When Harmonix responded to GHWT’s user-created content feature by saying they wanted to hold off until they could do it properly, they definitely weren’t kidding. Today they announced the Rock Band Network, which will be online later this year (on 360 only for the moment, because it seems they’re piggy-backing on the XNA Creator’s Club to handle the submission and billing).
Rather than provide an in-game sequencer using samples like GHWT does, with RBN bands use their original master tracks, recorded using their usual software but presumably still split into the appropriate tracks, and gives them a set of tools (for PC I assume) to add the MIDI notes which will be translated into the instrument charts. They can also control animation and stage events to sync with their track. All instruments are supported including the vocal track (GHWT didn’t allow custom vocals); there’s no limits because the master track is always used. Once packaged up & ready, artists can then upload their music directly, set a price for it, and have it show up for purchase on the Marketplace where anyone can buy it, and the artist gets a cut of the revenue.
This is a superb idea. Not only do you get ‘proper’ music rather than just sequenced sample notes with no vocals (because the tools every band gets to use are the same as the ones Harmonix use to create their tracks), but there’s also a direct incentive for good independent bands to get their music on there, since it can earn them some money as well as get them publicity. I shudder to think how many tracks might end up on there - we’ll definitely need some reviews pronto to help point us to the best ones; it looks like the RBN website has that functionality built-in as a pre-release step using community reviewers (presumably this is also to filter out IP-violating music and dodgy content before it hits the masses too), but I’m sure the community will run with this as RockBandContent.com did once the tracks are public.
The great thing is that it probably won’t even be just ‘unknown’ bands that use this. Harmonix obviously have to prioritise their DLC pipeline, so they can’t cover everything (even though they seem to try). I can imagine there will be loads of signed bands who are just lower down the priority list who could take the matter into their own hands now, and get their music on there as a promotional thing. For non-US bands in particular (who, let’s face it, tend to end up under-prioritised compared to US bands), I think this could be very, very big.
I think this could be huge for both players and bands. The current 700 track selection could be paltry in comparison once this has been running for a while. Once again, Harmonix leads the way when it comes to tapping into the spirit of this genre!