Heya friends! With only a little more than 2 months remaining until the Volume 8 submission deadline (#July 6th #PutItOnYourCalendars), it’s time for our annual advice column from this year’s judging panel!
Whether you’re just getting started on your track or already making final tweaks to your entry (you lovely early birdy, you), chances are you’ll benefit from the collective advice presented below. Happy reading & composing!
Bory of geekbeatradio:
I always feel like making music should be something from the heart, so first and foremost, make sure that you like the song.
Personally, I like things to be wacky and unusual, but that’s not necessarily going to win votes from all the other judges. That said, definitely challenge your boundaries with your entry.
Listen to the song in the car, listen to the song in the living room, listen to the song on headphones; it’ll help you bring out different aspects of it that will likely be apparent once mastered.
Most of all, have fun! Music from the Heart is always the best music.
I will evaluate without bias. So I’m eager to hear your new and challenging tracks.
Please be sure to include a description of your submission. And, if you can, please explain what chiptune means to you. (I think that there is also a musical “fun” that does not come across unless it is explained. Parody, homage, and so on.)
Finally, no regrets!! Good luck!
Steve Lakawicz aka ap0c:
I’m very tempted to write a novel here about GIT GUD and blah blah blah. If you want to read that advice, go check that out here, but if you want ACTUALLY USEFUL ADVICE, please read on.
I am thrilled to be back a 3rd time after taking a year off (to become a Dad). I think the most heartbreaking thing about being a judge are the tracks that are like… jussssstttttt not good enough. Like, some tracks submitted are – for lack of a better way to put it – simply not good enough to be on the album, and it’s completely that cut and dry. But the tracks where it’s like: OH MAN IF THEY HAD JUST NOT DONE THAT ONE THING THIS WOULD BE GREAT — THOSE are the ones that haunt me the most. Been on the cusp yourself? Here’s some common things said about those kinds of tracks:
• “THE SONG LACKS MELODIC INTENTION”: I will probably write these words in the comments 20000x before this is all over. If you’re going to write music, make sure that it goes somewhere. Think about the start, the middle, and the end – and how to move your listeners across that. Nothing is worse than stale, stagnant, but well-designed music — and that describes many of the tracks on the cusp.
• “This is a very long song”: Okay Mahler, we get it. You’re a twisted genius who is obsessed with death and sorrow and you need everyone to listen to your entire MASTERPIECE from start to finish and it’s your magnum opus and and and — it’s just too long. I’ve written many songs that I would consider too long – one of which actually ended up on a ChipWIN Volume somehow [Editor’s note: ap0c was not a judge during that competition] – but I can tell you, even in the CC I got back, the judges that year were not super thrilled with it. If your song is over 5 minutes long, ask yourself why. Is it actually 3 minutes with a bunch of cut and paste? (Would anyone actually want to listen to it? LOL) Are there sections in there that REALLY fit? Is there anything that is weak enough to be considered filler? It’s not about lopping off sections for the sake of making it shorter; it’s about tightening the experience for maximum effect. A great exercise for this is to cut entire sections for no reason, then try to find a reason why they should be re-added. CONVINCE yourself that these sections MUST be there. If not, it wasn’t meant to be. INTENTION. MELODIC INTENTION.
• Bonus: “I feel like it’s actually two songs”: BUT AP0C THAT TUNE ABOVE IS TWO SONGS!? Yes, I know, I did it on purpose – INTENTIONAL blah blah blah. This phrase here more describes the phenomenon where someone does this kind of unintentionally. The song seems to connect two separate and completely unrelated concepts. You can even see this happening as you playback the WAVs sometimes; I’ll see one big mass of sound, then a lull, then another big mass of sound. And each part just sounds like two songs glued together. I can tell you that MANY of the songs I’ve written over the years had entire sections cut which became their own songs, and there’s nothing wrong with that. So just really, really, REALLY think about if what you’re doing works or not. Have some… i n t e n t i o n.
• “Wow this track is amazing but… that… one drum is 30x louder than the mix and only in the right ear for some reason”: You laugh, but this happens at least once every year. Some tracks simply don’t make the cut because the sound design has ONE SIMPLE WONKY ELEMENT to it. To combat this problem, before submitting I would recommend privately getting a second opinion on your track from a friend who isn’t going to bs you about how good you are. If something is glaringly wrong, they will point it out right away.
• “These vocals are just not good… like, super not good”: If you’re going to take the time to pre-record vocals, please do a good job with it. There’s no real post production here on our end – it’s all on you. I can say over the years there have been MANY tunes that missed the mark SOLELY on vocals. Vocals are just as much as an instrument as your tracking/guitar/etc; make sure they are on the same level as the rest of your work.
• “It doesn’t really stand out – X’s and Y’s tracks are better examples”: Don’t be afraid to take a couple risks. If your track is 3 minutes of LSDJ thumps with 4 chords or something, add a 5th chord, change it up, add a breakdown – just those little touches will improve your score. I can guarantee you that this competition is going to receive at least 20 LSDJ tracks that are self-described “THUMPERS”. If it’s your plan to make one, how can you differentiate from the others? What makes your track THE LSDJ track to have on the album… ? Maybe add some animal sounds … ? I can tell you that MOST tracks that have the judges in a split decision (some absolutely love and some absolutely hate) usually make the compilation, so you have nothing to lose with trying to be experimental in a MEASURED and INTENTIONAL way. INTENTION.
• “They’ve improved so much but they are jusssttt not there yet”: We judges have been around for a long time [Editor’s note: EONS.] – most of us at least – and we know a lot of younger and up-and-coming chip people and their works. We’ve seen you grow and we know you’re growing. If you’re on the cusp, you’ve probably received this comment in your feedback over the years. This is the best comment you could possibly get and still get rejected in my opinion. That means you ARE growing as an artist and we recognize it. Hopefully this experience and the feedback provided from it will help you CONTINUE to grow!
Anyhow, I’ve taken up too much of your time with my ideas and I’m all out of Chelada and Slim Jims. But don’t worry about me – I’ll just be here ruminating about MELODIC INTENTION. You go GIT GUD, k? Or don’t. That’s an option too. You could just open up a six pack and play The Sims 3 until 4 AM. That’s a respectable choice too.
Langel Bookbinder aka b-knox:
Making music is like holding hands or playing footsie: you’ll be bad at it for a long time. But practice makes perfect. When phalanges finally meet in meat space, that’s when the majik happens. You don’t want to hold hands or play footsie, locked phalanxically, for too long because it makes you look desperate. Don’t let your listeners know you are desperate.You must throw them into an aesthetic state of emotional awe whilst maintaining an outwardly laissez-faire radiance captured in the silky and innocent sounds of primitive audio hardware. Open your hearts. Let the shimmering, glittering prizes floweth and filleth the empty cups of those who are thirsty for the timbres and channel economy that of which is the very essence of chiptune. [Editor’s note: (๑•̌.•̑๑)ˀ̣ˀ̣ ]
Alex Soborov aka Purely Grey:
Don’t make a lengthy track just for the sake of it. It is fine if it’s a 20-minute ambient piece or a prog epic or a mad techno banger, but don’t reuse the same loop over and over again just to pad it out. If in doubt, keep it short & tight.
Production matters! It sucks when a perfectly good track gets a lower score just because the mix is messy. Ask around for feedback and try your best to make it sound nice.
Remember that judges are human beings and it’s impossible to get rid of all biases, especially when the task is to listen to a gazillion of tracks (at least twice) in a couple weeks and balance the scores between all of them. While following advice might improve the chances of making the cut, you might as well pass all of it into the trash and focus on creating something that you will enjoy for hours on end. Have fun!
So you want some tips fer yer chips, eh? I feel like I give similar advice every time… but it’s good advice, so you’re gonna have to deal with it!
My advice is to try spending more time on pre-production away from your instrument. Sing your melodies, play them on a guitar or piano or trombone, or whatever, until you are totally psyched about them. Think about the progression of your song, brainstorm some curveballs/plot twists/cool ideas/memorable moments/ways to push your limits (and the limits of your instrument). I bet you’re gonna come up with something great if you invest more time thinking about your song than time spent in front of a tracker. Only spend time on the ideas that you are excited about. If you’re not psyched about it, trash it and move on. If it isn’t something special to you, don’t expect anyone else to think it’s something special either.
Grant Henry aka Stemage:
Last year, I included suggestions for how to end songs. Many times, we get submissions that are quite good but don’t stick the landing. That greatly affects how the panel feels after a song ends, but just as important is how the panel feels when starting a track, or receiving a track. In this case, however, I am not speaking about how to musically engage listeners from the beginning. I’m talking about not screwing up on a technicality.
It doesn’t matter how much emphasis is put on technical guidelines. There is always someone that chooses to ignore the requirements of submission. Every year, quality songs come through that do not follow the guidelines. Even in cases where it may be a simple fix, this can affect the ratings from the panel. If a contender didn’t give consideration to the guidelines, why should the panel consider a good score in return? It is a huge bummer.
When V.8 was announced, almost immediately the team received a song that was disqualified, and that was before even getting to the judging process.
Don’t be one of those people.
We know you are all excited to get your songs submitted, but please pay attention to the requirements for submission and take extra care with your productions. If you aren’t certain how it sounds, ask a friend! This community is helpful and supportive, and we encourage you to take advantage of that as well. Don’t send old songs. Don’t master your submissions. There is a list of requirements linked directly from the submission form.
Brandon L Hood aka President Hoodie:
Cheekiness aside, here are a handful of important areas for me that I have likely brought up here (or in CC e-mails) before:
• Don’t be a lazy looper. Four minutes straight of the same couple of boring looped sections will win you no love from this panel. Take the time to develop your song into something engaging and enjoyable.
•Don’t halfass your mix. This is particularly relevant to folks adding additional instrumentation (vocals, guitars, drums, jawharps, etc.) to their submissions. Many a good song has been dinked hard on its score for a poor mix and/or bad instrument tracking (tune your instruments, voice included…). It pays to spend the time to do this well.
• Listen and learn from other music that you like. There’s nothing wrong with taking lessons and inspiration from well crafted music that you enjoy. It’s how many of us learn and improve.
• End the song well. This failing alone critically wounds a lot of otherwise decent entries. Write an actual ending to your song vs. suddenly cutting it off or slapping on a lazy fade (the former is far less forgivable than the latter to me).
All-in-all, make sure that you give us your very best and beyond, as that’s likely the only way you’ll stand a chance of making the Volume.
And whether you make it on or not, be proud of the effort that you gave. At minimum, you’ve now a new tune that you didn’t have before! Make sure to take advantage of the Constructive Criticism Request Form that publishes shortly after the competition closes as well; you can learn a lot from that process alone.
And that closes out the Volume 8 advice column! For more useful constructive criticism feel free to check out the last few years columns as well. And, once again, the very best of luck to everyone participating in the V.8 competition!
Brandon L. H. aka “President Hoodie”
Founder & Project Manager of Chiptunes = WIN