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Mixing and mastering considerations for VGM?


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I've been lucky enough to get some VGM composing gigs recently. Aaaand the thought popped in my head that VGM isn't always mixed the same as, say, a standalone studio album. Do any of you experienced VGM composers have any input on how to best mix and master VGM so it isn't too intrusive and loops nicely?

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Addressing the looping part first, I find

is pretty clear, at least, if you use Reaper. Maybe you can reapply the concept somehow. If you render in FL Studio as "Wrap Remainder", it doesn't really let the track start the first time through without that tail at the beginning of the first few seconds, so it's not quite that effective. For convenience's sake, I believe you can just render three options gives the programmer the flexibility: loopable OGG, loopable WAV, or WAV+no tail with WAV+tail pasted on top of (overlapping, not inserting) the first few seconds.

I find that mixing/mastering VGM depends heavily on making sure sound effects can easily be heard without actually having to turning down the music; that's the "last-resort" situation IMO---to have to turn down the music. What I'd do is take all the sound effects you have access to and pretend to go through some scene(s) in the video game, if possible, and audition all those sound effects in context. Try to pick scenes that overall involve the representative (covering all the different possible frequency distributions) sound effects and scoop accordingly to let those sounds fit well. Before this process though, I would personally suggest to master it like normal, while turning the relative/perceived loudness down a notch on any tracks where you're told to do so.

Edited by timaeus222
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It's also about using samples that convey the aesthetics of the game. For instance, if the game was a retro roguelike, you could try using Roland SC-88 samples, or something like that. i.e. using a full orchestral library on an 8-bit game won't sound right at all.

Edited by timaeus222
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I disagree, an orchestral score for an 8-bit game might be a solid and challenging choice for a game score. Same thing vice versa. Sample choice still comes down to "arrangement", and not mixing.

Also, where do you even get Roland SC88 samples? Other than random soundfonts, hard-to-obtain Virtual Sound Canvas, and questionable "sample packs" on Ebay, I don't think you can even find those anywhere without the module itself.

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I disagree, an orchestral score for an 8-bit game might be a solid and challenging choice for a game score. Same thing vice versa. Sample choice still comes down to "arrangement", and not mixing.

Also, where do you even get Roland SC88 samples? Other than random soundfonts, hard-to-obtain Virtual Sound Canvas, and questionable "sample packs" on Ebay, I don't think you can even find those anywhere without the module itself.

My point was that the quality of the samples isn't what matches the look of the game. If it's an 8-bit game, wouldn't you expect chiptunes? It would match the feel of the game based on the time during which similar 8-bit games were made in terms of what was available, and that makes it less awkward of a connection between what the game conveys and the OST conveys. Orchestral for 8-bit IS challenging, and IMO it's not the conventional choice.

Roland SC-88 samples can be gotten from Edirol Orchestral or Edirol Hypercanvas (which is not the same interface as Virtual Sound Canvas), for example. I've found Edirol Hypercanvas (though I can't get it to remember saved templates). It's discontinued but it's out there (and since it's discontinued I guess it isn't really stealing from the product provider, IMO, as they don't even expect to make any more money on it anymore).

Edited by timaeus222
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You can always use the Microsoft GM.dls, doesn't get crappier than that. :lol: Those are Roland sounds, btw. Hyper Canvas comes with Sonar. Not really a good reason to buy Sonar. There's Purity, those are "rompler" sounds. If all else fails you could take your orchestral sounds, make them mono and like 12 bit.

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I would expect chiptunes, yes, but I think I'd be more pleasantly surprised and jazzed up if the soundtrack played against my expectations to deliver something that held my interest. With the abundance of FL Studio game composers these days, "fitting the mood" seems to be more of an excuse to be lapse on the quality of the composition and focus more on just confusing players for thinking it's retro.

For this reason, on the rare occasions I actually get into talks to do soundtrack work, I no longer focus on what "fits the mood" or satisfies the client (of course, I tell the client this beforehand), I focus on what would actually sound pretty good coming out of speakers as the gamer is playing. Composers today need to remember that they're not just forgettable music artists finally getting a paying gig, they're producing something that gives players a reason to play the game. When I compose for a game, I'm not thinking it's another album I get to charge $9.99 for on Bandcamp, I'm a developer working towards a game quality that players will find reasons to come back and play, and to do that properly, one has to go above expectations and moods.

As you can imagine, because of this, I don't get a lot of soundtrack work. Oh well, I don't really want to spend 5-6 months sucking up to an indie developer who doesn't know anything about music just to get a few $ and a lesser quality album with my name on it to blast out on Facebook sponsored posts. I can do that stuff with an original album and still get higher quality with complete creative control on the final product.

I think I'm digressing, so I'll stop there for now.

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There's Purity, those are "rompler" sounds. If all else fails you could take your orchestral sounds, make them mono and like 12 bit.

Man, I JUST discovered Purity and I friggin' love it. I'm waiting to get some more video work in so's I can buy it. :D

Only thing I haven't figured out in Purity is how to make their drum sounds sound as good as the demos. They seem lacking and not great for a broad sound range.

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Meteo, he's not asking for your opinion on how to write a game soundtrack. He's asking for implementation logistics.

Back on topic, @ecto: you are correct that it isn't mixed the same way. The soundtrack release of a game isn't at all the same as the compilation of assets actually used in the game. The best thing to do is get in contact with the programmer implementing the audio. Ask him what he's dealing with, what he wants. Does he want you to record looped audio, or does he want to loop it himself by overlapping the start and end of the track over itself (in which case, you should render the song with a tail of silence, like for a DJ set). It's gonna depend on what he's using. Depending on how interactive the audio is, he may also want stems, and different versions.

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I get that, I'm just confused or misunderstanding something as I wasn't aware the implementation was part of the mixing/mastering process. I can... kinda see that it is, but I've never heard of implementation just generally as a part of mixing and mastering.

Well, it's more that can be related to movie scoring. In movie scoring, you ideally master your mixdown to accomodate sonic space for dialog. Since games introduced dialog some two decades ago, it's not a bad idea for game music either, depending on the game.

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That seems very loosely related at best, but I guess it still technically qualifies... kinda.

Well, it does, post-production is very important. It's just that sometimes these things happen in implementation, and sometimes these things happen early in the normal production. Depends on the project.

Point is, he is correct in saying there's a little more involved than just making an album of say 10 tracks, at least if it's not a simple indie game and has interactive audio components in it.

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Well, it's more that can be related to movie scoring. In movie scoring, you ideally master your mixdown to accomodate sonic space for dialog. Since games introduced dialog some two decades ago, it's not a bad idea for game music either, depending on the game.

That's the main thrust of what I was getting at in the OP. It isn't a studio album. There's sound going on around the music. So my question is basically how do I deal with that? How do I mix my music considering SFX will be happening around it?

And when I mentioned looping considerations, I really meant that, say, looping a super-compressed, loud 60 second track for hours on end may not be such a good idea, so I was looking for experienced VGM composers' input on how they would mix/master a loop or emphasize/de-emphasize certain frequencies ranges to minimize the annoyingness which can arise in some loops. Would you use much less master bus compression in most cases? Stereo imaging considerations? And so on.

Meteo, he's not asking for your opinion on how to write a game soundtrack. He's asking for implementation logistics.

Back on topic, @ecto: you are correct that it isn't mixed the same way. The soundtrack release of a game isn't at all the same as the compilation of assets actually used in the game.

Ahhh, can anyone confirm that? That was something I had thought about. I'm sure there's a lot of VGM OSTs I've heard which were made up of just direct lifts of the in-game version of the tracks. Can you give me any examples of OSTs which were mixed/mastered differently than the in-game audio?

Edited by ectogemia
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1) So my question is basically how do I deal with that? How do I mix my music considering SFX will be happening around it?

2) And when I mentioned looping considerations, I really meant that, say, looping a super-compressed, loud 60 second track for hours on end may not be such a good idea, so I was looking for experienced VGM composers' input on how they would mix/master a loop or emphasize/de-emphasize certain frequencies ranges to minimize the annoyingness which can arise in some loops. Would you use much less master bus compression in most cases? Stereo imaging considerations? And so on.

1) Mentioned that in my first post on pg. 1. Case-by-case, but that approach helps.

2) I tend to make sure that the dynamics flow smoothly through the loop point. If it sounds like a terraced shift in dynamics, no matter how small, I tweak velocities or automation at the end of the loop to match the beginning. The stereo image should optimally link well at the loop point too, so if it ends wide, it should start similarly wide, and vice versa. Similar to the dynamics remark.

I wouldn't use that much bus compression; if any, I'd just make it transparent but still in effect (You've got that easy with The Glue), while making sure the mixing doesn't have any non-negligible flaws. Master track compression is optimally an optional thing, in most cases, even outside VGM OSTs. If the mixing is good, you shouldn't really need master track compression to get the loudness to how you want it. If you do, just check all the frequencies again, since compression definitely emphasizes frequency boosts on EQs previous in the signal chain. Obviously this is case-by-case, but that's just how I would do it.

To make loops not annoying, I just make sure all resonances are tamed and nothing grating sticks out. That's kind of a given in even regular VGM remixes.

Edited by timaeus222
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Ahhh, can anyone confirm that? That was something I had thought about. I'm sure there's a lot of VGM OSTs I've heard which were made up of just direct lifts of the in-game version of the tracks. Can you give me any examples of OSTs which were mixed/mastered differently than the in-game audio?

I wasn't specifically talking mixing/mastering, I was more talking arrangement stuff. The arrangement (on the production side) and ordering of events in the music may be different, you may have to render specific parts of the song that they can be cued earlier, later, etc. Think of a boss song with multiple parts, and a boss song part will cue when you advance a stage in the fight, or do a specific action. The fact that it's a game means that that specific part needs to be rendered separately so that the game's code can advance the music based on player actions. That sort of thing is what I mean.

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