The Gentle Art of Making Chip-Music

Written by Makke

I presume you've all encountered chip-music some time, and if not use the link in the end of this article.

Chip-music is nowadays not as popular and necessary as before. The main reason for making chip-songs is because you need a small peace of music, which is not very often needed today. Chip-songs were mainly used in the old days as music for cracktros. But as time has passed there is not that great a need of chip-music anymore.

Nowadays we make chips mainly because it's fun. They only take a few minutes to make, they're small and easy to spread and those who make chips like the sound (and are often great SID-music fans).

What is defined as a 'chip-song' then?

Well, first of all there's the special chip sound. The genuine chip-sound can easily be related to the arpeggio-effect (which we'll talk about later on), and yes. The arpeggio-effect is not very often used outside the chip-world. But it's not only the arpeggio that makes it a chip. You'll have to work with as small samples as possible. They can easily be made in the FT2 sample editor with the right mouse button. (You could rip them as well, but chip-samples are rather easy to make.) When making chip-samples you can use any sample you want, and then cut off almost the whole sample.

It's easier to understand if you take a look at a chip song. I'll make one and include in this issue of Hugi so you can look at it. -*Makke leaves to track a little chip-song*- Ok, I'm done. Hugi-boogie is a nice name, isn't it? :)

Now you have something to look at as well. Have a look at the samples and you'll see what I mean with small samples. You can edit them yourself by using the right mouse button-go ahead. Test it!

So how big should a chip song be? In my opinion a chip song should not be larger than 40 kb. If it's larger, it's too big. Or as my dear friend Tonic / Comic Pirates describes it: "That's not a chip-song! That's just a fat ass module that sounds like a chip-song." He said this about a module of mine that was 53 kb, and he was right. :) Now some of you will maybe say 40 kb?! That's too small! You can't make music that small! WRONG! Yes, you can. I'm kind of nice here, letting you call a 40 kb module a chip. Many people would say I'm insane, and that a chip only is supposed to be 20 kb.

Back to tracking!

So, now you've made the samples (or ripped them)! Oh, but it's so hard to make your own drum samples. Yes, it is hard - in fact it's as good as impossible. Here you could either rip from other chip-songs, sample your own (but think of the size. You might have to use quite low quality sampling), or you could take from a C64 song.

This you can do by using Sidplay for Windows for example. Check which channel the drums are in, and save that channel as a waveform. Then cut out the drums from it in a sample editor, and KA-BLAM! You've got your own drums.

As we've got the samples, we now can start tracking. The most important thing about a chip song is to make it catchy. It has to be cute/cheesy/weird or something else to catch the listener's attention.

I myself am only a beginner in the art of chip-music and therefore I only make short chip-songs that I myself find catchy. The reason why I track short is because it's really hard to make a chip-song that doesn't become boring after a few minutes. I'm just not that good yet, but in some time I might be. :)

I personally make my chip-songs catchy by having the lead start very early in the song. Perhaps even in the first pattern! (Like in Hugi-boogie.) This way the listener doesn't have to wait for the song to actually 'start' and thereby lose interest. (This is sad but truely more important for the 'unknown' trackers to do. If the listener knows the tracker who made the song, he's often more patient and can wait a minute before losing interest. If he loses interest at all.)

Ok, so you've got a catchy lead. But, boy does it sound sterile! Here we need something to make the lead more interesting. Take a look at the lead in Hugi-boogie. (The lead is the melody played in the forth channel.)

I used PORTAMENTO and at one place VIBRATO-effects to give the lead more feeling, and not just play straight of. (PORTAMENTO is the 300-effect and VIBRATO is the 400-effect).

The lead is done, but we can't consider the track a song just because we have a lead. We need more.

We need a bass-line. The bass-line in Hugi-boogie is rather basic, I know, but it fulfills its purpose. The bass-line doesn't have to be very advanced, it just has to work with the arpeggio and the lead. Nothing more, nothing less.

We need drums as well, and I hope you all know how to make decent drums. Never underestimate the drums. With cool drums the song can be much better than with uncool ones.

What does cool drums sound like then? This depends on your taste and what style you wish your chip to have. So you'll have to figure that out yourself.

And now: the mystery of the ARPEGGIO-effect!

The arpeggio is the effect that allows you to make a chord using only one channel. That's right! It plays the different tones separately for just a short while then it changes to the next, and then to the next, and so back to the one it started with. (If you look at the sample in the 'instrument'-editor in FT2 while playing the chip, you'll see what I mean. What I mean is, look at sample 6 in Hugi-boogie in the Instr. Ed. in FT2 while playing the song.)

The arpeggio-effect is the '0' effect in FT2 (and other ProTracker-like trackers). Now the following might be a bit strange, as I don't know very many musical terms and definetly not in English. So I'll have to improvise here.

If you write '047' in your tracker, you set the chord to MAJOR. How's that? Well, first of all you have the '0', that means it's the arpeggio-effect. Second you have a '4' which is with which you set the MAJOR-part. And the '7' sets the - ehm - don't know the English word for it - damn... In Swedish it is called 'KVINTEN'. Hmm - screw the real word, I'll explain it anyway. The '7' is for how many notes you're going to have involved in the effect. '7' gives you a MAJOR chord with 3 tones involved. (The best thing you can probably do is to check on other songs, and try for yourselves as I'm obviously not capable of explaining this very well. :) Anyway, here's some example:

037 - MINOR

047 - MAJOR

(Hope you can see some connection. :)

So if you set the tracker to

C-5 -- 037

you'll get a C MINOR in the fifth octave. BUT, you have to keep telling the tracker to use the ARPEGGIO. If you just type it at one row the effect will stop after that row. (Look at Hugi-boogie and you'll see what I've mean. I've written 047 for example all the way down to were the next tone take over.)

So, now I've told you some things about chips, but you probably don't get it yet - I probably wouldn't. :) The best thing you can do is to download a few chip-songs to listen and look at. Here are some good URLs where you can find chip-songs:

A great thanks to Peter Enroth (a.k.a. Decibelter / Lactic Acid). It was him who taught me how to use the ARPEGGIO-effect. Hey, Peter! How's things in Finland? :)

- Makke / Comic Pirates / Hugi