Dec 17, 2008

Entertainment - Metallica turns to Guitar Hero

Greg Cochrane
Newsbeat music reporter

It's hardly a secret that physical sales of albums have been steadily falling for some years now.

As a result bands are increasingly turning to new outlets to get their music heard and ultimately, sold.

Of the options, interactive computer game Guitar Hero - alongside Rock Band and Grand Theft Auto - has proved to be one of the most successful of these.

The first version of the game - where users play along to the riffs of their favourite bands - only launched in 2005 but the series has already sold over 23 million copies worldwide.

Significantly, Metallica have announced they'll follow in the footsteps of Aerosmith and release their own version of Guitar Hero in 2009.

"Guitar Hero - that's about guitar and about riffs and banging your head," drummer Lars Ulrich tells Newsbeat.

"There's a few people that say the same thing about Metallica - I think Metallica and Guitar Hero is the perfect marriage."

Indeed, it seems only natural that the kings of heavy metal have been invited.

"28 years into a career, to still be able to do things that are somewhat new and unknown to you and still cutting edge - it's a great opportunity."

While the game - released in April - could potentially be one of the market's biggest, Ulrich's own introduction to the game came through his children.

"Guitar Hero showed up on my radar about a year, year and a half ago," he says.

"I have a 10-year-old, a seven-year-old and started realising that this was actually a great way for them to be exposed to music."


Last May, the band were approached by the game's developers and asked to curate their own version.

"That was what we in Metallica's world call a no-brainer. That was one of those decisions that took about 12 seconds to facilitate."

Since programming began, the Los Angeles foursome were involved at every stage.

"We were involved in terms of song selection, in terms of graphics, in terms of storylines," says Ulrich. "We were very hands on in all those areas."

Much to their delight, the band were given a blank canvas.

"I sat down and approached it like a show - a set list," he explains.

"There's a few songs that you would probably be tarred and feathered if you didn't play and weren't in the game - the so called hits.

"Then obviously some deeper album tracks and some cover songs - catering to the Guitar Hero shredder phenomenon. [There's] every different facet of Metallica's career."

The game will also feature 14 other acts "hard rock bands who're friends of ours" hand picked by the band, including Foo Fighters, Slayer and Queen.

Metallica now front a pack of artists looking to progressive ways to release music. But it hasn't always been that way, in 2000 Metallica famously became involved in a legal wrangle with download service Napster.

"In five years time or 10 years time I think we'll find that this platform of reaching the kids and a way of getting music to the fans is probably one that is going be very viable - a pretty major source for people to get access to music.

"I think that bands and artists will be releasing records directly into Guitar Hero and all their competitors platforms and so on over the next few years," he says.

It's a trend that Metallica are happy to embrace.

Lars Ulrich does have one admission though.

"We haven't played the game as a band yet. My kids completely obliterate me at this game and embarrass me."

Sales boost

Ian McClellan is the game's senior brand manager. He says the effect it can have on a band's sales is massive.

"What the game has done is given another channel for people to enjoy music," he says.

"One of the ways that we do that is by introducing people to bands they might not of heard of before.

"Dragonforce, who featured on Guitar Hero III, saw their downloads rise by almost 300%. It's certainly something that bands have some success with."

Indeed, with a proven track record of boosting sales of physical records, some of the planet's most well known bands are now approaching them.

"Some of the biggest names in the music business want to be on Guitar Hero - to give their consumers the chance to put themselves in their shoes."

Bloc Party have also been featured in the game:

"I guess it's a good thing," says Kele Okereke. "It's like being on an advert or something."

American indie band Weezer have also praised the impact of appearing on the game.

Their track My Name Is Jonas saw sales increase by 49% after featuring in the game.

"It's always nice to sell songs and be out there in the world's eye," says Weezer bassist Scott Shriner.

"That wasn't how I thought we were going to get our music heard. I think we were thinking we were going to sell records the old fashioned way."

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