03 September 2009

Insomnia, Sound Unwound & Music Video Games

A few days ago, my guts started to get more cranky than usual and I elected to resurrect my on-again/off-again relationship with Prednisone. This is why I am now blogging at 5:16 AM with a throat full of heartburn. Want to know what I've been doing to while away the insomniac hours during this week? Well, I will tell you anyway.

There is a website operated by Amazon called Sound Unwound and it is an editable music database. It's something of an amalgamation of the Internet Movie Database and Wikipedia. Users like you or I can log in with our Amazon account information (you do already have one, right?) and begin filling out the discographies and credits for our favorite artists and albums; reviews appear, but they are imported from the Amazon website reviews. You're not being asked to provide diatribes about why a particular artist rocks or sucks; just help build a comprehensive list of where you can find that artist's work. The "just the facts" approach is more in line with IMDb, whereas the anyone-can-edit style is more Wiki.

Anyway, I am now the 20th ranked editor on the site, with 110 edits pending. You'd be surprised just how many edits you can rack up simply by pulling out the liner notes to a favorite album. Between the musicians performing various instruments, the songwriters, producer(s), engineers and even the design team, there are quite a lot of oft-ignored people who contribute to the music we enjoy. You might be surprised to notice some trends; perhaps some of your favorite songs were written by the same person; maybe the album art that catches your eye was crafted by the same design artist; you may even discover the name that goes with the amazing tocamarimba solo that you've been in love with for seventeen years.

So far, the coolest thing I've learned is just how awesome Metallica really is (are?). At this point, anyone who knows me at all is aware that I am not a listener of Metallica's music so they're surprised to find them name-dropped here. Well, truth be told I'm thinking about looking into getting my wife Guitar Hero or Rock Band games for Christmas (and since she never reads any of my blogs, I'm in no danger of her learning about it here, unless you open your big mouth) and so I've been raiding my uncle's classic rock library to get a feel for some of the music. (RIAA and related parties don't fret; I'm just giving them a spin on my CD player and then returning them; no copying or distributing involved.)

Among the samples I borrowed tonight was Metallica's Master of Puppets album. Owing to my recent Sound Unwound participation, I couldn't help but peruse the credits section of the included CD booklet. There, in the very last paragraph of the very last page is the following text:
"Also xtra fucken yahooz to...Carlsburg Beves; Sushi; Absolut Vodka; Alka Seltzer; The Young Ones; Remoulade; Skykow; Boom Shankar; Teenage Mutant Ninja-Turtles; and most of all...Edna!!!!"
Now, I should tell you that they hyphenated "Ninja-Turtles," not me. More importantly, the production date on this album is 1986. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles debuted in 1984 in comic books, but the animated series did not appear until 1988. That means that Metallica was into the TMNT before it became a cartoon, which means they were fans in the black & white indie days! [Craig Ferguson voice]I know![/Craig Ferguson voice]

Also, I discovered today that Harmonix has addressed the instrument issue, vis a vis cross-studio compatibility with Activision's Guitar Hero equipment. Time was, if you wanted to play Guitar Hero, you had to have Guitar Hero instruments (and the same for Rock Band). It's like you had to have a Warner Bros. ballcap to watch a Warner Bros. movie. Now, most equipment is pretty interchangeable (except the first Rock Band game, which I suspect Harmonix simply doesn't consider worth the trouble to update)

What happened, you ask? Well, remember how a few years ago everyone went ga-ga over the first Rock Band game, stunned that a box would contain everything down to a drum kit? Yeah, and remember how many of us blanched at the price? Okay, follow me now...remember how each summer the last couple of years, stores have been almost desperate to free up some shelf space by nearly giving away those massive boxes at half or even less of their original MSRP? Well, apparently Harmonix's bean counters have done the math and decided that they're not making nearly enough money cluttering video game accessory aisles with these peripherals and have elected to abandon doing so altogether. They're focusing exclusively on software henceforth, and they've made sure you can use your Guitar Hero equipment to play their games as part of the getting out process.

As someone whose music taste is predominantly country, I am stoked because this means I can buy the standalone Rock Band: Country Track Pack for the Wii and throw down on 21 country and alt-country tunes without needing to purchase any additional Rock Band hardware or software. Yes, as a Wii owner I'm disappointed that Harmonix still hasn't worked out DLC for my console of choice (which means I still don't get to play any of the six Toby Keith songs they have, including "Beer For My Horses"), but still it's nice to have a collection such as this. I already had 16 of the 21 songs from that game in my iTunes library and even though I confess to not being completely in love with all of the songs, I still think it'll be fun to play songs that I actually know. (Besides, it's got "The Gambler" by Kenny Rogers; how can this game not be worthwhile?!)

There you have it, then, boys and girls. A music-related blog entry composed within a half an hour and including a covert shout-out to at least three of my peeps. Can you find the reference intended for you? Let me know if you do...there might just be a prize in it for you.

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