Like every good tutorial series the best place to start is the absolute basics. One of the hardest things I found when I first started trying to make chiptune is how to get hold of the relevant tools. LSDJ is my tool of choice but there are a lot of parts to a ‘complete’ set up to use it.
The LSDJ ROM
Firstly you must have the ROM (available on the LSDJ site for a donation, it says $2 but give more, it helps the development). This step is easy, and if you can’t part with your cash just yet then there’s a demo for free although you can’t save any of your compositions. Once you’ve made the donation for the ROM then you’ll get an email from Johan(the developer) himself with a link to the ROM itself.
Something to play the ROM on
Here was my first hurdle, I didn’t have anything to play it on, I had sold my Nintendo handhelds long ago and although I could play with the ROM on an emulator it just doesn’t have the geekiness of holding a massive grey brick in your hands. My first DMG was bought of Thretris’ site for about £60, it sounds expensive but it was already modded with an audio signal boost plus had the custom paint job. My second and third DMGs were bought from a guy from Gumtree who was selling some plain DMGs with coloured backlights and the audio signal boost mod for £50 each, these are the DMGs I use now as the backlight is really helpful for those 3am inspirations.
Once you’ve got the ROM and the Gameboy or DS then you’ll need to get hold of a blank cartridge. Over here in the UK the R4 (a cartridge used to put homebrew onto the DS) has been made illegal. This is a massive blow to those wanting to create or run homebrew for the DS and is bound to have an impact on people’s learning on the system. Luckily though you can still buy the gameboy cartridges (it being an obsolete platform and thus not a worry for Nintendo’s income). I bought mine from the DJ Transformer website. Here you’ll find an assortment of gameboy cartridges, I find the best option is the 64M USB cartridge as it’s USB based so there’s no need for a transfer device and you can get it preloaded with the LSDJ ROM if you wish.
Once you’ve got the ROM on a cartridge on a handheld
Have a bit of fun, to navigate through all the screens press ‘select’ and then use the arrow keys to move around the screens. Add chains, phrases and notes using the ‘A’ button and press ‘A’ and ‘B’ to delete those you don’t want. Be sure to read the LSDJ manual for more in depth information (I would go into more detail but there’s no point rewriting the information). Another great resource for iOS (iPhone, iPad and iPod) owners is the LSDJ Patchbook app, based on the old LSDJ Patchbook website it’s a directory of instrument settings. Really good for learning how others make their chiptune songs sound so great.
Staying up with the scene and publishing your chiptune
Like any great underground movement there are a couple of excellent resources you can use to stay in touch with what’s going on. Below are a few of my favourites:
- True Chip Till Death: Subscribe to their RSS, unlike other sites they summarise chiptune musicians Twitter output, great resource
- Chipmusic.org: A forum about chipmusic, you can post your tracks here for critique and chat about anything, chiptune or not
- 8bitcollective: A place to put up your songs and share with the public, tend to find it hard to get decent stuff to listen to here though
- CalmDownKidder Records: An internet record company that has put out some great releases especially Plain Flavored’s output
As ever though one of the best places to keep in the loop and make friends is Twitter.