The pair of surviving Beatles recently appeared at E3 to hype the impending The Beatles: Rock Band, out on September 9. It represents a remarkable milestone – mass licensing of Beatles songs to a third party, cooperation of all four Beatles estates on new intellectual property, release of new studio chatter from the band, and creating multi-tracked masters of songs originally recorded live in mono or stereo. (see the full fact sheet)
In the game, you and your friends can take the Beatles from the Cavern Club days all the way to the rooftop in your own living room, not mention traipsing through their imagined acid trips. You’ll start out with 45 Beatles songs in-game, but many more will available as downloadable content – starting with the complete Abbey Road.
Assuming you already have a plethora of plastic video game instruments lying around the house, the a la carte game will cost you $100. If you need all of the plastic instruments to go with it, you’ll be dropping $250 for the full kit.
Seems like a bargain to play along with 45 of your favorite Beatles tunes, right?
Not really. Because, if you have an actual instrument lying around the house, you can buy The Beatles: Complete Scores hardcover tome for half the price of the a la carte game and learn how to play the actual music to every single Beatles song.
If you need an actual instrument to go with it, you can pick up a starter guitar or bass package plus the book for about $250 – yes, even including a replica Hoffner bass! (The scores plus drums will run you a bit more – $300-$500).
Herein lies your dilemma. Do you want to have a primary experience with the music you love, or a secondary experience?
If you’re a non-musician, you might argue, “I don’t really have a choice,” but I think you do.
You might argue, “I don’t read music,” yet you’re willing to learn an arcane method of notation in Rock Band that’s not too different from reading guitar tab, which is included in the score book.
You might argue, “I don’t have nimble fingers, a sense of pitch or rhythm, or a decent voice,” yet if you expect to surpass even easy mode on Rock Band you’ll need to hone some or all of those skills just as you would playing actual music. In fact, Rock Band is much less forgiving of mistakes with drumming and vocals than a jam with friends would be.
You might argue, “I don’t have time to practice music enough for it to be worthwhile,” yet you have time to play Rock Band two or three hours a week. That same time would serve you equally well training on an actual instrument. You could probably learn how to play “I Want To Hold You Hand” on guitar in the same time it takes you to reach your first save point.
Other Rock Band titles offer the allure of collecting disparate, virtuosically-difficult music into a video game – much of which is impossible to track down as printed music. None of that is true this time around – the music comes from a single source, the virtuouosity is in the ease of playing, and it’s all collected in a single, relatively cheap book. It’s a completely level playing field for anyone – novice to expert.
You can’t say that about any other Rock Band game or for any other artist in the history of music.
Essentially, you have no argument to buy The Beatles: Rock Band other than perhaps, “I already know how to play all 213 originally released Beatles songs, and now I’m bored.”
The game does have some redeeming features in the areas of drumming and singing – the two bits of Beatles that are the hardest to master on your own. Designers worked closely with Ringo to make the game a tutorial for his unique drumming style. Also, the game features a harmony training mode, which will allow you to voice any part in the band’s remarkable multi-part harmonies.
Based on that, if you’re a Beatles-loving singer or drummer starting from scratch I can appreciate wanting to purchase the game for some guidance. If only the game also allowed you to plug in an actual midi-guitar in to test your chops against the recordings … then I’d buy it in an insant!
Otherwise, if you’re a Beatles-lover who wants to experience playing their music yourself, my advice would be to actually play it yourself.
How about just: “Because it’s fun.”
Not everyone wants to be a musician. A lot of people just want to be amused by a video game.
This post is not about wanting to be a musician. It’s about primacy of experience.
The Beatles version is so detailed and so analogous to the cost/experience of actually playing Beatles music that I feel as though it has officially crossed over from being an amusing video game to being a true simulacrum of an actual life experience – analogous to people who attend concerts only to watch them through a cell phone camera, or who make themselves in the Sims and sit all day trying to achieve their ideal career.
Thus, the argument that not all people want to be musicians approaches moot. If a reason to play is “because it’s fun,” then so would be playing the actual music. That is something I can’t necessarily posit about previous Rock Band editions. For example, I don’t think playing the Aerosmith edition is the same as playing Aerosmith music.
All good points. There’s that tension between the mediated/imagined experience. Insert paranoia about a dystopian Wall-E/Surrogates/etc. future where we’re all living at a remove from the Real Thing.
I’m curious how many people who get good at Rock Band actually try to move on to music? I also think it’s interesting/odd that I’ve seen some of my friends get “stage fright” about the videogame, preferring to just watch.
Another argument in favor of learning a real instrument: it can help you pick up chicks/dudes, or at least meet new ones. Which can be a good thing.