The Making Of: The DRM Soundtrack

Hello, chums!

So for the last five or so months, Me and Jenny have been writing some original synth-wave music for Rob Fearon’s upcoming PS4, PSVita (and probably other formats) abstract arcade arena shooter called Death Ray Manta.  No one knows just yet what exactly what Rob has up his bizarro sleeve – but what we can tell you is that he’s making what could be the world’s first synth-pop videogame.

First, a bit of background:

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Jenny and Me

Jenny has been making music for a long time now, having established herself as a one-woman synth pop goliath ‘Jenny And The Giants’.  She released an EP not long ago which was met with great critical acclaim and admiration.

I’ve been making blippy bloop beep videogame music for a while myself under the moniker of Barry Island.

When Jenny and I discovered each other we found ourselves very much enjoying each other’s music and decided to collaborate together on a cover of La Bionda’s 1982 song ‘I Wanna Be Your Lover’

This cover version went down quite well, getting airplay on Resonance FM’s ‘One Life Left‘ podcast.

We enjoyed the experience of working together so much we thought, you know, let’s keep doing it!  All we needed was an outlet…

A Fish Like No Other

Having worked with Rob before, knowing what he likes and what would suit his game, we made a proposal, had a chat and agreed to dedicate the next few months writing a concept album for him and his friend Andy White to accompany their revisiting of Death Ray Manta for Sony platforms.

Between us, we used a variety of music creation softwares to get to work on this album.  We wanted a synth-wave vibe, we wanted electo-pop music.  We also wanted to tell the story of a girl who falls in love with a laser firing space-dwelling fish.

I tend to make music using tracker software.  Jenny tends to make music using Logic.  Luckily, our mutual output managed to combine in just the way we’d hoped.  With Jenny’s production skills, sophisticated song writing ability and floaty spacey voice – combined with my unmistakably videogame influenced output – it wasn’t long before we had seven tracks we were all really pleased with.

Writing the music was incredibly fun.  It’s impossible to not enjoy yourself when you’re writing fast, quirky and cool pop music. The tracks are a mixture of my tracker music with Jen’s vocal accompaniment, Jen’s own creations and direct 50/50 combinations of our two techniques.

Mastering

With the album’s content finished in February 2015, next up was mastering.  We found a studio in Bristol that specialised in synthy stuff (and also was within our meagre budget!).  It was mental.  Speakers and vintage synths everywhere.  Mastering is something I don’t know a lot about, so I learned a lot during the process.

Mastering is a much more arduous process compared to the rapid satisfaction of thinking of a melody, arranging and recording it.  It’s all about new stuff I’ve never come across like stopping funny resonance things and dynamic volume levels on parts.  Listening to the same 10 second loop over and over looking for ways to make it sound better.  For all its Guantanamo Bay style psychologically draining qualities, the moment you listen back to the finished track in all its glory its worth all the torture and more!

The Mastering Studio

The Mastering Studio

One of the unexpected bonuses of using this studio was that we were able to increase the authenticity of the synth-wave vibe of the music by replacing some of our midi tracks in Logic with actual vintage synths.  Check out some of these brutes we’ve used:

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I’m not entirely sure what these synths are called.  One’s called the Jupiter something, I know that.  I’ve never been very knowledgeable about hardware.  I’m more of a notes man.  But boy did they look and sound cool!  Using real, authentic era synths instead of synth VSTs added a layer of quality that we are incredibly grateful for.

One synth even had cartridges with FM sounds on.  You can’t beat an FM slap bass!

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Another amazing thing about mastering in a properly kitted out studio is we got to make sure it’ll sound great on all sizes of speakers.  We tried it on shoulder height beasts, palm sized babies and everywhere in between.  The game should sound equally as good on a Vita, a 14inch TV, a home cinema system, headphones or even a car stereo!

What’s Next?

So with the soundtrack now essentially complete save for a couple more sessions in the studio to polish a bit here and there, we’re sitting back and basking in the glory of it all.  And it is quite glorious.

We’ll not release the album until the game is out, but when we do it will be on iTunes, Spotify, Bandcamp, the PSN store and as many other outlets as we can.  We are also doing a limited run of 50 physical CD’s, but more on that closer to the time.

Another really quite splendid thing about the soundtrack album is that the album artwork was created by games industry legend Ste Pickford who’s games I have personally enjoyed for many years (I spent many, many hours playing Wetrix on the N64).  He’s also a lovely guy with a lovely beard.  It’s an absolute honour to have his artwork adorn the album sleeve.

Preview Tracks

We’ll be keeping the album under wraps until release date, but here’s a couple of preview tracks to whet your whistle:

The Vacuum.

This will be one of the six in-game tunes.

A Fish Like No Other

This will be the title theme for the game.

As I write this, we don’t know when the game will be released, but that’s cool because game development shouldn’t be led by release dates.  Things are finished when they’re finished, and if anyone knows how to make a synth-pop abstract arcade arena shooter it’s Rob 🙂

But when the game and its soundtrack is out, we’ll be sure to let you know!

In the mean time, I’ll be going back to making video games and my usual stuff.  But if anyone reading this enjoyed the preview tracks and needs any music for their game, feel free to drop us a line!

Oh yeah, one last thing, this cat also helped master the album.  Her name is Jazz, short for Jasmin.  She’s really old and very sweet.  We call her CATBOT 3000

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CATBOT 3000

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