In our second part of the interview with David W. Lloyd & Larry Oji from OCRemix, we look at how they got started with remixing tunes. What makes a good tune and what makes a good remix. Check it out!
1. How did you two get into remixing video game tunes?
djpretzel: I started off in the emulation scene, doing a comic strip dedicated to it. It was more of a way to improve my skills at Photoshop and 3D Studio MAX, at the time. I wanted something similar I could do to get some experience with music composition and production; there were already some sites dedicated to doing arrangements of C64 games, mostly in electronica genres, so I decided to start a more open-ended site that allowed mixes from all games, in any genre. The first few mixes I posted were intentionally from different games, in different genres, as sort of a “proof-of-concept” – fortunately, the concept caught on, and the site became what it is today!
Larry Oji: Well, I’ve done a couple of cameos and joke tunes, but I don’t remix myself, so better for me to answer how I got into the remixing of video game tunes as an observer. My hobby as an Emory University undergrad was in radio, and I’d play game music along with my favorite mainstream material. A friend and fellow radio DJ knew I liked game music and recommended that I check out OverClocked ReMix, so I first visited the site in early 2002. Later that summer, my best friend downloaded everything OCR had back in the days when bandwidth was more expensive, so it probably hit the site in the wallet. If it did, I’d like to think that I’ve paid the site back a million times over with the work I’ve done since then. But, yeah, having the opportunity to listen to everything locked me in. I internalized OCR’s mantra of creatively interpreting game music, and was eventually invited to join the site’s judges panel in mid-2004. It’s made of up experienced ReMixers and a couple of listeners like myself that help select what music is added to the site, and that’s where you’ll find me today.
2. What makes a good video game tune to remix?
djpretzel: A strong melody. Classic chiptunes have that going for them in spades.
Larry Oji: I couldn’t have said it better myself. There are tons of great themes waiting to be arranged.
3. For somebody who is getting into remixing video game tunes, what kit and skills do they need ?
djpretzel: It really depends; we’ve got solo acoustic guitar and solo piano mixes on the site, so the kit/gear required can easily be a single instrument. Most folks who do more elaborate stuff however will want a computer, a sequencing package of some kind, and a MIDI controller/keyboard to play things in. For FruityLoops and a used USB MIDI keyboard, this can be attained pretty cheaply, but obviously there are more expensive options like Reason, Sonar, and Cubase, and synthesizers/workstations that are much more powerful. It’s worth noting that you can also make music using free software like Jeskola Buzz, and that you don’t even need a keyboard – you can enter in the notes individually, non-realtime, using a mouse, as many artists on our site do. Regardless of tools, you need a good ear. This doesn’t necessarily mean formal musical training of any kind, but it does mean a basic grasp on rhythm, melody, harmony, and how these interact and form patterns that are then structured into songs. You can learn that intuitively and go a long way, really, although formal music theory training will always provide deeper knowledge & understanding.
4. How easy is it to get the tunes from the video game?
djpretzel: At www.chipamp.org, you can get a bundle of plugins that work with Winamp to allow playback of video game “chiptunes” – small files containing just the music data from older games.<
Larry Oji: I also just have to mention in light of Chipamp, that, once you install it, you really should pick up the original chiptunes of everything you can get your hands on. An entire archive of practically every NES soundtrack ever made won’t even take up 15MB. And while the 16-bit systems may have comparatively larger filesizes, they won’t come close to filling up hard drives either. You’ll learn a hell of a lot about game music.
5. When remixing, do you prefer remixing older tunes that sound electronic and driven by melodies (such as the 8-bit NES & Master System) or the newer tunes from modern, CD-based consoles?
djpretzel: I prefer the older stuff because there’s usually more room to work with melodic material without being led in one direction or another by the production – because the material is more minimalist, it leaves more doors open. You can still take modern pieces in other directions by changing the genre, but the older stuff allows for more arrangement flexibility out of the box, without having to avoid any particular genre. The 16-bit consoles struck a pretty nice balance between melody and production, and I think the Genesis and SNES are thus probably my favorite consoles in terms of material for remixing.
6. Do you just do video game work? Or do you remix other tunes?
djpretzel: I’ve done several anime mixes over at www.animeremix.org, but mostly stick to VGM. Because I’m the one running the site, I feel a certain pressure to put something out at least once a year, and with all the time that development & administration take up, that means I usually need to stick with game remixing. Which isn’t a problem for me, because it never gets old, and I still have tons of ideas that I want to realize.
Larry Oji: In terms of what our organization posts on our front page, we stick with game music. But the ReMixers in the community remix whatever they’d like; we have forums to promote video game remixes as well as non-game remixes and original works.
7. If you do remix other tunes, which is your major passion (as in, which did you fall in love with first): remixing or video games?
djpretzel: For “true” remixing, where the source audio is far more crucial, I don’t think it matters quite as much, but since what we do is closer in nature to arranging than remixing, I definitely prefer video game music because of the melodic emphasis and minimalist production of the 8- and 16-bit eras, and the many doors that opens from an arrangement perspective. I also feel that by remixing VGM in particular, I’m giving deserving but often overlooked music more attention, whereas if I were remixing pop music or doing mashups of commercial artists, that specific appeal – shining a spotlight on criminally overlooked/underrated composers – wouldn’t be present.
8. How did you two meet?
Larry Oji: By 2003, I had already listened to all of the music on OCR back where there were only about 700 ReMixes. The music was so good, I had gotten curious on learning more about the ReMixers, original composers, and game soundtracks being tributed, and I ended up cataloging the information. In those days, the OCR database was pretty empty, but Dave had set up an excellent framework waiting to be populated with the actual information. So my first contact with him online was in early ’03 offering to help fill out the database. In 2006, I moved with my wonderful girlfriend Paige up to Washington, DC for 2 years, and Dave and I met in person. But we’d already been friends for a few years and talked all the time online, so when we met among a big group of people, many of the others were surprised that it was the first time we’d ever actually met in person.