How much would you pay to have one of your songs available for download in Rock Band?
Developer Harmonix devised a brilliant answer to this question with its “free” authoring service, Rock Band Network, which will launch in earnest this year. However, as anyone who has witnessed the service first hand can attest, it’s a complicated and time consuming process, which actually isn’t that surprising given that it requires you to assume the role of a Rock Band developer, an intimidating proposition to begin with.
Well, should you fall into the “Can’t someone else do it?” group, then music distributor TuneCore wants to help. All you have to do is hand over a complete collection of your song's various components (guitar, bass, vocals, kick drum, snare, etc.) and the audio wizards at TuneCore will do their engineering magic and bring your musical masterpiece to life in Rock Band.
Lighting effects, accommodations for varying difficulties, song-specific character animations, camera direction, TuneCore takes care of it all. And it will only cost you $2500…per song.
Actually, the company is currently offering a discount, so it will only cost you $999 to see one of your tracks in video game form. Still, even that price tag is significantly more than I would have expected for this service, and I don’t think I’m alone.
The thing that makes the price so hard to swallow is that it’s for something that you can do yourself for a fraction of the price. Considering all you need to do the job is an XNA Creator’s Club membership ($99/year or $49/month) -- for now, the songs will only be available on Xbox Live -- and the required Reaper production software ($60), asking between $1000 and $2500 per song just sounds insane.
However, you do have to factor in the labor aspect of the authorship process. Conservative estimates have put the average creation time at around 40 hours per track, but that could easily double or triple depending on the complexity of the song and/or the abilities of the author. So it could definitely be worth it in that sense, however, I don’t know too many unknown/struggling musicians with a few grand lying around to invest in putting a single song on Rock Band.
As for the payoff, TuneCore says on their site that if someone downloads your $2 track, you pocket $.60. So just to break even, you’d need to have around 4,200 downloads. That’s no small feat, especially if your song isn’t very good. At least if you put $2500 towards creating a whole album you’d have something much more substantial to show for it instead of a lone track waiting to be downloaded a couple thousand times.
Having said that, there's always the chance that your song becomes a phenomenon, in which case that $1000-$2500 investment would be the smartest one you ever made. (I'll predict it right now: at least one currently unknown band will be discovered via this personal authorship route.)
TuneCore is definitely onto something here, and I expect we’ll be seeing more companies emerge in the near future that will offer a similar service. This will most likely drive the price down, and it will also create an entirely new business that will operate between the music and gaming industries. It’s going to be a fascinating story to follow, and you can bet we’ll be keeping our eyes firmly on it going forward.