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I need some real advice thats not "RNG click on everything till it sounds good"
That seems to be a real pain in the butt the only advice two music makers here have shared with me.

When i can easily make music with something like this blind folded but cant use it for music in my games

it's not than you cant make good music
the problem is 1 in 200 can
where as everyone on this planet CAN import a wave file IF pico-8 let you

P#113099 2022-06-13 06:22 ( Edited 2022-06-13 09:27)

I know basically nothing about EDM so I can't offer much in the way of specific advice but I had a thread on making music a while back. It's full of good advice—from other people—but it's a bit more general. However, this comment by @UnitVector, particularly the part about drums, might be helpful since EDM is very beat driven.

You may or may not use drum-like sounds but the basic idea could be useful: Use the custom instruments (sfx 0-7) to create a set of sounds that you like and then use those to lay down your beats. Your custom instruments could just be a note or two which makes a cool sound or could be a short melodic phrase or whatever. It almost doesn't matter what they are, really, as long as you like each one individually you can use them as building blocks for a larger piece. Admittedly, finding stuff you like may require a fair amount of random-ish clicking on notes and effects and so on but in a sense this is no different than taking the time trying to find just the right sample or whatever.

Here's a short tutorial video by @Gruber about how to make a drum beat in Pico-8. You could start with something like that but using your custom instruments instead.

Another useful tip from that thread is combining sfx channels with different speeds to build up loops. If you have one sfx at speed 40 and another one at 20—making sure you've set loop points—playing in the same music pattern, then the faster pattern will play through twice before moving on to the next pattern. If you want it to play three times you can set the speed of the slower pattern to 60 instead of 40 and so on. The longer one can be empty, in which case it basically just acts as a timer, or could have long droning notes to add a bit of background. Point being: you can build up quite long loops without using up a lot of your sfx/music pattern space.

As I said, I don't really know EDM so I'm not sure how useful any of the above will actually be in practice but hopefully it helps.

P#113105 2022-06-13 10:15
:: Xeonic

thanks really appreciate the feedback.
gonna look thru everything you shared hopefully i can try get the bass the way i need since i'm doing prodigy.. and that was easy on the rb-8 i did it in 30 seconds and then realized this is only a nice cart that i cant use for a game sadly.

so far it's been quite difficult.

P#113106 2022-06-13 10:40
:: Xeonic

i guess what i'm trying to say.. there needs to be a better way than note for note poking everything in, it's slow

P#113107 2022-06-13 10:42

Yeah, I hear you. As with most things Pico-8 it's trying to replicate many aspects of old-school games and game dev, limitations included. But sometimes you just want some music!

Did you see this thread from the other day? https://www.lexaloffle.com/bbs/?tid=48094

I've not tried Denote (suggested in the thread) myself so can't really comment but might be worth a look if you're able to work in something that can output midi.

P#113108 2022-06-13 11:24
:: Gruber

I understand your frustrations in how people explain music making. It’s likely they don’t understand how they themselves make their own musical decisions. Often they’re using years of experience and some theoretical knowledge to help guide their decisions. So while it looks like RNG to you, it’s not totally RNG.

For example, if you’re making EDM. I can say for sure your kick drum is going to be spaced out every 4 or 8 rows in Pico-8. I don’t need to point and click to hear if that sounds good. Also your snare sound will probably be spaced 8 rows apart, evenly dividing the kick. Again, I don’t need to RNG to hear if that sounds good. These are the theoretical models that most EDM follows.

Same with the actual texture/sound of the kick. Kick drums in chiptune music are rapidly falling pitches. So I don’t need RNG to randomly arrive at a kick drum. You’ll need effect 3 in Pico-8 to make that happen. Or the instrument editor if you’re a more advanced user.

If I was making an EDM track, I’d be pulling on this kind of knowledge, theory and experience to help me get to my ideas faster. I WILL say though that at some point, there’s always an element of RNG that goes into composing my music. I don’t work out songs in my head. I work them out as I point and click, try interesting things, and hear what they sound like. If I like, I keep. If I don’t like, I change. But there’s always a dimension of creative exploration that’s initiated with pointing and clicking and RNG.

P#113114 2022-06-13 13:04
:: Xeonic

some great advice but the process of doing it that way is slow and takes loads of time to produce good results.

Midi importing.. idk if it will be any good but i am willing to give it a shot.

the problem now is i need to accept i cannot produce sounds as good as the rp-8.

P#113121 2022-06-13 14:52
:: luchak

Yeah, Pico-8's built-in synthesizer and RP-8 are built on completely different synthesis models that are good for very different things. Pico-8's synth is very digital, while RP-8 is mostly doing analog modeling. Pico-8 is going to be much better for doing chiptune-style work (for example), RP-8 will probably be better for recreating 90s electronic music. (It's a demake of a reasonably popular piece of 90s software, after all!)

If you want to recreate sounds similar to RP-8, here's a quick rundown of how some of the sounds are built up in RP-8 and the best ways I've found to approximate them in the built-in synth:

  • Kick drum: sine wave swept in both frequency and amplitude. Starts high-pitched and loud. Pitch decays very rapidly, amplitude decays more slowly. Replace sine with triangle and you're good to go.

  • Snare drum: constant-pitch sine wave overlaid with noise. The sine wave decays quickly, the noise more slowly. In an SFX instrument at speed 1, make the first 1-2 ticks a triangle or square wave, and the rest noise.

  • Pluck-y basses or leads (low filter resonance): switch waveforms in the SFX editor to mimic the effect of the filter envelope. Saw -> tilted saw -> triangle for example. At speed 1 you can get something reasonably convincing.

  • Hihats and cymbals: not sure if it's possible to translate these well. In RP-8 these are made by mixing noise with multiple square waves at inharmonic intervals, then highpassing all of that. Unfortunately just using noise is not a very close approximation. One possibly-interesting fact here is that sampled hihats sound terrible in RP-8 since most hihats have very little frequency content below the maximum ~2.8kHz that RP-8 can represent.

  • High-resonance synth sounds: maybe not possible? Or maybe you can try to fake this by using a second track to approximate the resonant peak, I haven't tried.

  • Distorted / overdriven sounds: you might be able to do some triangle->square replacements, or saw->pulse maybe. Not sure. It'll be a bit rough.

Others might have different or better ideas, I'm not the best with the built-in Pico-8 synth.

I'll also note that the Pico-8 engine delivers many things that RP-8 doesn't, or can't. Notably: no additional tokens or CPU usage, much more compact song storage, more flexible sequencing, more oscillator types, fine-grained instrument definition with SFX instruments, and the ability to synthesize frequencies over ~2.8kHz. (Anything over that in RP-8 is just quantization noise on the output, since Pico-8's PCM sample rate is 5.5kHz. RP-8 disables the output filter to maximize this noise for more fake "high end".) So I wouldn't say that RP-8 is more capable or "better", just that it is built on a different design that's good for different things.

I'll admit that I generally prefer the types of sounds that RP-8 makes; that's one reason I wrote it. But, well, that's my own often-questionable taste. :)

P#113124 2022-06-13 15:43
:: Xeonic

i will take this knowledge and use it. thank you.

P#113125 2022-06-13 16:28


First of all, you have a real nice chiptune composition in that video you posted, even if doesn't sound like what you set out to make! (Also a nice 3D environment and ship sprite!)

Making music on a 4-channel monophonic tracker with only 8 harsh bleeps and bloops at your command is a big challenge. If you have low experience with trackers, I'd recommend throwing all expectations out the window to begin with. I'm not saying "lower your expectations", just that until you have a better understanding of working within the limits, it's going to be tough to manifest whatever you hear in your head (or even in RP-8).

That said, music like The Prodigy's should be minimalist enough to approximate. The most important thing going on in here is a custom instrument for the bass drum, which is serving double-duty as the bassline.

For trackers, there's a lot of great ones out there; ProTracker, MilkyTracker, FamiTracker, LSDJ, etc. Pico-8's is the simplest and probably the best to ease yourself into that world with, but some of those I just mentioned are decades old and there's tons of resources out there to learn from. There's also tons of music, plenty of which is "EDM", and maybe one of the best things you can do is just use your ear and think about the choices, or more importantly, the compromises, made by the composers/arrangers. Training your brain to think like this might take a while, but no longer than it took to learn what to expect from your first drum machine / sequencer / sampler / synth / DAW. It's a good analogy for trackers, because they all share things that you can transfer knowledge from, but you also have to throw some out to progress.

Initially, I'd recommend learning how to minimize as much as possible before learning how to maximize. Challenge yourself to use only 3 tracks instead of 4 (an important approach in Pico-8 anyway, since 1 channel will always get interrupted by sfx from the game). Even better, try with 2. Our very own @Gruber is one of the best chiptune artists out there when it comes to distilling a song down to a couple monophonic tracks; and since he's the most prolific Pico-8 composer, there's no shortage of carts with his music to check out. There's a Mega Man cartridge on the BBS, where I'm pretty sure he only uses 2 throughout the entire soundtrack, and I think that may just be his standard practice from what I've heard. Speaking of 4-channel chiptunes and Mega Man, check this video out and keep an eye on everything going on. If you're not familiar w the NES/Famicom sound chip, some of it may surprise you! If nothing else, it's a good lesson on one way to approach certain percussion sounds.

The minimalist approach should teach you a lot. For example, do you actually need this or that note? You might be shocked what you can get away with excluding, or tricking the listener into hearing something that's not necessarily there. Think about sounds that would normally play simultaneously in the same frequency range, particularly the low end. Maybe that means re-pitching your bass drum for a single hit (such as in the Firestarter example), or offsetting the bassline by 1 tick. Maybe you only need a handful of hi-hat sounds instead of 16ths running throughout the bar, if you even need them at all! Go back and listen to that Firestarter demo I made, is the A-flat in the first pattern playing the entire time? Personally, I start with the two-track minimalist approach and take it as far as I can before I start adding more tracks. Also remember that you're not confined to having just 1 voice in a track, the key to a maximalist approach once you get the 2 or 3 track thing down.

When it comes to making the custom instrument sfx, if you need them, think about the waveform of the sound you're trying to replicate. A good way to study this is to simply take a sample of a sound, time-stretch it in the DAW of your choice (but keeping the same pitch), and studying it. From there, think about how you can utilize the default 8 instruments and effects to approximate that waveform in the sfx editor. The mention above of using the different instrument waveforms to approximate an envelope filter is a great example!

If you need to beef up the sound of an isolated phrase, in a DAW, you might normally throw a huge reverb or echo/delay effect on a track; for working in a tracker, think about what those kind of effects actually do and how you can apply that knowledge. Here’s an example from my new game, Downstream Dream. Notice the 16th-note reverb on the plucky synth, plus the 3/16th delay at the last hit of the phrase. Obviously, I don’t have access to these kind of reverb/delay effects in Pico-8, so how would you go about doing that without?

Finally, there's entire books dedicated to music theory / songwriting and I won't go into that here, but remember that major and minor aren't the only scalar modes you have at your disposal. Thinking about your song vs big beat / junglist / DnB genre songs like The Prodigy made, I think this might be a major source of your woes. (But like I said, you have a nice chiptune there, even if it doesn't have the same attitude you were looking for!) Don't quote me on this even though I just did a quick arrangement, lol, but I think Firestarter (and Smack My Bitch Up) is in dorian. Try looking at the more aggressive-sounding scale modes and how you can apply them, it might be just what you were looking for.

Anyway, hope that all helps. Good luck!

P#113136 2022-06-14 03:20 ( Edited 2022-06-14 05:45)
:: Xeonic

:( )))))))))))
owow wow thats alot better than i found thru google.
thank you.

P#113159 2022-06-14 15:28
:: Xeonic

yeah no offence this music tracker is arcane to use.
as in very hard and results are harder way harder to produce.
i think i need to look into making a tool with premade instruments to get anywhere cuz this feels horrible as a general task.

P#113176 2022-06-15 02:04
:: merwok

have you seen gruber’s music machine?

P#113181 2022-06-15 09:34

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