Howdy-ho friends! Newcomers to the blog might not know about the soft spot I have for FM synthesis, but rest assured that any time I get a chance to talk about someone doing cool chiptunes on the Genesis (or any of the other myriad ways someone might achieve that around these parts), I jump at the chance! If you add in someone doing something for the good of the community, well, let me tell you, there aren’t many better ways to brighten my day. A few weeks ago, David DeGraw, an enterprising purveyor of fine Game Boy audio accessories, announced that he was putting together a compilation for tunes to play on the Sega Genesis and Nomad. I took some time to interview him, and without further ado, I’d like to tell you all about the YM2017 compilation project hitting your vintage Sega consoles this August!
ADAM: So a few things right out the gate: You’re David DeGraw, owner of Catskull Electronics, purveyor of fine mods for Game Boys and the occasional tiny synthesizer. You’re also curating the YM2017, which is a collaboration not so unlike ours, except that yours is actually going to be playable on Sega hardware! How’d you come around to having a themed compilation? Was it just something you were jonesing for, or did something prompt you to want to do this?
DAVID: First, I should give credit where it’s due. Apeshit (of Apeshit Mods, ASM Retro, and the soon to be launched gameboylife.com) organized a Game Boy compilation cartridge around a Halloween theme a few years back (he’s also doing another one and they’re still looking for submissions, check it out). I like Game Boy music, but I feel like other consoles don’t get as much attention, so I wanted to do a project that would be kind of a community celebration of another console. I find myself listening to FM music pretty often, mostly old DOS game soundtracks (Dune II and Space Quest 3 FTW!), so the Genesis was kind of the perfect console. It also has the advantage of having quite a few high quality tools available (such as VGMmm and Deflemask), as well as being an extremely common console that people have nostalgia for. As for the theme, I just wanted to have it be something everyone can relate to, even across cultural gaps. Everyone has a summer they look back to and smile. For me, my favorite summers were based around community and family, like a neighborhood block party, and I think that best describes the spirit behind YM2017: A chip scene block party where everyone is welcome and you can eat as much as you want and kick back and enjoy the show.
A: The picture you share around for the YM2017 shows you loading it up on a Sega Nomad. I know you requested everyone submit their music in a way that can export a .vgm file, but were you just planning on releasing physical cartridges for the Nomad? Or were you going to make another cartridge for the Genesis too?
D: So the Nomad is actually a Sega Genesis! They play Genesis games straight up. So yeah, the cartridge will work on Genesis/Mega Drive and the Nomad!
A: Whoops! That’s my bad, mine was a Nintendo household growing up. Back to business: your website seems to just sell Game Boy related accessories – does this mean you might be pursuing a broader scope of products now that you’ve got an interest in FM stuff?
D: Yes and no. Pretty much, my projects are low-hanging fruit that for whatever reason doesn’t exist (see the analog sync adapter). I am definitely more familiar with Game Boy consoles, and they’re by far the most ubiquitous chip music console. The Game Boy has a lot of these low-hanging fruit projects just because of the versatility and popularity of LSDJ/Nanoloop. There’s just a lot less stuff out there for other consoles, but I always have about 10 projects on the burner, many of which are never released for various reasons. I can say that the YM2017 team has already kicked around some ideas for some more Sega stuff, so we’ll see what happens! I should also say that if anyone has ideas for products, I’m always open!
A: Do you interact much with the other FM chip musician folks out there in the vast space of the internet? It seems to be a pretty underrated part of the chiptune scene, although with the rise of retrowave and such there’s certainly been a resurgence of FM tunes.
D: Not really! I know basically nothing about the FM scene. I’ve already made some great friends in it just doing YM2017. People have been totally friendly and helpful, which is awesome. YM2017 is a community centered project from the get-go. I view it as a project of the FM scene (and really the entire chip scene), not really as “my” project.
A: Speaking of friends you’ve made: you made a cool tiny – sorry, TEENSY synth recently for someone, which you had said was based off of something trash80 had come up with. Do you want to talk about that and how that sort of came to be?
D: Yeah! That’s kind of a cool story. So trash80 is an absolute gentleman and scholar. He also invented the Arduinoboy which was the first item I sold (and the reason why my shop even exists). Among his projects, he made a synth based on a YM2149 chip and a Teensy microcontroller. The Teensy is great because it can be used as a USB midi device, unlike various Arduino models out there. The YM2149 is kind of a neat little chip, It’s variants were used in lots of arcade and pinball machines, and consoles such as the MSX and Atari ST. A guy posted on chipmusic.org asking if someone would build him one of trash80’s synths because his arms are deformed and he can’t really solder. So I just said “what the heck” and whipped up a board. I had no intention of producing more than the two I made for the guy, but it seems to have gotten pretty warm response on my Facebook page, so it should be coming to the store soon!
A: Back to the YM2017 compo, so you’re offering people whose music you use actual cash money for using their work in addition to allowing them to retain all distribution rights once the compilation is released AND you’re sending them a cartridge. I’m given to understand that puts you in kind of a minority when it comes to these sorts of things – it looks like you’re really going out of your way to support the people supporting you, which is great!
D: I’m not really trying to make a living selling any of this stuff. Basically my shop is just a fun hobby for me, and my goal is pretty much just to help advance the chip scene as much as I can. I think there has been some stuff that’s really hurt the chip scene, from hardware projects taking money and never shipping to web forum drama. Like I said before, I view this as a community effort, so it makes sense to me to support the artists as much as I possibly can. I should also again give credit to Apeshit. The compensation model is essentially a 1:1 ripoff of what he did with his Game Boy cart, and he’s been nothing but helpful by giving me advice on how to structure everything. I think to an extent, the whole chip community is kind of insane to go around playing with consoles that were made before a lot of us were even born. To set out to profit from this crazy obsession we all have seems kind of perverse to me. Don’t get me wrong – my shop makes money, but that’s not why I have my shop. I just want people to be happy and for all of us to have a good time! I should also mention I plan on releasing the whole album as a “pay what you want” thing in MP3 format. I’d hate to think there’s someone out there who wants to hear the songs but can’t afford a cart.
A: Is there anything else you’d like us to know about the compilation?
D: The deadline for submissions is June 30, 2017, so there is still time to get a submission in! Pre-orders for the cartridge will go live around that time, so keep checking YM2017.com and like my Facebook page for updates! I anticipate about an additional month of work finalizing the hardware and software after the deadline, and cartridges should start shipping mid-August. I get asked all the time if you can use PSG channels and samples, and you can! Try to go easy on the samples though, there’s a finite amount of room on the cart.
A: Thanks a bunch!
So there you have it! Keep your eye-meats peeled for this hot jawn coming live to an internet near you this summer, and since your eye-meats are already peeled, why don’t you direct them slightly below this sentence so you can check out all of Dave’s cool stuff?