The Beatles, Participatory Music & the Media Sea Change
What the Beatles' new videogame shows us about the media transformation we're all experiencing, with gamers, music fans and young people leading the way
If you'd like some powerful insights into how music is changing, why audiences are turning into participants, and what role videogames have in all this, read "While My Guitar Gently Beeps" in the New York Times Magazine. It's the story of how Apple Corps warmed up to and fully embraced interactive, or participatory, music – the next phase of music history, one could say (without exaggerating). Author and writer Daniel Radosh runs you through the Beatles' version of this evolution, from helping to "kick the compact-disc era into overdrive in 1987," about 20 years after they broke up, right past the "current era of downloadable music" (when "financial disputes kept the Beatles conspicuously sidelined"), to what the $3 billion music part of the videogame industry (a category that's a close second to action games and ahead of sports) represents: simulated performance of real music, among other things. Beatles: Rock Band will be released Sept. 9.
From one perspective, the music videogames of Rock Band and Guitar Hero are a solution to the music industry's P2P file-sharing problem (it probably calls it the piracy problem): Videogames don't just market songs, they sell them now. "In its first week, Motley Crue's 2008 single 'Saints of Los Angeles' sold nearly five times as many copies on Rock Band as it did on iTunes, and at twice the price," Radosh reports. "Pearl Jam plans to release its new album simultaneously on CD and in Rock Band."
And soon there will be the Rock Band Network, which "will license software tools and provide training for anyone to create and distribute interactive versions of their own songs." That doesn't only expand "the amount and variety of interactive music available," it expands both the musician and participant bases. Now, I think, Rock Band just needs to team up with MySpace or maybe Last.fm to complete the picture, strengthen the community part of the spectrum (see "MySpace's metamorphosis?"). Because fans are often musicians and vice versa, and tunes are talking points in an ongoing "conversation" between artists and fans (and among fans, of course), multidirectionally.
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