by: Jonathan Salem Baskin

Thanks to video games from Aerosmith and Miley Cyrus, you can leave behind your life as a mere music lover, and join the band instead.

Talk about brand engagement.

The news from Aerosmith is that Activision, Inc. will debut a game called "Guitar Hero: Aerosmith," featuring 30 songs from the band. The Guitar Hero games let people literally play as a part of a band, using a toy instrument to trigger guitar sounds within songs. The entire franchise has moved a billion dollars of product since its launch in 2005.

Miley's game, Hanna Montana: Spotlight World Tour, works on the Nintendo Wii, which utlizies a little wand to prompt the same sort of on-screen interaction. The Wii has been so extraordinarily successful that its consoles have been in tight supply since its launch last year.

While .mp3 downloads have been dismantling the packaged-goods CD model on which the music industry is founded, there’s been what I call the American Idol-ification of culture simultaneously underway.

  • American Idol features zillions of kids who think that singing in the bathroom shower means that they deserve to be famous. Anybody can do it, according to the encouragement dispensed regularly from Paula Abdul
  • It encourages zillions more to fantasize the same thing, even if they don't make it to the point of embarrassing themselves on-air
  • Production technology has advanced so far that it is easy and cheap to make music, whether via Apple's Garageband software, or simply playing one of those Casio keyboards that all but play themselves. Digital video cameras and editing software give the average teenager the tools once reserved for engineers at the original three U.S. broadcast TV networks, only better
  • Distribution technology is also all but free, as well as simple. Start a blog, and you can distribute your videos or songs for chump change

Say hello to the burgeoning universe of user-generated content.

User-generated content is the fancy phrase to label stuff not made by professionals. The American Idol-ification trend is all about all of us becoming users and creators simultaneously. So it turns out that the distinctions been "amateur" and "pro" were pretty much circumstantial and otherwise artificial. Good stuff comes from anyone, anywhere, anytime, or so the theory goes

So, let's see...we have a creative industry -- music, right now, but video is sure to follow -- that has lost its grip on producing readymade "pro" product, and we have a cultural trend that empowers one-time consumers to consider themselves producers instead.

The video games from Miley and Aerosmith merge these trends.

I never wanted to just listen to Aerosmith anyway. Any self-respecting teenager doesn't listen to music as much as fanastize about it, from making the stuff to living the lifestyle. And anybody whose ever set foot on stage, whether for a grade school play or to compete in a spelling bee, knows that there's a rush that comes from making something...anything...and not just absorbing it.

I want to be the band, and now I can. And I don't have to even fool myself into thinking that I can play the guitar.

Could there be a nascent model here for the music industry to pursue? There are any number of ways to involve consumers as co-creators, or at least make them think they are:

  • Alternative versions of songs distributed for fans to choose (charging for each version, of course); communities could vote for mixes, length, even content itself
  • Songs missing a track could be sold, along with some rudimentary software that let consumers add the track with the instrument of their choice
  • Entire songs could be distributed as discreet tracks, along with some tool that let people mix them to their own tastes
  • Every new song could come out "prerecorded" and in "game-enabled" versions, making PlayStation3, Xbox360, and Nintendo's Wii hubs for music experience on an ongoing basis
  • Bands could align with particular interface devices, so there'd be an "Aerosmith guitar thingee" that was somehow different from the one available from Fall Out Boy. Consumers could build dexterity on the devices of their favorite bands/brands, thereby giving them better song experiences
  • How about allowing "better" players -- i.e. consumers who are committed to your brand -- to unlock "better" music content on the songs they buy? If I truly love everything Miley Cyrus releases, and play along with her songs all day long, maybe I could get more tracks, extended versions, etc.
  • Different versions/mixes of songs could be licensed and re-sold, each generating income for the creators of the original tracks (i.e. bands)
  • Bands could offer music-creating tracks/software, and encourage their fans to write music in the spirit of the originals (a la those Star Trek fans who write and film entirely new episodes of the TV series)

Who needs American Idol if I can take the stage with Aerosmith? For that matter, who needs CDs? But if there were some way that all of these media interacted, maybe I'd need all of them?

There's probably a ton of money to be made reworking the music industry into an interactive/game/visual/user-generated/somethingoranother industry. And brand marketers of consumer products and services could probably learn a lot from what's going on in the entertainment world. What's simple to interact with because it's digital may very well be but an example of the interaction/engagement that we'll want someday soon with every purchase...

Rock on.

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