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Music gaming is a huge growth area for the games industry. Started by Harmonix with Guitar Hero quickly selling 1.5 million copies. Then came the sequels, Guitar Hero II and III, and a string of successful stand-alone titles such as Guitar Hero: Aerosmith.

Then came Rock Band (also from Harmonix) via Electronic Arts. Launched late last year in America, the game received widespread acclaim and sold four million copies, with global revenues of $600 million – and since its release, players have downloaded more than 28 million songs via the game. It has a guitar, a bass, a drum kit and mic, and you can play in single- or multi-player mode, or battle it out online against rock fans worldwide. Following its chart-topping success, Rock Band 2 was released this fall.

With CD sales in free fall and authorized digital downloads not expected to make up the shortfall, the combination of video gaming and music looks promising for the future for the music business. “Industry insiders are learning that video games are the radio and distribution channel for the music industry of the 21st century – and they’re learning quickly,” says Tommy Tallarico, a game composer who has scored more than 275 video games – a world record.

In 2007, Guitar Hero and Rock Band made more than all digital music sales from services such as iTunes. The Aerosmith single “Same Old Song and Dance” was featured in Guitar Hero III. And according to Nielsen SoundScan, which tracks digital and retail music, sales of the song jumped by 136 per cent the week after the game was released in late 2007, and by 400 per cent a week after Christmas that year. Even the most successful groups are getting in on the act. Rock Band has secured the rights to release a stand-alone video game featuring The Beatles, scheduled for release next year.

Read more from Jimmy Lee Shreeve and The Independent here.

Hit games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band are creating a subtle put profound shift in the way music is experienced, heard, interacted with and purchased. In these environments music is not listened to passively, it becomes an immersive and engaging experience that is changing the nature of the relationship between the hard-core fan and the artist, pulling them closer together in ways that have never been done before.

In the past 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.

The songs that are selling via these video games are a heavy mix of classic rock and metal tracks that account for approximately 80% of sales, but also include new tracks by known and unknown artists trying to break new ground. One example is new metal act Black Tide. When its “Light From Above” CD was released in November, the single “Shockwave” sold only a few hundred copies per week.. The week before being featured as a downloadable song on “Rock Band”, the single sold 1,000 downloads. Two weeks later, download sales doubled. 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.

This is just one example of the way that music is finding new ways to reach an audience – with or without record labels – rising to fill the opportunity. Keep your eyes on the video game space to see how it evolves further as a catalyst for music exploration, discovery and distribution.

Check out this Wikipedia page on the songs available in Rock Band.