Not being a gamer myself, I am a little behind the times on this Dierks-related news. It is a well-known fact among DB fans that Dierks and the guys in the band love spending their free time playing video games on the bus. Among those games might be the popular Guitar Hero and/or Rock Band--especially now that one of their very own recent Number One songs--Free And Easy (Down The Road I Go) has been added to the game's playlist.
Lori Hollanbaugh wrote a very comprehensvie article, that outlines the huge impact the Rock Band phenomenon can and is having on country music artists' careers:
Pickers and Power Chords: Country Joins the Rock Band and Guitar Hero Revolutions.
As Guitar Hero and Rock Band build their epic momentum as video games, their customer base is expanding beyond wannabe musicians of all ages into a whole new marketplace for lovers of Country Music. With the introduction in December of a "five-pack" that allows downloads of Country tracks into the Rock Band playlist, gamers can now jam out to some of their favorite Country tunes along with songs by rock acts. In January, Guitar Hero World Tour debuted Country Rock Track Pack featuring Brooks & Dunn's "Hillbilly Deluxe," Willie Nelson's "On the Road Again," Brad Paisley's "Ticks" and Rascal Flatts' "Me and My Gang."
An alt-Country release followed in February, available for purchase and download from the Rock Band Music Store catalog. In April, Toby Keith made his Rock Band debut with the "Toby Keith 6-Pack," featuring "Should've Been A Cowboy," "How Do You Like Me Now," "Beer For My Horses," "Who's Your Daddy," "I Love This Bar" and "She's a Hottie."
While it might appear that Country is a little late at joining the party, it has actually been targeted from the earliest days of product development, according to Steve Schnur, Worldwide Executive of Music and Marketing for Electronic Arts, the company that distributes Rock Band. "Country has always been part of the marketing vision of EA, even more so since I began aggressively featuring Country acts in franchise titles like NASCAR and The Sims," said Schnur. "We also knew that Rock Band was going to be unlike any other gaming phenomenon.
Two summers ago, six months before the game came out, I arranged a presentation for my colleagues on the CMA Board. Clarence Spalding [President, Spalding Entertainment] was one of the very first people to respond enthusiastically, and I arranged a meeting between him, myself and Paul DeGooyer [Senior VP, Electronic Games & Music, MTV] to discuss marketing Rock Band on tours. CMT, as well as other artists and managers, quickly got involved. I'm happy and proud to say that Country Music understood this game's potential immediately."
MTV Games and Harmonix, the companies that developed, programmed and now manufacture the games, chose the five songs that appear on the Going Country collection: Dierks Bentley's "Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go)," Brooks & Dunn's "Hillbilly Deluxe," Dixie Chicks' "Sin Wagon," Miranda Lambert's "Gunpowder and Lead" and Brad Paisley's "Mud on the Tires."
Their subsequent "Alt Country 01" five-pack includes Neko Case's "People Got a Lotta Nerve," Drive By Truckers' "Three Dimes Down," Steve Earle's "Satellite Radio," a live recording by the Old 97s of "Timebomb" and Lucinda Williams' "Can't Let Go." "
As a longtime A&R guy and fan of both rock and Country, I think they couldn't have picked better tracks," said Schnur, who served as Sr. VP, A&R at Capitol Records prior to joining EA. "A great riff is a great riff no matter where it comes from, and we all know that some of the badass musicians on the planet are playing in Country bands. Anyone who thinks these Country songs won't be as challenging or fun to play as the game's rock tracks is in for a huge surprise."
Country artists have been fans of interactive music games long before their tracks were made available to Rock Band. Dierks Bentley expressed his enthusiasm for the game in a CMT interview, and Brooks & Dunn manager Spalding introduced Rock Band to Ronnie Dunn. "Steve knows that I love the game," said Spalding. "My son, daughter and I play it all the time. We downloaded the Country package that included 'Hillbilly Deluxe.' I had Ronnie and Reba [McEntire] over to the house before Christmas and we all played. They were more interested in playing drums than singing - go figure! Ronnie went out the next day and bought one for a Christmas gift. It's very infectious - that's why I took the one I had at the office home. I couldn't get any work done for playing 'All Right Now.'"
Even more noteworthy than the popularity of these games is the potential for encouraging purchase of music recordings. Microsoft reports that players of Guitar Hero and Rock Band purchase an average 3.8 million songs a month and have bought more than 45 million tracks for both games to date. According to data compiled by The NPD Group and Nielsen SoundScan, Guitar Hero and Rock Band brought in $935 million in 2007, well above the $835 million earned through digital music downloads.
An NPD report noted that in the third quarter of 2008, 22 percent of those who purchased music in any format and 35 percent of all consumers under age 35 played "a music-based video game, such as Rock Band or Guitar Hero" and that "many of these music gamers reported that the gaming experience had a positive outcome, such as creating music discovery or triggering a digital music or CD purchase." "The majority of artist income comes now from licensing, publishing, sponsorship and performance," said Schnur. "Today, all artists want to be a part of new opportunities that allow them to be heard by the largest possible audience.
And being associated with a phenomenal game makes an artist's image - as well as their records, concert tickets, merchandise and publishing - an even bigger part of their fans' lives. "Certainly the success of Rock Band and Guitar Hero has enabled some unprecedented deals," he continued. "Just look at AC/DC, Aerosmith and Metallica. Record companies and retailers have seen sales of songs by scores of bands increase 200 to 300 percent after their inclusion in both these games.
In fact, Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, which has grossed more than $50 million since its release last June, has resulted in more revenue for the band than any individual album they've released in their 38-year career. The record business may be ailing, but the music business, led by games like Rock Band, is now entering the most profitable and creative epoch of our time. And I love the fact that Country will now literally and figuratively help change the game forever."
Country artists should definitely benefit from the cross exposure they could receive by being part of this story. "It no longer matters what kind of music you pledge allegiance to," said Schnur. "Everyone loves playing Skynyrd and Creedence songs on Rock Band. I like to think that there are Brooks & Dunn fans out there who have discovered The Killers through playing the game. And I'm really looking forward to Megadeth fans discovering Miranda Lambert.
Best of all, this is just the beginning. Gamers have always craved a music-themed experience because music has always been an integral part of games. But what's amazing about Rock Band is that it has single-handedly created a whole new medium of interactive music discovery. Have you ever played Rock Band with a 12-year-old? It's jaw-dropping to see them rock out to Molly Hatchet, get excited about Dixie Chicks and want to download more songs by Brad Paisley. It's an extraordinary new connection that reactivates the power and promise of music like never before.
Rock Band has, and will continue to, change the way we experience music forever." Anyone looking for evidence of how much the games have already influenced pop culture needs to look no further than Brad Paisley's video with Keith Urban for "Start a Band." In the clip, two young boys duke it out on their axes in a fictitious Guitar Showdown video game. These images mirror Schnur's conviction that younger generations may discover their music more from video screens than from radios or computers. "To my mind, there is no longer any distinction between rock and Country fans when it comes to gaming," he said. "That's not just because the lines of the genres themselves are blurred.
Today's teens have never known a world without Internet, cell phones or video games. In fact, they are an entire generation raised on video games as a major entertainment source in their lives. Consequently, they've discovered much of their music through gaming consoles. Thirty-five years after the first electronic blips of Pong, video games and the music we can deliver with them have become the most essential cultural force of our time. And within the next few years, the ability of video games to expose music of any genre will be beyond anything the industry or the consumer has ever known before."