Rock Band Network, Music
Conversion and More With WaveGroup’s Will Littlejohn (Part 1)
By Louis Bedigian
"We occasionally need to work with the artist
to make a song more playable in Rock Band by modifying the tune in some way …
We’re hoping to work with artists in the future to produce Rock Band-exclusive
versions like this, only available in the game."
We’ve all heard the stories, good and bad, about
the licensing process for getting music into Rock Band, Guitar Hero and other
music games. But have you ever wondered how a song is converted into a playable
WaveGroup, whose current project is the Rock Band
Network, has the answer. "We’re all very enthusiastic music and sound people and
as a group try to bring that passion to the world in a constructive and positive
way," said WaveGroup President and CEO Will Littlejohn. "It’s tremendously
gratifying to know that we’ve played a part in bringing lots of great music to a
new audience through the games we’ve worked on, and we’re continuing that
tradition with our involvement in the Rock Band Network.
"It’s a bit ironic that our original role in
music games was to create the music, and now we are helping artists we used to
cover bring their recordings into music games, but we couldn’t be more excited
by the prospect. It’s a natural progression for the genre, and we’re looking
forward to the challenges."
Start by introducing us to WaveGroup, which is
touted as a global leader for audio production in the music game genre.
Will Littlejohn: Sure! WaveGroup is an
audio company based in Fremont, California. We’re a collective of 16 musicians
and studio professionals with the common passion of sound, and do our best to be
working in it every day. Most of the WaveGroup people are also musicians, so we
have that in common as well. We started in post production audio, so there is a
strong technical background in our crew and I think this shows in our work.
We’ve been in the music and sound business for 16 years, and love what we do.
We’re also lucky enough to be great friends, and have a blast working together.
When was WaveGroup founded? Were video games a
part of the original business plan?
WL: WaveGroup started in 1994 as the audio
post production team for the ABC Saturday morning stop-motion animated series
"Bump In The Night." We spent two+ years cranking out half-hour episodes on
network deadlines, including some crazy music segments. Video games weren’t part
of the original plan, but we did do sound effects creation for a few games
during this time and as we got better at it we kept getting hired. Subsequently
we became much more involved in video games, and have created lots of dialog,
music, and sound effects for dozens of projects. It was a natural fit for our
As if the Rock Band series
wasn’t impressive enough, Littlejohn’s story shows how incredible the series is
With regard to the Rock Band series, WaveGroup
announced that it will work with artists’ original recordings and transform them
into playable Rock Band tracks. How does this process work? Tell us all that’s
WL: First of all, we need to work with the
artists and prepare submix stems of their songs. This means we need all of the
instruments separated into individual audio files, such as the lead vocal only,
the lead guitar only, etc. This can be a tricky process, but we have lots of
experience in creating these stems from all the music games we’ve worked on over
the years. Think of it as layers in Photoshop.
After we have the stems prepped, we create very
detailed maps of each instrument in workstations that represent the gems and
vocal note tubes in Rock Band. This is essentially a very musical process, as
our job is to bring the feeling of actually playing the real instruments in
the song to the Rock Band environment. The timing and position choices made are
really critical, and can make or break the final Rock Band track. I think our
crew are among the best in the business at doing this.
After mapping out all of the instruments and
vocals, we create a series of instructions that direct everything from lighting
cues and camera shots to the hand positions of the guitar and bass players as
well as the movement of the drummer.
When all of this work is done, we wrap it all up
in an encrypted package, test it to death, then send it to the store!
How much editing has to be done before a song
is ready to go? Do you ever have to trim the length of a song? Or reduce or
expand the length of time that a particular instrument plays?
WL: We occasionally need to work with the
artist to make a song more playable in Rock Band by modifying the tune in some
way. Usually this means an edit of some type or the creation of an ending. Back
when we were producing the recordings for these types of games, we would
occasionally lengthen a solo section or even create one from time to time. We’re
hoping to work with artists in the future to produce Rock Band-exclusive
versions like this, only available in the game.
How long does it take to convert a song for
WL: It varies somewhat, but I’d say the
average actual production time is around 80 hours, including the creation of
Do the artists ever want to be personally
involved in the process? And if they wanted to be, could they be?
WL: So far, we haven’t had an artist
express the desire to be involved, but we’d love it!
Stay tuned to GameZone for part two of our
interview with WaveGroup.