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Guitar Hero, Rock Band Games "Making Music" For The Real Bands

Tuesday, 27 May 2008 | 1:38 PM ET
Playing Guitar Hero
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Playing Guitar Hero

Call it a not so quiet revolution in the music business, following the digital musical renaissance courtesy of Apple Inc. and its iTunes/iPod juggernaut.

The industry is now shifting to new forms of digital distribution, and video games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero are helping bands soar. Just ask the guys at Motley Crue, watching sales of its new track "Saints of Los Angeles" selling 5 times as much after its appearance in the Xbox 360 version of Rock Band versus online music stores iTunes and Amazon.com.

The band says it sold 47,000 copies of the track, though the number could be higher since Sony won't disclose how many tracks sold on the PlayStation 3 version of Rock Band.

No question that both games have been a boon to classic rock titles, but now these titles are working their magic for new songs as well, and that could mean a critically important new distribution method for established bands, as well as new bands seeking a way to end run traditional music labels, trying to reach their fans directly.

This was kind of a risk for Motley Crue, inserting its newest single as a downloadable track on Rock Band way before the album officially dropped--which is now scheduled for June 24. The band also made the track available on Apple's iTunes. The band's management, Tenth Street Entertainment, says those 47,000 downloads occurred in the first week it was available. During the same period, Nielsen SoundScan said the track was downloaded 10,000 times from traditional online music stores.

Motley Crue is just the latest band to see enormous success from partnering with Rock Band, owned by MTV, a division of Viacom . Downloaded songs have exceeded 10 million units, while the number is closer to 15 million for Activision's Guitar Hero. And for Rock Band, with only 100 songs available, that means each song is averaging 100,000 downloads.

We've seen a number of acts turn to the net for distribution, most notably Radiohead which has seen enormous success from the strategy. Madonna has turned her back on traditional labels; Same with Jay-Z thanks to the outside-the-box thinking from LiveNation. I have spoken extensively with the likes of Peter Gabriel, Nikki Sixx, Jon Bon Jovi and all of them recognize the power and potential of internet and gaming distribution as a way to cut costs, reach fans directly, and ultimately to end-run the labels. Sixx told me that he recognized long ago the need to be flexible and to embrace new technology; that some labels get it, but many others are still grasping at business models that have become dinosaurs.

Bon Jovi has four children and he says he hears all the time about Facebook, mySpace, texting and other ways kids are communicating. He'd be crazy, he told me, not to use these technologies to get his music in front of these consumers. Much the same message from Peter Gabriel whose new search engine and subscription-based download music service are trying to accomplish much the same thing.

Advertising in video games has been around for a while now, and same goes with product placement. I've spoken with Alex Patsavas who pioneered a way to use hit television shows to get new music a new a fan base, and it worked wonders for bands like The Fray and Snow Patrol and Death Cab for Cutie. But the success Rock Band and Guitar Hero are now bringing takes this digital distribution thing to a whole new level, and the headache music label executives are suffering from isn't likely because the music is too loud.

Music labels can fight tooth and nail against adapting to new technologies; but that's gonna be a tough fight indeed when the bands they're trying to rep are using that technology to get the job done without them. Those who adapt win; those who don't, can't or won't, will see the music fade to silence.

Questions? Comments? TechCheck@cnbc.com

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