Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Want to Play with the Beatles, but Don’t Want to Pay for “Rock Band”? Try JamLegend (Soon).

beatlesforsaleWant to play your favorite Beatles song in a videogame? If you want to do it with the official Fab Four-endorsed version of Rock Band, you’re going to have to wait until Sept. 9. And you’ll have to pay Electronic Arts (ERTS) and Viacom (VIA) between $60 and $250 for the privilege.

But if you want to save money and time, you can head over to JamLegend, where you can play along with “Ticket to Ride” or any other song, for free.

What’s the catch? Well, there are a bunch: For instance, you need to own whatever song you want to play, and you’ll have to upload a copy of the tune (in MP3 form) to JamLegend, which will store up to five songs at a time.

And JamLegend is no Rock Band–instead of a high-end console game featuring “real” fake instruments and expensive animation, it’s a relatively crude Web game you play with a keyboard.

Oh. And the “play your own music” feature the company is promoting today could end very soon, maybe even today. The year-old start-up hasn’t run the idea by the big music labels–Warner Music Group (WMG), Sony (SNE), Universal Music Group and EMI–and odds are that at least one of them is going to growl about this.

If they do, says CEO Andrew Lee, he’ll back down fairly quickly. “The music industry has reached a point where they don’t always send out a cease & desist [letter] whenever anyone tries something,” he says. “But if they do send out a C&D we’ll definitely abide by it.”

But give Lee and his two-co-founders credit: This is a smart stunt that should get their year-old start-up some well-deserved attention. And it makes a fine point, too–there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to play Rock Band, Guitar Hero, or any of the many knockoffs with music you own.

Especially in the form that Lee is doing it: While JamLegend offers a multiplayer game, the only way you can only play with your uploaded songs is by yourself. There’s no “sharing” going on here. And in the end, that’s really not going to be that much fun; the whole point of these games, as far as I can tell, is to play them, karaoke-style, with a bunch of your pals (drinking doesn’t hurt, either).

Lee acknowledges this and says he’d be happy to work out something with the labels that lets him expand the use of their music. That’s already happened, on an ad hoc basis: A handful of the 600 songs his game features come from little-known artists signed to Sony and Universal, whose promotional staffs have asked JamLegend to incorporate the tunes.

But Lee says that when he’s talked to the labels about wide-ranging pacts in the past, he’s been told he doesn’t have enough reach or money to cut a deal. He has about 800,000 unique monthly users, and the three-person company, sprung from Washington, DC-area incubator LaunchBox Digital, has raised about $500,000 in angel funding. Let’s see if his bid for attention changes that.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t seen what the Beatles edition of Rock Band looks like, take a gander here. Personally, I find these uncanny valley renderings unpleasant, but I’m probably not the target demo for this stuff anyway. And great songs are great songs, so maybe it will do as well as everyone hopes.

(Happy Birthday, Ben!)

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Nobody was excited about paying top dollar for a movie about WikiLeaks. A film about the origins of would have done better.

— Gitesh Pandya of comments on the dreadful opening weekend box office numbers for “The Fifth Estate.”