Megaman Inspired Venture Kid Features Norrin Radd’s Last ModPlug NES Soundtrack

Matt Creamer aka Norrin Radd has is without a doubt one of the masters of NES composition. With amazing NES albums like Melodia de Infinita and Anomaly and his unique style and mastery of the 2A03, he is the perfect choice for a iOS game soundtrack that tries to pay homage to the classic Megaman series.

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Venture Kid feels like an NES game from the opening cinematic scenes. Every tone and sound is authentic and the game itself mostly sticks to the limitations of the NES, with the exception of some multi-paralax scrolling backgrounds and modern “achievement” style awards.

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Matt says this is his last NES album using ModPlug, which he uses for its ability to slightly detune the pulses, a trick that adds some cool shine to the standard NES tones. Like much of his work, there is a bit of a middle-eastern scale vibe and its mostly apparent in the pyramid level. Perhaps the games only shortcoming is you don’t get to select a stage. It feels like Megaman in every other way but that. The stages are filled with secrets and places to use weapons, but you have to go at them in order. All things considered though, its as close to an NES experience you can get on your iPhone and I highly recommend it.

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Some Common Questions About Doing Music Full Time Answered

bscPicThis is a compilation of some common questions I’ve answered for various people over the last few years.

  1. How long have you been at this, and did you have a “big break” or sort of tipping point where then the gigs started coming to you? Or would you say it was more about persistence searching games out and steadily upping the ante?

I’m not sure I ever had a big break. But what happened was I slowly gained clients little by little. I took a “dealer” approach, if someone came to me and said “I need 2 songs and I only have $100” I said, “SURE! No problem” and gave them the best 2 songs I could make and told them what it SHOULD have costs, this made them very grateful. If they wanted something next time I said ‘well, i know you had a budget on your last game so i wanted to help you out, but you’ll need to pay full prices now…I have literally had a guy ask for 1 chiptune song for $30 and have that turn into $2000 worth of songs after a successful kickstarter a couple months later.

So yeah i guess it’s about steadily upping the ante. I still don’t think I’m like a super pro. As you saw in the article my plan is more “avoid a full time job” and “live off the internet” than, make music my career, although that was the dream on the inside of it.

  1. Would you say geographic location is still a major contributing factor in business?

It would be if you wanted to do like film scoring, but I only have 2 local clients, i’ve never even talked on the phone with most of them, my big spenders are in the U.K. and Japan oddly enough.

  1. Is game composition your day job, or are gear and other business expenses covered by other means of income (day job etc.).

It has been my only day job for stretches of months. Right now it’s about 50% of my day doing music and 50% doing programming and database admin stuff. They both make about the same money in the end, but the programming keeps me through dry spells with no music work. In the times that I did ONLY music, the time spent marketing (instead of other jobs) helped me get new clients and I’d imagine if I marketed myself consistently, I’d always have enough work only on music. I should also add that I live very simple. I don’t have big debts or spend luxuriously. You probably couldn’t do this with a mortgage and kids.

Also if i took boring sound jobs like podcast editing/recording cleanups, I could have a regular 20+ hours of work, but its so dull i’d rather program.

  1. What are your views on percentage based payment? I know you’ve written about pricing elsewhere, but have you or would you pass on a gig because the developer did not

Well, I’ve made like $600 off % based payment in the last year, so, no. I’m not a big fan. I do take the risk if I think a game has potential, but usually, I prefer up front payment and let them keep the rights. I’ve taken some flack from other musicians on this. But do you really want to pay less and hear the same song in another game? If I cared about the game I was making, I wouldn’t.

  1. Do iTunes or something like CD Baby/Tunecore really help your exposure and provide earnings on the side for game composers? I saw that some of your stuff is up there but was hoping to hear about this?

The CD Baby album is actually my client’s. He put it up. I sometimes make a deal with my clients who can’t pay much to retain the rights to their music and sell it myself. It does not bring in major money, just a steady trickle and definitely gets me some exposure.

  1. Do you retain rights to your music, or does the company? How do composers like Danny B, C148, and Disasterpeace post their stuff on bandcamp/keep it in their name? (I have a client who wants to retain bandcamp exclusivity for tax purposes?)

Well, there are different ways and schools of thought on this. Most people want to retain the rights. I have something in my contract saying I have the right to display it in my portfolio and sometimes for people who can’t pay full price, I ask for the rights to sell the music as a soundtrack of their game, but I havent made much off doing that.

  1. The one thing I’d probably hate having to answer, just, how do you get well-paying and sure-to-be-finished game composition jobs? Or any composition jobs? 

See the article on that one. If a game is nonexistent, I charge full prices in case it never comes out.  i.e. you’ll see a “Cannoncraft” score out there by me, it never came out.  i market myself constantly, troll kickstarter, email little obscure gaming companies. msg folks on facebook etc. just keep hammering away and build your clientele.

  1. Does it change when you do music 8 hours a day for money?

When something you love becomes your job it can lose some of its magic. I was surprised to hear even career musicians who have years of experience and giant fan bases say things like that in interviews.

The articles mentioned are all here: Index to Life As a Freelancer Series On VideoGameDJ.com.

GameChops Releases SpinDash Fan-Made Sonic Remix Album Today

If there is one Sega game soundtrack we will remember forever, without a doubt it’s Sonic the Hedgehog. The bar was set high by the games original tracks and every game that followed pushed the envelope without changing the amazing core formula. Game Chops’ awesome new Spindash album has some amazing reimagined versions of some of the most beloved Sonic tracks from various games in the series.

The album starts with a tease of a starlight zone remix, playing those lovely and familiar first three notes before juxtaposing into a pretty sweet Hydrocity Zone remix by Coda. Personal favorites for me personally include a remake of Sonic CD’s Stardust Speedway that recalls everything that is amazing about Daft Punk. My all time favorite Sonic track is the Marble Zone from Sonic 1, and Absrdst’s glitchy remix does not disappoint. Cutman himself puts a minor key harmonic change on the Starlight Zone classic to give it a erie middle-eastern flavor.

I admit I did not know some of the tracks from the newer sonic games like Sonic Colors and Knuckles Chaotix, but the remixes made me want to check out the originals. I highly recommend picking up this awesome album today!

Gazapper Games releases Solar Rush with Beatscribe Sounds

IMG_4369.JPGGazapper Games continues outputting awesome android games based on classic zx spectrum titles. Their latest one is based on Transversion. It’s a great space game that tests your reflexes. It seems simple at first but this simple strategy title’s difficulty escalates quickly.

Gazapper Games’ titles are rooted in the retro gaming style of the early generation of consoles, but they wanted to take the music a bit forward from the spectrum with some Genesis style 16-bit vibes. Get it today!

Kickstarter: Brad Smith To Release NES Game on Actual Cartridge

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I am quite possibly one of Brad Smith’s biggest fans. His complete cover of The Dark Side of the Moon on a NES cart is always in regular rotation on my playlist. Brad is putting his chiptune and professional game development experience to work on a brand new game for the NES called Lizard. He’s running a Kickstarter here and it’s a project I’d really like to see succeed. The demo thus far reminds me of Legacy of the Wizard, Metroid and Little Nemo. The video also hints at some different play modes and of course, we can expect quality chip tunes. Pledge today!

Plogue Chipsounds Wave Table Tutorial

Plogue Chipsounds is one of the best tools for making retro-chiptune style sounds. However, the wave table configuration is sometimes a bit confusing to learn. Here’s a quick video to show you the basics on how to do it. It’s not very different from Famitracker or the LsDj table setup. This tutorial will show you how to make some Megaman-style sounds.

Applying Scrum Methodology to Composing Soundtracks

Recently, I was thinking of some of the problems I had in the early days of composing and noticed an interesting paradigm between how modern companies develop software and the practices I’d adopted when creating music for clients.

 

Years ago, software developers did their work in a straight line. A client wanted a system and you started building it from the ground up, not stopping until it was near completion. Then, you showed it to the client, tested it and usually had to go back and change a ton of things since the client wasn’t really sure what they were asking for or you misinterpreted it.

 

To resolve this problem the Agile Scrum process was created to solve some important problems with the traditional method. This idea was developed in the 80’s but in the early 2000’s it really started to become adopted on a large scale by many companies. I’m going to keep it very high-level here (developers aren’t my main audience, I think?). The aim was to cut down in the vicious cycle of developing done without any communication to the end user and then going back and redoing it when the end user didn’t like it. It also addresses how teams plan and deliver things.

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One of the most important pieces is incremental delivery. This is something I’ve adopted into my music composition process when working for a third party. Much like the traditional developer, my early soundtracks were seen and heard only by me until completion. Then, when the client got the finished product, they usually said, “this part is too long”, “we don’t like this instrument”, etc.

 

In the Scrum methodology, you have a “sprint” which is a set of time to complete a unit of work. A unit of work is something you can show the client at the end of the sprint. This way the client knows what on earth you’re billing him for and you also can be more sure the client will like the finished product. This is exactly what I do with a soundtrack now. Here’s my sprints:

 

  1. Initial sound of the album – I create a few 30 second demos, not properly mixed, some default oZone mastering on it and send them to the client. I usually make them loops so they can try them in game. From here, we determine if they like where things are going or if I’ve misinterpreted their directions and suggested feeling.

 

  1. Short Drafts of Each Track – If the soundtrack will be 10 songs in total, I make 10 30-45 second looping tracks displaying how I envision each track based on their direction. I usually try to include at least 2 dynamic shifts in this short period of time so that they can envision how the final version would sound. This could be more than one sprint depending on the amount of tracks needed.

 

  1. Final Drafts – Once the client is happy with the short drafts, I develop all of these short unmixed and unmastered demos into complete tracks based on the duration the client has requested. At this point they have their last chance to weigh in on instrument changes, tempos and other factors that play into the mixing and mastering phase. This section may be many sprints if it’s a very large job.

 

  1. Mixing and Mastering – Now we do our mixing and mastering and create finished products. We know we are safe doing this now since the client has confirmed everything up until now, what we send them in the end will only be slightly different from what they heard in the “Final Drafts” stage.

 

  1. Final Preview and Delivery – Once we have them all mixed, I send an archive file of mp3 versions for the client to listen to one last time. Then, if they’re satisfied, I send them the formats they’ve requested, raw WAV files and any stems if they needed them.

 

The great thing is that this is a great way to break up a large contract into multiple payments. Any completion of a sprint is a good place for an incremental payment.

 

Here’s a few tips for working with this mindset:

 

  1. Save everything! – Don’t think a song is done when you’re done with it. Save each draft you make. If you make 3 versions with a different lead instrument, save three projects so you wont have to remember what it is later. Once, when I used a hardware synth to make an early version, I didn’t write down the settings, and I could never quite capture the same sound later on for the final. Keep track of everything.

 

  1. Be Organized – It’s totally worth the time to move things into folders, save backups and make spreadsheets of where things are. If you don’t, you will forget something at some point.

 

  1. Communicate – Make sure you’re client understands this process. One important thing is that they realize your first drafts are not final projects. They need to remember that it’s just to get a mood or feeling to start with.

 

What are your methods for composing?

Revengineers 8static EP Review

 

The Revengineers are without a doubt my favorite chiptune-influenced group. They’re about the only post-rock chiptune blending group I’ve heard and their earnest emotional songs really hit hard. Besides that, they have some amazing drumming and guitar playing and avoid all the meandering, pointless doodling sections that make you forget which post-rock group you were listening to.

 

Their new two-track ep is hopefully a teaser for what will be a whole album following in the tracks of their epic self-titled ep. The new tracks don’t stray far from the wonderful formula of NES leads backed by powerful guitars and drums and synths. It seems like there’s a bit more synth action this time around and the overall recording quality is crystal-clear and slightly above that of the self-titled ep.

 

I highly suggest picking up both albums today and making a sizeable bandcamp donation to keep this amazing band going strong!

Best Sega Genesis Soundtracks You’ve Never Heard

Growing up I never had a Sega Genesis. We always had Nintendo products. I think it mostly had to do with the family friendly image Nintendo produced compared to Sega’s more edgy arcade style marketing. A while back we looked at some of the chiptune artists using the Genesis over at videogamedj.com, check out the post here. But for actual game music, here’s some great Sega Genesis soundtracks you probably never heard of.

Battle Mania Daiginjou

Making rock music in FM synthesis is not easy. Things are either too distorted or not enough. This game gets it right. You know those are guitars rocking out as soon as the notes hit. The game itself is sort of like a space shooter meets Contra with anime themes tossed in. The soundtrack is a blistering onslaught of guitar and drums hat doesn’t let up for a second!

Herzog Zwei

The game that started the real time strategy genre sports a very good soundtrack as well. Lots of variety and some excellent fm synth tones that would sound great even in a modern electro album. The slow tunes especially stand out (Be His Soul Rest).

Revenge of Shinobi

I must admit I never played this game. Love the 80s sounding bass and smooth tones on this soundtrack. It never gets hissy or squealy. It really sounds like an NES Soundtrack just for the drums and composition style.

Batman

The original Genesis Batman has some of my favorite Genesis music. It reminds me a lot if Journey to Sillius and later MegaMan X. The Axis Chemical plant stage is up there in my top tracks of all time. Love the intros the stage tracks have.

Zero Wing

You only heard of this game thanks to All Your Base, but it happens to have some of the most killer rock music on the Genesis. It’s really hard to mimic the crunch of a palm muted distorted guitar using synthesizer. But Zero Wing does it perfectly. They also do the harmonizing guitar solos that are the staple on 80s rock and Dragonforce type groups.

Next week we will look at how to get these soundtracks into your mp3 player without downloading one track at a time.

Tutorial: Recreating the Quick Man Song With Plogue Chipsounds

I love watching waves...

I love watching waves…

Plogue Chipsounds is one of the most comprehensive and powerful sound modules for creating classic game console chip sounds. However, if it’s interface might not be the most obvious and intuitive when you first start to use it.

Why would you want to use an Audio Unit/VST instead of the actual hardware or a tracker? Well, for adding some quick chip sounds to an existing song or remixing a classic song, it’s super useful to have everything happening in MIDI. You can speed things up, transpose them and make changes without having to spend time outside of your main DAWS. Whenever I want some Nintendo triangle bass, I go straight to chipsounds!

The Quick man track is one of the most amazing classic NES songs ever. It’s just buzzing with electrical goodness and really makes the intense Quickman level even more amazing. In just a few minutes, you can create a pretty accurate sound in Chipsounds.

I have to say that I really love the respect that the author of Chipsounds has for the classic chips. Chipsounds conforms to what the chip its emulating could actually do and won’t let you play ten notes on the NES chip. This helps keep things accurate. The tool is definitely worth the cost and I’ll be covering some of the other features in later tutorials. I also love their statement about “preserving endangered chip species”; there are some amazing sounding chips from obscure systems which create some amazing classic sounds. Definitely worth looking into to expand your sound repertoire.

In the tutorial, I use some DMC samples from the original Nintendo which you can download here. Thanks to 8bitpeoples and Null Sleep for the DMC samples.