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"Rock Manager" makes game of music biz

August 13, 2002
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By Gene Emery

PROVIDENCE, R.I., July 31 (Reuters) - It's not surprisingthat the music business, where sometimes-volatile musicians who arepassionate about their art have to work with big recordcompanies that are passionate about their profits, can be arough-and-tumble industry.

If you've ever been tempted to jump into the fray, you maywant to pick up a copy of "Rock Manager," a new $20 CD-ROMsimulation from DreamCatcher Interactive.

It boasts of letting players "Push rock stars around" and"use any means necessary to make the band climb the charts(because) anything goes in this strung-out world of swindle,lies and rock 'n' roll.

It starts you off with $100,000. You supply the cunning.

Your first task is to build a band, selecting from ahandful of musicians ranging from the foul-mouth anarchistvocalist who charges $130/week to the hot-shot celebritydrummer whose price is hundreds more.

My first go-around wasn't very successful. I picked somemiddle-level musicians and bought an angry punk song thattalked about kids rioting in the streets. (It was either thator the melodic "Kill Your Parents.")

I created a demo disk in a low-rent garage studio (whichseemed appropriate, given the nature of the group) but no labelwould sign a contract, so it was back to the studio to rerecord the song.

In what would be the first of several slimy moves, Ireplaced two of the four band members with studio musicians --ringers designed to make the recording sound better. That gotme into a few gigs where the attendance was underwhelming, butthat was enough to get me a contract with Rainbow Records, witha $32,000 advance and a 14-percent royalty.

Then it was onward to the design studio to create a CDcover. A decent background -- in this case, a mushroom cloud togo with the "Kids Gonna Riot" song, cost $7,500. Adding a lensflare cost $1,500. The name of the band on fire was $3,000.Money slips away rapidly in this game.

I was told that the album would be released Oct. 12, justin time for the holiday season.

Then it was time to promote it. I dropped off press kits atthe local radio station, newspaper, and music magazine. Nobodyreviewed it. I tried bribing them with $200 flowerarrangements, $800 bottles of liquor, even $1,200 dinners. Itdidn't help, although the people at the radio station and themagazine didn't hesitate to take the gifts.

I bought some ads and staged a few more shows but, alas, byChristmas I was out of money and the band had only made it toNo. 9 on the charts -- and only for one week.

Then I realized that "Rock Manager" lets you set the datesfor the various events. That made all the difference in theworld.

The second time around, I set the album release date farenough into the future to make the rounds of all the media,schedule a warm-up concert, arrange for record store promotionsto begin the day after the album's release, and hold anotherconcert immediately before the CD hit the shelves.

I also made sure I picked better musicians, paid more for agood song, added some ringers as soon as we got to therecording studio, and recorded the song in a higher-qualitystudio.

However, it wasn't a completely smooth ride. When thedrummer thought it was taking too long to get the album on theshelves, I immediately fired her and hired someone better. Ialso bought the surviving band members $350 designer sunglassesto keep their discontent in check.

Ultimately, I had my Top 10 hit, the only bad review camefrom the magazine writer who was more than willing to takegifts on the side, and it was time to move on to the secondscenario: getting two foul-mouthed brothers to record a songand keeping them together long enough to show up at a benefitconcert.

And sing in tune.

The further you get into the game, the more underhanded youcan be, to the point where you can have a Top Ten hit withoutactually selling an album. In one scenario, your job is to putyour record company out of business by wasting as much of theirmoney as you can without having them realize. My son, the rockstar wanna-be, couldn't tear himself away from the game.

I have a few minor complaints about "Rock Manger."

It would be nice if the game had a better system for savingyour place so you could go back in time and see how differentactions affect the outcome. Instead, "Rock Manager" simplysaves your place when you quit.

It also had some technical quirks. At one point, I paid$5,000 to the record store so it would offer a discount on thealbum. But when I checked on the deal later, I couldn't findany record of it. On another occasion, I believe, the game toldme my album had earned far more money than the game had givenme credit for.

Then again, maybe these weren't glitches. Some folks in themusic business might argue that they simply add realism to thegame.

"Rock Manager, for Windows, is for ages 17 and olderbecause some of the characters talk like, well, rock stars.

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(Gene Emery is a columnist who covers science andtechnology. His Internet address is GEmery(at)Cox.net. Anyopinions in the column are his alone.)

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