Ever since the launch of Harmonix's Guitar Hero in 2005 there has been an ongoing debate between musicians and gamers about the legitimacy of the multi-colored guitar peripherals in regards to teaching people how to play. We're not going to weigh in on the debate, but with the introduction of the Rock Band Network, a service that allows for bands to create their own tracks to be sold and used in-game, a new debate might begin to flourish.
The network, which was announced last year, has just been released in open beta, which means anyone with the gall to hit up their multi-track recorders can begin programming songs into the system by downloading the software. Of course, this all comes at a price, since creating your own songs will technically classify you as a developer you'll have to register at the XNA Creator's Club for $100 a year before you can start running the software (sorry folks, the system is currently built for Xbox 360 only).
What does this all actually mean in the long run? It means that would-be musicians have yet another outlet to distribute their music on, and this one allows for full-blown audience participation. It's also going to teach a few lessons in internet marketing, mixing, mastering, tempo and everything else that comes from recording and distributing audio.
Granted, it sounds a bit stupid at first, but nobody is going to argue with the pure marketability of this. Likewise, it might not seem like much on first glance, but picture it this way: You are Band A, and you've only played a few shows. You decide to give your small but loyal audience the chance to "play" your song at parties and with friends. Suddenly, you have a few more fans, and more intriguingly, they know your song better than they know "Eye of the Tiger."
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Why? Because you programmed it so well that they had to try it fifty times before getting a perfect score. It might not seem like much, but in an age where audience participation at a dive bar resembles a funeral home more than a rock show, this could give a few fans the extra burst to become more passionate about a track or band they wouldn't have otherwise cared about. It's a new way to bridge the gap between band and fan, and frankly, we'd love to gather around the television and play some Astrophagus songs together.
The service is still a ways off from being fully operation, where fans and newcomers can actually download these tracks and pricing hasn't been officially announced yet (note to Harmonix: We suggest a free option), but the gears are in place to begin building something really interesting and special.
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The point here is that this finally bridges the gap between independent, major and non-label bands in music distribution. It will give any little band out there the chance to create an interactive version of itself and could help push the medium of 'colored button pressing in rhythmic order' forward as more creative and experimental projects are pushed into the limelight by the peer review system.
We'd venture a guess that there are a lot of different instruments that can be emulated here that the folks at Harmonix haven't thought of, and we're excited to see what bands can do with an open system like this. Personally, we'd love to see at least one Sunn0))) track just for fun.