Over the years we’ve replied to a lot of threads and published a lot of blog articles discussing the work that goes on behind the scenes of the Rock Band DLC, but we’ve never really given a thorough step–by-step look at the process of getting new songs into the game. With the help of our Music Ops team, the Digital Publishing team and Audio Quality Assurance team (AQuA for short), we’ve compiled the timeline below, which should hopefully outline every major beat in the life of a DLC track. If you’ve ever been interested in where your DLC comes from, or wondered how long it takes from start to finish, or asked why we got Song X instead of Song Y, then read on!
In the interest of discretion (and good artist / label relations), we’ve chosen one pack at random from the RB library to use as a test case and we’ll be referring to the release as Anonymous Pack 01. While the details in the below timeline apply specifically to the release of Anonymous Pack 01, it’s fairly representative of the production timeline and curveballs that pop up in every release.
Brainstorming a Request List – 32 Weeks Out From Release
At several points during the year, our Music Ops team generates a request list of about 100 songs that we’d like to release as DLC in the coming months. This list is put together after looking at a combination of community requests (from the forums, RockBand.com/request, reports from live events, Twitter and the Rock Band Dashboard on Facebook), previous DLC performance, current popular songs, historically popular songs, artists releasing new albums in the next few months, and more. Artists will be shuffled on and off the request sheet and we’ll begin outreach to labels and license holders. Anonymous Pack 01 first came up in one of these meetings and was strongly championed by the Community team.
Sending Requests to Labels / License Holders – 29 Weeks Out From Release
Once finalized, the request list was broken down for individual outreach. We asked for 3 songs to release as part of Anonymous Pack 01 and then we waited for approvals. This is a pretty deep subject, as masters rights and publishing rights can often be split among multiple parties (sometimes 6 or more) depending on the song. Thankfully, we only had to turn to 2 parties for approvals on this particular pack.
Waiting For Approvals – 26 Weeks Out From Release
Three weeks later the label responded informing us that they would only be able to provide masters for 1 of the 3 songs on our request list. This often happens when masters cannot be located easily, or if they are formatted in a way that we’re unable to work with in the context of Rock Band. But, at the very least, we had established contact and a willingness to work together on releasing tracks in game. At that point it was just a matter of providing alternate tracks, which started the whole process over again.
Finalizing the Set List – 22 Weeks Out From Release
After several meetings discussing the progress on the initial batch of requests, we put together a new 3-pack for Anonymous Pack 01. The previous 2 steps were repeated, and when we had confirmation that all 3 requests were available we were able to add the pack to our production schedule along with a note that we’re waiting on masters.
Masters Arrive at Harmonix – 18 Weeks Out From Release
A month after locking the tracks in Anonymous Pack 01, the masters arrived in-house at Harmonix HQ. Our Audio Director parceled them out to the individual teams for charting and animation. Here’s a breakdown of the rough production timeline for each song:
- Mixing – 2 days
- Vocal authoring, lip sync, lights and cams – 3 days
- Instrument authoring and peer review (including Pro upgrade) – 5 days
- AQuA (Audio QA) – 5 days
Each instrument was handled by a different authoring team, authoring charts at the Expert level first and then working through the lower difficulties. The guitar team chose which track to chart the Pro upgrade for based on a combination of popularity, playability, and difficulty. Animation calls and Overdrive mapping were added and tracks were passed on to AQuA for testing.
Most, if not all, of the AQuA team are musicians in their own right and they work closely with the rest of the Audio team to refine both the playability and authenticity of our DLC. They made multiple passes on each instrument on each difficulty level on each track in Anonymous Pack 01, checking everything from multiplayer modes, Overdrive activation, drum fills, unison phrases, lip sync, instrument animations, and song lyrics. They also reviewed metadata (artist info, album and track info and song preview) for accuracy before assigning difficulty tiering based on group play-throughs.
Tracks Fully Charted and Tested – 15 Weeks Out From Release
Our Digital Publishing team is able to churn our most releases within roughly 2-3 weeks once we have masters in house. There have been rush instances where singles have been turned around within 24 hours, and on the other hand there have been certain releases that required many additional weeks of TLC.
DLC On Deck
Once charted and tested, we have a few weeks before DLC needs to be submitted to 1st party, in this case Microsoft for the Xbox 360, Sony for the Playstation 3 and Nintendo for the Wii. At this point in RB development, most content is ready 2 months out from release, though there have been times when there was no buffer between finishing one pack and starting another.
During this window where DLC is completed and just waiting on deck for release, we’ll sometimes shuffle its spot on the calendar, hold the pack for additional tracks from the label, push the release back to support an album release, etc. We have some packs and stand alone singles that have been completed for months that have not yet been released for a number of reasons. New authoring standards, last minute licensing complications and higher priority tracks are all reasons why releases may be held in limbo temporarily (or sometimes indefinitely), which is all the more reason to have several weeks scheduled in for buffer.
Art and Legal Requests – 6 Weeks Out From Release
Aside from the initial track request, there weren’t any unexpected hurdles with the release of Anonymous Pack 01 and we were able to move forward with art and legal requests. These asks go out roughly 4-6 weeks prior to release and help us lock things like in game album art and the original release dates.
Tracks Submitted to 1st Party – 4 Weeks Out From Release
With all production and legal work completed on our end, Anonymous Pack 01 was submitted to 1st party for release. Each console has a unique submission schedule and testing timelines ranging from 2-6 weeks prior to release, so we have producers for each console to ensure that all submissions are made on time. There were no delays associated with the release of Anonymous Pack 01 and it was locked in the pipeline once we received confirmation on all consoles.
Tracks Announced – 1 Week Out From Release
As with almost all of the DLC we put out, Anonymous Pack 01 was announced via the forums, media alert, Rock Band Blog and social channels on the Friday before the scheduled Tuesday release. We don’t often announce DLC earlier due to all the variables outlined above, and there have been rare occurrences where tracks had to be pushed back or pulled entirely within hours of the planned release.
After 6 months of work, the DLC we had suggested in a brainstorming meeting was finally released! The Community team watched the forums to make sure that there weren’t any post-launch issues with pricing or in-store availability, and when we were able to confirm that everything was working as intended, we were able to turn our attention to the next pack we would announce just 4 days later to start the cycle all over again.
And that’s how DLC is born. From the very first suggestion all the way up to the point where you’re able to jam out in your living room. Hopefully it gives you greater insight into our DLC production process and a greater appreciation for the Music Ops, Audio, Digital Publishing, and Audio QA teams that have been doing this non-stop for 233 weeks without interruption!