Music, Meet Gaming
By Dee Lockett
A new platform for creativity
Over the years, the concept of music distribution has evolved from grand music halls, to packed stadiums, to a pair of Dr. Dre headphones. Despite the money issues the music business has experienced, the creative process and quality of musicianship have skyrocketed. Financially, crutches hold up the music industry. One more step backward and it’ll fall right into its own grave, buried alive. But consider this: one game could remedy the entire music business.
Search through any dorm, apartment, or house at Syracuse University and you’re guaranteed to find faux instruments for either Rock Band or Guitar Hero lying around. Joe Gennaro, a senior at the School of Information Studies at SU, is no different. In fact, it was two years ago while playing one of these video games that he was inspired by what may be the greatest musical revolution since the electric guitar. Gennaro, already established in the Syracuse music scene, was fed up with the façades of Rock Band and the like. He wondered why users couldn’t use real instruments to play these games. JamLynx arose with a notion that real instruments could be the answer.
“It’s like Monopoly money versus real money. You might get excited about Monopoly money when you’re a little kid, but when you’re older and you have real money, it doesn’t mean anything,” Gennaro said, “It’s just a game.”
JamLynx is his revolutionary idea, one that involves merging music with gaming in a brand new way. His game is the first to allow users to play their own original songs with real instruments. “Most people are used to getting bored with a game or finishing the game and then they go out and buy a new game,” Gennaro explained. “When you play an instrument, you never master it. It takes your whole life, so you can play forever.”
Gennaro started taking several IT courses to hone his skills as a programmer. He met fellow students Jerrell and Justin Perry through a mutual friend. Gennaro included the brothers in a brainstorming session for his project last October, and the JamLynx team was formed shortly thereafter with Jerrell acting as the chief operating manager and Justin as the chief of public relations.
Creating the technology to connect a real instrument with a Mac or a PC was the team’s biggest hurdle. Thus far, Gennaro has successfully connected both a bass and a keyboard to a screen, seeing the notes flow across as he plays them. “No one else has done it the way we’re about to do it,” he said.
JamLynx may seem merely like a great learning tool to play an instrument for any regular user, far more educational than Rock Band or Guitar Hero. This kind of project however, could have a greater value for an independent musician. “The Internet is revolutionizing the way musicians operate, and JamLynx could very well be a part of this process,” said Sander Moolin, half of the electronic duo DoKashiteru.
The Ithaca-based musician believes that a simple recipe is needed to save the music industry. According to Moolin, it only takes a “combination of elements of gaming, rewards, incentives, and the sheer fun of discovering something new, and the elements of being a fan of a band, sharing what you love with others.”
JamLynx is not purely a gaming system, but also a form of social networking. Currently, when musicians decide to share their music with the public, they have very few options. Uploading songs to MySpace, YouTube, or Facebook are the most popular options. “We want to take it to the next level. You post your music on our site so that people can play it,” Gennaro said.
JamLynx’s level of interactivity may prove to be its greatest asset. Users are prompted to create social profiles listing who they are, what instruments they play, and their influences. This information allows them to find others with similar interests to both collaborate and challenge. Users who live within close proximity can trade instruments or even start a band. Moolin believes that this degree of communication between artists is the missing link in the music industry. Independent musicians need a “supportive, welcoming community with a powerful game-like element and a fan base that takes it upon itself to promote your music,” he said.
A program like JamLynx is a rare find in an image-based industry; it promotes real talent by encouraging users to actually learn how to play their instruments. They are scored on accuracy in terms of the notes and their timing. Plans to create a “jam” mode where users are challenged to play in a certain key are in the works.
“Games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band are fun, but there’s no real musical aspect to them,” Gennaro said. “Getting sheet music or videos on how to play a song is educational, but there’s no fun aspect. We take those two things and try to marry them together and put a social aspect to it also.”
He also aspires to take the gaming system to the classroom. JamLynx may have a future as a tutorial for students pursuing an education in music. While the system may not feature real musical tablature or classical notation, it is the ideal tool for learning how to play an instrument.
“Musical gaming has seen enough fake instruments and phony ‘I'm bad-ass’ themes to last a generation,” Jerrell said. “JamLynx is the real deal. If you say you’re a ‘bad-ass’ with our game, then you have to prove it. Playing an instrument really well is a skill, not a pasttime.”
JamLynx is on its way to becoming a more widely accepted musical format. The inventors even have their sights set on the recording studio for use by major label musicians. Currently, the system does not capture audio, but can be used for practicing songs.
While the project is still in its initial stages, response to JamLynx from those who have played the demo version has been overwhelmingly positive. Criticism from gaming companies has also been encouraging. “We’re kind of talking to a few companies and they seem to show really genuine interest, but they’re so swamped with work that they can charge whatever they want,” Gennaro said. “And we don’t necessarily have the right amount of funding to give to them right now.” JamLynx’s future looks promising. “We are in the process of creating a sposorship with a rock legend true to Syracuse—the one and only piano man, Billy Joel!” said Jerrell. Several upcoming demos of the project will also be available in Syracuse and New York City.
Currently, JamLynx’s greatest hurdle is funding. Gennaro estimates that the development of this project could cost anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000, an unrealistic amount of money for the team to raise on its own. Gennaro is very hesitant to sell the project to a gaming company and would only consider doing so if there were no alternative. JamLynx’s dire need for funding comes from the cost of hiring programmers to develop the game. Gennaro is the only programmer working on the project as of now. “If I did this, it would take me anywhere from a year to a year and a half, and by that time other people will have come out with the same idea,” he said. “We’re looking for funding, basically, so I can go out and find a group of programmers that know what they’re doing and have more experience than me and can put something like this together. They can complete the game in anywhere from three to six months.”
The JamLynx team has been utilizing numerous resources to fund their project including Kickstarter.com. Kickstarter is one of numerous platforms that have supported rising entrepreneurs throughout the U.S.
“If JamLynx could pull off what it claims to do, I’d definitely be interested in checking it out,” Moolin said. “From a technical standpoint, it sounds massively difficult, which is all the more reason to respect and be curious about their ideas.” So while the future of the music business may be uncertain, there is a reassuring influx of creativity in the music world. In today’s predominantly DIY music culture, JamLynx creates a revolutionary format for musicians to connect and explore a more vast musical landscape.
Illustration by Kat Mills