LOS ANGELES — Tapping on fake instruments and screeching into microphones connected to video game consoles has become lucrative for both the music and gaming industries. Downloadable tunes for music-based games Guitar Hero, Rock Band and SingStar have become as vital as iTunes itself — and one of the last ways to expose youngsters to classic rock.
The genre will evolve again later this month when game publisher Activision and developer Neversoft release Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, the first such play-along rhythm game pegged to one music group, instead of featuring a multiartist compilation.
Players start out as lead guitarist Joe Perry and can unlock bassist Tom Hamilton and Brad Whitford while playing in virtual versions of venues where Aerosmith once rocked, such as their first show at Nipmuc High School outside of Boston and the Super Bowl XXXV halftime show in Tampa.
"Far more of this audience will hear our music via this game than if we had strenuously attempted to talk them into buying all of our CDs," Hamilton said.
While regular versions of Guitar Hero, Rock Band and SingStar come loaded with songs by bands like the Rolling Stones and Radiohead, the most recent incarnations of these games allow players to go online and download additional tracks, costing anywhere from 99 cents up to $2.50 per song, depending on the game.
The downloading doesn't stop there. Because the songs for these games can't be burned onto a CD or uploaded to an MP3 player, many players turn to other digital download services for their own copies — as well as to dig deeper into an artist's discography. All that musical consumption is equaling big bucks for the flailing music industry.
"Revenue back to the music industry can be huge," said entertainment and new media lawyer Paul Menes, who has brokered such arrangements.
Song downloads for MTV Games and Harmonix's Rock Band recently passed the 12-million mark, according Paul DeGooyer, MTV senior vice president of electronic games and music.
"There's no monolithic way of exposing consumers to music anymore," said DeGooyer. "People are getting their music all over the place."