The Harmony of Harmonix: Guitar Gamers' Newfound Interest in Bands Fuels Music Sales

I can still remember the confused look on her face as I scrolled down the page. It was like watching a second grader open a Calculus textbook.

"What the hell is a Freezepop? Coheed & Cambria--isn't that somewhere in Polynesia? Oh, Iron Maiden! Like from Teenage Dirtbag, right?"

But a few weeks later, my friend was drumming along with Boston, growling out Metallica lyrics, and looking up the Yeah Yeah Yeahs on iTunes.

Rock Band and Guitar Hero get a lot of attention for their alternative uses. For instance, did you know those guitar games are actually getting kids interested in playing real music? They're helping to rehabilitate the handicapped, too. I'm sure somewhere out there, a scientist is desperately trying to figure out a way to solve global warming with a plastic guitar.

But lost amongst all of this press is the real power of Rock Band: the power to get your 12-year-old interested in The Who.

Because rhythm games like Guitar Hero are fun for all ages, the included music reflects that diversity. And because the games encourage you to play a wide variety of songs, players often end up expanding their musical taste. From R.E.M. to the Stones, Dragonforce to Bon Jovi, guitar games allow players the chance to discover bands they would have never run across otherwise.

Harmonix's Rock Band can often serve as a sort of subliminal radio station. After being forced to play through the song Cherub Rock five times before finally passing it on expert mode, you might just become the newest Pumpkins fan. Enough Fall Out Boy, and you may find yourself tracking down their discography--much to your dismay.

Needless to say, the record companies couldn't be happier.

"A few weeks ago, when [Guitar Hero: Aerosmith] came out, there was more than a 40 percent increase in their catalog sales," said Billboard analyst Geoff Mayfield to CNN.

"I expect you'll see that again when Metallica gets the same kind of treatment in a few weeks," he added.

As a result, even Lars "Napster Baaaad" Ulrich, Metallica drummer, is getting into the spirit of Guitar Hero.

"It's a cool generational thing to share that with your kids," said Ulrich. "My [son's] favorite bands are.. the same bands that are my favorite bands--the bands I grew up on."

Despite the obvious reason behind Ulrich's enthusiasm--Metallica songs sold on Rock Band and Guitar Hero III are lining his pockets by the download--it's hard to argue with his sentiment.

Rock Band, and the music games like it, have formed a direct connection between the gaming and music industries, an unprecedented synergy of entertainment. And though the corporations may be profiting the most, the consumers are also gaining something in the transaction.

It's the power to get your friend into Bowie. To get your mom singing Radiohead. To show your girlfriend why Rush really is cool.

On second thought, nothing may be that powerful.

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