Chiptunes are a fascinating genre of music that has been around since the early days of home PC gaming, using systems like the Commodore 64 and the Amiga, among others, to create tunes to accompany the games you’d play on such systems, using a specific kind of waveform to create the sounds themselves.
The origins of the chiptune genre is interesting to us music buffs, as chiptune draws from multiple genres at once, including soundtrack music, rock, pop, punk, heavy metal, krautrock, as well as what you’d more expect, as in the more epic synth-based artists of the ’70’s, such as Jean Michel Jarre, Tangerine Dream, and even psychedelic rockers Pink Floyd.
Oh ok, fine, we’ll throw down some Tangerine Dream just for context. 😀
In fact, the initial purpose of chiptunes at the time were to go along with the games they were featured on, making the genre’s origins specifically very soundtrack oriented by nature.
Here is an example of a chiptune so you can hear what it sounds like, if you have not before feasted your ears on such sounds. You’ll notice it isn’t simply background music, for it features lead instruments, which could be vocals but here are represented as various synth leads.
Indeed, when a chiptune is arranged, it often accounts for every instrument you’d normally hear, like drums, bass, lead guitar, piano, extra percussion, and translates them each into their appropriate chiptune counterpart.
BTW, the footage for the video below comes from a perennial favourite game from the C64 library; a game called Space Taxi. The musical artists featured on the track…well, that’s a cunning bit of foreshadowing. 😉
A Bit More Info About 8-Bit Chiptunes
Although the sounds are often referred to as 8-bit (which is more of a colloquialism of the genre more than a fact), ie. primitive, they can be used to compose some very dense arrangements that compares to any symphony.
This was realized early by folks who were (and maybe still are) part of the demoscene who appreciate the epic-ness of a good chiptune and accompanying visual.
Indeed, the fans of chiptunes today are a dedicated crew who often would rather listen to these old school sounds than their newer synth-driven counterparts. It is said, “once you go chiptune, you never go back”. I heard that somewhere.
Also, it should be noted that current genres of synth-based music and even pop music incorporate these sounds into them, such as mash-up guru Beck, who used a bit of the old school bleep-y-ness for his hit song, “Girl”, from back in 2005.
But, we’re not here to talk about Beck all day. We are here today because we actually managed to snag an interview with a chiptune artist by the name of Chaotrope, who has been making chiptunes for many, many moons now, as well as exploring other forms of music for the purposes of both business and pleasure.
(insert edgy photo)
Being such a prolific individual and a seeming expert in the realm of chiptunes to our feeble understanding, we decided it would be best to delve into the recesses of Chaotrope’s mind to see what information lay there which we could grasp and pull out to share with our loyal readership.
And so, a so called “Q&A” was conducted, and here are the results of those inquiries. We hope you enjoy!
What is your background with chiptune music? How’d you get into it?
I have a pretty long history with video game music actually! My first experience with chiptune was playing the Sonic games on the Sega Genesis at age 5. That legendary soundtrack, as well as a couple more in that era, have been very big influences on me. I didn’t start making chiptune music until I finally found some good 8-bit instruments, but once I had found the right ones, I couldn’t stop making chiptune. It’s really fun, although you kind of have to think differently, since some of the 8-bit instruments don’t sound good in certain ways. Once you learn how to work around the differences, it’s one of the most fun genres to compose, in my opinion.
(insert legendary 1991 Sonic The Hedgehog soundtrack)
Cool. What software do you usually use to create chiptunes?
I use a program called Mixcraft Pro Studio 8. I’ve used Mixcraft to compose since I was a young teen, and honestly it has everything I could want for a pretty good price. I’ve thought about upgrading to higher-end software but I think Mixcraft has everything that I could need for now.
(at the bottom we’ve included a video called “Mixcraft 8 Introduction” if you’re interested)
The instruments I use for chiptune music are mostly from Kontact 5, a huge library of virtual instruments I purchased. However, there are also quite a few free virtual instruments for chiptune out there that are of great quality.
Are chiptunes VST’s labelled as such in the software, or do you have figure out which ones are just by knowing somehow?
It really depends, some are labeled and some aren’t. It’s not too hard to figure out which instruments will work well once you are familiar with the genre.
Which ones do you tend to use / like?
I tend to use the more retro ones, the ones that remind me of old games I used to play probably. It changes based on the song I’m composing though.
Yeah, what would they be called those retro ones?
Oh, I don’t think they all have a specific name. 8-bit instruments, maybe chiptune instruments. A lot of them are made with simple sine waves and stuff.
Do you prefer doing original chiptunes, or do you like to rebuild others’ or do remixes? what’s your favourite?
Well I’m a composer at heart, so I enjoy making my own more. Remixing is a unique, fun challenge, but it’s a different process than composing.
When you compose a chiptune of your own, what kind of characteristics are you after generally, or are there no specific boundaries?
Just as long as it sounds good to me, I try not to limit myself. I’ll probably never escape my metal influences, but I don’t see a reason to set boundaries unless I’m trying to have the song fit a certain style.
Is being a famous maker of chiptunes on your radar at all, or would you rather be more like the next Slayer?
I’d love to be a famous composer of course, whether I get there through chiptune or metal doesn’t matter to me. Video game music is my focus though, if I were able to choose, I’d like to work on a successful video game.
So when you sit down to make a chiptune of your own, is there any particular emphasis on any one thing, such as a type of beat, or do you focus on the emotion of the track first? I find chiptunes to have a lot of emotion packed into them, however, it comes across as more fun due to the actual sounds you hear.. they’re just fun. What’s your take?
I tend to start on the drums and the bass, they tend to be the backbone of chiptune music. The beat can make a track have completely different emotions depending on how it’s written, so I think it’s important to have a good beat to work off of. After that, I don’t really have a set order, I just build the song as ideas come to me. It’s hard to explain! 🙂
Ah the creative process is a mystery by nature, it’s true. :slightly_smiling_face: So I guess you don’t aim for any overall effect with your tunes – for instance, you’re not trying to be the most adrenalin charged chiptune artist in the world then? I guess you mix it up depending on mood? Because I think some people want to be known as the person who does this or that in terms of music, or any field really.
I used to be known for my Progressive Metal music, but for the most part, that was because it was the music I was best at writing. I’ve branched out to almost every genre now that I’ve started freelancing, and honestly I’d rather be known for my versatility. People might notice someone more if they stick to a genre, but I think being able to compose in any genre is the smarter move in the long run.
Ah ha. So can you tell me (and anyone else reading this) what the scope is of your services, since we happened to meet on Fiverr and I don’t think it’s a secret that’s where you do some freelancing. :slightly_smiling_face:
My most popular gig is for video game music, but I can do almost anything music-related. I have gigs for recording guitar, even one for making phone ringtones! I’ll make original music for anything, although I excel at a few specific areas. That’s probably the best way to put it.
Yep, I consider mixing to be part of the composition process.
Wrapping up here Chaotrope, are there any artists doing chiptune today that you look to for inspiration? Or maybe just any band or artist that gets your motor running?
Some of my favorite chiptune artists are Chipzel, aaaa (ああああ), and Anamanaguchi! Some other bands I like include An Endless Sporadic, Dream Theater, and Plini. All these artists have been big inspirations to me, and I’d recommend them all to everyone!
I post most of my newest music at https://soundcloud.com/chaotrope. Here are some of my other links:
Fiverr (freelancing) – https://www.fiverr.com/chaotrope
Youtube – https://www.youtube.com/user/shinymonkey8
Twitter – https://twitter.com/jcunningham6392
Bandcamp (older music) – https://chaotrope.bandcamp.com/
Patreon – https://www.patreon.com/chaotrope