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Smash Your Head on the Indie Rock
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on April 28, 2006   |   Episode 103 (Show Archive)  


Please, somebody, get this band out of the family room!
On these pages you're used to hearing us complain about the over commercialization of video games. We've griped about the non-stop commercials in sports and racing games, all while ridiculing the massively multiplayer online role playing games for forcing us to pay to see advertising. But this synergy between big business and the video game world may be a good thing after all. If this power is harnessed for good then video games could be remembered as the industry of charity, a form of art that helped the little guy make a name for himself.

This week RedOctane announced that they would be scouring the world looking for the next big thing. This extensive search is all in support of their newest game, Guitar Hero II being released for the PlayStation 2 this fall. They're looking for garage bands from all over this globe to send them their songs and have them judge which will be selected for

Just because you've never played guitar doesn't mean you can't enjoy Guitar Hero ... but you might be better if you do play guitar!
their game, and which won't. The lucky band will find their music on Guitar Hero II, potentially giving them their big break and possibly stardom.

But why should Guitar Hero be the only one doing this? These days video game companies are doing everything they can to license the biggest music and the hottest stars, but to what end? Some of the most memorable video game soundtracks have come from forgotten talent, no-name bands, and talented game composers. I say it's about time the video game industry embrace the independent music scene, because there are a lot of garage bands that need promoting.

From a business perspective this makes a lot of sense. Companies not

Cat Power is not the type of band you hear in video games these days, but maybe we should!
looking to spend all of their money licensing the biggest hits from the past two years could save a lot of money if they signed the hottest up and coming talent. I'm talking about the bands on the top of college radio, the type of musicians that don't require you to spend all of your budget on two or three songs. These smaller bands come cheap and are more than willing to get their music out there ... even if it is just in a video game.

In fact, with the music industry like it is these garage bands need as much help as they can get. These days it's hard to be a smaller band, the music industry is no longer interested in nurturing young talent in hopes that they will become the next big thing. Instead we get studios that only

Do you remember when MTV actually played music? Yeah, me neither!
go for the music that generates big sales, leaving a lot of bands with cult followings in a terrible situation.

To make matters worse, in this world we live in it's actually very difficult to find new (and interesting) music. These days neither MTV nor MTV 2 plays music, except for a dozen videos that seem to get daily circulation. This is also true when you look at the radio stations whose play list is made up of repeating the same sixteen songs hour after hour. If you're a fan of adventurous music (or really anything that isn't pop or rap) you're completely out of luck. These people looking for good music turn to the internet, they go to local concerts, and they do everything they can to support the indie music scene. But these people are a dying breed, and that's why these garage bands need the help of Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo or anybody else that will throw them a bone.

The new Alien Alright EP is out, but don't listen for it on your local radio station!
Obviously these garage bands aren't appropriate for all video games. I'm certainly not suggesting that London rockers Alien Alright should be providing the soundtrack to the next Tenchu game, but there are an awful lot of games that could benefit from their music. And I'm sure the band would love the exposure, giving him the chance that neither MTV nor the radio will offer them. These songs are cheaper to license and help the musician, everybody wins in this equation.

And it's not just software makers that should be thinking about licensing these indie bands. The Xbox 360's marketplace is full of promotional items, from music videos to interviews about upcoming video games. The one thing it doesn't have, though, is downloadable music. Microsoft has stressed the importance of allowing gamers the chance to change the music whenever they see fit, and a perfect way to get people to do that would be to offer downloadable music from new bands. I'm not talking about the newest American Idol singer signed to BMG Music; I'm talking about offering a place for bands that really need some help.

Believe it or not, this is not a new idea. Eleven years ago Sega offered early Saturn owners a CD sampler full of songs by bands signed to the Seattle-based label,

Sunny Day Real Estate had one of the best CD covers of all time, shouldn't that be enough to make it into a Grand Theft Auto game?
Sub-Pop. In the early 1990s Sub-Pop had a brief run in with success, thanks to a certain three-piece grunge act known as Nirvana. Other bands -- L7, Afghan Whigs, Mudhoney, Babes in Toyland -- had varying degrees of success as well, giving them a lot of indie cred. The Sega Saturn sampler featured hits from The Fastbacks, Sunny Day Real Estate, Six Finger Satellite, and the biggest indie band of the era, Sebadoh. Soon after giving gamers That Virtua Feeling, Sega opted to ignore college rock all together and focus on mainstream talent. But just because Sega tried it doesn't mean it can't work eleven years later.

This plan is good for everybody involved. This would be good for gamers who get exposed to new music, it's great

Shown here is the cover of Sega's first foray into indie music, That Virtua Feeling!
for the artists who finally get heard, it's worthwhile for the game companies because it's cheaper, and most importantly, it fills a void being overlooked by the modern day music industry. The industry of today is not like it was twenty or thirty years ago, it's much more cutthroat and keeps a lot of talent from even having a chance. The video game industry can right that wrong if they wanted to. It's time for these video game developers to remember their humble roots, to sympathize with this struggling artists who just can't get a fair shake.

Bakesale is one of the best albums of all time, and thanks to the Xbox 360 now I can listen to it while playing Dead or Alive 4!
Back to Guitar Hero, I find myself torn on whether RedOctane is doing enough to help this cause. It's great that they plan on making one band's dream come true, but certainly there can't just be one song worthy of being in Guitar Hero II. We're dealing with a medium that offers more than enough room to put hundreds of songs in the game, so how about giving a bunch of garage bands a chance? Just as long as the game also offers the classic songs gamers remember they won't mind if they hear a few dozen new songs from indie bands. Heck, they'll probably like it.

Video game designers, you are the rock stars of our industry. It's time for you to do the right thing and extend your hand to these struggling bands just looking for their big break. MTV won't do it and there's no counting on the radio anymore, it's time for you video game developers to step up and demand better music in your games. Forget the Top 40, it's time to dig a little deeper and give us what we don't know we want. That's right, surprise us!


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