So I’m looking forward to Edgefest. May 9 for those wanting to watch me acting young. The band I want to see most is All That Remains. It’s hardcore, but not in-your-face hardcore, and they’re gathering quite a following. I mentioned the band to one of my students the other day and he said he recognized the name from Rock Band. “That doesn’t make any sense,” I said. “They haven’t been well-known for very long and besides, who could even try to play their stuff even on imaginary instruments?” Turns out that not only was he right, but the band owes some of their success to the Rock Band franchise…
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I watched this and pondered about the odd dichotomy between the video game industry and the music biz. We all know there’s a strong connection that’s formed between Hollywood and musical artists. Sometimes a band will lend a song to a movie in order to get people who like that song to think the movie might be good (think Say Anything). Sometimes a song is written specifically for a movie — and I don’t mean the musical score — I mean a song that can become popular on its own without people having to associate it with certain visuals (Philadelphia, Daredevil, Lion King … Flashdance anyone?) though they certainly invoke the memories of that magical movie moment when the movie basically turns into a short music video full of emotional close-ups and gritted teeth.
But can video games bring new artists to the masses? The soundtrack to GTA: Vice City includes Judas Priest, Mötley Crüe, Blondie, Flock of Seagulls, and even Rock Box by Run DMC. Who was this soundtrack supposed to appeal to? Me? ‘Cause it does! But what does this new generation think? These songs don’t hold any special meaning to them like they might to people my age. Even the sequel, San Andreas, doesn’t have any songs newer than a decade old. But here the developers are going with something they *know* people like and aren’t taking a risk on artists the players *might* like.
Except for Rock Band. And Guitar Hero. They may have started with the safe strategy of licensing older, popular songs and have done wonders introducing this generation to 80s metal in a golden light. But they’re target market is the 15-26 year old demographic. Those ‘persons of interest’ want to hear music that *they* remember from that night of driving around aimlessly listening to the same new greatest song ever over and over. Which means that the programmers have to take a chance on licensing untested music. Looking over the DLC list I see that there are some recent bands listed I don’t really know much about, but still I’ve heard of all those bands. But what I think might actually happen is that a lot of kids stand the potential of finding some really great music that they wouldn’t have found otherwise. Especially — and I say this from the bottom of my heart — if the folks who make these games have the foresight to start allowing the music industry, and even private musicians, to create their own downloadable content for the platforms.
Think of this: Suppose I have an up-and-coming band and we’re really tight. I believe we could make it but our hits on MyFace haven’t been spectacular. I’ve got a few days waiting for our next gig, so I download a free app that lets me create a Rock Band set for any song with total creative freedom. I create a set to one of my songs and post it for download somewhere. I haven’t hurt sales for Rock Band titles in the least (’cause in the end people really just want to try rockin’ out to their favorite songs anyway, so they’ll be willing to pay a few bucks to get the songs they want) and I haven’t hurt my own record sales, either (’cause the most important thing starting out is getting people to notice you). In fact, I’m betting this would actually boost sales for the Rock Band main game and instruments because folks could get at a variety of songs specifically for them. Plus you never know if you might be about to stumble over that unique sound that just knocks your socks off. Of course, if the set you create for people to download isn’t just spectacularly awesome, no one is going to want it. Hmmm, I’m thinking this could be set up along the lines of Neverwinter mods, where folks could create their own content for upload with certain websites devoted to weeding out the good ones. There were amateur-created mods of legendary status because of their quality, and in some cases these amateurs were hired by the software company to start creating content for them! See, it’s win-win.
Way to go, All That Remains! I’m glad this has given you some well-deserved attention, and I hope this paves a way for a paradigm shift in the rhythm genre.
[Okay, yes. I can see a lot of legal problems popping up like crazy if everything isn’t handled just so. But paradigm shifting isn’t for the weak! …or really for me. Look, I’m just the ideas guy. Now you need to find an action guy to make it so.]