LOS ANGELES — Tapping on fake instruments and screeching into microphones connected to video game consoles has become lucrative for both the music and gaming industries. Downloadable tunes for music-based games Guitar Hero and Rock Band have become as vital as iTunes itself — and one of the last ways to expose youngsters to classic rock.
The genre will evolve again later this month, when game publisher Activision and developer Neversoft release Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, the first such play-along rhythm game pegged to one music group, instead of featuring a multi-artist compilation more akin to one of those Now That's What I Call Music! albums.
”The game is really about the spirit of guitar music,“ Aerosmith bassist Tom Hamilton said recently. ”It's all about being into music that sounds powerful, energetic and lush. You're rhythmically pushing buttons that create a certain reaction or sound along with the music. You can't say it doesn't have any musical relevance. It does.“
Players start out as lead guitarist Joe Perry and can unlock Hamilton and Brad Whitford while playing in virtual versions of venues where Aerosmith once rocked, such as their first show at Nipmuc High School outside of Boston, their first showcase at Max's Kansas City in New York and the Super Bowl XXXV halftime show in Tampa, Fla.
”I guess it's one of those rewards that we get for keeping the band together,“ Hamilton said. ”It might be the silver lining of the Napster cloud, too.
”Far more of this audience will hear our music via this game than if we had strenuously attempted to talk them into buying all of our CDs.“
Regular versions of Guitar Hero, Rock Band and SingStar come loaded with songs by bands including The Rolling Stones and Radiohead, but the most recent incarnations of these games allow players to go online and download additional tracks, costing 99 cents to $2.50 a song.
The downloading doesn't stop there.
Because the songs for these games can't be burned onto a CD or uploaded to an MP3 player, many players turn to other digital download services for their own copies — as well as to dig deeper into an artist's discography.
All that musical consumption is equaling big bucks for the flailing music industry.
New media lawyer Paul Menes has brokered such arrangements. ”Getting your music in a video game was formerly all about the publicity, but because of the amount of sales these games are bringing in these days, the labels want to get paid,“ Menes said. ”It's no longer just a vehicle for promotion.“
The backstage deals vary. Typically, music publishers and musicians are paid advance royalties if their work is included on the original game disc.
More copies of the game sold equal more royalties back to the music-makers.
The same goes for revenue generated by those augmented new downloads, which are released every month.
Song downloads for MTV Games and Harmonix's Rock Band“— which allows gamers to thrash with friends both online and in person on various faux instruments, including a drum set — recently passed the 12 million mark, according Paul DeGooyer, MTV senior vice president of electronic games and music.
”There's no monolithic way of exposing consumers to music anymore,“ DeGooyer said. ”There's no more "let's drive people into stores to buy compact discs on this day.' That model is gone. People are getting their music all over the place. Managers, labels and artists are experimenting with all sorts of releasing strategies.“
Last month, heavy metal band Motley Crue released the title track from its upcoming album Saints of Los Angeles in two places — Rock Band and iTunes — before the record's June 24 release date.
The Rock Band sales were five times higher than on iTunes, according to Billboard.
”These games are something for record labels, publishers and artists to add life to songs they've already recorded or songs they're trying to launch,“ said Alex Hackford, Sony Computer Entertainment America's artist and repertoire manager. ”Video games are a huge way to make an impression to an important demographic.“