Today any teen can tell you who their favourite artist is or what their favourite song is just by looking at their iPod. And just about any teen can tell you their favourite game happens to be Guitar Hero.
For the music industry, things could never be looking brighter for them, what with the ease of accessing music through the ever so popular service iTunes Store and the rise of music-based video games. Or maybe they aren't? Callum Greally reports.
Since the beginning of time man has used music has a form of entertainment, and with the evolution of man comes the evolution of all things involved, including music.
It was only decades ago that Gen-Xer's were buying music in the form of vinyls, then came along Compact Discs, which were popular even for Generation Y. And then came along MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3 or MP3 to those with lesser knowledge of format names.
Since the boom of MP3, music has quickly become easier to access. Services such as Apple's iTunes and MySpace have made it easier for signed and independent musicians to publicly distribute and share their music and as of July 21, 2009, the iTunes Store has said to have sold 8 billion songs. The iTunes Store currently leads the legal U.S. music download market at 88% as of September 12, 2006.
The iPod, also developed by Apple, is a major contributor to the music market with more than 206 million sold to date, the marketing campaign being responsible for this. It's been said by some critics such as popular computer-based technology magazine PC World that it has "altered the landscape for portable audio players.
Another format of music that's got critics both rooting and booing for it is slotMusic, a microSD card developed by SanDisk specifically made for their own line of MP3 players and others with the ability to read the cards. The cards come preloaded with MP3s of high-bitrates, and major labels such as Universal Music Group, Sony BMG, Warner Music Group and EMI Music have already begun expressing interest in the new medium.
However, there have been many obligations by the music industry as to whether this is the best choice to selling music. Popular peer-to-peer file-sharing programs such as Napster, Limewire, Kazaa and BitTorrent have gained worldwide attention from the public and music industry, including artists.
Heavy metal act Metallica discovered that a demo of their song I Disappear' had been circulating across the network, even before it was released. This eventually led to the song being played on several radio stations across America and brought to Metallica's attention that their entire back catalogue of studio material was also available. The band responded in 2000 by filing a lawsuit against the service offered by Napster.
A month later, rapper Dr. Dre, who shared a litigator and legal firm with Metallica, filed a similar lawsuit after Napster wouldn't remove his works from their service, even after he issued a written request. Separately, both Metallica and Dr. Dre later delivered thousands of usernames to Napster who they believed were pirating their songs.
One year later Napster settled both suits, but this came after being shut down by a judicial court in a separate lawsuit from several major record labels.
Also in 2000, Madonna, who had previously met with Napster executives to discuss a possible partnership, became irate when her single "Music" leaked out on to the web and Napster prior to its commercial release, causing widespread media cover. It is also noteworthy that verified Napster use peaked with 26.4 million users worldwide in February 2001.
So from this, we can draw conclusions that distributing music via the internet can have repercussions both positive and negative for artists. With this knowledge, we can then determine what the next avenue is for distributing music that benefits all parties involved.
Uttering the two words Guitar and Hero is sure to turn heads in a crowd of adolescents. That's what the music industry's saying when statistics show that the series has sold more than 25 million units worldwide, earning US$2 billion at retail, and earning as much as US$1 billion for Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock making it the first game to do so.
The game's also been endorsed by guitar legend Slash, arguably best-known as lead guitarist for hard-rock band Guns n' Roses, who put his face on the cover of the game and is also a playable character. He says I think it's a huge honour to be a part of this game, it's like I actually represent electric guitar to a legion of kids that are into this game which has gotta be the most popular game out right now and I've been asked to put my brand on it which is very, very cool.
In another interview, he says that I think that this is so cool if anybody has anything judgemental to say about, well then they're wrong.
The series has also sparked great interest in major acts such as Aerosmith, whose own version of Guitar Hero has sold more than one million copies grossing over US$50 million. On top of this, the band itself saw a 40% increase in their catalogue sales in the weeks following the game's release.
The games developers have also released Guitar Hero: Metallica and plan on future band-centric games, such as Guitar Hero: Van Halen and possibly a Guitar Hero: Hendrix.
Also, unreleased games such as The Beatles: Rock Band and DJ Hero are quickly rising and are becoming the hype amongst teens nowadays. Observing these statistics and information, we can see that music-oriented video games are an interesting platform for musicians to promote their music.
However, some musicians have discouraged the use of video games as a way to market their music. Guitarists Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin and Jack White of The White Stripes/The Raconteurs disagree with the general consensus of musicians that using video games is a great way to distribute their music.
It's depressing to have a label come and tell you that ['Guitar Hero'] is how kids are learning about music and experiencing music, says Jack White.
He goes on to say that while it's not his place to decide which format people should get their music in if you have to be in a video game to get in front of them, that's a little sad.
Obviously different musicians have different opinions about the new medium of music. So where does that leave them when looking for a shared interest in promoting their music?
Many artists have begun re-releasing their works onto vinyl records as a means of marketing. The Wall Street Journal now claims ...that vinyl record sales doubled in 2007.
Artists such as Oasis, Alice Cooper, Nirvana, Green Day and Radiohead have followed the trend of other artists to reissue some if not all of their music onto vinyl record.
And while vinyl will never replace CDs and downloads in terms of pure margin and profitability, it turns disposable major-label music into something tangible, scarce and collectible. It creates revenue streams that didn't exist five years ago.
Some artists have even gone to such lengths to packaging MP3 download codes with vinyl LPs, thus allowing digital portability while still providing physical copies of their records in a more durable format than that of the CD.
But does this mean that bands' reissuing their work on old technology is the future of music? Has it not been addressed that vinyls actually wear out from the day they are played (lose their frequency response and dynamic range simply because plastic wears and grooves smooth from the results of a diamond tip)? Is the reason that record labels and bands choose to distribute them purely for nostalgia purposes only? This is quite possibly the case, so reissuing complete albums as vinyls as a means to satisfy all parties involved is probably a bad choice.
So it's clear by now that as technology has improved, the money labels and bands have been making solely from sales would have decreased significantly. But is that all they are about, making money from record sales? Maybe the labels are, but surely not the musicians! Wouldn't it make more sense that they choose to make music and share it with the world because they wanted to?
Musicians do need to make money, but there are other means to making a living, such as touring, merchandise and endorsing products. Perhaps professional musicians can learn a thing or two from this, and not take things for granted.
So this is how far we've come. We've come from physical, tangible forms of music to more complex mediums thorough the use of computers. And it is true that technology has influenced all of this, and it seems it's caused quite a fuss amongst some, but that doesn't mean it stops here. New ways and approaches to distributing music are being developed everyday, and it's only a matter of time before we stumble across a solution that benefits all involved, including labels, musicians and the public who freely choose to get their music in whatever way satisfies them the most.