Will Beatles Rock Band Be Good For Music?

Technology has always influenced how we listen to music, and our relationship with it. It seems that the iPod generation has a different perception of music than the LP generation, but perhaps a new paradigm of music consumption is now emerging – that of the games console…

The Rise Of Rock Band

In 2005, RedOctane/Activision released the Guitar Hero game, within which players had to tap buttons on a small plastic guitar in sync with a colour-coded timeline on screen to successfully play back performances of various songs.

The game was a huge hit, and Harmonix – a company that had worked with RedOctane on Guitar Hero – released the game Rock Band in 2007, which is basically an expanded version of Guitar Hero, with additional instruments.

Why Not Learn A Real Instrument?

The Rock Band/Guitar Hero stable has drawn a lot of criticism, generally based on the premise that it’s not real music performance, and that one would be better off just learning a real instrument.

However, there is another way of looking at this. In an era where music has been commoditised to such an extent that people have thousands of songs on their mp3 players (some of which they may never even have listened to), attention is the new barrier to entry for aspiring musicians – or even for established acts.

Levels Of Complexity

Playing Rock Band requires people to really engage with the music, not just on an emotional or intellectual level, but also physically – it demands attention in a way that an mp3 player never could. This level of engagement is what prompted Apple to get involved in the new Beatles version of Rock Band.

One could also argue that the level of engagement and skill required for such games (particularly at the more advanced levels) is at least as much as that employed by DJs, or in the performances of certain electronic music artists (although the latter would have the caveat of having composed the actual music being performed).

As such, the music performance game is a new method of experiencing music, and one which moves against the prevailing zeitgeist of treating music as little more than ‘sonic wallpaper’, or a collectible item whose primary purpose is to bulk out its owner’s burgeoning library.

Stem The Tide Of Piracy

The New York Times has an interesting article about the development of the Beatles Rock Band game.

To create the game, Giles Martin (son of George) had to dig out stems from the original master tapes. The game creators were only given low quality placeholder stems for working with, because “if the separated parts leaked out, every amateur D.J. would start lacing mixes with unauthorized Beatles samples”.

Although the game is about live performance, it wasn’t feasible to use actual live recordings; instead, Martin ran the masters through the Abbey Road compressors with lighter settings to create a looser feel. “My approach is actually to make things less processed,” he said, “so you hear the band playing as opposed to people in the studio working.”

So, rather than having an ‘authentic’ live performance (complete with stray beats and dodgy harmonies) of classics like ‘Paperback Writer’ – as performed in Japan in the video below – the game features a more ‘fun’ version that is slightly more live than the original…


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