Despite having a large number of blackmail-worthy photos of a Harmonix employee, I've yet to get any songs by my band, Midnight Brown, in the Rock Band download store. Tragic, I know. But the good news is that I don't need to go through that whole process anymore, because Harmonix has unveiled plans to allow average songwriting copyright holders like me to plot out my own note charts and place my music in a separate community store governed by the same style of community moderation used by Microsoft's XNA-based Indie Games program.
According to Billboard, the program is called the Rock Band Network, and it's currently in a closed beta, with a planned public beta coming in August and a launch on Xbox 360 before the year is out. MTV's saying that it's expecting to bring popular tracks from this program to the PlayStation 3 and the Wii, but since this whole thing currently hinges on the Xbox 360's XNA Creator's Club setup, the Network store will be 360-exclusive at first.
While this seems great for the individual songwriters and performers out there who own the rights to their content, have their masters, and are down to do it themselves, this will also allow labels that want to be a part of Rock Band to process their entire catalog, sidestepping the weekly track downloads that will continue to make their way into the main Rock Band store. It sounds like Harmonix will make some portion of their community available for hire by people or companies who have the music, but don't want to plot out the gameplay themselves. Billboard also spoke to the head of Sub Pop, which plans to make its biggest releases over the last couple of years as well as all of its upcoming fall releases available through Rock Band Network.
Once the work is complete, it's submitted and checked for to ensure that all the proper copyrights are in place, as well as for explicit lyrics or gameplay issues. Once approved, the tracks can be sold via the Network store for somewhere between 50 cents and $3, and the user/label/copyright holder's cut is 30 percent of the sale price.
The software used to actually take the split master tracks (or "stems," if you will) is a custom version of Reaper, from Cockos. In addition to setting up all of the note charts, you'll also be able to use Reaper to set up the lighting, camera angles, and default characters used in the background.
OK, this whole thing sounds seriously awesome and feels like the correct way to allow user-generated content in a music game. The whole sampled, MIDI sounding thing that Guitar Hero added in World Tour resulted in a bunch of people just continually uploading different "rockin'" versions of Super Mario Bros. music. Rock Band Network will obviously have a significantly higher barrier to entry, but if the end result is actual, real music that has the potential to be an additional revenue stream for smaller acts out there, that higher barrier seems like it's totally worth it. For more detail, check out Billboard's story. We'll have more as it becomes available. Meanwhile, I'm going to go start blackmailing someone to get into that closed beta...
[UPDATE] Harmonix has launched its official site for the project at http://creators.rockband.com/, complete with a video that details how RBN will work.