Can Guitar Hero Help Save the Music Industry? A Guest Post

David Edery, the worldwide games portfolio manager for Xbox Live Arcade, a research affiliate of the M.I.T. Comparative Media Studies Program, and author of the book Changing the Game: How Video Games Are Transforming the Future of Business, blogged here last week about video games. This is his second of two guest posts on the subject. Here’s an earlier relevant discussion about the music industry.

Can Guitar Hero Help Save the Music Industry?

By David Edery

A Guest Post

One of the most interesting developments in the video-game industry is the way that games are being used to jazz up — if not completely re-invent — other, more mature industries. There are several good examples of this phenomenon: the stuffed toy industry and the fitness industry, for example, but my focus for this guest post is the music industry.

While many people are familiar with now-ubiquitous games such as Rock Band and Guitar Hero, few realize how dramatically these games have affected music consumption in the U.S.

Both Rock Band and Guitar Hero are extremely successful franchises that have generated hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for their respective publishers. Players use controllers that resemble musical instruments (a guitar, a drum set, or a microphone) to “play” their favorite songs, which come bundled with the games or can be downloaded separately at extra cost. Think of it as the next generation of karaoke.

When Guitar Hero was first created by Harmonix (which is also the creator of Rock Band, not coincidentally), the music industry cared little for video games. How things have changed! The president of Universal Music Group claims that songs included in Guitar Hero will sell two to three times better.

Weezer’s “My Name is Jonas,” a song originally released in 1994, saw a tenfold increase in sales when included in Guitar Hero 3. More interestingly, a special version of Guitar Hero focused entirely on Aerosmith’s music resulted in more revenue for the band than any individual Aerosmith album.

I contacted MTV Networks and they were kind enough to share several interesting statistics. For example, Motley Crüe’s single “Saints of Los Angeles” premiered in the Rock Band Music Store day and date with its single release, and it sold more than five times as many units there as it did on iTunes in its first week.

Back in July, twelve of the The Who’s greatest hits were released for Rock Band, and in two weeks, fans purchased over 715,000 tracks. During the same two-week period, all twelve tracks experienced a 159 percent increase in SoundScan sales. (SoundScan measures physical CD sales, as well as digital music sales.)

And in August, Buckcherry’s new single “Rescue Me” was made available in Rock Band prior to the group’s new album release. The success of the download is credited with helping the new album Black Butterfly to debut at number eight on the Billboard Top 200.

No band, no matter how famous, has failed to take notice of this phenomenon. MTVN and the Beatles recently announced the development of an entirely new music game based solely on the Beatles’ music to be released during the 2009 holiday season. We can definitely expect more announcements of this sort in the years to come.

This is not simply a localized phenomenon. Businesses of all kinds are finding ways to use games and the principles they teach us to juice sales and re-invent moribund markets. And while not everything can be turned into a game, a great many things can be. After all, who ever really imagined that a game in which you solve math problems would become one of the great commercial success stories of the modern game industry?


Having shredded my throat during a Rock Band session last night - and having risked RSI from playing some of those very demanding bass parts - I can testify to the game's addictive qualities! Our rendition of Pretty Fly (For A White Guy) had to be heard to be believed...

As I understand it, the inclusion of DragonForce songs in Guitar Hero III helped their sales considerably; it seems Rock Band/Guitar Hero came along at just the right time to capitalise on a renewed interest in guitar-based music among the general public, and bands which are included get immediate exposure to a highly receptive audience, which can only be a good thing.

As a Weezer fan of many years' standing, I'm especially pleased that their songs are getting heard by a new generation thanks to GH/RB (I also carolled along with Buddy Holly last night - what a great song).

Regarding the boost that bands experience if their music is included in games: Songs by 'uncool' bands such as Thin Lizzy, when included in the game, mean that fans - often teenagers - who might otherwise be put off by the band's image, or who might not ever have heard of the group in the first place, are exposed to the music without any kind of preconception; and repeated practice sessions, to get that tricky bit at two minutes in just right, mean that they get lots of opportunities to get to know the music inside out.

Further individuation has to be the way to go, with more tracks from a wider range of artists. I'd love to see completely individual versions of the game - so you buy the game, the equipment and, say, 50 song credits, then go online to pick the 50 songs you'd like to download. Some sort of recommendation tool - if you like Metallica, why not try Megadeth? - could help people choose their 'basket' of songs.

I'd love it if more actual metal songs were available - but fear for my poor tender throat, if they are. Cookie monster vocals, if done incorrectly, are murder on the vocal cords...

Good article from USA Today on the Guitar Hero effect here:



rip jethro tull- what fun is an e-flute solo anyway?


you say no band, no matter how famous, has failed to take notice?

Led Zeppelin...?


I wish they could make something that was cool like GH or RB that would help my son with the stupid recorder they all have to learn in 4th grade (Recorder Hero?)...although I'm not sure I could take it if he practiced more than the requisite amount. Sadly, I think the only way to really make that work is to have it NOT sound like a recorder. And NOT have Hot Cross Buns on the freakin' playlist.


I like Hot Cross Buns. I think there are several R&B songs on the subject, although they take a decidedly different angle.


I have a music studio and GH/RB has been a blessing and a curse with regard to teaching guitar.

We get kids that have decided to make the step from video game to real guitar, which is good for business...


We lose the kids who realize that learning to play guitar will take longer than a weekend to master, which is how long it took to beat Guitar Hero I/II/III/World Tour.

What to do, what to do...


I love Rock Band, but the artist roster strongly reminds me of 80's MTV -- before black musicians got any play.


This was driven home to me recently when Guitar Hero III came out at Game Stop, and right next to it on the shelf was a newly released compilation cd of Aerosmith songs (or maybe it was AC/DC?). It was obvious that the ability to replay old favorites/classics was driving interest in my generation on music that everybody knew of, but nobody really listened to (regularly) anymore.


I am interested in what this phenomenon will mean for the many new musicians who will are being initially introduced to music through these games. It is only a matter of time for real guitar tutorials to fully adopt this mode of instruction (if they haven't already in one form or another). What will the supply and demand of new bands look like in the future if teens with expert drum technique are a dime-a-dozen?


I read an interview with Slash, the guitarist on the cover of the first Guitar Hero. He said a kid recently came up to him because he recognized him from Guitar Hero. After talking for a few minutes the kid asked, "so do you play real guitar too?"


Last year I noticed that Guitar Hero (and Rock Band for that matter) had broken grounds where video games had never been.

I was in the waiting area for my daughters gymnastics and I overheard a couple of mom's talking about...Guitar Hero. I thought to myself that this was probably the first time that chitter chatter at gymnastics pickup had been about a video game.

I work in the Financial Industry in a very conservative organization in the midwest. During their annual giving campaign last year, they had a daily Guitar Hero contest. They had it up on big screen projector's. My guess again, is that this was the first time a video game had been used like this in this > 150 year old company.

My youngest son (6) got an iTunes giftcard for his birthday. What albulm did he buy? Metallica's Master of Puppets.

My oldest son (9) would ask before every football practice and game if I would put on Iron Maiden's Run to the Hills.

Influences of Guitar Hero.

I couldn't be happier that my kids are listening to The Who, Guns 'N Roses, Aerosmith, Foo Fighters, etc. instead of the Jonas Brothers, Hannah Montanna or whatever flavor of the Backstreet Boys type band of the 1/2 decade is.



Seems sad that for the cost of the console and fake drums, guitar and mike kids could own their own real instruments to noodle about with and make real music instead.


Why is it sad, #12, that someone would prefer to spend their money as they want, instead of how you would want? Does it also make you sad to think that there are people who dress, eat, or speak differently than you do?


I sing in two acapella choirs and find it much more satisfying that pretending I'm a fake rock star. The music is much more challenging and it is in tune. Too many kids are growing up thinking that jumping around while choking a microphone is all there is to music and will be unprepared for real singing, and more important listening, later in life (if they aren't deaf from the volume turned up too loud),


I met some of the people working at Harmonix a couple weeks back and learned that not only has this been a huge boon for record companies, but that when negotiating for the rights on a particularly well known song/band, that the company will often try to push lesser known, independent bands into being included as a condition for licensing the requested song.

Why game developers haven't wised up and realised why they should even have to pay to give these companies free publicity and marketting is anyone's guess. With any luck this will help serve as another nail in the coffin for the RIAA's ridiculous crusade in the name of intellectual property.


Hyperbolae, the sentiment is absurd..

Suggesting that a game that includes what maybe 100 'rock' songs (mostly old 70s/80s rock) can save an industry in the business of releasing 100,000+ NEW songs in a variety of genres that do not generally conform to the 'rock band' format is absurd.

its like a band-aid on a knifewound. Rockband may boost the sales of aged rockers back catalogues but will have no impact on the sales of most conteporary artists... when was the last time you even heard a guitar solo in a top 10 hit ?

Al Marsh

@Jason #6: Guitar Hero most certainly does NOT take "a weekend to master." I have been playing GH3 for ages and I've only managed to complete one song on 'hard' - which isn't even the most difficult level :(



Congratulations on your singing ability. Not all of us have musical gifts, and therefore we pretend.

Super King

#17 : only one song completed on "hard"? That's pretty bad. I've completed twice that many :)

Dorian Martinez

Mr. Edery,

First and foremost I would like to thank you for taking the time to write this very informative blog. In your post you have mentioned almost entire positive that have come out of having such a game as Guitar Hero. It is a fact that a lot of artists have seen their music sales increase after being included in Guitar Hero and other artists have gone as far as creating their own version of Guitar Hero. The biggest example being the Guitar Hero: Aerosmith game, which produced more revenue for them than any of the individual albums, as you mentioned. I was wondering if there were any negative outcomes, for artists or the music industry, that were coming out of video games such as Guitar Hero and Rockband. Has there been any backlash among fans? Maybe they feel like their favorite band has sold out to mainstream corporate America by allowing their music to appear in video games. You said that not only had digital download sales increased but also full album sales. Currently it appears that everyone is benefitting and generating revenue by Guitar Hero, but will there be a time when Guitar Hero's download sales will cannibalize the sales of digital downloads and full albums? I was wondering if in the future, the consumers would be willing to spend money on duplicate copies of the same song? For now it seems like the video game industry is the new medium to be used for distribution and marketing of new music. This can already be seen by the influx of copycat video games, will the music industry's record labels have to come together or will maybe each create their own video game to distribute their artists music? I believe that if this sort of thing happens, the novelty feeling will disappear for the consumer and such video games will become unpopular and obsolete. I hope to read your next blog post and see if how you expect the music industry to react to such technology and how it will change their business models for the long run.