Okay, you might not know this about me: I love video game music. Like, a lot. Personally, I never get tired of hearing new versions of classic tunes, and I also fully support the blatant overuse of video game sound effects and voice clips in any situation. So, it is my absolute delight to introduce you to Nelward. He’s just recently released the creatively-titled Remixes for name-your-price on Bandcamp, and it’s great. Do yourself a favor and listen up:
So, you now have an all the gear you need, and a good DAWS installed. The next thing you need is to load it up with quality plugins to produce sound. Most DAWS come with some decent synthesizers, sample collections and loops, but you’ll probably find out pretty quick that you want to move beyond the generic sounds that come with it.
There are a myriad of different tools for making music, they range from lame to amazing and their prices range from free to thousands of dollars. You totally need to buy them all! Not really…We’re going to look at some of the best plug-ins that are good for starting out and also for doing VGM remixes and Chiptunes of course. We’ll also look at some of the non-music tools that help make your sound more professional.
Troll Disclaimer: This is not meant to be an exhaustive list by any means, and all prices are just estimates of current pricing at the time of writing.
Basically, it works like this; these plugins attach to your DAWS, you assign them to a track and start laying down MIDI notes on your MIDI keyboard or by putting the notes in the piano roll. The system plays these notes through its synths or triggers the proper sample.
If you’re not going the hardware route and want to add some retro sounds to your songs, here’s a few great options that are somewhat affordable:
Plogue Chipsounds ($95.00 – Limited Free Demo)
Chipsounds is a really awesome plug-in that emulates the NES, Gameboy DMG, Atari SID and a bunch of other classic chips, some of which you may never have even heard of. It’s well worth the price and it’s clear that Plogue is dedicated to being as true to the original chip’s parameters and sounds as possible.
YMCK’s Magical 8bit (Free!)
This tool provides the primitive waveforms needed to create some basic 8-bit sounds. It’s not as confusing and complicated as Plogue, but does take a bit more work to create a real distinct sound of a specific chip.
This VST might not be compatible with every DAWS but it’s a truly amazing way to get the FM Synthesis sound of the Sega Genesis. See this related article for all the details.
Bass And Synths
Bass is a key component to any song, and if you’re looking for powerful sounds, you’ll probably want to go further than your packaged bass synth that came with your DAWS. Here’s a few great options.
TAL Free Plugins (Free!)
These guys have all sorts of basic retro synths that mimic the famous TB-303 and other classic synth basses. It’s great for remixes and getting that retro sound.
Native Instruments’ Massive ($200 – Limited Free Demo)
Massive is best known for creating dubstep sounds. It’s powerful and flexible and can produce some nice pads as well. It’s worth trying out since the free demo works (even lets you bounce tracks, so really you don’t need to buy it) for 30 minutes sessions. It’s worth purchasing for almost any type of music.
Native Instruments’ Kontakt ($199.50 currently on sale!)
As you can see, NI makes it on the list a lot. I am dying to know why this tool costs 50 cents more than their other tools. The powerful Kontakt has loads of samples and modular synth interfaces that let you create modern sounds and classic bleeps and bloops. It also has exotic instruments and tons of third-party add-ons available.
Orchestral Sounds ($300+)
If you want to get into orchestral music, Final Fantasy-type stuff you can’t go wrong with Vienna Instruments or EastWest Quantum Leap’s systems. Beware though, you’re going to be dropping a pretty penny. I suggest starting the longly-titled EastWest Quantum Leap Symphonic Orchestra Silver, it’s a well-rounded collection to get you started for minimal spending. Make sure you check the requirements of hard drive and memory usage since these bad boys are huge.
Creating drums can be challenging but fun. There’s a myriad of free sample collections, which you can load into you’re the sampler that comes with your DAWS. Here’s a few really great programs if you do want to drop some cash on some killer beats and rhythm elements.
Native Instruments’ Battery ($199)
Battery is a full-featured sampler that comes with lots of great beats and has tons of available expansion pack drum kits you can add too. You really get your moneys worth on this one.
FXPansion’s BFD2 ($99-$199)
BFD2 has some killer acoustic drum sounds that sound natural and full. The affordable BFD2 ECO is a great place to start for some acoustic sounds.
East West Quantum Leap’s Ministry of Rock 2 ($299)
If you want thundering heavy metal drums, you can’t be ministry of rock. It also comes with some amazing guitars and bass guitar sample-based programs as well.
If you can only buy one thing on this list, I suggest you look at this section. Most of the DAWS come with basic mastering tools, but you really can’t beat oZone for its all-in-one professional interface.
iZotope Ozone ($199)
This mastering plug-in contains equalizers, multipressors (we’ll learn about these later), stereo controls, harmonic exciters and maximizers to help you get a loud, professional mix. It also does technical stuff like dithering to make sure you’re really producing a quality mix and final file.
Chances are, you can’t buy all this stuff right away and you will probably make more purchases over time. Therefore, it’s a great idea to sign up to the mailing lists of many of the companies that produce these tools. This not only makes you privy to new tools that come available but you can also take advantage of holiday sales, limited time offers and other deals. I’d estimate I’ve saved about $500 this year alone by buying things during sales, using customer loyalty discounts for repeated purchases and basically just being a smart shopper. Here’s a few companies whose mailing lists you’ll want to join:
Sweetwater – They sell lots of gear and software and have regular sales.
Native Instruments – The makers of Massive, they’re always putting out new stuff too.
iZotope – Makers of Ozone, they have lots of great EQ, distortion and other effect plugins.
FXPansion Audio UK – Makers of BFD and tons of other great tools.
Next week, we’ll return to life as a freelance musician with a ‘day in the life’ perspective of what it’s like scraping out a living by making a lot of noise in your living room. Stay tuned.
The HQ of any indie musician is is home studio. There are a myriad of options as far as monitors, computers, keyboards, headphones, mics and other equipment that you might need or want. However, most indie musicians have a limited budget for starting off. Today we’ll look at the bare minimum equipment you’d need to start making some quality tunes.
If posisble, it’s best to decide on what digital audio workstation you’ll use before purchasing any of these items since it will influence what kind of computer you need and what kind of software instruments you might want to purchase. Check out our previous article here on that subject.
As always, these are just suggestions based on a few independant musicians, myself and Cutman’s experience and input. There are always other options out there, but we’re focusing on how to get the most for your money.
In this article, we’ll look at some handy suggestions for your computer, MIDI controller, Monitors and Headphones. Are prices are rough estimations of average prices at the time of writing this, so make sure you shop around!
The heart of your your home studio is the computer. I’m not going to go into TONS of detail on this, it could be its own article. We’d recommend you get the most powerful computer you can afford. Few things are as intensive as audio processing on a computer. If you can get a SSD hard drive, this helps immensely in speeding up load times and giving you better latency, but it really isn’t needed to produce music.
Most DAWS systems work with dual monitors and most studio buffs will tell you they can’t live without two big flatscreens. Additionally, you’ll want a computer that has a good cooling system, ample storage space and all the normal things like antivirus protection and surge protectors.
Mac or PC?
The decision to get a Mac or a PC mostly depends on your choice of DAWS since not all are available on the Mac platform. If you do go with Mac, you will be closing the door on a lot of VSTi/VST technology that doesn’t play nice on a Mac. This includes useful chiptune tools like the VOPM vst for doing FM synthesis (Sega Genesis) sounds. I have an old laptop with Cubase on it just for the rare occasion I simply MUST use a VST. The bottom line is you’ll probably get more for your money from PC than with MAC.
A MIDI Controller keyboard is not a necessity but it does make composing super easy and actually give you something tangible to “play” on. You could build everything in a tracker or your DAWS but having a keyboard is great for getting into the live vibe of making music even when sitting at home and composing on a laptop.
Good headphones are perhaps the most essential component of making quality music. You have to be able to hear what’s really going on in your tracks. Richard D. James, who has more rare gear than many other musicians combined, once said in an interview, “All you really need to make electronic music these days is a laptop and a good pair of headphones”. If you can’t afford anything but a computer and headphones, make sure you get one of these great pairs.
Monitors are essential to understanding what your song “really” sounds like. Home sound system speakers, PC speakers, car stereos and headphones all tweak the raw signal with extra bass and sometimes highs. This means that if you mix your songs relying on one of these systems, you may be over- or under-compensating for what the speakers do. Monitors produce unaffected audio that helps you know what your song actually sounds like in its most raw format.
Take the time to read up on positioning monitors correctly and how the room size and wall material effects the sound you hear. At first, you might not notice much difference by these elements, but they will have an impact on your final product.
If you plan to record acoustic instruments or perform live or sing, you’ll need a mic. The SM58 is a standard but decent quality mic for starting out. If you plan on tracking lots of live instruments, you might want to get a digital audio interface as well, but we’ll get into this in a future article too.
Now that you have your home studio built, you need to look at getting the right plugins for creating some awesome tunes, third-party programs for mastering and mixing, and a few other useful bits. We’ll take a look at this next time. As these posts continue, they’ll alternate between talking about the gear and technical topics and talking about the business and lifestyle side of things.
The Sega Genesis has one of the most versatile and powerful chips of the 8-bit/16-bit era. Although tons of chip artists utilize the Genesis or FM synthesis equivalents, there isn’t as much pure Genesis chiptune releases as you might expect. Aside from the recent Flight Away album covered here, here’s a few more excellent Sega chip artists that you have to check out. These are mostly straight-up chip endeavors that really show off the power of the Yamaha YM2612 chip.
What It Sounds Like: The American Dollar, Album Leaf, Mum, Trentmoeller on your Genesis
Favorite Tracks: Origami, The Girl In the Moon
If freezedream’s Today album didn’t actually come on a Sega Genesis cartridge I would never believe it was pure chip. Instead of pumping up retro-synth sounds to the max, freezedream dials them back to delicate FM bells and gently humming bass lines for a post-rock, ambient chill environment that is the perfect thing to listen to first thing in the morning or to cool down mentally at the end of a long day. You’ve got to love the unexpected but surprisingly smooth key shift in “Realtime Love” too. Quality composing and synth programming make up this release. If the first track seems a little quiet or dull to you, skip ahead to the regae-influenced “See You Next Thursday” or any of the other moody, melodic tracks that compose this fine album.
What It Sounds Like: Funk, Trance and Post Rock Flavors in 16-bit
Jredd often collaborates with other artists on his tracks, so they range from smoky lo-fi funky grooves to epic crunchy trance tracks. From what I can tell, he’s strictly a “for fun” artist too, his stuff can be downloaded for free and will definitely work their way into your favorites. Most of his tracks are available over at µCollective.
Sounds Like: Little bits of modern music mixed with funky in-game themes.
Favorite Tracks: Factory Life, Solar Surfing
Album: Stone Soup
Linde’s music has a lot of different influences. It’s hard to put a label on them. Some tracks sound like old school break-ish stuff while some of the stand out tracks like Factory Life and Solar Surfing sound like something straight out of an old Genesis game. The album closer, Not Reading, is a nice chill way to end out of pretty high-energy and melodic album.
Sounds Like: A 90’s arcade shooter soundtrack
Favorite Tracks: Outer Trace, Lame FAQs
Animal Style captures that bouncy bass sound that drove every Sonic song into your head for all time. It’s a fun and nostalgic trip that reminds of every 90’s side-scrolling space shooter I ever played. The songs have enough variety to keep you from getting bored too. Give each song a chance, as there are lots of unexpected bits towards the ends of many of them, like trippy drums that throw you off a bit and other fun changes.
Want to make your own? Check out this post we did a while ago on how to start creating some classic Genesis sounds with a tracker or even in a modern DAWS.