The Guys Behind the Rock Band Music

rock-band-logo.jpg by John Gaudiosi

CAMBRIDGE, MASS—The music never stops at Harmonix. Although Rock Band has shipped, not everyone at the 140-person development studio has time to shop for Christmas. With new downloadable songs coming out every week and new albums being readied for digital distribution, the audio team is as rushed now as the rest of Harmonix was during crunch time to get the Rock Band game out to retailers before Thanksgiving.

"We're really busy right now getting as much polish as we can for the download songs that are coming out every week," said Eric Brosius, audio lead, Harmonix. "We're trying to get a bunch of albums for download. There's something really cool about playing an entire album." With Harmonix going the route of master recordings for Rock Band, things are much more challenging for the download team, especially for the older songs.

"The older the song, the harder it is to get individual tracks," said Eric Brosius, audio director, Harmonix. "Some songs are on eight tracks, some are on four-tracks. We need to have each instrument on a separate track for inclusion in this game."

Brosius said they have to go through each song with a fine-tooth comb.

"Masters sometimes need to be massaged a bit to get it to sound like the original," said Brosius. "If in measure 43, the guitar player hit a wrong note, we correct it."

Long before Rock Band came out, the audio team compiled a spreadsheet with 3,500 songs on it for possible inclusion in the game. That list had notes that highlighted the vocals, drums, bass and guitar of each song. That list gets narrowed down, after many fights among the team, to 50 songs that they actually go after.

"We love songs that are cool and it has to be music that we like," said Brosius, explaining the process of how each song gets into the game. "It's also important for the song to be well-known so the singer is familiar with it. And the song has to be playable with plenty of variety for gameplay. We look for songs that provide a nice interplay between the parts so the bass and guitar players and the drummer can all shine."

The team kicked Billy Idol's "Rebel, Rebel" to the curb because it was too repetitive, which meant the gameplay would have been boring.

"We also like songs that have a little bit of breathing room so the guitarist can look around at the band during a verse," said Brosius. "We like these types of moments because it makes the players feel like they're part of a band."

The audio team does a lot more than just pick new music. They're the ones who take the songs and lay out those frustrating patterns that gamers have to play. They also sync the in-game lighting and character animation to each song. And they spend a lot of time meeting with rock royalty and their minions.

"We try to convince the band that we're going to showcase music in a new and exciting way," said Brosius. "With the success of Guitar Hero, many bands understand that their music will be treated with respect. There are some huge bands that just don't do anything unless it's for a whole lot of money. We are building relationships with bands, including Led Zeppelin. We've been talking to them for over a year and there's a good chance that they'll come aboard Rock Band eventually. We're like flies in shit for these big bands."

Other music that Harmonix is targeting includes AC/DC and The Beatles.

"We go to the artists and the record companies and with some songs, that's all it takes," said Brosius. "Other songs require us to go straight to band management and sometimes the band itself. Alex (Rigopulos) has taken the Rock Band demo to some of the biggest bands out there to play the game for them."

Gamers won't hear any DragonForce songs in Rock Band for a reason, according to Brosius. When developing Guitar Hero, the team was looking for challenging guitar solos, which made up about 80 percent of the songs. Rock Band is a much different game.

"With Rock Band, we looked for the complete band experience," said Brosius. "Some Guitar Hero fans who play the guitar in Rock Band might find it too easy, but it's a different game experience. We do have some shredtastic guitar songs in the last few venues of the game, though."

Brosius said the goal of Rock Band was for gamers to have a really strong connection with the music. If you miss a beat on the drums, you won't hear it in the game song.

As for the possibility of a future song editor feature for Rock Band, Brosius said that won't happen, although modders are free to do for this game what they've already done for Guitar Hero.

"We're interested in seeing what modders do with Rock Band, but we're not going to offer an editing tool because the interaction between the song and the animation and lighting and effects in the game is important to the overall experience," said Brosisus. "With modded songs on Guitar Hero, all you get are new notes."

The music is important in a rhythm game, especially to the audio team, because at the end of the day, "We're the ones who get blamed when people hate a song in these games," said Brosius.


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