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A Fireside Chat with Rhythm Authors

Hey gang,

I recently took some time to chat with Joseph Cirri at Rhythm Authors. For those of you not familiar with them, they were originally working on authoring songs back in the RBN days. More recently, they’ve been a major help in a lot of the initial authoring work on a bunch of tracks on the Rock Band 4 soundtrack, as well as a lot of recent DLC. Read on to see what we talked about!

Let’s talk history. How did Rhythm Authors get started?

I created the fansite, and soon afterward formed relationships with Harmonix. In 2009 Harmonix invited me and some talented ScoreHero team members out to discuss what would become known as Rock Band Network.

In anticipation of Rock Band Network, I incorporated Rhythm Authors LLC out of a speculated need for experienced Rock Band chart authors. Over the next several years, we expanded our team and built up working relationships with artists and record labels from all across the world. We contributed nearly 300 songs to the RBN catalog over 4 years while striving to maintain top-notch standards and set the best example for other authors and playtesters in the RBN community.

I was later contacted by Harmonix in October 2014 regarding a unique opportunity to work on a small batch of DLC for Rock Band 3. Without asking many questions, I reached out to several of Rhythm Authors’ most experienced team members and we were able to quickly resurrect our workflow. These songs were in the DLC packs which released in January through March of last year.

Following completion of those songs, we were informed Rock Band 4 was in development and asked to help chart a bunch of the songs for the game. After getting over initial shock of that news, I evaluated our resources with the proposed schedule and accepted the challenge.

We settled into a collaborative process with the folks at Harmonix to help produce content for RB4 and are still working together on future DLC releases. It's been an incredible ride, and we're honored to be a part of it.

Can you give me an overview of the authoring process for you?

The process begins for us when a new project is entered into our system. We give it a unique codename for internal reference along with a target submission deadline. Tasks for each instrument are assigned with individual deadlines that allow us to meet the submission target.

On average, the authoring phase takes about half of a project's total time – the rest is QA. After initial charts are completed, QA assignments begin. These consist of a full pass of all difficulties (or harmony tracks for vocals) and instrument animations. During QA, charts are verified against Harmonix guidelines and all objective and subjective concerns are noted and attached to the project. The original author evaluates feedback and uploads a revised version of the chart. We use a 24/7 communication platform with channels for every project, and during revisions it's common to collaborate and hash out subjective issues.

After all revisions from QA are complete, authoring for Overdrive phrases and crowd states are added and merged with the revisions for each part to create a "version 1" of the song. At this stage multiple team members play the song in-game to check for any issues that may have gone overlooked, and to evaluate overall mix balance and how well the authoring connects to the audio in gameplay. Final evaluations are discussed and song revisions finalized based on a majority consensus.

As a final safeguard we run the final song file through a Rhythm Authors script that detects many categories of errors and flags warnings for borderline concerns. Should any detections warrant change, revisions are made until the script output is acceptable, and the final package is delivered back to Harmonix.

To complete the song for release, Harmonix conducts a round of QA for final revisions, and adds authoring for venue elements such as camera cuts and lightning, and for RB4-specific features such as freestyle guitar solos and freestyle harmonies.

How big is the Rhythm Authors team?

Throughout the course of work on Rock Band 4 content we've ranged from 4 to 7 team members. Currently we're managing at 6.

What’s your favorite memory about working with Harmonix over the years?

This would have to be the trip up to Harmonix in March 2009 to learn about Rock Band Network. Upon arrival we checked in to our hotel and were told our rooms had been upgraded. It turns out one of us had been given the presidential suite which was the entire top floor of the hotel. We were amazed and spent most of the first night playing Rock Band through the built-in surround sound system. The next morning, we arrived at Harmonix offices and were escorted through guarded sections of the building as (we later found out) The Beatles: Rock Band was in the works and still unannounced at the time.

Coming in, we had a vague idea about the nature of the project involving user-generated content, but were expecting perhaps a new game mode to create music and charts with in-game tools. When we sat down and Harmonix started to explain and draw diagrams to demonstrate this new initiative our jaws just hit the floor. The ability for users to license real music, author charts using real DAW software, transfer from PC to console for in-game testing, and publish/sell the songs as Rock Band DLC. This was our absolute dream, but due to the many layers of legal and technical hurdles involved it seemed completely impossible.

From that point forward we were fully devoted to doing everything we could to help make the initiative successful during the starting beta period. After months of brainstorming both internally and with Harmonix, Rhythm Authors was born and the rest is history.