Thanks for the music?

John Lennon once said that The Beatles were more popular than Jesus. Take a look at the current gaming charts and you could draw the conclusion that music games are now more popular than The Beatles. Obviously, music games themselves aren’t a new phenomenon, but their current popularity, and specifically that of Guitar Hero and Rock Band, certainly is. As we write this, there are three iterations of Guitar Hero nestling in the gaming top 30, while downloadable content in the form of artist-specific song packs has further boosted the games’ appeal.

Above: Mop-top or drop-out - decide your favorite Beatles era in The Beatles: Rock Band

The seemingly insatiable appetite for these games is something of a mystery to us. While there’s no doubting their appeal, surely it’s only a few steps away from having a quick strum on a toy guitar? Alex Needham, a music journalist who has worked for Smash Hits, NME and The Face, agrees. “To me it seems a bit silly, and also I’m not that great at it. I’m not really dexterous enough. I was playing Guitar Hero with a proper musician and he said I was more of a rhythm guitar player than a lead – where’s the glory in that?”

Sian Llewellyn, editor of Classic Rock magazine, offers a different opinion. “What I do like is it does seem to have become a forum for introducing people to new rock bands, and to established bands’ new recorded output,” she says. “For example, new band The Answer had a track on the last Guitar Hero game when they can’t get mainstream radio play. Other bands are following suit and realizing its importance as a distribution method.”

This is something the games’ publishers are keen to stress. At a recent press conference, a senior Activision employee even went so far as to suggest that Guitar Hero was on a par with the iPod in terms of revolutionizing the music industry. It’s a lofty statement, but do the record labels agree?

Above: There'll be plenty of multiplayer antics in DJ Hero, including a mode that supports the Guitar Hero axe

Hywel Evans is synchronization director at EMI, where his job involves getting the label’s bands featured in games, films, adverts and so on. “EMI are big fans [of the games],” he says, “and see the gaming world as one that offers great new opportunities for our artists and exciting experiences for their fans.”

Conversely, Jack White of The White Stripes has put the boot into music games. “It’s depressing to have a label come and tell you that [Guitar Hero] is how kids are learning about music and experiencing music… If you have to be in a videogame to get in front of them, that’s a little sad.” Sorry, Jack, the times they are a-changing and it seems an increasing number of industry movers and shakers see games as a valid way of getting exposure for a band.

Above: Guitar Hero 5 repeats the multiplayer formula laid down in World Tour but makes it easier for newbies to join in

Llewellyn agrees. “I don’t know that it’s a revolution in itself, but the nature of how people are experiencing music is definitely changing and [these games] are surely playing a part. It’s definitely introducing kids to songs that they probably haven’t heard before but find that they enjoy, and with any luck they’ll seek out the albums and go see the bands in the flesh.” It’s hard to quantify how much of an impact it has on a band when their song appears in Guitar Hero or Rock Band but for less well-established artists we imagine it’s rather like an author getting featured on Oprah's Book Club.


  • IAmTheWii - July 21, 2009 8:32 p.m.

    Personally, I would have to agree that while music games are a bit old, it still provides good entertainment, even if it's short-lived. In saying this, maybe it is time to give it a rest for a few years to let it become 'new' again.
  • Sidnapolis - July 21, 2009 8:36 p.m.

    I'd definitely have to agree that music games are a great way to experience new artists. My first real exposure to Metallica was through Guitar Hero, and now I can't get enough of their work.
  • Hobbs - July 21, 2009 8:48 p.m.

    I found out about Muse, The Strokes, and many other bands that I like now, from Rock Band & Guitar Hero.
  • skyguy343 - July 21, 2009 9:15 p.m.

    if i told jack white i heard one of his songs in a movie, would his opinion be any different? theyre the same thing
  • Xeacons - July 21, 2009 9:38 p.m.

    It's also introducing a newer generation to older music (and visa versa). Yes, I think the onslaught of music games has gotten crazy (7 GH titles this year?! Did I hear right?), and I've cooled down, but I still keep my eye open for good songs, genres, and artists the same as if I were buying actual albums.
  • chickenpie - July 21, 2009 9:52 p.m.

    Same as the first comment, guitar hero and rock band got me to play the guitar just like tony hawk gets people to skate
  • helloimgaydo - July 21, 2009 10:28 p.m.

    I work in a music shop(that's a music shop that sells guitars and amps etc. not CDs and DVDs), and I can't tell you how many times parents buy their kid a guitar because of rockband or guitar hero. And thats great. But the truth is, more often than not, when that kid gets his guitar home and tries to play, he quickly learns that its a LOT harder than the game, and so the guitar gathers dust in the corner while he rocks to holly heaven on a plastic imitation. On the other side of the coin, there are some kids who do power through and actually learn to play the real thing. The point is, it doesn't change how many people will learn to play for real, so I'm totally indifferent to it. Well, nearly indifferent. I HATE those games, mainly because I'm totally shit at them, which is mainly because I've been playing guitar for so many years that five buttons and a flappy paddle are just impossible for me to get my head around. Now I need a fag.
  • WouldYouKindly - July 21, 2009 10:50 p.m.

    First, I played Rock Band 2 and discovered Almost Easy Second, go on youtube and find out Avenged Sevenfold is awesome Third, See them live Fourth, learn guitar to emulate Synyster Gates At least thats what I did.
  • garnsr - July 21, 2009 11:04 p.m.

    Good luck finding a stadium full of people who want to listen to you play your own songs. How many bands ever achieve that? How can interacting with the music in a game possibly be worse than the radio station computer telling you that this is the song that you want to hear, over and over, every day, until the end of time? And, seeing how hard a time I have getting my fingers into position on five buttons on a plastic guitar, I can't fathom how anyone can play, with all the strings and different positions on all those strings. Drumming, however, makes a lot more sense to me, and is always the most fun part in these games.
  • clucky120 - July 21, 2009 11:47 p.m.

    agree with corsair on that i mean i can't stand the selection of guitarhero and rock band games today because they get pop songs insted of rock songs for vocal reasons but guitar hero 3 to me has good music
  • TeragRunner - July 22, 2009 12:40 a.m.

    I personally loved Rock Band. Until I got my actual guitar. I them noticed that Rock Band was an embarrassment and have loved guitar ever sense. A friend of mine did the opposite. He loved Rock Band, spent a time and a half of his own money what my dad spent on mine for Christmas. Now the poor thing is gathering dust in the corner. Now said friend is even more obsessed with Rock Band and is more of a nerd than I am. That's saying a lot. In his defense though I must admit that his music collection is a lot more than mine with most of his songs either in Rock Band or somehow connected.
  • fionnoh - July 22, 2009 12:44 a.m.

    ngamer got it's own feature? all right!!
  • TheCrimsonChin - July 22, 2009 1:20 a.m.

    rock band was the only the reason i bought a guitar, and i find that im hearing a lot of diferent sounds in songs now. it also really helps when u want to learn the words to song. i do think though that half the kids that buy drums or guitars after they play guitar hero r just gonna realize it takes a lot of work to get decent and say "shit this is a waste of all the money i earned this summer." i also thought it be worth it to impress chicks but the girl im seein can kick my ass with guitar so im not so lucky
  • Harmon20 - July 22, 2009 2 a.m.

    yeah, I can admit that a section of my library comes from music games. I just wish that Activision would stop butchering the Guitar Hero franchise already! and also, I wish that my brother's band had one of their songs on a RB/GH game... (they're Green Line Inbound.)
  • jackrabbitslims - July 22, 2009 3:38 a.m.

    Hmmm..."musicians" criticize people that play RB and GH for not picking up a real instrument. But does anyone find it odd that most of these people just learn other bands songs? You know the guy at the party that always has to have his guitar and play along to whatever song is playing? If you want to learn how to play an instrument then awesome, but if you're gonna be the campus douchebag that sits around all day playing other peoples song and think you have talent then you might as well not even bother. It takes real talent to play original stuff, but not so much when the stuff your playing has already been done. Btw, The White Stripes are awesome, but I think Jack should reconsider. After all, they've been on the radio...
  • bsoxfan554 - July 22, 2009 4:11 a.m.

    As always guys great article. Keep 'em coming!!
  • The_Lurcher - July 22, 2009 10:54 a.m.

    @foodlist97 & Kubes. If rockband taught you how to play drums then please explain the term paradiddle then flam the four stroke ruff, then tell me the time signature for any song on Rockband and Guitar Hero then write out that piece of music on a piece of manuscript then convert that into a tableture piece. Theres alot more to drums than hitting shit harder than everyone else. It's the same with all instruments you maybe good at rockband but that doesn't mean your good at drums and vice versa. I cannot play Rockband or Guitar Hero drums for my life I Just can't get my head around only five drums and no High Hat peddle
  • Marvelfan13 - July 22, 2009 5:39 p.m.

    I would have to agree that these games do introduce new (and old) bands to a new audience. When I played, "So Whatcha Want" by the Beastie Boys on Rock Band 2, I fell in love with the band and now have all their albums on my iPod. I probably would have never have heard of them because I don't listen to the radio that much.
  • oryandymackie - July 22, 2009 6:51 p.m.

    So it's acceptable for the developers to say that Guitar Hero and Rock Band are teaching kids about music, then close the curtains, ignore the fact that kids aren't learning about music, they're just growing fatter and fatter, and cover their ears and shout "lalalalalalalala" at the top of their voices to drown it out? The effect is similar to a three year old's tactics.
  • oryandymackie - July 22, 2009 6:56 p.m.

    Eh, yeah. Rock Band taught me how to play the drums. Let me show you some skills... I'm amazing.

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