MTV To Launch New Track Upload Program For 'Rock Band' July 17, 2009 - Digital and Mobile
By Antony Bruno, Denver
Most recording artists would love to have their music available on MTV Networks' "Rock Band" videogame. But MTV's Harmonix unit, the developer of "Rock Band," simply hasn't had the time or staff to program the vast number of songs it would like to include in the game.
That's about to change. Later this year, MTV plans to launch a groundbreaking initiative called the Rock Band Network that will enable any artist-unsigned emerging act, indie cult fave or major-label superstar-to submit songs for possible inclusion in the game.
The Rock Band Network recently started a closed beta trial, which MTV expects to expand to a public beta test in August. The company hopes to open the Rock Band Network store before year's end. Songs available through the new store, which will remain separate from the existing "Rock Band" store, will be initially available for download to users of Microsoft's Xbox 360 game console. MTV expects to eventually make the popular tracks available for use on the Sony PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii game systems.
"We've figured out how to make it so anybody who owns and controls masters and publishing can put music into ["Rock Band"] at their own pace," says MTV Games senior VP of electronic games and music Paul DeGooyer. "We're talking about a set of serious professional tools to allow people on the front line of writing and recording songs to completely control their destiny with respect to interactive products and then giving them direct access to the download store."
Rather than deal with Harmonix directly, artists and labels will submit songs to a community of Harmonix-trained freelance game developers and other interested programmers who will prepare the tracks for "Rock Band." Additionally, labels can either hire trained developers or school their existing employees to do the work in-house.
Songs submitted through this process must then be reviewed by other developers to check for playability, inappropriate lyrics, copyright infringement and so on. Harmonix will post approved tracks to an in-game download store separate from its existing "Rock Band" store where creators can set their own price (50 cents to $3 per song) and receive 30% of any resulting sales. Gamers will also be able to demo 30-second samples of each track.
Although originally designed to give indie and unsigned artists a way to sell music through the game, MTV quickly realized the Rock Band Network could be used to clear the bottleneck for major-label content as well. While the Harmonix team has grown from fewer than 10 programmers to a few dozen since MTV acquired the videogame developer in 2006, the company can only add about 10 new songs per week to sell through the "Rock Band" store. The same team has also been handling the development work for the upcoming "The Beatles: Rock Band," due in September
"Once we flip on the infrastructure, we can go from a few dozen people capable of doing this work to hundreds of people or more," Harmonix founder/CEO Alex Rigopulos says. "We can ramp up by a factor of 10 or more the rate of production of content."
So far, Harmonix developers have made about 700 songs available to download and play on the game. Those titles have sold a combined 50 million downloads through the game, demonstrating an ability to drive sales that has other artists and labels itching to have their music included.
Sub Pop Records head of A&R Tony Kiewel says the label is expecting to submit songs from its upcoming fall releases as well as its bigger releases from the past two years.
"It's very exciting news to us," Kiewel says. "It's important to participate in every possible revenue stream available. Whatever gets your music heard helps your overall awareness and ability to sell records and downloads.
"Artists could use the Rock Band Network to upload their entire discography to the game or release an album through the game day-and-date with a new CD release or the start of a tour."If there's a really great song we love, we'd promote that, because that helps everybody," DeGooyer says. "We're also able to see what's selling well. If stuff has some heat on it, we may pick up on it . . .
If Judas Priest decided to put their whole catalog in the Rock Band Network, we would promote the heck out of that."