ReMixer Interview: Beatdrop (Dain Olsen)
Many ReMixers have significantly grown in skill during their time at OC ReMix, but perhaps none have fulfilled their ambitions and changed so dramatically in the process than Dain Olsen (Beatdrop). Barely 15 when he arrived at OCR in 2001, Dain went on to arrange material from a plethora of games, including the Dance Dance Revolution series, before Konami selected his work in 2007 to join franchise mainstays like DJ Taka and Naoki Maeda on Dance Dance Revolution SuperNOVA 2 and Dance Dance Revolution Universe 2. Olsen's latest ReMix from Mega Man X3, "Revolutions", revisits the track that inspired his OCR debut with the undisguised goal of rewriting history. Currently stationed with the U.S. Navy in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Beatdrop spoke freely on his ambitions, techniques and the influences that make him tick.
- Real Name: Dain Olsen
- ReMixer Name: Beatdrop
- Date of Birth: 1986/05/17
- Birthplace: Patuxent River, Maryland, USA
- Websites: Beatdrop @ MySpace / Beatdrop @ Broadjam
- Family: My older brother David, a guitarist to be reckoned with
- Education: Went to high school at Warren/Alvarado/Oslo High in Warren, Minnesota, got my Associate's at Northland Community & Technical College in Thief River Falls, MN, and did one more year at Bemidji State University in Bemidji, MN, majoring in Mass Comm - Public Relations
- Hardware: I own an EMU XK-6, a Roland SH-32, and a Korg EA-1. Truth be told, I rarely use them, although I'd like to more often.
- Software: FL Studio is, always has been, and always will be my weapon of choice. Also a large array of VST synths, samplers, and processors--too many to name. I've used Reason in the past, experimented with Cakewalk in college, and messed around with Rebirth, Project 5, Ableton Live, ACID Pro, and probably others.
djpretzel: So, what's the story about how you became involved with Dance Dance Revolution SuperNOVA 2?
A site that I hang out on from time to time, Bemanistyle.com, saw someone make a thread in the Music Production board about the new DDR song contest that Konami was hosting over at Broadjam. They'd done it once before, with the winners getting $250 and featured in one of the console releases. It's always been something of a dream of mine to produce music for Bemani games, so I jumped on it. Planned on submitting three songs: two from Everlast and one from the nearly completed In the Dark, but at that moment I had just completed "Until Forever", and I was utterly satisfied with what I'd done, so I submitted only it completely in confidence. Then, a good while before the contest submission deadline had even hit, someone claiming to be a representative of Konami sent me an e-mail saying they wanted to use my song. It was pretty sweet. Of course, that last bit of info about how they contacted me before the submission deadline got leaked out because I had mentioned it in a private post on my LiveJournal and a lot of other people that had entered the contest got kinda pissed. Oh well.
Liontamer: So far, landing your original track "Until Forever" in DDR SuperNOVA 2 has been the pinnacle of your professional music career. When you sent your track to Broadjam for their DDR contest, did you honestly feel you had a strong chance of winning a spot, or was it more of a shot in the dark?
Honestly, like I said, when I finished making "Until Forever" and decided that it was going to be the song to submit, I was pretty confident. I mean, even now, listening to that song gives me one hell of a sense of pride. Plus, if I remember correctly, I listened to a bunch of stuff in the Peer Review before I even submitted it, and a lot of what I heard was... pretty lackluster. Hell, some guy submitted a COUNTRY song. A country song in a dancing game! And not even a fast one that you could line dance to or anything; a slow lame country ballad. I was like, "What the hell is this? A joke?"
Liontamer: It could be a silly follow-up question, but have you actually stepped to your track yet? Have you gotten any fan feedback on what it's been like to actually play through your song?
[Laughs] Hilariously enough, I actually haven't. I've played the simfile for it in StepMania that one of my buddies sent me, but I haven't actually played it on my feet yet. Konami even sent me a free copy of the Game + Pad bundle, but I only have a Japanese PS2, and it won't run the game. Gave my old PS2 to my dad. As for fan feedback, yeah, that's been the best part. In the aftermath of that game, my MySpace tends to have a steady daily influx of friend requests from people who played the game, and I've noticed a whole bunch of people using it as their profile song. First time that's ever happened to me.
Liontamer: You've said in your interview with GameZone that OC ReMix helped you find music as the direction you wanted to go in life? Did you have any prior idea of what you wanted to do before you discovered music?
I really didn't. Keep in mind that, at the time when I found OC ReMix, I was only 15 or 16 years old. I mean, I was just about to start college through my high school's Post Secondary Enrollment Option, but that was just to do all my general courses. I've always had a deep devotion to music, but before I got into computer music and OCR and all that, I never even considered producing it myself and trying to make it a lifelong thing.
Liontamer: You also said to GameZone that you wouldn't aspire to be a game composer if it meant drastically changing your style. Besides rhythm games, what game genres do you see your music as a great fit for?
Well, with the advent of disc-based games starting on the PlayStation, there's been a lot of expansion on the sound of video game music. Games like Einhänder were a huge step in a new direction for video game soundtracks incorporating electronic music, and it continues to be a constant to this day. Even pretty recent games like GTA IV and Devil May Cry 4 utilize electronic stylized songs in their soundtracks. So I guess the answer to that question is that I see my music largely aimed at Action games of all kinds, and that's mainly just because I like to make uptempo stuff.
Liontamer: Once you finish your Navy enlistment and wrap up college, do you plan to get involved strictly with more game projects, or did you have other pursuits in mind for your music?
I'm pretty much open to a lot of things, actually. I think what I'll end up doing is trying to pursue as many things at one time as I can handle, including licensing for movie trailers, movie soundtracks, commercials. But no matter what it is I decide to test my hand at after I get done with college, it's never going to stop me from producing albums. I'm not going to let anything stand in the way of me making a name for myself as a solo musician.
Liontamer: For anyone that's had OC ReMixes playing at random only to get blasted by one of your pieces out of the blue, why are your tracks...so loud?
[Laughter] Y'know, in the past, I might not have been able to answer that, because there was a time when I was oblivious to the difference in sound level found in my tracks. Nothing annoys me more than songs that are too quiet, so if I can master a song so that it's loud, but doesn't clip or distort, then that's what I'm going to do. At the same time, I've been trying to be a bit more conservative about that lately, and my new album in specific is going to display a new standard of mastering for me.
djpretzel: You were formerly a judge on OC ReMix's (in)famous judges panel - do you miss it? What do you think of the current panel? Are there things you learned and would do differently if you did it over?
I'm not sure I'd say that I miss it, exactly, but there was a time when I really felt that it could have benefited from a renewed presence from me. Not so much lately, though, because I think that the current panel does an exceptional job, especially considering the amount of material that they have to listen to. Not only that, but zircon and I are so similar in our tastes and styles that having him on the panel is exactly like having me there, just without the whole lack of judging thing. [Laughs] I'm not really sure I'd say that I really learned anything from my experience as a judge other than that running OC ReMix would be a true test of endurance. On the other hand, if I did it over, I'd definitely make it a point to actually judge more material on the panel, because my last stint was ridiculous towards the end.
Liontamer: When you have time to browse through the most recent OC ReMixes, who are some of the names that have caught your attention?
A double-dose of Mazedude! Always superb. Chris Getman is a great human being, and I'm extremely happy to have met him and maintained contact with him. Also awesome to see him still active with the site. Beyond that, Shnabubula and Rize are always capable of producing some really original stuff, and most of the rest of the recent ReMixers are people I'm pretty familiar with, so I guess I could say that it's nice to see that all the "veterans" haven't up and disappeared over the years.
That particular synth lead was concocted using rgcAudio Pentagon I using a cluster of four "Perfect Saw" waveforms, the first ring modulated by the second, filtered in parallel, run through distortion, amp simulation, stereo chorusing, delay, and an equalizer. Modulation was provided by a slow LFO on the filters. Pretty simple. The amp sim is what gives it its character.
Ah yes, that thing was pretty fun. Made using freebie plugin Superwave P8. Both oscillators are pulse waveforms running in Super Wave mode spread moderately wide, filtered through dual parallel HP filters. Routing for Superwave P8 sends Osc 1 through Filter 1 and Osc 2 through Filter 2, so to improve the stereo spread and help make it sweep like it does, the first filter's envelope attack is set at 50% and the second filter is set at 97% with almost no decay, whereas the first filter has a pretty long decay. In my processing stack, Superwave P8 is running through one of my favorite distortion plugins, TriDirt, another freebie, which gives it the evil sound. After that, it feeds into interruptor.ch's Echomania tape delay plugin, and then into an EQ.
Liontamer: Alright, I'm gonna jump on the "How did you do that?" bandwagon with your Guardian Legend mix "Ace of Space", because I loved the synth lead there once the track got going. Can you give us an overall idea on what you observed from listening to Ace of Base's music and/or how you studied their sound before attempting to emulate their style? When you try to mimick the compositional style of another music act, does the execution phase come easily to you?
[Laughs] Dammit, Larry, why couldn't you ask an easy question like zircon? Truth be told, I didn't, like, browse my Ace of Base collection right before I made that track or anything. I just pulled on it from memory, because their music is so ingrained in my style. It's easy to underestimate a Eurodance/pop group like them, but they've actually done some really wicked stuff. Songs like "Love for Sale", which is kind of hard to find these days but well worth the search have some really awesome synth work. But thinking back to their music, it seemed apparent to me that to make a Eurodance-y song, I'd need a light but unique lead sound. They used a lot of flute-y leads and plucky sounds to back the vocals, so I went with something a bit fuller than that because my track wasn't going to have vocals in the end. I find that with a group like Ace of Base, it's less about trying to mimic the sound and more about mimicking the feel, and that's by and large accomplished through drum programming, the bassline, and little contextual flourishes and effects, like the orchestra hits I threw in. But yeah, when I try to emulate the sound of another group, it comes really easy, because it's almost inadvertent. Whatever I'm listening to a lot at a given time that I work on something is going to be audible in my music. A perfect example is "Antimatter" and how it was stylized after Concord Dawn. That's just what I was listening to at the time. This sort of behavior can get dangerous when making original works, though, so I try to jump into creating an original song after sitting at my computer for awhile without listening to anything or right after I get off work or something.
Liontamer: While you've certainly got a lot of the major game franchises under your ReMixing belt, you've also hooked it up with lots of more "obscure" games like Jackal, Super R-Type and Brave Fencer Musashi. What's your point of view on less ReMixed soundtracks? Is the lesser attention there a problem of the community-at-large or just a reflection of ultra-popular soundtracks legitimately being the strongest?
I would strongly disagree with the latter, because a lot of obscure games have some really amazing music. To me, it just's like... if a game is popular, it gets played a lot more, so a lot more musician types--and specifically ReMixers--get exposed to it and thusly it gets rearranged a lot more, which accounts for the huge number of Final Fantasy series ReMixes on the site. If a game doesn't get played by very many people, that's that many less potential or established ReMixers that hear it and that much less that it gets covered. I've been gaming my whole life, and in the past I never really gravitated towards what was popular at a given time. Hell, I hesitated to even play Chrono Trigger when it first came out. If you want to really get into it, I'd like to purport that the lesser ReMixed and more obscure games don't get the coverage they should because their soundtracks are so flawless that doing them justice is a challenge in its own right. [Laughs] But that's just my opinion, I could be wrong.
Liontamer: Wrapping things up on a positive note: Ideally, where do you want to see yourself and your career in 10 years?
Coachella, bitches! Or some other huge music festival. I want to get to a point where I'm set up enough that I can perform live in front of audiences, and I want to get to a point where I can walk into a record store and see my music on the shelves. Until I'm there, I won't be satisfied. Until then, I'll always be improving my sound. I have a powerful urge to do something revolutionary for modern music. If not today, then maybe tomorrow. Maybe in 10 years. Maybe in 50 years. Time will tell, but sooner or later, it's going to happen.
- The following are standard questions asked of all interviewed ReMixers:
What was the first video game you remember playing?
Oh man, that's an easy one. Asteroids on the Atari. God, that was a long time ago. Whenever my brother and I reminisce about old video games, he's routinely shocked at how much of that stuff I remember, especially considering I was only, like, 2 or 3 years old? Maybe 4? My most concrete memory has to be Super Mario Bros. on NES, though. I remember the first time I played it quite vividly. My brother and I were upstairs trying to fall asleep because it was past our bedtime, and we heard something... different coming from downstairs. Went down to check it out, and my parents were trying their hands at SMB on an NES they'd just inherited from my uncle, if I remember correctly. We freaked the hell out, of course, and they let us stay up later to play it.
Did you have any formal musical training or education prior to becoming a video game music ReMixer?
Prior to becoming a ReMixer? Ehh, not so much. I played drums for about five or six years before I got into computer-based music, though I was never really that good. I had some private lessons from my high school music teacher's wife--that sounds really bad--and she taught me some of the rudiments and shit, but I never really got intense into it. I also played in my elementary school and high school bands, but eventually dropped out of band around 8th grade because there were too many percussionists and not enough instruments. Plus, we never actually learned anything. It was more like, "Here, here's some sheet music. Play that. No, no, no! You're doing it wrong! It's like this." After I got into making music on my computer, I took a few music classes in tech. college, namely Music Fundamentals, Jazz History, and Computer Music Technology, which was a pretty huge joke, I might add. I guess most of my earlier music training came from putting in CDs and playing my trapset along with the drums.
How did you first get involved with ReMixing video game music? Did a particular game soundtrack or artist hook you?
I was looking up video game stuff online in mid-2001 during one of my reminiscing sessions, and stumbled across a Mega Man fansite that had a bunch of reworked versions of songs from the games. Of course, a bunch of them were pulled from OCR, but made mention of that, so I found my way to the site and was floored. Following suit, since I'd always liked the Mega Man series, and since I was especially fond of the intro track from X3, I figured I'd try my hand at it and submit it to OCR.
Have you collaborated with other ReMixers on mixes, and if so, what was it like?
How does collaborating change your creative process?
After I'd done a few tracks myself, I met up with Matt Pollard in the OCR IRC channel on EnterTheGame sometime around July 2001. We talked a lot, became buddies, and eventually the idea popped up to collaborate on something from Mega Man X3. Really, it was a pretty awesome experience. Matt made it an extremely fluid process. I sent him some random loops and stuff I cooked up in FL using drum samples and the internal TS-404 synthesizer. He heard the synth stuff, and even though the loops themselves weren't usable in the remix, he asked me to give him 11 different versions of the loop across a chromatic scale, which he ended up slicing and resequencing to make the melody. Like I said, very fluid. It was his idea to incorporate Ailsean's guitar work, since I didn't really know Sean at the time, and the rest is history, as they say. Me and Matt worked together again in 2002 on that Final Fantasy Mystic Quest track ["Mystic Mountain (Whirlwind Beat Mix)"] for PMM's SQUAREDANCE album, but I had a much lesser role in that, in my opinion.
I also collaborated with Children of the Monkey Machine and K. Praslowicz on a remix from Super Metroid. Similar experience, really. CotMM made it work, and I just provided a bunch of drum loops and some miscellaneous synth stuff.
Do you prefer working alone?
I definitely think it's a lot easier to work alone, because there's no conflicting creative flow from those involved, but collaborations always seem to yield some really cool results that the individual artists involved might not have been able to accomplish on their own. When I'm working alone, I have to try to juggle what I'm paying attention to. Like, I might focus too much on the synth programming and end up leaving the drums lackluster or vice versa, but when it comes to working with someone else, there's always one person who can focus on how everything fits together while the others involved can just divert their attention to what they do best.
What was the last musical project or track you worked on? Are you working on anything currently?
[Laughs] I'm always working on something. Most of my time over the past few years has been devoted to producing my original albums, so my appearances on OCR are getting rarer and rarer, but I still try to cook up video game remixes every now and then. My primary focus right now is finishing up my fifth album, Revolution, and, as always, trying to, uh, revolutionize my sound, I guess. That sounds kind of redundant...
I'm also trying to pursue more licensing opportunities with Konami, and potentially other companies/organizations. Broadjam is pretty handy for that stuff. I'd really like to get something into a movie trailer. I mean, how many songs have you heard in trailers and thought "Wow, that song is awesome, I need to track it down"? Happens all the time.
Based on your experience as an OverClocked ReMixer, what advice would you give those trying to get something they submit posted on the site?
Practice, practice, practice! Don't expect your first attempt to be golden, because it won't be. Time allows for improvement, and we get wiser as we go. So try to absorb as many inspirations and influences as possible, and use them to your fullest. Originality is also key, because if you're not original, you're forgettable. Utilizing the Works-in-Progress boards here on OCR is also very useful, because there seems to be an increasing devotion to helping out newcomers, and that's a great place to start. There's also the #ocrwip channel on EnterTheGame, which serves the same purpose, but provides feedback in real-time. Lastly, don't get offended! If you can't take criticism, you're not going to improve at all. Don't forget that if you're trying to get something posted on OCR, you're not just making it for yourself, you're obviously making it for other people to listen to, so if other people don't like it, your odds of getting posted go down the drain.
Who/what are your inspirations in terms of ReMixing video game music?
Whether I'm writing an original or remixing something from a video game, my inspirations never change. My music listening history is one big collage, and I try to pull on all of that. I grew up on classic and progressive rock music, like Peter Gabriel, YES, ZZ Top, and Fleetwood Mac. Then I branched out into pop with the likes of Aqua, Green Day, No Doubt, The Spice Girls, and some other stuff. Some of the electronic elements inherent in Pop music got me into some electronic and industrial acts, like The Prodigy, KMFDM, PIG, Orgy, Stabbing Westward, and Nine Inch Nails. From there, the amount of versatility of synthesized sounds led me in the only logical direction, and I became entrenched in electronic music as a whole. Spent lots of time in my glory days surfing MP3.com to help expand my knowledge of the different styles, and now I try to use all of it.
Still, my biggest ones to this day would probably be KMFDM, BT, Hybrid, Ferry Corsten, Peter Gabriel, Pendulum, Freestylers, Ace of Base, Celldweller, Chicane, Pjat Lain a.k.a. she, Faithless, Fluke, The Crystal Method, Max Graham, The Chemical Brothers, High Contrast, Infected Mushroom, and Axwell.
Of the ReMixes you've made, which is your favorite? Why?
Man, that's tough. There's a few that I'm keen on for different reasons. "Deserted Industry" was something of a breakthrough for me, because it was the first time I incorporated hardware into music production. Pulled all the drums off my XK-6. In fact, all the drum samples I used were found while randomly toying around with it, and I kind of pieced them together in my head and thought, "Wow, this has Industrial written all over it..." The rest of the track flew together from there, and I was super proud of it. Still am pretty proud of it.
"Dazed & Destroyed" was also a big deal, because the original was a vocal track, and it was really one of my first actual attempts at doing vocal work for a production. Plus, the remix itself is, in my opinion, one of my first true steps into making Breakbeat and has definitely influenced the direction I've taken with my music today.
I guess the winner would probably be my most recent attempt, "Revolutions", because I finally got around to revisiting one of my favorite video game tracks of all time and doing it justice. Looking back on my original version ["X-Buster MK-17"], it's a huge piece of shit. I had no idea what I was doing back then. I mean, it's practically the same song. But now I'm able to do a whole lot of things that I couldn't back then, so I tried to use every piece of know-how I've got: making synths from scratch, programming drumbeats and slicing them up, granular audio stretching, extensive mastering, etc. The works. Even went in and reinterpreted the melodies, something that was a foreign concept to me back in 2001. It fills me with pride to be able to handle the original song this way and present it to a bunch of people who I know will enjoy my reinterpretation and hopefully forgive the technical rape I did to the song back in 2001. [Laughs]
How do you approach ReMixing video game music? Is there a particular sequence of events you find yourself following more often, or an initial process you always seem to use?
It really ranges from project to project. Sometimes I might listen to it once and just go from there, programming it as closely as I can and then tweaking all the rhythmic elements in my head--because I'm so big on rhythm in things--to help reinterpret it. Other times, I might dig out some drum sequence I concocted previously and adapt it to the rearrangement or use it as a base to work off of. I imagine if I always used the same technique to get something off the ground, I'd have a whole lot more unfinished projects than I already do!
Which game composers and soundtracks do you admire the most?
My electronic brethren always get preferential here, so I guess my true favorite soundtracks would be Einhänder, all of the Armored Core games, Vectorman, Contra III, the Wipeout series even though it hardly counts, and virtually everything Konami's Bemani musicians have pulled off. In regards to that last one, to be more specific, Sota Fujimori, Akira Yamaoka, and Toshiyuki Kakuta a.k.a. LED are the champions.
But to get truly old school, Guardian Legend, Jackal, Contra, Metroid II, Super Metroid, Battle Clash, Streets of Rage 2, Extreme-G, all of the Mega Man games, Legend of the Mystical Ninja, all of the Sonic the Hedgehog games, Legend of Kyrandia, and Command & Conquer: Red Alert are a few that come to mind.
What's one of your best or most enjoyable memories from working on a ReMix? Worst?
There's a few big ones that come to mind. The first time I heard the "Flying Battery Zone" melody played through that grainy detuned synth lead in "Catapult" was breathtaking. Another was when I finally got the vocals to sit right in "Dazed & Destroyed." It was like finishing one of those massive 1,000 piece puzzles. Sequencing the drums in "Deserted Industry" after I had sampled them from the keyboard and putting that dramatic pause in there got me fucking pumped to finish the rest of the song. Last, but not least, when I played back the bassline in tandem with the melody and drums in "Antimatter," I was like "Holy shit, did I make that?"
As far as worst memories go, the biggest would be trying to rework "Man With a Trance Machine" over and over again because it sounded like ass regardless of what I did to it. That song's dead to me. [Laughs]
What's the most challenging aspect of ReMixing video game music?
I guess I sometimes struggle with figuring out where I'm going with a song and transition each section into the next. I mean, it's easy to do bland transitions that mimic the ones in the original song, but where's the originality? And what's to say the original transitions are going to work in whatever style of music you're bending the song to fit into? And I'll often get into the zone while working on a specific section and forget what needs to or should come next, which could be tricky depending on what I've done so far.
Of course, I can't forget computer limitations. FL Studio lets me do whatever the hell it is that I want to do, so sometimes I go overboard and my computer can't handle it. Then it's like an aural slideshow and trying to finish the song without rendering it over and over can be a nightmare. And if I try to remedy that problem by rendering individual sections to audio to drop back into the song, I might later run into a point where I wanted to change the actual timbre of the sound or whatever, and it's pretty hard to do once I've already deleted the instrument itself from the project.