The Guitar Hero/Rock Band phenomenon is showing no signs of waning, with countless sequels still on the way (including one focused solely on music by The Beatles) and money continuing to pour into the coffers of their respective game publishers. But gamers are still being forced to live with a problem that’s troubled the genre since its formation: you can only play along to songs that publishers have approved, licensed, and then ‘mapped out’ with note charts to play along to. Today, they’re getting a solution: JamLegend, the Guitar Hero-like website that uses your keyboard instead of a plastic guitar, has launched a new feature that lets you play along to any song in your music collection, whenever you’d like.
For those that haven’t been exposed to JamLegend before, the site shares a lot of common ground with Guitar Hero. Gamers load up a song and a flurry of colored dots begin to flow down the screen, with each one corresponding to a differet key on your keyboard. The experience is less atmospheric than the games you’ll find on the consoles, largely because it lacks flashy graphics and plastic guitars, but if you’re a Guitar Hero addict looking to get your fix at the office, it’s certainly good enough.
Until now JamLegend has fallen prey to the same problem as Guitar Hero and other console games: if a song wasn’t in the catalog, you couldn’t play it. Now, you can upload any song you’d like, and using digital signal processing, beat detection, and other automatic analysis, JamLegend takes the song and converts it into a playable track within a few minutes. Of course, generating a playable track is is one thing — but are they any good?
After trying out a few tracks, I found the technology to work well, though it isn’t perfect. On a standard, professionally-made track, you typically play along to guitar notes and not the accompanying drum beats or vocals. The auto-generated tracks tend to catch the most prominent sound at any point in the track, which means that sometimes you’ll find yourself playing elements of each instrument, along with the vocals. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just a bit different from what you may be used to.
Because this is a fairly unique feature in the genre, JamLegend is hoping to use it to start monetizing the site. Users can upload up to five of their own tracks at once, and each week they can swap out one of these for a new one (in other words, there’s a waiting period before you can add new songs). If you’d like to have more songs available at once, the site offers an entry-level premium package for $5 a month, which allows for up to 100 tracks at once, or a $20/month package for 500 songs.
All in all this a solid addition, though I’m curious if the record industry will have a problem with it. The only way to add a song to your library is to upload your own copy (the site makes it easy to buy songs you don’t already own, which is another source of revenue), but we’ve seen the labels get upset over less.