Spinning Platters Picks Six: Reasons Why Music Games Are Important

by Tony Butterworth on August 14, 2009


Yes, I admit it, I like to play Rock Band on the Xbox 360.  Some people seem to think that’s not a cool thing for a “real” music fan and musician to do, but as the latest versions of Rock Band (Rock Band: Beatles) and Guitar Hero (Guitar Hero 5) hit stores over the next couple of weeks, let’s stop to ask ourselves if and why these games matter.  I’m going to argue that they do.

1. They introduce music to younger people
As a teenager, music was it for me.  Everything I did revolved around music: my friends, clothes and everything was music influenced.  As the parent of a teenager today, I did not see this interest in music developing.  TV, movies and video games are where it’s at.  But Rock Band has bridged that gap in many cases.  My own son and many of his friends now have an interest in music (and styles of music, see below) that can be directly traced back to playing Rock Band and Guitar Hero.  The upcoming release of Lego Rock Band may take this even further for the younger ones.

2. They introduce music and musical genres to people who might not have listened to them
Personally, I am not a great fan of classic music, preferring to search out and listen to newer stuff pretty much all the time.  However, Rock Band reminded me of some of the great old music–stuff like Boston, Kansas, Deep Purple–all things I would not have voluntarily listened to returned to my playlists based on these games.  Again, this applies to the younger generation.  The amazement and fun I had watching a group of ten-year-old girls rocking out to AC/DC’s “Back In Black” cannot be explained.   The upcoming Rock Band Beatles is going to introduce the Fab Four to a whole generation of youngsters who have, literally, not heard of them.  In addition, the games can introduce you old fogies to new and exciting bands or to genres you have not listened to.  The new Guitar Hero game features artists and diverse as Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, The Raconteurs and Rammstein, to name a few.

3. They give attention to new bands
Surprisingly, Rock Band and Guitar Hero can be a great source of music discovery.  Whatever a smaller band has to do to get a track onto these games can be a major win.  I have found ten or so newer bands, including a favorite–Harvey Danger–based on them appearing in the game.   Rock Band has recently announced the Rock Band Network, a system that will allow labels, large and small, to directly place their music onto Rock Band, and already Sub Pop has announced its intention to bring its whole catalog to the game.

4. They might provide an alternative revenue stream that might help in the fight for reasonably priced music
Perhaps this is more hope on my part than fact.  The music business needs to change, it needs to find better ways to generate money, especially for new and smaller bands.  I can only dream that games such as Rock Band allow bands to charge a premium for the songs as a balance to more reasonably priced released of MP3’s for regular listening.  I can dream of course.

5. They introduce people to playing instruments
This one is hotly debated.  I’m a musician, but many other musicians ridicule these games as not simulating the real experience of playing instruments.  Well here’s a revelation: it’s a game. When I play Call of Duty,  I am happy to be simulating dying 15 times a game, and in Rock Band I’m more than happy to simulate playing the solo from “More Than A Feeling.”  It feels great.  Well what this feeling does is translate to a wish to at least try to learn an instrument.  I have personal knowledge of ten kids who have started to take lessons in drums, guitar, bass or singing based on the fun they had playing these games.  It may not last, but if even one person makes a career out of music from these games that would not have otherwise then I think we all come out ahead.

6. They bring people together

I don’t really like parties but I’ve now held two full-on Rock Band parties that included ages 8 to 60 where everyone simply got into the games.  We loaded up the 60-inch TV, the lights and smoke package, and we simply rocked out.  At times our band featured three 40+ female singers, an 8-year-old bassist, a 20-year-old guitarist and a 30-something drummer, all jamming to the Foo Fighters, followed by Deep Purple, followed by Radiohead.  Where else can you get that.  Then there’s the online mode.  I’ve played in a band with a family from Texas who I have become internet friends with, I’ve played with a band that featured myself on guitar, a Polish guy on drums, a Spanish girl on bass and a South African on vocals, playing music and having a blast between songs.

So yes, I love these games.  There are rumors that their popularity is starting to slip, but I really hope not because I look forward to their evolution, home made music videos, keyboards, and all the other innovations coming.

Rock Band: Beatles is released September 9th for Xbox 360, Wii and Playstation 3 http://www.thebeatlesrockband.com/

Guitar Hero 5 is released September 1st for Xbox 360, Wii and Playstation 3 http://gh5.guitarhero.com/index1.php

Watch Tony and his family play Radioheads’s Creep on Rock Band

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Gordon Elgart August 14, 2009 at 1:21 pm

I’m also obsessed with these games. Unfortunately, the downstairs neighbor has made a habit out of calling the landlord whenever we plug in the drums. I now hate my downstairs neighbor.

I’m still able to sing and play guitar; I bought a microphone stand so I can do both at the same time.

I’ve also probably spent more on Rock Band songs in the last year than I have on other forms of recorded music.

And because everyone always asks: Expert vocals, medium guitar, hard bass, hard drums


Joel August 14, 2009 at 1:21 pm

Well, it’s no different than poker. It will never be as popular as it was, but it will always be more popular than it had been.

As long as they keep releasing new music for it, Rock Band will be a leader in its own genre.


Tony Butterworth August 14, 2009 at 1:24 pm

I can also play both instruments. Do you have the drum silencers ? they work great and make drumming easier also. I also spend a lot more on Rock Band DLC than other music but I’m unhappy at the price, basically these songs are commercials but we are paying a premium.

I’m Expert Vocals, Hard-Expert Guitar, Expert Bass and Medium-Hard Drums (with 3 cymbal attachments)

Gordon, are you 360, PS3 or Wii ???

I’ve never liked Guitar Hero though, something about it is different. I am tempted by GH5 though since (a) all the new play modes, for examples 4 drummers and (b) you can get a free copy of GH:Van Halen if you buy in September.


Gordon Elgart August 14, 2009 at 1:35 pm

I have the drum silencers. They’re no help. I think they were made for Rock Band and not Rock Band 2. They make the drums louder, I think. Landlord still gets called. My next door neighbors are having a baby right about now, so this is not going to get better. I need to be able to play “Billion Dollar Babies” whenever I want!

I have Rock Band 2 for PS3. I have a Wii, but no music games for it.


Tony Butterworth August 14, 2009 at 1:38 pm

I have a 360 for Rock Band (Wii for other stuff LOL)

I have the silencers on RB2 and they work well but not for you. There are other options (there’s an amazing number of mods that I tried to make a list of once), but I think the pass pedal is the biggest problem.

So are you getting GH5 and/or RB:Beatles ?


David Price August 16, 2009 at 7:59 pm

I am really excited for RB: Beatles, RockBand Party I my house 9-9!


Tony August 16, 2009 at 10:47 pm

I’m happy to get the songs but Rock Band Beatles is not that exciting to me. I’m not a Beatles fan and there’s only 45 songs and no major gameplay changes except, of course, no custom band etc. you just play as the Beatles through their career.


Vanessa August 18, 2009 at 11:35 am

I’m a little dissapointed to hear thet The Beatles Rockband isn’t that great, but I’m still excited about it (though I am a Beatles nerd…)


Tony August 18, 2009 at 3:55 pm

I’m sure it’s great but not quite the flexible game that Rock Band 2 is


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