On the Closure of the Rock Band Network, and a Look Back at CTA’s History
I warn you ahead of time, this will be a long post.
By now everyone should have seen the news from Harmonix, the makers of Rock Band. In their words:
“After 4 years, 2,121 songs, and countless hours of investment from some of the most talented and passionate Rock Band fans around, it’s time for the sun to (officially) set on Rock Band Network.”
It was expected, considering the Microsoft pipeline issues were persistent and lasted more than a year. Still, knowing that didn’t make the news hurt any less. I was devastated, to say the least. We have a ton of amazing songs we’ve announced, with videos to show off a good number of those songs, and now those songs will never be officially released.
After Harmonix exhausted every possible avenue to save RBN, and after I’ve exhausted every possible avenue to still get these songs out there…here I am now, writing this post.
This has been extremely hard for me to even begin to write. To get myself in the mood to write this, I created a playlist on iTunes of every CTA song released in the store (not sure why I didn’t make this sooner) and started playing it while I listen. The first song on there is Shylo Elliott’s “Light.” This song is very meaningful to me. It was the second or third song we started serious work on, but the first we ever got released. It’s a simple little song, but going through the authoring, playtesting and peer review process, and seeing that song hit the store and show as a publicly available official piece of downloadable content in my favorite game franchise of all time, and knowing I helped make that happen…the feeling was indescribable. I freaked out. I took a photo of the TV screen showing the song in the store. (Can’t find that photo at the moment but I’ll tweet it when I do.) I bought the song. I played it through on all three instruments (it had no vocals). It felt surreal. I got the same feeling with the next few songs we released as well. Eventually it became routine, but I was still pretty excited with each new release.
“Light” was released on September 26, 2010. This means that this Friday, less than two days from now and two days before my 25th birthday, marks the fourth anniversary of that song’s release. I still find that unreal. That song was the beginning of everything.
The artist who made that song, Shylo, isn’t only our first official artist and my first fellow author at CTA, but also a huge reason I even got into RBN. When Creators was announced, I was halfway through college. I knew I wanted a business degree, but I had no idea what I actually wanted to do after graduation except “get a master’s degree” and “own a company.” Shylo was an undeclared student. We met through the university’s anime club, and after realizing we were both huge rhythm game and music fans, quickly became friends. When I read about Creators, and realized it was a way for people to submit their own songs, I was stunned. I knew about licensing and the music business and was fully aware that this meant “legally licensing tracks for authoring” and not “make Led Zeppelin cover and throw it in the game,” but I still wanted to be part of this somehow. Being young and a tad bit arrogant, I had briefly considered joining an existing authoring group (before you ask, I had no specific one in mind when I thought this) but for some reason didn’t really feel like it’d be something I’d be fully content doing. I half-joked with Shylo that I wanted to start my own authoring group and get some songs in the game. If it wasn’t for him pushing me to actually go through with it, and spending as much time as a band spends with their name helping me decide the name of the group, I’d have never done it. Chart Toppers as a concept was born in his dorm room, and a few months and several lawyer visits/registration forms/contracts/tax applications later, it was born as a legit company. One I owned. Well, co-owned with my parents; a poor college kid like couldn’t have fronted all the money it cost on my own. But still. I was in charge, and I was excited. Shylo hopped on board as my first author, and had a hand in all his own songs and some of our earliest ones. For all he’s done, I owe him many thanks.
I can’t pretend it was all sunshine and rainbows though. As our workload grew, my responsibilities grew. I had to bring more authors on board. I had to manage projects. I had to take care of the finances and other day-to-day operations of the company. I was even late on payments some of the time, though I managed to never rack up debt or end up in the red somehow. I lost sleep over songs that had been taking a long time to get released into the store out of anxiety. I followed internal drama in Creators, and stayed out of it as much as possible because (1) I’m not a confrontational person and (2) I didn’t want any negative feelings with other authors/groups to impact my timeframes and releases. Through the whole pipeline problem that ultimately led to the end of RBN, I also lost a lot of sleep over our unreleased tracks. I even wished on same-number times (11:11 PM and the like) and whatever other supernatural bullmess I could think of for RBN to AT LEAST recover to a point where I could release the remaining songs we had left, maybe go after one or two more I liked, and then end it there while it was good. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen. Of course, there’s also our first year or so, when we were emailing a ton of artists to try and get music, and were mostly ignored. That wasn’t fun either, though enough artists eventually came to us that we didn’t really need to search any further. In retrospect, I’m glad I stopped looking for new songs somewhere down the line…we’d probably have many more tracks left unreleased.
I should also mention that the majority of artists and labels who rejected us were extremely nice about it. One of the biggest labels out there rejected us kindly with a reasonable explanation, and rather than feel down about it, I was very thankful that they even gave us some of their time to consider it.
Despite that paragraph of negativity, I’m extremely happy with what CTA has accomplished. Here’s a short rundown of everything we’ve pulled off:
-First chiptune song published on the platform (Rainbowdragoneyes – Creatures ov Deception)
-A number of finger-breakingly hard songs that appealed to the hardcore crowd, starting with Creatures
-The ONLY Fusion genre song in the entire Rock Band platform (Shylo Elliott – Cool Concoction)
-The first experimental noise song to hit the platform (SNMT – PON DE FIOR). You may or may not agree that this counts as an accomplishment depending on your opinion of the song, but it does to me; it introduced noise music to a number of people, made for some interesting charts, and sparked some debates over what counted as music that were pretty interesting.
-Also in the same vein as the above, we released SNMT’s “SEX,” the shortest song on the platform
-We released two songs for charity, Kylie D. Hart’s “Firehouse Bar” and Skylitton’s “Crabplosion”
-We rescued Kurodust’s “Doll in the Dust”, Pierce the Veil’s “Caraphernelia”, and Straight Outta Junior High’s “Dudes and Guys and Things and Stuff” from development hell and got them proper releases on the platform. “Caraphernelia” turned out to be our most successful and most high-profile song from our entire library, and I’m still amazed I was able to get the rights to it. I remember it being our only release that hit the top 100 most downloaded RBN songs list, something I’m immensely proud of.
-We released the first ever “brony” song, “Discord (The Living Tombstone Remix)” by Eurobeat Brony, and later released the original version, both of which got us coverage on the biggest My Little Pony fansite Equestria Daily and made us even more known
-We had 8 of our songs become popular enough to be ported to the Playstation 3
I’m sure there’s more than that I’m forgetting, but these stood out to me as our greatest achievements. Of course, fans of certain artists we’ve released would probably argue that releasing (insert artist name here) was our greatest achievement…personally though, here’s what I think. Releasing every single song we got out is our greatest achievement. Getting you all to love new music was our greatest achievement. Contributing to the great library of Rock Band songs was our greatest achievement.
We were positioned to accomplish a lot more as well. Among the unreleased songs and deals yet to be made were more brony songs (including a few that were in high demand among that specific fandom), songs with kickass bass/other instrument solos, various genres of amazing songs, bands fronted by some very well-known people, at least one very well-known theme song to a TV show, and more. How I wish it could have all come to fruition. For legal reasons, I won’t disclose details of those tracks if they weren’t among the announcements we’ve already made (especially if we ended up not even getting to sign them in the end), but trust me, there was some GOOD stuff coming. Sigh.
So what’s next, now that RBN is no more?
Well, I’ve lost the reason to have this company. The company’s sole purpose was to release songs on RBN. I’ve had ideas as to what to do with the company after RBN stopped being a thing, but due to where life has been taking me, I am unable to implement any of those. So, I will be working on several things, and then closing Chart Toppers Authoring’s doors for good. It costs me money every year to keep the business legally alive, and I can’t dedicate that time and money to it anymore without Rock Band Network or something similar existing.
Before (and after) I close up shop, I will be doing the following.
-There is some legal work I will need to do in order to close out the unreleased songs for good. Some of that will cost me a nice amount of money. I’ve been saving a reserve fund in the event that this would be the case, so I’m not too worried there. If I weren’t such an OCD plan-literally-everything type of person, I’d probably be screwed here. Thankfully, that isn’t the case. I also need to work out how to keep royalties flowing to the artists legally even after CTA ceases to exist. That way, the songs we’ve released can remain on RBN for as long as possible.
-A couple of artists have requested to me that I release their unreleased songs as “customs.” I’ve gotten the same requests from players that want to see our songs released that way. Here’s my decision on that. If the artist requests that I release their unreleased songs as customs, I will honor those requests, as it is their music, unless I am somehow legally prevented from taking this course of action. I can also bring up the idea to certain artists who may be willing to let me do this for their songs, and see if I can get them to agree to let me release them. However, I cannot guarantee that every artist with an unreleased song will be willing to do this. I will never go against an artist’s wishes; if they do not want a custom of their song out, I will not release it. I will also not take any requests for customs; I strictly will only do them for artists who ask me to do so, and who provide the multitracks to make the best quality ones possible. Keep an eye on my personal Twitter page (@Arcanon) as any custom releases will NOT be Chart Toppers releases, so if I do release those, I will announce them on my personal Twitter feed. Also, if you are one of our artists and are reading this, and this idea interests you, contact me and we’ll get this worked out.
-I began releasing full-length preview videos of our releases just over a year ago starting with “Light.” I never got around to finishing those due to having to handle CTA’s other responsibilities, and I was always the video guy. I never passed that job along. It looks like I now have time to finish those up, so I will release full-length videos of the rest of our releases. I will also try to make individual song pages on this site to provide as much info on each song as I can to help people make well-informed purchases. I’m not much of a web guy so if anyone out there would be willing to help me do this, drop me a line.
Now, my final thoughts.
-First and foremost, I want to thank Harmonix Music Systems, Inc., and all of the great people there. Especially the ones on the Rock Band team, and the people who helped make RBN possible, whether they are still at Harmonix or not. It’s thanks to you that this was even possible to begin with. Starting CTA has taught me a lot about running a business and dealing with contracts and other legal issues. Thanks to acquiring these skills, I have obtained a day job dealing with contracts that I am very happy at, and I have a direction in my life. I have also learned a lot about music composition and mixing, which I will be using to make original works. CTA’s existence also helped Shylo decide to pursue a degree in music, which he obtained, so on his behalf I will thank HMX/RBN for that as well.
-I would also like to thank Microsoft for allowing their XNA platform to be used and helping Harmonix to make this whole thing possible. While I am not very happy at how this all ended, and how the points-to-real currency transition was part of the reason everything was screwed over, without them this whole platform would not have been possible and I do recognize that.
-Whatever other entities were involved in making RBN a reality, I would like to thank them too.
-I would like to thank every artist who trusted in me and CTA to deliver their songs to the Rock Band platform. I hope we did you proud with our work. Below is a list of every artist who had at least one song release on the game. Please, everyone who is reading this, look up these artists and check out their music. If you can’t find them on Google or on a post on this site, contact me and I’ll show you where to find them. Whether you buy their tracks on Rock Band or as regular songs, please also drop them a line and tell them how much you love their music and that you’re happy it made it onto Rock Band. They deserve every bit of the praise. Labels and publishers are listed in parentheses if applicable; they also deserve thanks for agreeing to have this music released and working with us to make it possible. Listed in order of their first RBN release:
- Shylo Elliott
- Broken Equilibrium
- Rainbowdragoneyes (Rage Not Rave)
- Kylie D. Hart (Pink Dragonfly Publishing/Rebel Rose Music)
- Jacob Chaney/Askari Nari
- LeetStreet Boys
- Winter Crescent
- SNMT (Black Flower Music)
- Psyguy and ShadyVox
- Pierce the Veil (Equal Vision Records)
- Active Knowledge (BOSTON8BIT)
- Paul and Storm
- Daryle Stephen Ackerman
- Nod 206
- SIMPL3JACK (Holy War Entertainment)
- Bikey, Dapper AJ and Alyce (ThatCity Music)
- Straight Outta Junior High (Wunkrock Records)
- John Daly Project
- Eurobeat Brony/Odyssey and The Living Tombstone (Odyssey Music)
- Zing Experience
- Jeff Burgess
-To every artist who was to release a song onto Rock Band Network, whether it was any of the above artists with additional music or a new artist yet to make their Rock Band debut: I’m extremely sorry. There isn’t a second where I think I could have done more to get your songs out there. I keep telling myself I did everything I could to get your songs released, but I also keep telling myself I didn’t do enough. I will always feel like I never did enough. I’m especially sorry to the artists who finished signing new songs with us close to when the pipeline began having issues. I was just as hopeful as you were that the issues would resolve soon and I would be able to get your songs out there. Whatever the case, and all other factors aside, I feel like the blame for your songs not releasing is all on me, and I hope you can forgive me.
-To the hacker(s) who shut down the Rock Band website on April 2013, and caused Creators to shut down initially as a result, which led to a VPN having to be put up which resulted in a gigantic slowdown of the Creators pipeline (prior to the MSP conversion that shut down the system for good) and made it next to impossible to get new songs out the door during the time we actually could. There are many, many words and phrases I could use towards you that wouldn’t be enough to capture even the smallest bit of contempt I have for you and the damage you caused. I won’t waste the time using those, partly in an effort to keep this post civil. All I will say is, I hope you’re happy.
-To my parents. As I stated above, none of this would have happened with you helping me out, both financially and with operations. Despite your skepticism, you believed in me and supported me the whole way. Thank you both so much.
-To the many authors and testers who’ve worked for me, whether they stuck around for days or for years. You’ve lent me your talents and lightened the load for me when CTA needed it most. You worked hard on the majority of our releases, in whole or in part, and are forever credited with CTA’s success. Thank you so much for the time you’ve given up, for putting up with my OCD quality testing, and for working for so little reward. I assure you that none of it goes unappreciated.
-To my fellow authors and playtesters of the Rock Band Network. You’ve torn our charts apart piece by piece, pointing out everything we did wrong and every part we sucked at charting/mixing/whatever. I will be forever thankful for all that you did to help make our releases the best they could be, and for turning me on to additional new music from your respective studios/groups while I was returning the favor. I’ve made some great friends in Creators, and I’m even part of a still-going-strong podcast run by one of you co-hosting with a bunch of you. You guys are part of the reason this has been an experience I will never forget.
-To the Rock Band players who’ve picked up our songs, and who have given us feedback on our releases, be they positive or negative. You’ve trusted us to bring you the highest quality charts and a ton of amazing new music you may or may not have heard of before. I hope every cent you spent on any of our songs helped turn you on to great music.
-If I’ve forgotten to thank anyone, know you are very appreciated and I didn’t skip you on purpose.
From Shylo Elliott’s “Light” to Jeff Burgess’s “Trixie,” from 2010-2014, we’ve actually done a lot. And we couldn’t have done it without any of you. It’s sad to see it end like this…I must have almost teared up while writing this and while my playlist of our releases closes on the Big Rock Ending of “Trixie.” However, it felt good to get all of this off my chest, and begin finding some closure at the end of all this. As one door closes, a thousand new ones open, and I’m ready to explore each one.
Again, thank you all for sticking with us. The company may soon cease to exist, but as long as you continue to play our tracks, or discover our other releases you may not yet have checked out, just like Rock Band will never die as long as there are people playing it, CTA will never die as long as you enjoy our songs.
Chart Toppers Authoring, LLC
“I hope you will remember. I hope I do too. If you want to find me, just sing my song. So long…”
-Zing Experience, “Faster Than a Bullet”