Harmonix's LoPiccolo talks Rock Band Network

Rock Band studio's VP explains how garage bands meet garage-game development in the user-made song-upload service; beta set for September start.

Last month, Harmonix and MTV Games announced Rock Band Network, a new way for established and aspiring musicians to get their own songs into the rhythm game franchise. Amidst the promise of a new business model that cultivates unknown talent, lowers barriers to entry, gives musicians a new way to earn money, and reshapes the way people view rhythm games, some of the details might have been glossed over.

The Rock Band Network Store will let gamers browse by a number of categories.

Harmonix vice president of product development Greg LoPiccolo recently took some time to talk to GameSpot about a number of the more technical details of the Rock Band Network. Along the way, he provided insight into the peer-editing process, the need to have separate Rock Band and Rock Band Network stores, and how not even Harmonix itself is sure how this initiative will play out once it goes live.

GameSpot: OK, suppose I'm a struggling indie band with an album I want to release on Rock Band Network. Take me through the process in a nutshell.

Greg LoPiccolo: OK, I get myself an Xbox 360, a Gold [Xbox Live] account, and I sign up for a Microsoft XNA account, which costs me $99 a year. Then me, or somebody in the band, downloads the specs from the Rock Band Network Web site and reads up on what to do. First, you have to have the multitrack recordings of your songs. You need to call the multitracks back up and mix them out into multitrack stems according to the Rock Band specs. Then, some enterprising soul has to open up an MIDI sequencer [like Reaper] and chart all the note information.

We have a PC tool called Magma that you download from the site, and once all of your multitrack stems and MIDI files are complete, you load them into the Magma tool, which does error checking and tells you if you've got viable stuff. Then you use Magma to transfer it into your Xbox 360, where you can audition it. So you basically play-test your own song until you're happy with it.

Once it's fully polished, you log on and upload it to creators.rockband.com, where all the other Creators Club folks can download it and evaluate it. It's a play test and review process where people in the closed forums can give you feedback about your song, whether it was fun, too difficult, or so forth. Then you submit it for formal peer review, which is the second phase of play test. It's more technically oriented, where people are checking for copyright infringement and profanity and technical completeness. Once it passes that, which is sort of an automated process, it gets automatically dropped into the Rock Band Network Store and people can go buy it.

GS: Is there a way for bands that aren't technically inclined to have other people do the heavy lifting for them?

GL: There is. There's a whole cottage industry of independent authoring people cropping up. If you go onto the Rock Band Network, there's already a fair amount of networking taking place in the forums. These people are actively soliciting work, and various kinds of contractual arrangements are evolving. Some people are interested in doing this as a fee for service, where you just pay them money and they author your stuff and give it back to you. Other companies are exploring ideas whereby they submit it and get the revenue, then share the revenue with you.

GS: So you're basically serving as a Craigslist almost; just connecting people and not making any kind of testament to the quality of work that you'll receive or guaranteeing anything?

GL: That's exactly right. The arrangement we're making with people is whoever submits to us is representing that they have the rights to the material they're submitting, and those are the people we pay royalties to. Whatever happens outside those walls is up to individuals to decide between them.

Wish there was a Jazz Band game? Well this is probably as close as you'll get.

GS: Is any of this automated? Will the tools you release suggest note charts for songs? Can they take an expert note track and then use an algorithm to break it down for hard, medium, and easy tracks?

GL: Generally speaking, we don't do automatic track generation. The easy, medium, and hard tracks are definitely less work than expert, since they are usually a subset of expert. But creating good tracks for the other difficulties is something of an art and one of the areas that we are focusing a lot of attention on with our documentation and assistance to our beta community.

The one exception to this is drums, where we have a tool built into Reaper that will auto-track expert drums for you on a first pass. However, you'll probably still want to mess around with it a bit. Certainly for animation and lighting scripting, lip synch...it'll auto-generate a track for you, and then you can override a lot of that information if you want to get into that.

Our sense is that the authoring community itself is probably going to be writing their own plug-ins and sharing them and so forth. We expect the tools to evolve in the user community pretty quickly.

GS: Will established labels or bands use Rock Band Network? What advantage would it have for them?

GL: Yes, we're in close touch with a number of labels. We've seen a huge amount of interest. A lot of labels have been presenting stuff to us for inclusion as regular downloadable content, but we simply don't have the bandwidth here to author up a huge flood of stuff that people are interested in getting into the game. In many cases, labels will just take matters into their own hands and either farm out the authoring or hire people in-house to do it themselves, so we expect quite a bit of mainstream material to end up on the network, as well as unknown stuff that people do in their garages.

GS: Do you expect this to change the way you go through your normal week-to-week Rock Band Store releases?

GL: Not really. That's actually planned pretty far in advance. We have a long list of stuff. Quite frankly, this is new territory for us as well, and part of what we're interested in doing is sitting back and watching it unfold. It may well have some impact that we can't predict, but right now our DLC plans pretty much remain as they are.

GS: How are you going to keep the overall quality of offerings on Rock Band Network good enough to attract people? Could I upload 1,000 tracks of atonal nonsense or handclap solos, so long as they didn't cause the machine to crash?

GL: It won't make it through the peer-review process. Everything has to be reviewed and approved in detail by a finite number of Creators Club peers.

GS: So those peers are filtering based on the quality of the song, how fun it is to play...

GL: Well, the primary filtration is on technical issues, making sure it's playable on every instrument in every difficulty, it doesn't contain copyrighted material, it doesn't contain profanity, and so forth. We're not interested at the outset in placing a lot of constraints on what people want to do. We're going to monitor it as it goes. Things that are unplayable, we don't expect to make it through review. Beyond that, there may be things that don't match our personal taste, but that stuff we're happy to let the market decide for themselves.

GS: Will it be possible to release cover versions of songs through Rock Band Network?

GL: It will not. The basic distinction is you have to have publishing permission to submit to us. If you own the publishing and recording rights to the songs you submit, then you're good, but generally that won't be the case for covers.

GS: But you'll have some function in place so a band that does have permission to release a cover version like that can be able to get around it?

GL: Yeah. A lot of it's automated, but in any kind of special case situation, we do have humans available here to talk to. If you can represent the information to do it, we'll evaluate it in good faith, and if it adds up, we'll go forward.

The Magma tool will let users set the vital data of their Rock Band Network tracks, including the price.

GS: Will users be able to preview songs and post user-feedback reviews of them to let others know what's good and what's not?

GL: Anytime a song is approved for release, it'll get an auto-generated page on the Web site with all the salient information. You can do a streaming preview on the Web site, and any song on the Rock Band Network Store on the console, you can play the first minute of it for free.

GS: How are you going to help bands promote their songs? Do you have any specifics yet?

GL: Not really. We're still working all that out. We'll have a certain amount of editorial oversight, song of the week, label of the week. We'll call out new releases in the store itself, and what we expect to do is evolve the Web site over time. There are good sorting tools, so you can sort by genre, by band, or who did the note charting. In the store built into the game, it's very easy to zero in on the content you're looking for.

Longer term, we want to have a sophisticated recommendation engine built into the Web site itself and turn that more into a community. The first cut will not have those features.

GS: These songs will go up on the Rock Band Network Store instead of the standard Rock Band Store. What is the need for the division?

GL: It's really a different set of songs. The regular Rock Band store is pretty well tuned. It's a well-established format we don't want to mess with. And just mechanically, to build a user interface for a store that could hold potentially 1,000 songs but is easily navigable with a console controller is a bigger challenge than we'd anticipated for in the original Rock Band Store. So we had to completely rethink the user interface.

GS: What potential problems are you mindful of with such an arrangement? Do you expect problems to arise where bands have some songs on the standard Rock Band Store and others on the Rock Band Network store?

GL: That could happen for certain acts. I don't think we see that necessarily as a big deal. But we're willing to say up front that we don't understand every aspect of how this is going to play out. We're very excited about the creative opportunity this creates for the bands participating, but it's a work in progress. But we think we thought through all the basics in terms of the experience you'll have on day one when we throw the doors open.

GS: Will bands be able to pull their tracks from the Rock Band Network if they want?

GL: They will. Any they've already sold will remain sold, but you can sort of cancel your offer at any time.

Players will be able to try out their works-in-progress in the Network's Audition mode.

GS: Will bands retain all other rights to the songs and commercialize them however they want?

GL: Yes, the license we're looking for is a non-exclusive license.

GS: So if they wanted to turn around and sell it to a Guitar Hero game?

GL: We don't place any restrictions [on that]. We're just looking for a license to market it through the Rock Band Network.

GS: Will users need to keep up an active membership in the XNA Creators Club in order to claim their royalties on these tracks?

GL: No, they can let their membership lapse and still collect royalties.

GS: What are the international plans for Rock Band Network? Will these songs be available simultaneously worldwide? Can the artists control which territories can download their music?

GL: There's nothing in place that would allow someone to determine region. If it's in the Rock Band Network Store, it's in the Rock Band Network Store.

GS: What can you tell me about the launch schedule? A late August beta start was the last you said about it.

GL: The beta has been moved to late September. We haven't said yet when the full launch is going to be.

GS: And will it launch in just North America to start with?

GL: Our first phase is creators in the US only, with songs released in US, Canada, and Europe (except Germany). We are limited for now to regions that XNA supports (hence the lack of Germany) but plan to expand our territories as soon as it's reasonable or us to do so.

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Discussion

48 comments
Drower
Drower

"There's nothing in place that would allow someone to determine region. If it's in the Rock Band Network Store, it's in the Rock Band Network Store. " I love that, as I hate regions. I'm really hoping they will release this fully globally, so that we can enjoy bands from any country in the world.

kciking1980
kciking1980

Some people on here seem to think this will only be bands that no one really knows. The truth is it will feature all kinds bands known and not. Because the sells of bands albums after they are on rock band sky rocket, there is a long line now and harmonix does not have time for all of them. This new feature will openwill allow bands to do them selves and make some money. I think its a great idea

YIRock
YIRock

this is gonna be way better than wat GH had to offer. im really looking forward to seeing some new bands and seeing wat talent is hiding somewhere out there. Juanes needs to be in the game too =)!!!!!!

KobayashiEQ
KobayashiEQ

What do i care, especially seeing i can't buy RB2 here in Aus. Sure it will be fun by 2012 if they get around to releasing it here by then :p

jazilla
jazilla

Does anyone remember that the last Guitar Hero game had something like this in it? Yes? No? No one uses it because MIDI is seriously a pain to use. Also, do you really have a desire to play music by an artist you know nothing about for $2 a track? I don't. I don't even want to pay $2 a track for Beatles songs. I would rather learn how to play Beatles songs on a REAL guitar.

Bio-G
Bio-G

@dragonmaster335 and Aubergusterfan im also latino and there are some great bands like PUYA,QBO,ALLISON,BRUJERIA,DESCOMUNAL etc. that people arround the globe who likes ROCK will enjoy! the good thing about this is US the gamers would be able to enjoy music from other parts of the world..

RedSoxfan67
RedSoxfan67

Im thinking of the start of a flame war

LarkAnderson
LarkAnderson moderator staff

Can't wait to see what comes out of this!

dragonmaster335
dragonmaster335

@ubergusterfan Yes, definitely. I'm latino and I've wanted some Juanes in the game, it'd be fun as hell. His band plays solos and all that :-D

Mr_arizona
Mr_arizona

If I wanted some publicity I would put a whole album up for free.

RaddaRaddaRadda
RaddaRaddaRadda

@_Burn You may have something there. Indeed, the PS3 doesn't have a system like XNA in place for users uploading their own games/content, though there is support for Guitar Hero World Tour's music creation tools. I realize though, this is a different thing, with RBN users requiring payment and whatnot. Hopefully this issue is resolved; I don't think Sony would be one to intentionally keep their crowd from utilizing RBN.

_Burn
_Burn

People, it's only partially exclusive, and that's only (supposedly) going to last for a limited time (and not because of Microsoft). The actual testing/creating/etc. will be limited to 360 users only. Songs (unknown if all of them or just top-sellers) are supposed to be made available for the PS3. I can't remember exactly what the supposed reasoning for the delay/dis-allowance of the actual testing/creation process being enabled with the PS3, but I think it has something to do with the PS3 not currently being capable of supporting what is needed for everything to work.

thuman123
thuman123

something that has as big as a potential as RBN does shouldn't be exclusive to just one console

SorrowSnake
SorrowSnake

PS3 and Wii should also have this . Xbox 360 has to many exclusive game's but some of them deserve to be exclusive for 360 cuz they already suck and why make them look even worse on another console??! This game should be unexclusive for the 360.

fester420
fester420

the 360 exclusivity kills it for for a lot of people. I think this is an awesome idea and would love to be a part of it but, if i were an artist, I would like to share with everybody, not just 360 owners. I know a lot of great local bands that I would love to put RB tracks together for but I am in the midst of boycotting microsoft altogether.

RaddaRaddaRadda
RaddaRaddaRadda

Oh, wait, here's the footnote from the RBN page: "Select songs may also appear on PS3". Maybe not crying "sell out"... but at least thinking it...

RaddaRaddaRadda
RaddaRaddaRadda

Correct me if I'm wrong, but it was my understanding that tracks would be available on multiple systems, but one needed to purchase an XNA account because Microsoft requires one to be able to sell content through the Marketplace. I expect to at least be able to *play* these tracks on my PS3; if not, then let the cries of "sell out" begin!

OnlyKurial
OnlyKurial

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

bradocki
bradocki

Again the exclusivity to xbox 360, as long as they keep that thinking they gonna fail trying to push ppl to buy something that they don't want to. But anyways i don't like that rock band network idea because we already have many crapy songs on the official rb store and now there will be more crap to come. Harmonix should listen to their customers and make the songs that ppl want available, so many cool bands should be in the game and are not, instead they keep releasing songs that are not famous at all. I keep checking their forums everyweek for something good to dwld but i just got disapointed every time...

thetravman
thetravman

Bring it to the Wii and/or Ps3 please. I'd really like to share our stuff, but I don't plan to get a 360.

jeremyc99999
jeremyc99999

A different website is reporting that tracks will be available for the 360 and the PS3, but not for the Wii. That works for me, considering all the dlc on my PS3 already, too much to make the switch to the 360 and buy all new plastic instruments.

Narutofan30
Narutofan30

If this isnt on PS Harmonix has gone 2 far!

Beastcake
Beastcake

Shame we can't see any covers but I'm very excited to see what indie artists can do.

Frankasti
Frankasti

Xbox 360 only... ... ... ... ... :(

DP1130
DP1130

This is going to change this genre forever... wait and see. This is uncharted territory here, and a AWESOME avenue for bands to get thier stuff out there. I can't wait.

pntbllrspdr
pntbllrspdr

If Harmonix wasn't so amazing I would be pretty pissed that this won't be on the PS3..

cutmaclass1
cutmaclass1

@Basher9 Microsoft didn't pay for this thing to be exclusive to the 360. Microsoft just happened to be the only console-maker with a standardized independent games creation community (as in, XNA). If you get butt hurt about the Wii and the PS3 not having this, blame Nintendo and Sony for not pursuing this avenue. It's their fault.

okassar
okassar

PWNAGE!!!!More awesome DLC for a lower price.

TylrKakarot1
TylrKakarot1

Jazilla: It appears you don't understand how this works, nor did you pay ANY attention to the interview or information available on the RBN. The RBN allows REAL ARTISTS to upload their REAL SONGS onto the store and sell them. Guitar Hero has a completely different system of allowing users to create songs in-game using premade sounds, but that is almost completely different than the RBN. Please, before you spew your ignorance at least read the freakin' interview.

iKingz
iKingz

I think it's safe to say microsoft dangled money in Harmonix's faces, again.

jazilla
jazilla

This is completely laughable. Guitar Hero tried to do this where you could make your own tracks. The problem is with the MIDI. Very few people know how to use it. Even if you know how to do multi-track recording, use MIDI, sample and burn CD's etc. , there is no point to do this except as a novelty. People that don't know how to do this won't do it, because of the hours it takes to learn and the EXORBITANT cost to put all of this together. "Garage band" is a bad term for all of this.

raahsnavj
raahsnavj

RB, I need a better way to sort my music collection please... especially with even more songs coming that I'm more than likely going to try.

GrowlanserDX
GrowlanserDX

Nice, im glad there's one game that wants to help out upcoming artists

GrowlanserDX
GrowlanserDX

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

ubergusterfan
ubergusterfan

And I think it's about time we see some Latino songs released. I am not Latino myself, but my wife is, and I know she'd love to see some Bachata or Cumbia to rock to. Or even some Latino Rock, like Mana, Kalimba, or Camila.

mrsnowy
mrsnowy

awesome!!! this is why i love rock band! it commits itself more to real musicians rather than guitar posers

Dire_Weasel
Dire_Weasel

Very cool, what a great new avenue for artists! Hopefully some bigger labels pick up on this, the more good songs the better. :)

guitardude1243
guitardude1243

I believe they said that all songs are screened before being put on the Network so as to ensure profanity and such doesn't make it's way to the game itself.

Basher9
Basher9

from what im getting, this is a 360 exclusive... hundred bucks says microsoft paid them a ton for it...

mongareric
mongareric

This is awesome! While Rock Band has been doing an excellent job getting new songs out on a regular basis, it's impossible to make sure each new batch of songs contains something for everyone. If bands and labels I like actually step up and put out songs, this could be really awesome. The only thing I'm weary about is the profanity issue. I hope this sparks Microsoft to come up with a way to have parental settings prevent kids from downloading songs with profanity, so us adults can enjoy singing our favorite songs that contain curses. If bands want to release songs with the curses edited out that would be cool, too. I just have a feeling that the more bands have to edit their own material, the less likely they will be to submit a track. Here's to hoping a lot of bands a labels step up for their fans!!!

gnbfd
gnbfd

While this sounds amazing for 360 owners, there were no questions about if any of the tracks would come to PS3/Wii. If it doesn't I'll be pissed because Sub Pop is putting every song they own on there (the most notable being Nirvana's Bleach album, which would be amazing).

ubergusterfan
ubergusterfan

Maybe I'm out of the loop, but there was no mention of whether this is a multi-platform release. I understand the creators club requires a 360, but will the songs be released to the those with a PS3 or a Wii?

shevanel09
shevanel09

This is going to be such a great thing for the Rock Band community. Although it would be fun to have the option of a song creator available to all RB owners on disc (even if it was of the same quality of GH studio) I am still incredibly excited to see what bands make it on here, both mainstream and upstarts.

KoRnbizkitpie
KoRnbizkitpie

All together now boys and girls... EPIC FAIL!!!!!!!