Rock Band Network Brings Music From Anyone, Segregates Market

Harmonix and MTV have announced the Rock Band Network, which will allow any artist to add their songs to Rock Band using the same tools Harmonix uses. This offers opportunities for both artists and players, as Rock Band can be used as another distribution channel for both upcoming and established artists, and because players will have a near endless supply of new content to play.

It seems like the logical next step for music games and reinforces previous statements that Rock Band 2 was to be considered a music platform. A closed beta will begin in late July, and the store itself will be open later this year, a period in which Rock Band should pick up a great deal of momentum from The Beatles: Rock Band and LEGO Rock Band.

To create and publish their songs on Rock Band, artists have to pay $99US/year to pay for an XNA Creators Club Premium account, and download Reaper Digital Workstation along with Harmonix’s free plugins in order to place the notes that gamers will be playing. A peer review system will rate each track’s quality in terms of playability and will check for profanity.

Artists will be able to price their content at 50c to $3.00 per track, and will take 30% of sales, paid quarterly. (Single Rock Band DLC tracks cost $1.99, though albums and song packs reduce the price.) Players can demo (hear, or play?) 30-second samples of each track. I presume that artists will not be able to release free tracks because there’s no money in it for Harmonix/MTV, and in any case, if a song is 50c and the 30-second sample isn’t totally horrible, it’ll sell like hotcakes.

Content will be released daily, meaning that each day players could find something they’ve long been hoping for, and that the range of music will expand greatly, both in terms of artists and genres. The RBN store will likely need a robust search function, given the amount of content that will likely be released. This also means that it will be easy for artists to release an album day-and-date with their CD, vinyl, and iTunes releases.

Music games were already a method for people to hear previously unheard music (at least for me), and the RBN expands on this by allowing indie and upcoming artists to harness that power. I expect that RBN will make Rock Band itself more popular, particularly since recent sales data for the genre has shown an all-around decline in sales; this suggests that people aren’t excited about buying what they see to be the same thing over and over again. (Guitar Hero: World Tour has a music-creation tool in-game which essentially allows you to create MIDI tracks. There are some cool tracks on there, all free. But compared to using the official tools from master recordings, it’s nothing.)

There are problems, though.

Since the Rock Band Network uses Microsoft’s XNA development platform and their Creators Club community, and since Microsoft took some significant steps to help Harmonix get the RBN running, it appears to be exclusive to Xbox 360 owners, with “select songs” making it to the PS3 and Wii stores. As far as I can tell, this is the only reason – surely the files are the same across platforms. If someone’s dropped a couple of hundred dollars on a full band kit for the PS3 or the Wii, they’re pretty much locked in. (Yes, this is my position.) It’s disappointing, and harms publishers as well as consumers, as it reduces the potential reach for the artists and reduces the value they’ll get for taking the time to publish a track.

Authors will be able to audition (test) their tracks in Rock Band 2.2, an upcoming patch. This is a problem for potential Australian creators, who will have to import Rock Band 2, as almost a year after US release there is still no word on an Australian release date.

Sub Pop Records already plans to convert their entire catalogue into RBN tracks.

[via Billboard, Rolling Stone]


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