Rock Band's First Album Announced, Our Harmonix Q&A

Today, Harmonix has officially announced the first album that will hit the Rock Band store: Judas Priest's Screaming For Vengeance. Arriving April 22/24 on Xbox 360/PS3, this10-track album will cost $US 14.99 with individual tracks being offered for $US 1.99 apiece. Then in May, The Cars' self-titled record will become the second full-album release from Rock Band. The Pixies' Doolittle will follow in June.

While this is precisely the news that all Rock Band fans have been waiting to hear, it raises a ton of new questions. Is $US 14.99 the new standard album price? And how often can we expect new albums? Luckily, we had the chance to discuss the announcement with Harmonix's CEO Alex Rigopulos, who was more than happy to answer all of our fanboy questions. We posted an abridged, cleaned (sans-Mark's-question-stuttering-and-boring-parts) Q&A after the jump.

What took you so long?
...a big reason that it's taken us so long to get them to market is that the actual technical delivery of the assets required for any one song - they're actually pretty complicated. You're often dealing with masters for the older stuff that were recorded on analogue. Often it takes a long time to even locate those masters. The right takes and the right edits have to be found, and in some cases old gear that's not in use anymore has to be resuscitated to transfer the stuff to digital. And so for any one song, the actual process of finding the right tape, resuscitating it and transferring it to the right digital format that we need and all that is an undertaking...

If you're just going for a handful of tracks by a particular artist and they're slow to locate one of them, well you just pick a different track and go on. Well when you're looking for a dozen tracks ina a particular album, you cant really release the album until you've tracked every one of those assets.

What happened to The Who?
We will have a specific announcement about that coming up soon regarding some work that we have coming down the pike with The Who in general that I think people are gonna be pretty happy about...and in general what you're gonna see sorta deep dives with particular artists, where with some artists...of the appropriate stature, you'll see us doing more than whole albums, potentially even entire catalogs.

What kind of schedule will album release be on?
For album releases, in particular, there isn't a set schedule like an album a month...we do want to release albums regularly...generally, the amount of content we release in a week you'll see growing over the course of the year substantially.

Will albums ever represent the majority of your music releases?
I don't think albums will be the dominant release. I don't think we're going to switch to primarily releasing albums, but I will say, in addition to these three we've just mentioned, we actually have MANY in the pike...suffice it to say, it will be a substantial portion of our content offering going forward.

So is $14.99 the new standard album price?
It's not a standard. There's not going to be a standard album pricing. It's going to be a function of how many songs are included in the album...essentially there will be a volume discount applied.

Do you think a variable price rate on albums is disadvantage, especially when stores like iTunes sell albums for a flat rate?
Perhaps, but I think...consumers have demonstrated that they feel that the value they're getting for a game level based at $2 is enormous...[and]there's quite a lot of appetite for music at $2 a song...[so]volume discounts for more music represents quite a good value for the consumers.

Will you ever offer 3-Pack discounts for album tracks?
At this time we're not...I'm not ruling that out as something we're doing in the future. It's just not something we're doing right now.

Would you ever consider releasing "greatest hits" albums?
I don't see any particular reason why we would rule them out...I think that for the right artist under the right circumstances, there's no reason we wouldn't consider doing a greatest hits album that either exists in the world already as a recorded compilation, or [as]in some cases, we've actually had artists come to us who are interested in kind of curating their own new greatest hits compilation for the purpose of Rock Band release. And so I think we're really pretty versatile to ideas of that sort.

So basically, a Rock Band Greatest Hits album?
Exactly.
(Ed note: Rigopulos later explained that they kind of did this with Grateful Dead tracks already, unofficially.)

At the end of the interview, Rigopulos let me know that Rock Band had recently surpassed 8 million song downloads. That's about 2 million just since their new store opened (and Still Alive became offered for free).


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