Hi guys, my name is Daniel Kern and I am a musician and composer from Vienna, Austria with a keen interest in 8-bit music, and retro gaming-style soundtracks.
After my recent 8-bit work-overs of about a dozen songs from Fauxtown artists including Young Coconut, The ‘Rents, Try Hardz, and The Approachables, I can definitely say that I have a few favourite VST plugins to get the job done, which I want to share with you now.
I would say the most outstanding 8-bit VST I’ve worked with lately is none other than Peach from Tweakbench.
In my last article called “How To Write 8-Bit Chiptune Music“, I already mentioned Peach, and wrote about a few basic facts and technical specifications.
Right now, I’d like to go into a bit more detail for you on Peach.
The user interface isn’t looking too fancy, but it has a neat old school 8-Bit design.
There are a number of useful presets that were designed to sound like well-known retro video games such as Metroid Prime, Sonic the Hedgehog, Starfox and many more.
There are also presets with Peach that are sounding very similar to a wide range of 8-Bit soundtracks, based on the fact that that many of them have very similar sound colours.
Two of the most important tools of this VST are the “glide” effect and the “bitcrush” effect.
I’d suggest playing around with the attack & release knobs on this VST, and this will give you even more control over the nature of your sound.
Electric Guitar Imitator VSTs
The “glide” knob is definitely useful if you want to imitate an electric guitar, for example, because what it’s doing is bending the keys that you want to connect. If, for example, you first play E, followed by an A, the attack of the sound is completely gone, but it is “pitching” the E in the speed you decided on, in order to become A.
For imitating an electric guitar I would suggest the preset “overheat” which has a nice distorted sound. If you want to get more distortion, I’d say the best choice is to rely on external plugins. You can just use the (in my case) Cubase intern distortion plugin or go the more fancy way by using amp simulators such as Guitar Rig oder some nice Wave plugins.
For the second option, I would like to remind you that it could easily let the old school 8-bit sound of the plugin become more modern.
Peach’s bitcrush effect is basically the choice of how “clean” your sound is. If you turn the knob far to the right side, more or less all you will hear is noise. But, sometimes this is the desired effect. For example when you are designing drums or when you use it as a modulation-curve making the sound more and more crushed over a chosen amount of time.
Imagine: You start with a nice, clean high pitched sound – and want to have a strong change of your composition after, let’s say, 16 bars.
One way to lead towards the change would be the mentioned bitcrush modulation curve. I mostly use it exponentially rather than linearly. That way it has a more increasing, pushing effect.
EQ’s and External Effects
I like to use external effects to design the sound specifically on my needs. A lot is accomplishable with EQ’s! Very often the bass sound of the selected presets is a bit too edgy, so you may end up with a lot of high, noisy sounds – even you didn’t start with a lead melody yet. A simple high cut on the bass can help a lot on that matter.
Another very useful tool is, like I said before, distortion. This is great if you want to separate the lead more from the softer sounds (bass & chords).
A stereo enhancer is also a very nice way to widen parts of the sound, like mainly the chords and the high frequency drums (hi-hat, ride, cymbal, etc.).
This way, your sound doesn’t seem so crowded and muddy, its also way easier to hear the different sound sources.
I am often using a reverb at the end to make the sound a bit more “full” and closing small gaps between for example chord breaks.
If the reverb alone is not enough, you can help yourself with applying a delay on single stems you feel are too “separated” (I mostly take a stereo delay).
I hope I could give you a bit more insight of how i work with my favourite 8-bit plugin & could maybe help you develop your own retro soundtracks!