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MTV: Rock Band Network artists should vet digital partners

Manager advises caution as authoring companies charge up to $2500 per track

The program manager of Rock Band Network has responded to reports of companies charging up to $2500 to author songs for the new service, saying that artists should know who they're doing business with and consider carrying out the work themselves.

Rock Band Network is currently at beta stage in the US, with play-testing being carried out in advance of the store's launch on Xbox 360 later this year.

Once it launches, musicians will be able to make their tracks available to players for between 99 cents and $2.99, receiving a royalty payment of 30 per cent of the sale price.

However, with third-party companies charging upwards of $1000 to convert a track for the online store, critics have already pointed out the service could prove too expensive for unsigned musicians to take advantage of.

But RBN program manager John Drake has told GamesIndustry.biz that while song authoring is challenging and takes time, the tools are accessible enough for musicians to learn to use, negating the need to pay a third-party.

"The tools are entirely accessible to anyone who has used recording software previously," he said. "Our audio team has developed some amazing plugins - some of which we're now using at Harmonix - that make the interface really straightforward.

"They really aren't 'game dev' tools as much as they're very tailored music production tools. Doing the authoring is challenging work that takes time, but anyone fascinated enough by music to learn how to record themselves won’t have any trouble learning the tools of RBN."

According to Tunecore - a company that provides a range of distribution services for the music industry and which is currently offering to convert a track to RBN for $999 - the process of authoring a track from submission to approval takes around a month.

The company asks musicians to submit individual audio stems for each instrument and can also use live videos to ensure authentic on-screen player animations and lighting effects.

"Companies are springing up offering a variety of packages," Drake acknowledged. "If you're a great songwriter or a label with a volume of content, and you're too busy with all of the other things that come along with making music - touring, promotion, recording, rehearsing - and you have the funds, an authoring group is a great solution to getting your content done.

"We try to stay in close contact with the larger authoring groups and keep awareness out there that, yes you can hire someone to do this for you for a fee or you can do it yourself. You're really paying the opportunity cost of purchasing the infrastructure - 360, RB2, accounts - and putting in your time.

"Beyond that, people should ask for references and past work and know who they're doing business with before turning over their money and masters. Or, again, they can do it themselves. Rock Band Network is a great opportunity for independent musicians to come together with these independent authoring groups to make awesome Rock Band tracks."

The overall aim of the Network, said Drake, is to level the playing field for artists and to provide more quality content for the Rock Band music platform.

While testing is currently only being carried out on the Xbox 360 and in the US, the idea is to make content available in as many XNA supported territories as possible when the store launches on the format, then roll it out on PlayStation 3. "Artists who submit their content will be on sale in all the available territories," says Drake.

"Music licensing is a complicated process," he added. "Lucky for us, we have a lot of experience securing music for the Rock Band Music platform, which now has over 1000 songs available. We have a great team of experienced music licensing pros at MTV who have guided this process. We wouldn't be able to get such a cool system in place without their experience."

And feedback from artists to date has been largely positive, he said.

"Everyone we've worked with has been really enthusiastic about the process. We've been really excited to see a mixture of big names, breaking bands and unknown artists coming through the process."

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