Thursday, July 24, 2008

Rock and Roll is Dead: Long live Rockband!

For those with an abiding interest in music, videogames and the face of Comedy Network News, check out...real rock stars trying to play their own songs on the video game Rockband!

For context, last week saw the Canadian band RUSH make an appearance on the Comedy Network's satiric (?) news show The Colbert Report. RUSH, which recently released a new version of a classic song for use with the Rockband game, is shown prior to their appearance on Colbert's show attempting to play their own tune, Tom Sawyer, on Rockband. Let's just say, video games aren't the same as playing instruments!

It's also a nice bit of integrated marketing with an online extension to Cable programming for both Comedy Central, Colbert, RUSH, Harmonix Games (makers of the game), iTunes (where game singles can also be purchased) and...for fans of the game, the show and the band.

But it's also a look at what some see as the future of music distribution...for one, the Guitar Hero and Rockband games have sold more than 6 million units. That means each of the licensed songs is a multiplatinum single! Rockband alone has also had more than 10 millions songs downloaded for the game. But what else generates such demand?

For one, the linkage of the music to an even richer experience than the ears alone enable. The gaming environment may provide a perfect platform for music releases because it melds three aspects of engaging experiences in teh gaming/music domains: the ability to play along as the air drummer/guitarist/shower singer in all of us; a challenge (competition/teamwork, scoring and progressive levels of difficulty); and a payoff (the ability to unlock additional tunes and add new ones).

Some might decry the games as a distraction from learning to play real musical instruments. I don;t think that's an issue. My own son, upon serendipitously hearing the Kansas tune "Carry on my wayward son" on the radio commented "oh, that's that song that is way too easy to play on Guitar Hero II even at the hard level." I thought about telling him how impressionable teens decades ago had seen it as a challenge piece for their progressive-rock leaning garage bands...but then thought better of that and just said "uh huh".

For those of us who may have spent the better part of two decades trying to master various musical faves on drums and bass...these games can enable you to play like a star in a couple of, you do get a sense of what real musicians have to do. How fun is that?! Recent releases of 'direct to Rockband' songs by Motley Crue and an entire edition of Guitar Hero built around Aerosmith are additional examples of musicians, fans (their kids!) and game companies crossing the traditional generational boundaries around an enhanced, shared experience with music.

video of RUSH' humorous attempt to play their own song--and failing--here

video of anonymous players mastering the same Tom Sawyer song in Rockband here

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