Harmonix flung open the virtual doors of the Rock Band Network's beta to the public today, giving legions of musicians the chance to create their own tracks for Rock Band and Rock Band 2. Right now, there's no firm date for when Network-created tunes will be available to consumers, but expect an announcement in "the near future."
How well does the thing actually work? I tracked down Sleaze “Bag” Paladino, guitar shredder for L.A.'s "Last real ROCK band" Thunderdikk, to get the word on how the Rock Band Network works in real life. Between groupie-laden “rehearsals” and rocking L.A.’s clubs scene, Sleaze is working on bringing Thunderdikk to Rock Band. "As a gamer and a musician, I’m insanely excited about what Harmonix is doing here," Sleaze said.
By all accounts, publishing your garage band's masterpiece to Rock Band will involve a certain amount of dedication. "It's not for everyone," Sleaze told me, "If you’ve never worked with a professional audio program before, you won’t know what's going on... but it's doable. Just be prepared for a sh*t-ton of work."
According to Harmonix, the average work time will hover around 40 hours per song, although your mileage may vary. "They say it’s takes 40 hours if you know what you’re doing," Sleaze said, "I say it will probably take us more than 70 hours for our first track--- but our song is five minutes long, not three, and there’s a gnarly, face-melting guitar solo that will take forever to transcribe."
Each individual track must be run through a couple of different music programs on PC (Reaper, for creating the tracks and Magma for encoding them), and then the actual game charts have to be created, which is a hugely time-consuming process.
"The part that's going to trip up a lot of indie bands is the vocals," Sleaze said, "You have to program the note stream of the vocals through midi, and lots of indie bands/singers will have problems with this step. How many of them know how to play their vocals, exactly, on a keyboard?"
The Rock Band Network offers a ton of different customization options to make sure your on-screen avatars rock out correctly, including control of the handedness of musicians, the ability to customize character animations--so your drummer won't look like a robot for instance-- you can control pyrotechnics, crowd cheers, overdrive sections and more.
As for who is working on tracks to be released when the Network ships, I can't tell you, but if you're into non-mainstream music, I'll bet you've heard of some of these bands... which is the point. Rock Band Network is the perfect place for fans of more obscure music to meet the makers of obscure music.
"A typical indie rock band -- and even the mighty Thunderdikk -- would never have a chance in hell of getting a song in Rock Band, and here we are, programming a song," Sleaze said. "It fits totally into the DIY ethic. The days of needing thousands of dollars to get a professional recording are long gone, and this is an extension of that."
I'll keep you updated when I hear anything about this, but I gotta ask: Which obscure/semi-obscure band would you like to see take advantage of The Rock Band Network?