About a month and a half ago, our friends at Harmonix took a break from their ceaseless promotion of The Beatles: Rock Band (our review will post next week) to announce the Rock Band Network (henceforth referred to as RBN). The RBN will enable the owners of rights to music - meaning the artists themselves, record labels, or some other legally binding third party - to convert songs into playable tracks in Rock Band for gamers to download (earning themselves a share of the revenue in the process).
That's the short version. The long version involves authoring software, MIDI conversions, peer reviews, and more things we aren't going to go into here. Fortunately, some more friends of ours - local night rockers the Bon Savants, and, yes, in the interest of disclosure, one of them is related to one of us - are among the many local bands who've been selected as part of the beta test run of this thing, and on their new blog chronicling the experience, they explain everything quite well.
We know, sort of, what the RBN will mean for gamers - namely, that we'll get to play a lot more songs, including a wide-ranging selection from up-and-coming band. We don't really know specifics, but some folks have already talked about how they plan on using it. Sub Pop, for instance, has already announced that it plans to take advantage of the RBN and submit songs from artists on its label.
There's two "known unknowns," though, and both, ultimately, will determine the level of band participation to an extent. The first is whether or not this actually will serve its promise as a new delivery format for "breaking" lesser-known artists. It's based on a tantalizing possibility - get your song into a video game and watch your popularity rise as millions of gamers strum along, becoming intimately familiar with your music in the process. But will that actually happen, or will people just continue to download the bands they already know? We'll have to wait and see.
But what we can learn about is what was the other open question that would concern bands interested in taking advantage of such a thing, which is, basically, how does it work, and how hard is it to actually do? By documenting the experience through a series of posts and videos, the Bon Savants are creating a tutorial of sorts for future band who might be intimidated by the idea of doing all of this themselves. And, from what we can tell, it seems fairly intuitive - at least for anyone who has played the game before.
Good news indeed.