Why Tech Pundits Should Just Shut Up About The Music Business And Maybe Do Some Research For Once In Their Lives

noah | February 24, 2009 2:00 am

We’ve taken aim at Wired‘s Panglossian attitude when it comes to the relationship between the Internet and the music business before, mainly because the powers that be at Conde Nast’s ever-shrinking tech bible just make it too easy. Witness the magazine’s latest, and somehow most witless, entrant to its ever-growing “we can write about music, honest!” canon, “Why The Music Industry Hates Guitar Hero,” which somehow manages to be offensive, wrong, and a testament to why Wired should maybe think about scrapping its print edition and just go online. All at once!

Reading this little rant by Crowdsourcing author Jeff Howe only serves to inflame my ire at self-proclaimed tech pundits, who seem to be too busy thinking up inane buzzwords and jetting to and from Powerpoint engagements at conferences to actually take some time out and do research beyond their privileged little bubble where every artist can “make money on the road” or at least get a boatload of YouTube views. Let’s break it down.

The topic is an old one—so old that it’s actually irrelevant now. This little bit of drivel appears in the March 2009 issue of Wired, even though it’s pegged to a tantrum that Warner Music Group’s Edgar Bronfman had all the way back in August. Of 2008. What’s happened since then? Well, sales for Guitar Hero and Rock Band have cratered. Oops. So much for the future being predictable!

Someone let these sentences go into print without fact-checking them at all: “The success of these games is good news for the music biz. They’re breathing new life into old bands (Weezer, anyone?) and helping popularize new ones.” Yeah, Weezer was really toiling in obscurity before Guitar Hero came around. “Beverly Hills” wasn’t all over pop radio back in 2005, and the band sure wasn’t selling lots of copies of its albums. On the bright side, at least everyone in America has heard of Dragonforce.

But wait, there’s more—in the same paragraph! “They’re even becoming a significant distribution outlet for new releases. So the record labels ought to be ecstatic, right? Nope. They’re whining over licensing fees.” Never mind that instead of saying that these games are “significant” distribution outlets, Howe could have taken time out to explain how, or why, “significant” might be an accurate adjective. It wouldn’t have even taken that many words to provide just one example! (Could that be because it’s not true? Or at least not easily proven, and better illustrated by a sweeping generalization?)

There are two artists mentioned in the entire piece—both of whom probably wouldn’t have made as much money off their in-game presence were it not for that dadgum music industry. Note how the battle here is pitched as industry vs. industry, with the artists whose music is, let’s be honest, the real reason people are (or were) buying those games being little more than collateral.

Or straw men! In addition to the ill-advised Weezer shout-out, Howe notes that “Aerosmith has reportedly earned more from Guitar Hero: Aerosmith than from any single album in the band’s history.” (How did Howe first hear about Aerosmith and Weezer? Probably from their major-label-distributed and -marketed albums.) Helpfully, the Web monkeys at Wired have provided click-through access to the Aerosmith claim, which actually came from a rep for the game’s publisher and was not actually confirmed by Aerosmith’s management themselves:

“[Their] version of ‘Guitar Hero’ generated far more in revenues than any Aerosmith album ever has,” said Kotick. “Merchandising, concert sales, their ability to sign a new contract [have] all been unbelievably influenced by their participation in ‘Guitar Hero.'”

So it wasn’t just from an advance on Guitar Hero—that money came in that ever-elusive currency of “exposure.” Huh. That context sure does provide a vastly different picture—especially when you realize that Aerosmith hasn’t been on tour since 2007, and Guitar Hero: Aerosmith came out in the summer of 2008.

There is more, but I certainly am not being paid enough to double as Wired‘s fact-checking department right now. Although given the amount of music-related inanity the publication in question has shoveled out over the past few months, maybe they should hire me! I can always use some extra scratch, even if I have to get some of my payment in used Zunes.

Why The Music Industry Hates Guitar Hero [Wired]