Last month, Harmonix unveiled Rock Band Network, an upcoming service that will allow musicians to get their songs into Rock Band and actually make cold, hard cash by doing so. It’s a groundbreaking project that has the potential to change the face of the music industry. In fact, indie label Sub Pop is already convinced -- A&R executive Tony Kiewel recently said that the company is looking into releasing some of its back catalog (including artists like Nirvana and The Shins), as well as future music, on Rock Band Network; he imagines such a digital release as just “another format alongside vinyl and CD.”
Rock Band Network (Xbox 360/XNA)
Apart from a few extra controls, the version of Reaper that Harmonix is making available to RBN users is functionally identical to the internal tools that the developers themselves will eventually use to author songs (Epps explained that Harmonix isn’t entirely switched over to the new system yet, but some employees, including him, are already using it). “As part of the Rock Band Network, we’re laying our entire MIDI specification bare,” said Epps, so you’ll be working with fully featured, unadulterated software.
I’m not familiar with MIDI authoring programs like Logic Pro or GarageBand, so to me, the basic interface of Reaper looked pretty damn intimidating. Harmonix is offering comprehensive documentation on the RBN Web site with “all the accumulated knowledge that [they have] come up with over the years,” but Epps cautioned, “This is a technical thing you have to do -- this isn’t just ‘mash a bunch of buttons and gems come out.’ You have to have some understanding of music and of audio, because the audio you put in is exactly what’s going to appear in the game.”
Magma’s song info has a separate slot for “Author,” which allows for individuals or groups to be recognized for actually putting a song onto RBN as opposed to creating it. Companies like Rhythm Authors have already sprung up, offering their services to musicians who want to sell their songs through RBN but don’t know their way around authoring software. The RBN store will let you browse by author, so such companies will be able to grow their reputations as authors.
The final part of the Rock Band Network experience is creators.rockband.com. Currently, the full functionality of the Web site is available only to RBN beta testers, but upon launch, it’s going to be the home for the RBN authoring community. There, authors will post new songs, which will be in one of two states: playtest and peer review. When a song is in the playtest stage, the author is looking for comments and suggestions from players on how to refine the track (each song will have its own forum thread).
It’s apparent that Rock Band Network will require a significant investment of time and money, but I imagine that it’ll be worth it for musicians who are looking for a new avenue to sell their songs. Who knows? In the future, we may see lesser known artists put out Rock Band Network versions of their music day and date with the CD and iTunes releases.
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