Wiki: McVaffe's Video Game Music Remix Tutorial

This tutorial is meant for people who are trying to get into game music remixing - or people who have been remixing for a while. It's by no means THE definitive guide to making remixes or any type of music. But it's intended to help newcomers get some ideas of what creative options and resources that are available to them. And it might remind the musical veterans of a few things out there also! I hope this guide will encourage more people to become involved in game music remixing, and in music in general. So, Enjoy!

What song should I remix?

Good question. But only YOU could answer that question, unless you're making the remixes for someone else. There are ways to get some game music inspiration for these mixes though. One of my favorite ways to find remixing material is to stumble on it while playing old games. So if you have an old NES or Genesis or even a PS2 or Dreamcast, just play some of the games you have, and see what comes to mind. You might not even remember the whole soundtrack and you might hear a great song while playing and think to yourself "I like that song, I think I'll do my own version of it."

Another place for inspiration is on the message boards, where you could find out what other people are looking for or requesting remixes of. Not that you should do the remixes just for other people, but some remix requests might remind you of a song that you would have otherwise forgotten. A song that you liked or remembered, but just forgot about. I've come across a few great songs I completely forgot just by looking at the good old request boards.

OK - I've got a song in mind, where do I find it to listen to it?

Once you come up with whatever song you want to remix, if you have a good enough memory you might be able to sit at the keyboard (or other instrument) and play the whole song from memory. Most people, however, use either samples, MP3s, or midi files of the original songs as a starting point for the remix. And these songs could be located in several places.

If you're looking for any music from the plethora of NES, Genesis, or SNES games out there, you could go to Zophar's Domain. In this mega-site there are links to various emulators or plug-ins. In short, emulators are typically small applications for your computer that process video game data. After downloading and installing a certain emulator on your computer, you could then use the program to play various songs and sound effects from NES, Genesis, and Super NES games.

Zophar's Domain has links to a wide variety of emulators for various purposes. But the basic ones I use are:

  • SNESamp for playing .SPC (Super NES sound files)
  • Meridian for playing .NSF (NES sound files) as well as .GYM (Genesis Sound Files), .GBS (Gameboy) and .SPC too.

In addition to links to the various emulators, Zophar's Domain has a huge selection of literally thousands of game music soundtracks for NES, Genesis, and SNES that you could download and listen to. While the songs are not in MP3 format, they usually take up very little space on your hard drive and can be converted to WAV file format (and thus MP3). From my experience with them, these emulators reproduce the game music fairly well, and clearly.

But if the emulator files aren't what you're looking for, try out MIDI files. VGmusic.com has the most extensive collection of game-specific files in MIDI format, from almost every console imaginable. The files are organized by console, then by game title.

This is an incredibly useful site but keep in mind that the files were made by thousands of different contributors, the majority of whom are admittedly game music fans. This means that some of the files sound exactly like the originals, while some are rather poor representations of the game songs they were meant to depict. And if you look hard enough, you'll find a few MIDIs of game music remixes thrown in as well.

The trick to using VGmusic.com effectively is to have a good idea of what you're looking for, as well as some recollection of what the original song sounds like. Otherwise you could easily find yourself distracted by sifting through hundreds of midi files aimlessly. It could be fun, but there's remixing to do! =)

For those of you with fast connections and a decent amount of hard drive space, Gamingforce Audio could be a decent resource for you. In a nutshell, the site hosts a collection of game soundtracks ripped from CDs and saved as MP3 files. These songs include selections from some classic soundtracks, but the MP3 samples are most useful for songs from CD-based console games such as those on Playstation, Saturn, or Dreamcast. Because many of these console games feature redbook audio, the the most convenient way to post them for download is in MP3 format. So if you can't plop your PSX or Saturn game in your CD player and hear the tracks, check out this site and you might find what you need.

Another more obvious choice for finding MP3 files from all different games and consoles would be to search for them on Napster. As game music becomes increasingly popular you can find more and more songs available within the Napster Network, and you're furthermore likely find a few things you never expected.

Got the song to remix, what now?

Sometimes you'll pick a song and download the file and then be at a loss at what to do. This section assumes you have the necessary tools for making remixes, and deals with some creative suggestions for making remixes. Questions about remix-producing technicalities will be addressed later on. Personally, the first thing I like to do when considering remixes is to think about what the original song offers, and what a remix could add to it. Many times, pop songs and ballads are remixed as dance tracks and the end result is something distastrous.

So I recommend really thinking about your original song. Then consider what kind of musical style to emphasize a certain attribute of the song - or maybe change the emphasis altogether. There are a million ways to do that, and it's impossible to go into all of them for each situation. So my umbrella advice is to really listen to the original piece to begin with. What kinds of chords are used, and how often do they change? What kinds of sounds are used, are they realistic samples or predominantly synthesized? What's the speed of the song, would it sound bad if you sped the song up or slowed it down? What kinds of other musical styles lend themselves well to the original song? Another very relevant question has to do with what you're capable of on a technical basis, and how you could apply your own skills and creative techniques to the remix to make it sound good.

Once you have an idea of what you have to work with and what direction to go in, I recommend sequencing (or tracking) the parts of the remix you're planning to use from the original song. For instance, if you're doing a techno remix of a song, lay down the melody and maybe some chord changes of the original song first. After that, put a bass drum on every beat count, and play with the tempo until you find something that works. By this, time, you should be hearing your remix take some definite shape.

After that point it's just a matter of dressing up your mix, and the processes behind that vary widely from artist to artist and song to song. You would then deal with what extra parts to add into your mix such as rhythm, bass, counter melodies, harmonies, etc. Consider where to place the different sections of the song. Will the flow of the remix be like that of the original? Or would you rather interchange different parts for a certain effect? Do you want to leave parts out altogether?

There's no definitive answers to choosing what to put in your mix. It's something that you should typically decide naturally as you make music. So don't sweat what you "think" the remix should sound like. Just keep working on it until it "feels" right to you. Take some parts out, or add more in. Put in a break if you want. Change some of the sound patches. Just experiment until you find some winning combination.

And don't worry about anything being absolutely 'perfect' before you submit it. That's not encouraging sloppiness, but almost all artists (no matter how accomplished they might seem) are not 100% happy with their work. So just go with your own flow until you feel comfortable with your mix. There's no way to tell when that is, but when you get there you'll feel it.

What gear should I get?

Here's an often-asked question on this site, especially for people who are new to the creation of music. There's no definite answer to this one either (sorry!). But I'll try and make some suggestions based on certain situations.

OK, if you're sitting home in front of your computer and have absolutely NO other equipment around you (but still want to get some gear), you have to think about what you want to do with it. Are you looking to concentrate on electronica, acoustic, jazz, or rock? Or do you want to do a little of everything?

The good news is that there's a lot of gear our there these days that does accommodate a wide range of styles by offering a plethora of various sounds. So finding one won't be that difficult. Choosing one, however, is a little more tricky. And while music equipment has through the years gone down in price, the more expensive pieces of gear could still be out of your price range, so choosing isn't any picnic.

Nonetheless, say you're just getting into this scene, and you'd like a keyboard with a bunch of sounds in it. All I have to say to you is YAMAHA PSR. Yamaha (an industry veteran, mind you) has over half a dozen different models in the "PSR-" family of keyboards, to suit several different price ranges and musical needs. And No I'm not reading this out of a Yamaha Brochure!! But seriously, for someone looking to just dive into this stuff with little knowledge of keyboards, you'd best take a trip to a local music store and check out the line of PSR keyboards available, preferably at or above the modestly-priced PSR-282 model. Check out the sounds they offer, and see how your budget fits into the picture.

If you're more serious about this whole making music deal and / or can afford to spend a little more, there are some other things to consider. If you don't have a keyboard, you should think about getting one, even if you don't "know" how to play keyboard. You might not be able to play Chopin but it sure beats the hell out of using the mouse for EVERYTHING. It's also very useful for quick ideas and experiments.

If you have some kind of keyboard controller, for better sounds all you would need is a new sound module or synthesizer. Around the $800-$1500 range I would probably recommend either an E-Mu Proteus 2000 or a Roland JV-1080 or JV-2080. Both feature fantastic standard sound sets and can be upgraded via expansion boards you could purchase. If you require mostly dance and drum sounds with some decent acoustic patches like flutes, guitars, etc, I would recommend the Yamaha RM1x at about $700. The RM1x internal sequence functions make it invaluable if you play live as well.

If you're needing a keyboard built into your sound module, I'd recommend taking a close look at Roland's XP-30 or XP-60, which both offer fantastic overall sounds and expandability. Another great possibility for this range / product would be the Yamaha PSR-9000.

And this is to the few, the creative, and the wealthy enough to spend whatever their heart desires on what I might recommend. You must get a Korg Triton. And you must get a Roland XV-88. And you must get another of each and send them to McVaffe. ...But seriously, if money isn't an object or you don't mind investing some hefty dollars in new equipment, the Triton and the XV-88 are the cream of the music workstation crop, and offer loads of sounds, sampling options, and features for their price range. Very nice stuff indeed.

The products mentioned above are meant for people using them for general use, i.e. not any specialized type of music and more for different styles and needs. There are hundreds of other good products out there for music creation but if you're just getting into this stuff, the grea listed above could get you started, and quickly. If you think you would be interested in more synth / sound equipment I recommend just browisng through the websites of:

YAMAHA
ROLAND
KORG
E-MU
NOVATION
NORD
KURZWEIL

Likely you'll find something there to tickle your fancy, and wish you had a better-paying job =)

What Computer / Software should I use?

It's possible to make music without using a computer. You don't NEED a computer to make music, but considering on this site it's remixes of video game music (as well as the fact that it's ONLY found on the web, so far), chances are you'll likely use a computer to work on at least some, if not all, aspects of your music creation here.

So insofar as computer hardware is concerned, the general rule of thumb in the world of computer music is bigger + faster = Better. There's a lot you could get away with these days, but if you're purchasing a computer for music, make sure it's the fastest one you could afford. It should also have a good amount of RAM if you're working with digital audio (128MB at least). Hard drive space should be a hot commodity if you're working with Audio also, 20GBs being the beginning standard these days.

As for sound cards, there are a bunch of them on the market, some obviously better than others. But due to its popularity, price, and overall performance I couldn't help but recommend the Creative Sound Blaster Live card, in any of its incarnations. Chances are, you won't regret getting this one.

And as for the PC / Mac debate, it has mostly to do with your needs and your budget. The vast majority of PCs will work just fine for most music projects. But if you have the money and quality is a BIG factor, you just can't beat a dual processor G4. Of course you could try, but you really can't. But for the rest of us relatively poor folk, well-equipped PCs are more than sufficient for most music creation needs =)

In the software department you have a bunch of different options. On the PC side If you can somehow...ahem... *acquire* a copy of Cakewalk Pro Audio, Logic Audio, or Cubase VST, you'll be fine for sequencing midi and working with audio. If you're a Mac man (or woman, for that matter), Logic Audio and Cubase are still options. But on Mac you could also pick up Digital Performer or Studio Vision Pro, both of which are phenomenal. If you could pick up any of the programs mentioned above, you'll be fine.

-McVaffe


Note to DJP - I know there are lots of shareware programs / less expensive programs and trackers out there but I don't know enough about them to really speak about how useful they are. How we tie up this little section is up to you, lemme know what you think. Maybe you could have someone who knows more about these things say a few words about them. Or give me the info and have me write something to keep the flow consistent. It's up to you, I'm leaving an obvious void here....


djpretzel (response & notes): I think a separate tutorial specifically aimed at trackers, and one for soundfonts & MIDI, is the best solution, and am leaving McVaffe's tutorial as is. Also, I wanted to point out a couple things - the RM1x can now be found for less $, and as far as the Korg Triton goes, the Yamaha Motif is now available and smokes it (just kidding - had to get get my jab at McV in somewhere), and I myself would recommend spending the extra $200 for a pro instrument like the Yamaha S03 before I went for a PSR - though good things can be done with them, there will always be a difference between consumer and professional instruments. Just my two cents - big thanks to McV for a good tutorial that puts everything in pretty concise terms.

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  • This page was last modified on 23 May 2006, at 04:41.