Japanese rock in Rock Band

Why Rock Band?

Get ready for a little tl;dr.

Since Rock Band came out in 2007, it has been a pioneer of the music video game genre. Other titles have come and gone with varying degrees of popularity. What made Rock Band great was its ability to license great songs by great artists for inclusion in the game.

They also listened to fans on who else they could ask to be included in the game.

In 2008, Harmonix announced a Rock Band: Japan game. In association with Q Entertainment, a developer in Japan, the game would feature Japan venues and include Japanese artists and their songs. Ultimately, issues with licensing prevented the game from being produced. What this means is that the rights holders for those songs would not, or perhaps were leery of, licensing their songs internationally, which is the license required with Rock Band. Thus, those songs would be able to be played or downloaded anywhere in the world.

Back in 2008, this was a very major concern. Not everyone knows that not all artists own the rights to their own songs. Labels and management companies often hold those rights and licensing is not an easy thing to accomplish, especially internationally. Ultimately, the option proved too difficult to support a title and Rock Band: Japan never came to fruition.

From an industry standpoint, it’s understandable. What do the artists think of this? Who’s to say. The best points of having a Rock Band: Japan would have been localized venues in Japan. A game that offered local appeal as well as giving a look at some venues that some of us only get to read about.

Without Rock Band: Japan, what else does it mean to have Japanese artists in the existing game? For fans, it meant having their favorite bands on the same stage as popular artists of our day as well as elbow to elbow with legends. It meant the music that we, and the artists, were passionate about took their rightful place to be taken just as seriously as any other major artist in mainstream music.

Did you know? A ‘J-rock’ category exists in Rock Band 3 because of the possibility of Japanese artists becoming part of the Rock Band Network. Japanese language support was added soon thereafter. Only one band has used the ‘J-rock’category, however. An England based Japanese rock band called Esprit D’air with their Japanese lyric song “Shizuku”.

Since 2007’s release, Rock Band 2 came to the stage in 2008 with more songs, greater capabilities. X JAPAN became the first major Japanese artist to have a track in the game, albeit in the free song pack upon purchasing a new game. It was not available as downloadable content (DLC).

2010 saw the release of Rock Band 3 and eventually a new option – instead of artists waiting for an invitation, or proposing their music, Harmonix developed the Rock Band Network. It was an option that permitted anyone to take part of the series by submitting songs themselves, having them authored as playable tracks and inserted for DLC. This meant that you didn’t have to be a signed band with a major label to be in the game. All you needed was to find an authoring group to make your track OR you could purchase a membership as a Creator and make the tracks yourself with provided software.

If Japanese bands had taken advantage of the Rock Band Network from the time it was announced to now, there would have been an obvious and major avenue of exposure. Since 2010, many known and unknown artists have taken advantage of the technology and have their songs as part of the almost 5,000 in Rock Band’s vast library.

Did you know? Dir en grey is the first Japanese artist to have content available as DLC on the Xbox 360?

Why does being part of Rock Band or the Rock Band Network seem important now? Despite Harmonix taking a step back from Rock Band, ceasing their 250+ weeks of DLC, it remains one of the most recognizable video games for music. Because Rock Band: Japan was not made and, in all likelihood, will not be made, there’s an easy ‘in’ for bands interested in the opportunity. There are pros and cons to this route as well.

On the Pro side, a band has their music in a mainstream music video game that has the potential for organic growth of interest via active forums, boards, websites and blogs still discussing songs to this day. It’s easy enough to get a track or two authored in a reasonable amount of time. The exposure to fans unaware of a band’s song(s) can be significant. Rights holders WILL get paid for every download per song.

Did you know? Dir en grey has the first song with Japanese lyrics in the game.

Probably the biggest con is that one must pay to have their track(s) included in the game’s DLC library. The return on songs will be minimal at best. It’s not a great way to make money. It’s a great way to get exposure. It’s possible that only fans of the band will download initially or at all. Were it 2010 when Rock Band Network first came online, it’s possible the impact would have been more significant.

Does this mean it’s worth the effort? Definitely. How many other Japanese bands can say they’re in a popular video game? While Harmonix has announced that it will no longer have new DLC for the game, the Rock Band Network continues to add tracks to the RBN library – it IS still possible to be included in the game.

How should you, the fans, let your favorite band know you want more tracks? Tell them. By mixi, ameba, Facebook, Twitter and other social media. If you want to learn more, here are some links to help you gauge how you can help make a difference.

If any other artists chose to be part of the Rock Band Network, as fans of Japanese rock, we should unify to support them. Through social media, our websites and blogs. The power isn’t just in their hands. It’s in ours, too.

Harmonix announces Rock Band: Japan

Rock Band big in Japan

Harmonix’s tour of Pearl Jam and Japan games, music licensing and more Rock Band history

Why Japan Never Got Rock Band

Japanese tracks coming to Rock Band? (incidentally, I dig this article because they have a picture of Dir en grey. an old picture, but still.)

Rock Band poll final results –

There are other resources one can look at to find more information. The above links offer a great starting point.