Rock music is dead, and all the Rock Band in the world won't save it


In the interest of bringing Ron and Fez‘s fantastic radio show topics to a more tech-minded audience, I propose the following: games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band, while fun and, generally speaking, “good,” will not save rock music. Rock and roll, for all intents and purposes, is dead. Bear with me for a minute, I’ll make this relevant to CrunchGear.

So the topic on today’s show was: U2—you may have heard of them—recently released a new album, but it didn’t sell too well. This created the discussion: is rock dead? Someone brought up the idea that kids today just aren’t buying music anymore, that they’re playing video games instead; you have but so many entertainment dollars to spend, right? But even if kids (and by kids I mean the 30 and under crowd, a completely arbitrary cutoff point) are going out and buying these games left and right, does that mean they’re experiencing music in a new way, as proponents of the idea that Guitar Hero will save the music business would have you believe, or are they just killing time?

To paraphrase Ron Bennington, if the only thing these kids are doing is playing Simon with Pearl Jam in the background, Pearl Jam might as well be the Pac-Man theme song. The kids aren’t paying attention to the music, aren’t getting “into it,” per se, but are merely following along with whatever random melody is playing in the background.

(Incidentally, a caller tried to blame the decline of rock music on Pearl Jam’s anti-everything antics back in the 1990s and 2000s, driving kids into hip hop’s flashy embrace. Kids want to look up to Rock Stars, and the lifestyle they live, and not necessarily people who, while armed with guitars, are generally against the whole rock “scene.” That’s partially why rapping about money, women, and cars caught fire in the 1990s: it filled a void that rock had left behind. I sure as hell would rather listen to Jay-Z than, say, The Strokes, who, if I recall correctly, were once promoted as the saviors of rock and roll.)

The future?

What new (and I do mean brand new, and not merely new to you) rock music have you heard in one of these games that made you think, “Hey, this band is pretty good. I’m gonna buy their album from iTunes and buy a t-shirt from their Web site.”? You may well be able to play along just fine with a Weezer or Peter Frampton song, and you’ll have a good time doing so, but in doing so you’re not exactly discovering Bruce Springsteen back when he was just a local Jersey act. You’re not discovering new music, but rather pressing a fisher price fret along with the melody to a classic rock song. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but that’s not going to save rock music, now is it?

And by save I just mean to make it popular again. I’d love to see a sales comparison between rock music and hip hop over the past 10 years. I bet it’s pretty one-sided.

Now these games are great for bands like The Beatles that are trying to introduce their catalog to millions of new eyeballs, but you’re not necessarily creating any new talent. It’s sorta like WWE in that sense: I stopped watching regularly back in high school (2004ish), but I turn on Raw or Smackdown today and the very same guys are who were main-eventing then (Triple H, Undertaker, John Cena, etc) are main-eventing now; no new stars have been created in the past five years. That’s not good!

So yeah, sorta rambling, but you get my point: Rock Band & Co. may be great for the record labels looking to make a extra few dollars on licensing deals, and may be great for old bands looking to introduce new fans to their music, but you’re crazy if you think these games will make rock music the music of this generation’s young people; hip has already won that battle. No new rock talent is being cultivated with these games, and the relationship between the actual music and the player isn’t genuine: you’re playing a video game with your friends as part of an event or fun social gathering, and aren’t carefully digesting the melodies and lyrics of “Gouge Away” for the sake of the music itself.

That is all.

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