Tuesday, July 23, 2013

It is finally here! Pitch to Pixel Volume 2!

FINALLY the page went live on CDBaby this morning!

So please do check it out! I spent some time listening to PtP 1 and 2 back to back, to compare. PtP 1 has some great moments, for sure, but I think I write with a lot less "fat" on PtP 2, as I've gained a bit more focus and discipline to my writing since 2010. Anyway, as any long time readers of the blog know, now begins the quest of "making back the money I spent to make it," which took something like 8 months or whatever last time. Here's hoping for a quicker turnaround!


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Pitch to Pixel Song Profiles: Fantastical Prelude

Fantastical Prelude was actually the very first song I completed. I had, of course, a certain JRPG series in mind (a "Final" sort of fantasy, if you will!), and I worried that I would be a little too imitative.

But after finishing this, I was really happy with it. Then something funny happened. The melody stuck in my head FOREVER. Just repeated itself over and over again. Which is exactly what you want (but you can't predict which melodies will do that).

Part of it is a particular VST (virtual instrument) I used: "monomate," a monochromatic synth that has a mini-moog type of sound: deep and rich. It also doesn't process faster passages very well, creating charming processing errors that actually sound cool!

For some reason, I got it in my head that somewhere somebody would want to use this track to highlight some powerful scene in a romance/drama type of movie, and I would get this massive royalty from it (hah!). I guess I thought that because of the pretty, but melancholy flavor that it has.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Pitch to Pixel Song Profiles: Open Dragon and Lightning Force

I open PtP 2 with a couple of tracks that signal the album's most distinctive feature from PtP 1: using 16 bit, Sega Genesis style FM synthesis. This was one of my "top requests" so I wanted to honor it.

Open Dragon is actually a homage to a new game, Capcom's Dragon's Dogma. The inspiration is a song they used for the title screen, called "Into Free" by a metal duo called B'z, a Japanese group. It starts slow, then speeds up, which is a simple musical device I like to use.

Lightning Force is, as you might suppose, based on the Thunder Force space shooter series from the Genesis "era" (roughly). These soundtracks had pretty amazing, synthesized heavy metal guitars. But, here is were I kinda go off the "chip" track: while the metal crunchy guitars are the appropriate FM synth sound, the drums are not downsampled here... and that's me playing that guitar solo. I felt an urge to lay down a old fashioned rock guitar solo, so, you know, why not? :-)

Friday, July 12, 2013

Finishing touches

So tomorrow, well, technically later today, I make the final touches, and upload this thing to CDBaby. It takes some time to process after that, so I don't think it'll be available until perhaps Saturday, or maybe Monday even, depending on how automated CDBaby's process is. Of course, I'll be uploading high quality .wav files, not mp3's, so it'll take some time.

I did a quick check on the mixes, putting it on some different speaker setups (with the car being most important to me, personally!), and tonight I'll be figuring out what my track order should be. This is important: even in the .99 cent a track "singles" era, having a logical album order is still important.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

In the can and ready to go!

Uh oh, he hasn't posted since end of March, he's totally stopped making music again! Quitter!

Nope. Just, as I figured, moving house completely wrecked me for a good long while! But happily I've managed to bang out the rest of the tracks of Pitch to Pixel Volume 2! In fact, all I'm waiting on now is just infrastructural stuff I'd like to have in place before I roll out the new album. This includes art for it, and perhaps a facebook page, as well as a slew of blog posts locked and loaded.

I do believe this album will show growth in every area from Pitch to Pixel 1. Some specific goals for PtP 2 were:

1. To incorporate more 16 bit, specifically "Sega Genesis" type sounds. These sounds are in abundance on this album! It was a little tricky figuring out what sounds to use, as the Genesis basically used FM synth, which is very similar sounding to lots of other stuff from that era.

2. Songs that have a stronger resemblance to game soundtracks you liked. People really liked "Warrior" and "Shooter" from PtP 1 because they resembled strongly some game OST you remember. So I did that kind of thing a lot more here. Oh, there is always room for just "Rob Howard Compositions," that is, music that I create solely based on what I feel like making, but in general it is easier to write *for* what people like, instead of whacking them over the head with what you *prefer.* One thing I hope people have fun with is analyzing the song titles and figuring out where I'm getting my inspiration from (although if you continue reading this blog, I'll explain it all anyway).

Of course, I'm really proud of the first Pitch to Pixel album, so there is a whole lot I didn't change as well. Such as:

1. Using "chip" as a palette as opposed to boxing myself into what a particular game system or tracking program can accomplish. So, as before, these songs are made almost entirely with chip sounds (actually emulated via Virtual Instruments or VSTs), but things like reverb, compression, EQ, and other pro audio "tricks of the trade" are included to make the bass boom, the highs shine, and the mids glow with warmth.

2. Composing songs with plenty of melodic hooks, with solid verse-chorus-verse type structure. One thing I thought I brought to the table with PtP 1 that I wasn't hearing in the huge amount of high quality chiptune music out there already is a knack for songwriting, in the "pop" sense. The better chip stuff is generally modal and trancelike, with lots of repeating rhythm and static harmony. Obviously there is an audience for that, but the classic game OST's we listened to as kids, done by the likes of Koji Kondo and Yuzo Koshiro, were done by guys influenced by jazz, prog rock (early YES, Emerson Lake and Palmer, early Genesis, etc.) and popular music in general. When influenced by that sonic stew, you tend to follow very methodical song structures. It is these rock solid structures that gave that music its addictive appeal. 

3. While going to FM synthesis style 16 bit, I do retain a whole lot of NES style 8 bit as well, and I of course mix the two in some spots. The NES stuff sounded awesome on PtP 1, so I'd be silly not to have that included again. I find it especially effective on slower numbers, or the more classically oriented compositions, while the Megadrive/FM synth stuff is outrageously good for the techno pop, Streets of Rage inspired music that I was doing for some of the album.

4. I included a Christian hymn in the last one, party because I dearly love old hymns and partly because, hey, public domain. That one got as good a response as the video game stuff, so I included another one on this album. If I keep doing these, I might do a hymn only album! They really do turn out nice.

Did I take any risks, and do stuff maybe outside of what I collected from PtP's feedback? Sure!

I included... a real guitar solo! Yeah, on one heavy rock song, I felt it really needed a little extra, so I fired up my carvin bolt guitar, warmed up on some scales and let er' rip. And wouldn't you know it, it is probably one of my "cleanest" guitar solos I've put down on a recording. Of course, when I say clean, I mean in terms of execution... because sonically it is pretty filthy ;-)