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Say You Want A Revolution: Beatles and Harmonix in Game Pact

gh-beatles-ndering-2-sm.jpgIt’s been the ungettable get, the top of the wish list, the digital archive that every vendor has wanted but nobody could have.  iTunes was rumored close, more than once.  Members of the band suggested it would happen this year (it hasn’t).   Activision’s Guitar Hero was the subject of more whispers but nobody could seem to get the complex mix of license holders to reach a joint agreement.  Somehow, over the course of seventeen months, Viacom’s Harmonix found a way.   Ahead of Apple and Activision, the pioneers behind Rock Band and Guitar Hero, will launch a video game built entirely around the catalog of The Beatles.

Because the game is in development, details have largely been held back but here’s what we know:

Vote for Your

Favorite Beatles

Songs Here

First, the game will not be a customized edition of MTV and EA’s Rock Band franchise.  While Activision is pursuing that strategy with Guitar Hero (Aerosmith and upcoming Metallica editions), and MTV/EA are using it for some Rock Band expansion packs (AC/DC), with the Beatles, Harmonix (MTV Games) will do something new.   Peripherals from Rock Band may crossover but the game play is pledged to be unique.  It will follow the story of the band and bring something different, what that will be we don’t know.

The second detail clear from the outset is that the entire Beatles catalog will be potentially available for the game developers to work with.  Achieving that was no small feat.  As profiled in prior Metue coverage of Beatles digital rumors, ownership of the music archive is complex and licensing requires more than one agreement.

To recap: the complex chain of custody dates back to the 60s.  Around 1963, the Paul McCartney and John Lennon sold some of the publishing rights to the song’s they’d authored to Northern Songs, a company created by their manager, Brian Epstein, and a music publisher, Dick James. Northern Songs went public in 1965 with John Lennon and Paul McCartney each holding 15%.  Dick James and the company’s chairman, Charles Silver, held a controlling stake of 37.5%.  

In 1969, looking for an exit, James and Silver sold Northern Songs to the Associated Television Corporation (ATV).   ATV held on for more than a decade but in 1985, they sold the catalog again.  Put up for auction, the Beatles publishing rights were offered to the highest bidder. 

Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono tried to buy it back but they and others were outbid by Michael Jackson who bought the rights for a bargain price estimated at $47 million.  A decade later, in 1995, Jackson sold half of his stake to Sony for about $95m. 

Many of the Beatles biggest hits are part of the Sony/ATV collection but complicating matters, the group owns only some of the Beatles publishing rights.  Unlike John Lennon and Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr didn’t renew their relationship with Northern Songs in 1968.  The two instead shifted their rights to Apple Publishing, a division of Apple Corps. (a company originally set up to help manage the bands income and tax liabilities).  They then went on to also create their own publishing companies.

For the new game, MTV Games/Harmonix had to reach agreement with all of the collected rightsholders:  Apple Corps, EMI Music, Harrisongs Ltd., Sony/ATV and the band members or their estates.

The discussions reportedly took seventeen months but everyone involved eventually agreed.  Sir Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Olivia Harrison and Yoko Ono all have given the project their blessing and input.

As for the music, fans hoping the game will feature digital remastered songs may be disappointed. The third of the limited details revealed is that the game will predominantly rely on existing recordings in making the story of the band interactive.

Giles Martin, the son of the Beatles original producer and himself, the producer behind the Beatles popular Las Vegas show “Love” said, “ the thing we’re trying to keep here is for people to play the songs as though they’re playing the originals.  We’ll be doing [using] the original mixes that my father and the Beatles did back in the day, and doing our best to preserve the sound quality. We want people to interact with what they know very well as opposed to rehashing the music.”

Martin will be supervising the music for the game.  The game will work from the UK releases.

As yet there’s no title for this next “British Invasion.”   There’s also no word on specific music choices.  (We’ve put together a poll for those who want to vote their favorites.  It’s available here).

The game is expected for a holiday 2009 release.


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