Rock Band Network was announced a couple of days ago. It is a service that Harmonix has developed using the X360 Game Creators platform as well as selling the software that HMX uses to chart the songs for the game. Basically it works like this - a band signs up for the Game Creators Club on Xbox live (a 100 dollar a year fee), purchases the software (about $225)
Then artists (or labels) can take the masters, run them through the software, and create note charts, band animations, lighting and what not - pretty much everything HMX does to make a song for the game. They even can make some original animations if they want to.
Then the song is checked for appropriate lyrics (the songs still have to be Teen rated), Copyright stuff, playability. Once the song has gone through this peer review it will be available to purchase in the new "Rock Band Network" store.
Songs can be priced from 50 cents to three dollars, and the owners of the music get 30% of the sale price (which is higher than most digital sales, and much much more than on disc sales).
Harmonix has trained a number of freelancers on the software, and is going to keep doing more "certifications" as well as answer questions about the software or using. Those freelancers can be hired to chart and animate the songs for the artists if they wish, instead of doing it themselves.
"Once we flip on the infrastructure, we can go from a few dozen people capable of doing this work to hundreds of people or more," Harmonix founder/CEO Alex Rigopulos says. "We can ramp up by a factor of 10 or more the rate of production of content."
What this means - Artists can spend about 350 (which is the price for a medium cheap instrument I think, not having priced them), and do a little work and get their song out there to possibly be heard nationally. Labels can make songs to be released for tour dates or CD release dates without having to wait for Harmonix (their staff currently can do about 10 songs a week).
Sub Pop records (Nirvana, White Stripes, L7 in additions to many others) already is planning to use this.
Music Games already have an impact for sales and marketing for music. I think this could be the biggest thing for music games since the genre was invented, and possibly the biggest thing in music since digital distribution. We could have a flood of music coming in through this thing after it settles down, and more freelancers are trained. Lots of possible indie bands getting exposure and lots of mainstream bands getting stuff in the game; there quite a few "X wants to be in Rock Band" threads at the Rock Band forums – and now the artists don't have to wait for Harmonix.
Harmonix have always said they saw Rock Band as a platform – this pretty much proves it.
And as a side note, when asked about the Guitar Hero music creator, one of the guys at Harmonix said they were working on something, but they wouldn't release something half assed. Now we see what it is. And I say WoW.
Edit (Aug 9th) - I've contacted 4 labels and 5 bands to let them know about this. :)
And now back to singing with Harpy Serenade
Games Played since last post:
Radiant Silvergun (Saturn)
Guitar Hero Smash Hits (360)
Rock Band 2 (360)