Last week, I asked you guys to submit your questions and suggestions to the Melodic Mailbag, and you came through in force. I got some great questions, and a ton of suggestions for music to write about and listen to. I checked out everything you guys sent in, and while I won't have time to write about most of it, you hipped me to some very cool stuff I'd never heard.
Here are some of the questions I got; feel free to send in more for next week! The easiest ones for me to answer are the ones that flat-out just ask a question in one or two sentences. But of course, your digressions are also welcome.
Let's get to it!
Byrn Stuff writes:
Do you think hip hop could find a place in game soundtracks outside of sports and crime games? I love the genre, but I feel like it's pigeonholed into games of a certain type.
I'd love to see more hip hop in games, and think it could certainly find home outside of the games its usually found in these days. Since "hip hop" is such a broad categorization, there is absolutely no reason that the kinds of beats, sounds and vocals associated with it can't be featured in more games.
One game I recently played that had a clearly hip-hop-influenced soundtrack was Beat Sneak Bandit. I guess you could call that a "crime game," heh, but I don't think that's what you're talking about.
Also, some of the (fairly odd and arguably cheesy) rap on JRPGs like Persona 3 (featuring the MC Lotus Juice) and The World Ends With You feature hip-hop that helps the games feel distinctive and hip.
So, in short: yes! I would love to see more good, interesting hip-hop in games. The main reason is that not every game fits with a soundtrack like that, but the ones that do are the ones that make a big point of being different and cool. So, I'd love to see more games like that.
Aspiring musician/YouTuber Mega Josh writes:
I know people like me often partner with Machinima and IGN, but what are the disadvantages/advantages? What's the difference in income between someone "independent" and someone partnered with either if they make youtube partner? Can someone make partner doing covers? Any other advice?
Well, for starters: I've never worked with IGN or Machinima on their YouTube channels, so I can't really speak to how those programs work specifically. My advice is more broad, but hopefully still useful.
In general, I'm wary of signing up for partnerships like the ones you're talking about. They can be perfectly okay as promotional assistants, and ostensibly a good way to get your music in front of people, but when it comes down to it, I'm not certain that they provide anything that you can't just do on your own. More importantly, they give you something that is easy for them to give—some visibility, a place in their community—and in return, they take something that is potentially incredibly valuable—the rights to your work.
The real power of the web is that you don't have to rely on someone like that, which usually involves giving them rights to your content and/or control over how you distribute it. The best thing you could do is to be an active part of communities like those ones (as well as NeoGAF, and OCremix, Reddit, etc). Use message boards and forums to network with the creative people you'll need to work with—editors, video folks, etc—and then just go get it done for yourself.
However, if you decide you want to sign up for a program like the ones you mention, more power to you. The only thing I would suggest is that you read (REALLY READ) the agreements you sign before you sign them.
It's hard to really pore over those documents, and you'll probably have already made up your mind to go through with it, which makes it harder. But find the sections on rights and ownership of work, and read them carefully. Make sure you understand what you're seeing. Have someone else, maybe a family member or lawyer friend, look over it and tell you what they're seeing. Take it very seriously. As a general rule, I find it's best to approach every creative endeavor as though you're going to become incredibly successful—it's not just a healthy way to push yourself, it will also encourage you to make smart business decisions from the beginning. And it's positive thinking!
Read everything, know who will have the rights to your work, and the moment someone asks you to give up those rights, have a very serious conversation with yourself about what you're giving up, and what you're giving it up for.
I was wondering if you could do a post on the Elder Scrolls soundtracks. Since Morrowind I've like fallen in love with the music but Skyrim has been a bit disappointing. The soundtrack (as well as the game) seems to lack the same depth as the last games unfortunately. The only memorable song is the theme song but it doesn't instill the same epic feelings Morrowind did.
But your point about Morrowind's soundtrack is well-taken. In fact, I will write about it this very day. Check back in a little bit.
DocSeuss writes in to ask about procedural music and "burnout" on a game's soundtrack:
Long games often replay music, which means people might risk being burned out. Having forgettable, non-attention-getting ambient music, or using some sort of procedural music, seems to be a way to counter music burnout. Are there other ways to avoid creating music burnout? What are the possible negatives of using, say, procedural music?
This is a super-interesting topic for me—how the fact that we hear and then re-hear video game music over and over distinctly shapes the way we react to it.
I definitely think that one of the reasons that older video game music sticks with us to the amazing degree that it does is due to the fact that we listened to the same short tunes, with their simple, hooky melodies, over and over and over again. While Koji Kondo's original theme for Super Mario Bros. is a great little melody, a significant percentage of that tune's lasting appeal lies in the fact that we simply heard it over and over, and in the process came to associate that melody incredibly strongly with the game.
Very few film scores, for example, achieve that kind of ubiquity—only the Star Wars soundtrack really comes close, in terms of how often it's been heard and how closely it's tied with its main experience.
There's a longer article in this, to be certain, as it's something I've thought about quite a bit, but to answer your question about procedural music: There are pros and cons to the approach, but I think that it can yield some really interesting stuff.
It requires a different sort of compositional approach to write music that can shift and change depending on the whims of a computer system—when it's done right as in, say, Red Dead Redemption, Flower or Botanicula, it can present a fascinating new way to write and experience music. When it's lazy, it can fall into the same traps as any other type of music—it can feel repetitive and boring.
Writing music that can hold up in a 100+ hour game is no small feat—I've gotten sick of the music in just about every open-world game I've played, from Skyrim to Minecraft. Even procedural music, I'd think, probably can't hold up to that kind of playtime. And if it's going to, I'd say that "less is more" is always the smart approach.
Dan Mesa writes:
Best Mega Man soundtrack: Go!
Oh, man. This is super hard, at least in part because I haven't played every Mega Man game. But I have listened to pretty much all of the music, and while it's perhaps the "safe" choice, I have to go with Mega Man 2.
It is probably the most anthemic of all the classic 8-bit melodies, at least for me—does it get any better than this stuff? It's almost like they're kidding, it's so triumphant.
That said, I do dig the music for Mega Man X which is good enough to give rise to amazing remix projects like this.
Which brings us to our last question…
What do you think about OC Remix?
That is an easy one: I think that OC Remix is flippin' awesome. (here's a link to them, if you don't know them.) I'm amazed that a group of people can work so tirelessly to put together remix collections like the one above, and think that working with them is a fantastic way for people who are interested in getting into video game music to try something out.
When writing music, it can be a really good idea to "ghostwrite" by taking someone else's song, using their introduction like it's your own, and then going in your own direction. While you obviously can't publish or sell that stuff, doing a remix is very much in the same vein—by learning and rearranging a classic tune, you get to get inside of it and learn how it works.
Plus, the community there is really cool, and lots of great, successful composers check out and contribute to their remixes. So, yes: OC Remix= cool in my book.
And, since we're sharing a track that someone sent in, here's one submitted by Qemyst, in keeping with our quest for better hip-hop in the video game scene. Here's Qemyst:
Deltron 3030 was a concept album between Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, scratching/turntables by Kid Koala and production by Dan the Automator. The WHOLE album is sort of a story told by Del, who uses an alter ego known as Deltron Zero. This song "3030" is a masterpiece of nerdy awesomeness, as far as I am concerned. Not only that, it's just awesome on a truly epic scale.
So that wraps up our first Melodic Mailbag! Thanks to everyone who sent in questions and emails. If you've got a question for next week, send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and put "melodic" in the subject line, and I'll answer them next week. And remember: suggestions are valued, but questions will be more likely to get published in the Mailbag!