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Warner Music Playing Hardball With Rock Band 86

Posted by Soulskill
from the all-about-the-green dept.
We recently discussed the fight brewing between the music industry and the popular music games, such as Rock Band and Guitar Hero, over the licensing fees paid for songs used within the games. Well, Warner has stepped things up and denied access to future songs without a payment increase. "Once the already-agreed-upon music runs out in the Summer however, the two companies will have to hammer out a new deal that's amenable to both. If MTV Games ends up giving Warner a larger slice of the pie, you have to think that the rest of the labels will begin asking for the same cut." The Rock Band games have seen a steady stream of DLC additions to their song libraries, the most recent being Stevie Ray Vaughan's Texas Flood album. Activision has been busily working on new Guitar Hero content as well, revealing details for Guitar Hero Greatest Hits, which is due out in June. Ben Heck (of Xbox 360 laptop fame) has just put together a breath controller for Guitar Hero World Tour's bass drum, for those unable or unwilling to use the standard pedal.
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Warner Music Playing Hardball With Rock Band

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  • by shawb (16347) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @05:21AM (#27075121)
    I hope they sit down with the Warner execs and say: Have a look at album sales after we release a track [usatoday.com]. If you want us to use your songs, pay up. If not, we can always go elsewhere.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by polle404 (727386)
      well, if they sell too many albums, they can't justify the whining & suing over copyright infringement, can they?

      much easier to just squeeze every last penny out of fringe franchises, and blame everyone else for the failure of your primary business model.

    • by TheLink (130905) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @05:50AM (#27075227) Journal
      This might backfire on Warner, and Rock Band might really do what you hope - ask Warner to pay them for the privilege of having Warner songs as the bundled songs in the next game.

      Rock Band can definitely walk away. The Guitar Hero game already has enough mindshare on its own to do without Warner's "help".

      As long as they have an idea of what music their target market likes, they can even fill it with 100% indie songs, and the people buying the next GH game will still buy GH (and some CDs).

      Pick good stuff, add a bit of "rebel" marketing, and the teens/youths won't care that there are no big names.

      After all half of them might never have heard of the "big names" either. Some of the big name hits came out before the kids were born (for example - Strutter by Kiss was released in 1974). So it's all the same to them.
      • by LordKronos (470910) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @08:40AM (#27075995) Homepage

        In some cases, that's true, but most of the time I don't think it is. I mean look at Rock Band 2. When it was released, they said it would come with 80+ songs, and then there would be a download code so that you could download another 20 once they got them ready. Everyone was excited. Then Harmonix released the 20 songs for download and they all turned out to be indie songs. Tons of people bitched and complained, and many won't even go and download those 20 songs even though they are free.

        • by liquidsin (398151) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @12:49PM (#27078649) Homepage

          yeah, but i imagine that the "radiohead - in rainbows" version of gh/rb would sell just fine. it's kind of awesome to see this, because i get the feeling that this could be another one of those "tipping points" as more and more artists distance themselves from major labels. obviously i can't speak for the musicians whose works have been used in these games, but i'd guess that many (most?) of them would rather have the exposure of being featured in the game then getting a few extra cents out of every copy of the game sold. and i'd also guess that if the devs don't play ball with the warner on this one, there will be some warner-signed artists pissed off that they're not eligible to put music into a game because their label is too greedy. fun times indeed...

          • by cayenne8 (626475)
            Trouble is, there is a huge dirth of good rocking music that everyone knows and wants to 'jam' with on these games.

            Sadly...that's why they go for all the older classic rock stuff.

            I'm often surprised and sometimes a little saddened when I see 11 year olds....wearing Zeppelin and AC/DC tshirts around. My generations music should, for the most part, have been put aside in place of newer bands.

            Trouble is...in the mid to early 90's....no one came out to replace them, to take the torch and move it forward.

            Whe

            • And it's also on there; stuff, like Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins that basically everyone who grew up in the early/mid 90s at least recognizes.

              • The problem is, all the bands that people could unite behind in the 1990s broke-up at the height of their careers. Sometimes, it was due to irreconcilable differences; other times, it was due to untimely death.

                Guns N' Roses
                Nirvana
                Smashing Pumpkins
                Alice in Chains
                Soundgarden
                Stone Temple Pilots

                Thankfully, we still have Pearl Jam and Metallica, but that's a very short list of survivors of 90s rock. IT's no wonder the kids today are reaching back to the 70s.

        • Agreed. I got RB & RB2 because of the songs that I recognize and thought would be cool to play along. I didn't bother with the 20 free tracks. Like someone said in another forum: "free sh!t".

          Mind you, there's been some pearls from the indie list. I like that Main Drag song ...

        • by Atrox666 (957601)

          http://consumerist.com/259713/how-to-launch-an-executive-email-carpet-bomb [consumerist.com]

          Remember to resist the urge just to call them assholes and thieves if you want them to do something.
          Don't threaten you don't need police at your door and if you want to threaten with a lawyer you do it by sending a lawyer letter or you can get in shit.

          You are trying to sell them on taking some action. They need to see a benefit to it and it needs to be an arrangement they will be ok with.
          Sometimes the only thing they get out of the de

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by space_jake (687452)
        Indie songs might work for GH, but they won't for Rock Band. People like to play songs they know, especially beginners.
        • Indie songs might work for GH, but they won't for Rock Band. People like to play songs they know, especially beginners.

          I don't agree with that, but even if it's true..."indie songs" and "indie albums" are 2 separate things. An indie label can put out albums of old familiar songs performed by other -- maybe better -- artists.

    • I hope they sit down with the Warner execs and say: Have a look at album sales after we release a track [usatoday.com]. If you want us to use your songs, pay up. If not, we can always go elsewhere.

      If labels were really in competition with each other, that's exactly how it would/should work. Unfortunately, they have notoriously collusive tendencies due to the quasi-cartel they all belong to (RIAA). Since there's only 4 major labels, having them all organize a standoff against Rock Band would be easy. Think about it this way: have you ever seen a price war between record labels for CDs or downloaded tracks?

      The only other option would be to hit up indie labels, but the main selling point of thes

      • the main selling point of these music games is the track list. If you look at the back of the Rock Band or Guitar Hero jewel case, half of it is covered with a list of big-name bands.

        There are a lot of big name bands true, but I ended up buying several albums from bands I'd never heard of through both Guitar Hero and Rock Band 'bonus' type tracks - most of them are still successful bands compared to your average band obviously, but they were ones I probably wouldn't have heard of or at least taken notice of otherwise: Fall of Troy, Flyleaf, The Mother Hips, Rush, Dragonforce, Senses Fail, Killswitch Engage, Radio Futura, An Endless Sporadic, and probably more. There are even some really

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Kneo24 (688412)

      I really hope they do this. It's the exec's jobs to look over reports, hell, sometimes even do their own reports, to figure out how to generate more income without harming themselves. If Warner is really full of that many stupid execs... well I hope their stockholders pull out. No sense in wasting your money on a company that obviously can't yank their head from their ass.

      I don't know why record companies think they're entitled to be given money so that others can essentially advertise their music.

    • by hal2814 (725639)
      Not only album sales but radio play as well. I don't think it's a coincidence that I heard two different radio stations play Jet the day it was released as a Guitar Hero download. Not that it's a bad song, but it's usually not one of the McCartney song radio stations choose to play. On the way to my in-laws house in south GA, I heard five songs in a row that all happened to be on Guitar Hero World Tour.
      • by anyGould (1295481)
        Moreover, a local radio station here has actually commented that songs become more requested when they're released for RB/GH.
    • Indeed. The record companies AGAIN are going to fail to see an avenue that will only HELP their sagging business.
  • by yotto (590067) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @05:35AM (#27075173) Homepage

    "You didn't give us enough free money for providing us with free advertising for our cash cow that we didn't even put work into in the first place, so no deal. Come back when you've got even more free money than what you gave us last time."

  • To be fair... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bigmouth_strikes (224629) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @05:40AM (#27075185) Journal

    These games use the music as a very integral and essential part of the game, not as an effect or to convey a certain mood. I believe that the money the labels receive under the current agreement makes no difference between those two circumstances.

    Not that the music labels would succeed in recognizing any income apart from up-front money... I mean, they probably mark up the songs in games as "lost sales", since people wouldn't have to buy the records.

    • Re:To be fair... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by SuiteSisterMary (123932) <slebrun&gmail,com> on Thursday March 05, 2009 @07:46AM (#27075701) Journal

      To be fair, shouldn't the labels be on their knees, thanking Jeebus that somebody actually *wants* to pay money for entire albums from the 80s?

      • This is what they expect and want, thats why they want to hold on the thier catalogs as long as possible with copyright extensions.

    • by esocid (946821)
      I'd have no problem if most of the money went to artists, but we all know it doesn't. Plus, like every post here says, these games have most likely boosted sales for the big labels. If the game designers were smart, they'd stop while sales are high and let the labels realize how greedy they've become^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H are.

      If it were up to them, it would be a pay-per-play deal.

      0 credits. Please insert coin to continue.

    • by kibbylow (257730)

      I hope rockband develops a way to use CDs or mp3s as the track source. No need for individual song development or special download. Just upload your mp3 and play.

      This way, the record labels should have no additional licensing rights because the game becomes another player, just like an Ipod, itunes or winamp.

  • by Phoenix666 (184391) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @06:35AM (#27075383)

    Anyone wants to talk to them at all, or re-use again, for the thousandth time, their same old tired, tired content. I haven't bought any music since Napster. My family went pure indie after that and we couldn't be happier. I don't know anyone who still buys music either. Indeed to do so would be horribly gauche when you can always catch amazing music performed live any given night of the week in any of two-score bars/venues in Brooklyn. Guitar Hero gives the labels one last, golden chance to bridge that void and reach the generations that have come after mine (I'm 36). So, yes, the labels ought to be kissing GH's butt, not pulling stunts like this one. Antagonizing GH is a sure path to complete and final irrelevance.

    • by kentrel (526003) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @07:47AM (#27075709) Journal

      I'm 10 years younger than you. Do I count as the generation after yours? I buy label music all the time. I see live music. I buy and support indie musicians. I just like good music, and sometimes its indie, and sometimes its on a label. I don't care, but I'll always pay for it if I like it.

      It would be nice to catch live music any night of the week, but sometimes I like to listen to music as I read slashdot, and opening a window is not as preferrable as playing the music I just bought, and staying warm

      • by raddan (519638)
        I agree. I listen mostly to classical music and electronic music. The former is prohibitively expensive to attend live (although the Boston Symphony Orchestra recently slashed their prices by 50%!) on a regular basis, and the latter is, shall we say, not performed often. So I buy this music. I also like to listen while I'm programming. Try doing that in a club.

        Many electronic artists are on indie labels-- indeed, many of the labels are hard-to-find foreign imports, too. I have no moral problems pay
        • In classical music, there's a lot of performer talent per listener. Especially in narrow fields such as early music, you can take advantage of this and get some extremely good performance recordings at cheap labels (Naxos...), or sites like Magnatune.

          My experience with classical music has been that celebrities are overrated. There are many talented amateurs/semi-professionals out there that can give you excellent Bach recordings.

      • by brkello (642429)
        I think this is a common condition. At a certain point the older generation starts moving to stations that only play music they listened to when they were younger. When they listen to modern music, it has evolved a bit and they have been left behind. So to them, everything is crap because it is different than what they have been listening to for awhile.
        • It's always been mostly crap. When you're young, you don't mind it because you like the style if not the particular artist. When you're older, you've already got a song in the mental slot for "I'm sad" or "I'm happy" or whatever, and so the new one has to be BETTER in order to displace it. Why replace familiar crap with unfamiliar crap?
          Besides, there's good stuff being made all the time, just not a lot of it. It does get harder to find as you age, though, because you've got so many other claims on your
        • by Effexor (544430)
          That's odd, because to me the modern music doesn't sound that different from what was playing in the late 90's, which is why I tend to think of it as crap. If it sounds like things I've already listened to it's not liable to make an impression on me. I'm kind of disappointed that there isn't something which has 'evolved' enough to make me want to shake my fist and tell those damn kids to turn their so-called music down.
  • Patents (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nerdfest (867930) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @07:02AM (#27075507)
    I (almost) hope patents keep the music companies from doing the obvious and releasing their own games. Of course, they'll probably use a model where you need to pay every time you play the song.
  • Dear Media Industry, (Score:2, Interesting)

    by L4t3r4lu5 (1216702)
    By continuing with this action, you hurt the consumer by artificially inflating costs. As a consumer, I do not approve of this.

    I will not buy an album or track from any band or label which is RIAA-associated and included within these games, should you abuse your market position like this. I actively ENCOURAGE Rock Band and Guitar Hero's respective developers to avoid your music at all costs, and provide market exposure for independant bands, whose music can be freely downloaded and used from Jamendo [wwwjamendo.com] and si
  • by tehwebguy (860335) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @08:05AM (#27075795) Homepage

    You are all missing the most important piece.

    Rock Band should immediately cease all talks with Warner and switch back to cover songs. I that case they will only need to pay a mechanical royalty of about $0.091 per unit sold per song. The only difference is that a cover band will be playing the songs.

    If they choose to do this, Warner has literally NO say in the matter. They cannot deny them the license.

    • by LordKronos (470910) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @08:35AM (#27075961) Homepage

      The problem there is that fans have gotten a taste of the real thing, and many won't tolerate it anymore. It would be kind of like saying that game design has gotten really expensive these days, and that developers should just keep costs down and go back to 2.5D engines for their FPS games. Most gamers won't tolerate either option anymore.

      • I guess I fall into the "don't care" camp. I'm sufficiently bad at Guitar Hero that all of the notes I miss tend to drown out the notes in songs, and I'm sufficiently bad enough at singing in Rock Band that nobody can hear the cover band singer's voice. At that point, I'm more interested in having interesting and fun people to play with than I am about what band is playing what song.

        I realize that I don't speak for all of the Rock Band/Guitar Hero players, but that's the opinion I've encountered about 75%

        • I am sufficiently good at it (except for singing, your ears will bleed if I sing) and I couldn't care less if it is performed by a cover band. Hell, some of the songs I have liked more as covers than the originals.
      • by FnordX (115944) <fnord@cyber[ ]ce.org ['spa' in gap]> on Thursday March 05, 2009 @09:33AM (#27076315)

        Here's a simple test, use both.

        Have a cover version of the song available for, say, $.99, and the master version available for whatever the music industry wants to charge.

        Let the consumer decide.

      • I disagree. I didn't know most of the songs were covers in the first guitar hero until I read about it. And after GH2 and the rest came out, I kinda still miss the covers because they're more immersive in the context of the game. With the real radio version playing, it feels like you're just playing to the song, whereas with a cover, it feels more like you're playing the song since it's not the same one you've heard a million times before.

    • You are all missing the most important piece. Rock Band should immediately cease all talks with Warner and switch back to cover songs. I that case they will only need to pay a mechanical royalty of about $0.091 per unit sold per song. The only difference is that a cover band will be playing the songs. If they choose to do this, Warner has literally NO say in the matter. They cannot deny them the license.

      Excellent point.

    • by Gizzmonic (412910)

      Maybe a lawyer could answer this, but I don't think the standard mechanical royalty stuff applies. If that were the case, I'm almost certain we'd have seen the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and AC/DC in Guitar Hero/Rock Band already (I know AC/DC is there now, but I think they would have had it from the start).

    • IANAL, but mechanical licensing is not sufficient for including a song in a video game. You will need at least synchronization rights. I'm sure that the rights to use the actual recording in the game are different than re-recording a cover version and using that version instead.

  • by LordKronos (470910) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @08:28AM (#27075917) Homepage

    They've already got more than enough music to be released. They only release 3 to 8 songs a week from 2 or 3 artist (or sometimes an entire album instead). There's no way the company can keep up with everything. There are tons of artists out there that don't even have a single song in Rock Band, and it's not because of negotiation failures. There are just too many artist to cover without flooding the market.

    So if Warner wants to pull their catalog from the list of available options, it will only make it that much easier for Harmonix to catch up with other artists from some other labels. I have a feeling Rock Band won't be lacking for anything, but Warner will have to answer to their artists about why they aren't seeing the advantages that other artists are enjoying.

    • Exactly (Score:2, Informative)

      by d-r0ck (1365765)
      Don't negotiate with terrorists. If they want to pay hardball then let them play by themselves. Music industry is always crying how they are losing money, here is a new revenue stream which is really gravy for them as they have very little costs. Take it or leave it, there are plenty of fish in the sea.
    • So if Warner wants to pull their catalog from the list of available options, it will only make it that much easier for Harmonix to catch up with other artists from some other labels. I have a feeling Rock Band won't be lacking for anything, but Warner will have to answer to their artists about why they aren't seeing the advantages that other artists are enjoying.

      Exactly. I don't see what Warner has to negotiate with. Who needs 'em?

    • A label having to answer to their artists? What kind of opposite world is this?

  • by rlp (11898) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @09:07AM (#27076159)

    1) Pull out gun, fire at foot repeatedly.
    2) ????
    3) Profit

  • Freeloaders (Score:3, Insightful)

    by LtGordon (1421725) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @09:32AM (#27076297)
    Are you blind? Since the release of Guitar Hero, all of the bands whose songs were included suddenly saw spikes in record sales. Were it not for Guitar Hero, they would have sold even more records! Stupid, free-loading videogames. The record companies have to recoup all of those lost sales somehow.

    On a serious note, though, these games pay you to include your music, and then increase your record sales. If you don't think they're paying you enough for the "privilege", move along because there are plenty of other record labels in town.
    • by 91degrees (207121)
      It's a negotiation.

      Warner have no obligation to Harmonix. Their entire aim is to maximise their profits.

      Harmonix have wildly different aims. They want to maximise their own profits.

      Harmonix have in their favour the knowledge that Warner will make a profit through extra sales even if they get zero royalties. Warner have in their favour the knowledge that Harmonix will make a profit if they only keep a cent from each download.

      This has nothing to do with the morality behind it. Both sides wa
  • FX:Adds Warner to list of companies I no longer do business with.
    Yep, fits under Sony nicely.
  • Earth to Guitar Hero:

    You don't need Warner.

    You got indie music.

    Can't find any? Here's my short list [blogspot.com].

    You could have a contest. The winners get to have their music on Guitar Hero and Rock Band.
    • by Scuff (59882)
      Harmonix, the company that makes Rock band, already puts in indie artists as either "bonus songs" on the disk or as free downloadable content. They also have had a contest like you suggest in the past and put a song from the winner in the next game they released. I am pretty sure they still need popular music to sell the games initially, though it's been proven in the past that they can get away with cover versions of those. It's only since the games became really popular that they've been using the orig
  • They should be screaming made that Warner Bros is trying to kill off a huge source of advertising and income. If they are successful, they will just price this game out of the market and it will die. Warner Bros execs are idiots.
  • There is a feasible solution for this: Do not distribute music with the game. An automagic algorithm could be written to extract notes from any song. Then people could just plug in mp3s or whatever audio files they had on their computers, and the game makers could pay to license precisely nothing.

    Players would benefit greatly from this as they could play along to any music they had, including concert bootlegs and other unlicensed recordings. The game could be cheaper without the record industry's nast

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by 91degrees (207121)
      We did try something like that. Detecting beats is a little tricky. A firm whack on a drum is quite easily detectable. A quiet section is also quite easy to spot. Trouble is you get the vague uncertainties. Is that a soft beat or just a well emphasised consonant or abrupt change in tempo?

      Changing the thresholds up to filter out the noise means quite a few beats get lost. Some songs it works pretty well, but not all of them.
    • I imagine that would one day be an extra feature, but I think the inclusion of certain songs is good for many people, especially those who don't actually have any good rock songs on their music players. Plus there's the benefit of the developers being able to custom tune their songs for maximum enjoyment, much harder to do with automation. Still I'm sure it would be a cool feature to see.
    • by anyGould (1295481)
      http://www.phasegame.com/ [phasegame.com] Harmonix is already on it.
  • All they can think about is money, and how to get more of it from everyone. I've always thought that if they had a good price for music people would buy it, but as it is, they just gouge away. I love GH WT but now I'm going to give second thoughts to downloading any more music for points. As another user posted, their sales are driven up, but they still want more and more. I know jets, Rolls Royces and cavier are expensive but this is ridiculous.
  • Ben Heck (of Xbox 360 laptop fame)*

    *Ben Heck has done way more than just sweeeet 360 mods and re-casing.

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