive into games, predominantly on PC. To this end, both McDermott and Williams consider Dennaton’s Hotline Miami as the perfect example of video games-meets-audio done well to this day – a soundtrack of which McDermott describes as non-referential, non-nostalgic, and just, well, interesting modern music.

That level of intrigue is absolutely vital in Ghost Ramp’s process – that through their work they can blur the lines between mainstream, record shop music and video game soundtracks, and continue to merge the two worlds with minimal resistance.

After LISA, things moved really fast, according to McDermott. “That was a testament to Danny Baranowsky – the composer to Crypt of the Necrodancer, and previously The Binding of Isaac, Super Meat Boy and a number of other amazing games – who we owe a lot to, The label narrative I was putting out there then, and still am to this day, is that we’re a bit unique in the video game vinyl market because we still produce traditional artists, we still exist in this kind of separate world.


“For some composers that’s appealing, and for some, that’s a selling point, and for others, that doesn’t really matter. Either way, we’re happy with our niche, but I do think that’s what’s compelling about Ghost Ramp. I think for some composers the idea of being listed next to Weezer and Courtney Love, but two of the names the label has collaborated with.

“Through all of this, the enthusiasm for the game vinyl scene appears to be increasing, and the pedigree of those releases is at a high level.” 

“Through all of this, the enthusiasm for the game vinyl scene appears to be increasing, and the pedigree of those releases is at a high level.”

McDermott says the fact that so many game composers were receptive to Ghost Ramp’s vision was empowering, mostly because designing video game vinyl can be a totally different than anything you’d usually see within the traditional music business.

In the latter realm, McDermott explains that representing smaller artists often means costs are kept to a minimum, which can naturally negatively impact creativity. Conversely, the video game community often demands a high-level product so far as peripheral entertainment is concerned, therefore Ghost Ramp can happily let their imaginations run wild.

So, what is it about Ghost Ramp that strikes a chord with video game music enthusiasts? For McDermott, the image of the label is in part responsible, in the same way gamers have an idea of what to expect from unapologetic indie publishers such as Devolver Digital.


“As a publisher, Devolver has always reminded me of what a record label is because their aesthetic is so cohesive across their breadth of games,” says McDermott. Even if the games are a bit eclectic, and there are differences, there’s still a vibe and theme that crosses over. “Very quickly, we tried to work with them… it’s been a total honour to collaborate with them. We did Minit, and we Pikuniku, which are both very different.

“That cohesiveness is very appealing, and you see it in music a lot. In games, it’s a little bit different, but if we try to keep that ethos going and put the best design forward, then I think we have similar cohesion. Overall, though, we love bringing forward new designs and dreaming up a new world that people have never seen before, against the context of a game that they are familiar with.

“I genuinely think people are getting into our brand and concept more and more each day. Every order comes through my phone, which can be a little psychotic, but it’s wonderful to see people bundling up scores at any given time. Obviously, from a business perspective it’s great to see people buying more things at once, but it also shows that those people are connecting to multiple scores, there’s cohesion, and that makes me excited and happy.

Vinyl is an art piece, explains McDermott. Ghost Ramp’s customers don’t necessarily have record players – it’s a case of being proud of a collectible, a keepsake. “You can hang them on your wall, and we surely have customers who don’t even listen to the disc, it’s just a case of having it. I get that, and I love that.”

From here, Ghost Ramp is working on a host of new projects – including a limited-edition vinyl run of puzzle adventure game Wandersong’s soundtrack, its first “true reissue” game soundtrack in 90s adventure game Bad Mojo, and work on the music of retro-styled FPS Dusk.

McDermott tells me there are a number of other things going on behind the scenes at Ghost Ramp that he can’t talk about at this stage, but that he hopes will continue to strike a chord with their followers and those yet to discover them.

He adds: “I’d like to think people believe in our curation and our overall aesthetic, and I like to think that one other thing that stands us apart is that we have a very traditional distribution style. Our game audio goes to traditional record stores, and I think that the traditional music ethos we bring stands us apart from the competition, and comes through in everything we do.”


Joe Donnelly is an ex-full-time, now occasional games journalist from Glasgow. You can follow him on Twitter @deaco2000

Source link


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here