DENVER (Billboard) - Games like "Rock Band" and "Guitar
Hero III" have proved their ability to breathe new life into
classic rock sales. But can they do the same for new music?
Last month, Motley Crue decided to find out. The band
placed its new single, the title track from "Saints of Los
Angeles," for sale as a downloadable track on "Rock Band" well
in advance of the album's release date, which has been pushed
back to June 24. The only other place to obtain the track was
According to data provided by the band's management, Tenth
Street Entertainment, the track was downloaded more than 47,000
times via the Xbox 360 version of the game alone in the first
week after it became available. ("Rock Band" publisher MTV
Networks was unable to independently verify these figures, and
total downloads that include the PlayStation 3 version of the
game were not available.)
By comparison, the same track received slightly more than
10,000 downloads via digital services like iTunes and Amazon,
according to Nielsen SoundScan.
That's a pretty big discrepancy considering that music
bought via "Rock Band" can't be transferred to a portable music
player or even a computer for later enjoyment. It can be played
only via the game.
FINDING THE AUDIENCE
Tenth Street CEO Allen Kovac shrugs off the gap in sales
between formats, pointing out that a sale is a sale. In an age
of rampant piracy, reaching fans where they are willing to
spend money is the primary goal.
"We do research on every artist we have, and the research
said that the people who bought Motley Crue music and tickets
play 'Rock Band" and video games ... (so) it was our
inclination to go there," he says. "As marketers, it's our job
to find the audience. If our audience tells us they're sitting
at Xbox and PlayStation, that's our job to do that."
In slightly more than six months, the number of songs
downloaded to the "Rock Band" game has surpassed 10 million
tracks, according to MTV Networks, while song downloads from
"Guitar Hero" passed 15 million, according to Activision. With
more than 100 songs available for download via the "Rock Band"
platform, that's an average of 100,000 downloads per song sold
through the game.
That average, though, is somewhat skewed: Since new songs
are added to the "Rock Band" store weekly, tracks available for
sale since November have sold more than tracks added just last
week. Still, it's an impressive figure.
By all accounts, catalog tracks sell best. Seven of the top
10 best-selling songs available on "Rock Band" are catalog
titles; the other three are more recent, but still a few years
old. Of all the songs available for download on "Rock Band,"
more than 75 percent are catalog tracks. The rest is primarily
music released within the past year. Only a handful of songs
are previously unreleased new music or music from unknown acts
using the game to get noticed.
TURNING THE TIDE
One such example is new metal act Black Tide. When its
"Light From Above" album was released November 11, 2007, the
single "Shockwave" sold only a few hundred copies per week,
barely registering on Nielsen SoundScan. The week before being
featured as a downloadable song on "Rock Band" on March 11, the
single sold 1,000 downloads. Two weeks later, download sales
Yet sales on "Rock Band" were 10 times that of those on
iTunes and other stores. In the six weeks following the "Rock
Band" debut, "Shockwave" sold 6,000 digital downloads via
online retailers, compared with an estimated 60,000 downloads
via the game.
And "Rock Band" isn't the only game hawking new music. Def
Leppard chose to release its new single "Nine Lives" as part of
a three-song bundle on "Guitar Hero III" on April 24, along
with past hits "Photograph" and "Rock of Ages."
The "Guitar Hero III" download totals are unavailable, but
first-week figures from SoundScan show that it sold about 7,000
downloads. The album it was meant to promote, "Songs From the
Sparkle Lounge," sold only 55,000 physical and digital units
combined in its first week.
But Tenth Street's Kovac says "Rock Band" and "Guitar Hero"
sales don't necessarily need to convert to album or digital
download sales on a one-to-one basis to count as successful.
Today's generation of music fans, he says, may be interested
only in buying the game version of new music, enabling an
interactive experience that has been sorely lacking lately.
"The resurgence of rock has happened because of 'Rock Band'
and 'Guitar Hero,"' he says. "And the reason is because of the
interaction with the audience. The more music marketing people
look at interaction with the audience as opposed to only radio
or a video, the more lasting the experience will be and the
longer the artists' career will be."