When you think of rock music you probably don't think about "Super Mario Bros." or "Space Invaders." But a subculture of video game rock bands? Yes, it's a thing.
And now that you know the bands exist, you're likely all too eager to start your own video game rock band. For your sake, we got to chat with John DeCampos a member of [Explosion Sound] (yes it's in brackets), a Baltimore-based video game rock band performing at this year's Bit Gen Gamer Fest, which holds its ninth gathering Saturday at Rams Head Live (for more information, go to bitgen.magfest.org.) DeCampos helped launch the festival.
Here's what he had to say.
1. Attend Bit Gen Gamer Fest, Magfest and other similar events
First of all, if you want to form a VGM (video game music) group you need to see what other kinds of bands are out there. Networking will help get any band off the ground and being a fixture at all the big VGM concerts can help you get shows, promote your band and help you make friends with current bands in the scene. Moreover, you will get to see first hand what is and isn't working for current bands and tailor your band around what is really compelling about VGM and performing music within this genre.
You will not always be able to find avid gamers to be in your band, but it's important that at least one person (best if it's the driving force or leader of the band) has a long history with video games, especially when it comes to the classics. What makes VGM so enjoyable to people is that they get to relive moments from their youth drilling away at some ball-buster of a game, all the while this little tune is humming away in the background, getting hardwired to your subconscious. So choosing songs that click with people and knowing which songs represent which things to your listeners is important. Plus, no one likes a phony.
3. Stay away from the "Mario Song" or the "Zelda Song"
"Mario Bros." and "Legend of Zelda" are just examples here but those two franchises have two of the most recognizable songs on the planet. Yes they are video game songs, great ones that everyone basically knows at this point. There are a few exceptions to this, and by all means if your VGM band has a crazy inventive way of exploring that material then go right ahead, otherwise leave it alone and explore the VGM landscape a bit more.
Aside from tapping into that child-like wonder most of us once experienced as kids playing these games, another attraction to VGM for fans is seeing living breathing musicians perform music written on a computer to be heard from a computer. Mathematically speaking there was very little holding back the tempo, timing, and amount of notes a VGM composer could include in a composition. So some songs are near impossible to play on normal instruments. So practice, whatever your instrument is — get great at it.
5. Learn Guitar Pro
With computer program Guitar Pro, not only can you notate guitar parts but write parts for two other guitars, arrange a piano section, program drums and bass and share this file with your band mates online via email.
6. Go to local shows and support other local bands
If you want to be successful you have to play shows and build a fan base. Besides, the funnest part of being in a band is playing shows with your pals and sharing an awesome experience with people cool enough to stand there and listen. You play well, act like a pro and have fun, you will get more gigs, which will necessitate more practices. That will make you a better band and then you'll turn around and have a gleaming reputation, a bunch of gigs coming up and then you'll be ready to hit the next phase.
7. Book shows at video game, comic and anime conventions
Bit Gen, Magfest and a number of other events are perfect for upcoming VGM bands. These events are packed with people who want to hear you and are ready to be your best friend and buy everything you have to sell. They will want you to sign things and take pictures and will treat you like a rock star.
8. Make friends with the Internet
Don't just set up a Facebook, a Bandcamp and a Gmail account and wait for the shows to fall in your lap. Get your recordings online. Don't have or like any of your current recordings or don't have the cash to produce one? Take a video of every show you play and post them to your feed. Visually brand your band and remain active. The VGM community lives first online, tap into that resource and give as much as you can. If you post it, they will come.
9. Be better than all the other bands already doing this
To the uninformed a video game cover or tribute band might seem like a quirky novel idea but in reality this scene has been thriving and trucking along for around 15 years give or take.
Find a musical identity for your cover band. Maybe explore a musical style that is not overly done. To be specific, most VGM bands go the rock or metal route because many VGM arrangements lend well to that genre. There are lots of rappers that rap over video game sound tracks and or do raps about video games. Even in giving this tip I'm realizing that even in stepping out of the normal musical convention that is common in the VGM scene is now old hat in that many new VGM bands are doing that very thing.
I guess what I'm saying is step out of the pack and be awesome, yes this material is super fun to play and anyone who wants to do it should but if you want to start an awesome VGM band you have to step out from the crowd. With that in mind here is my last tip...
10. Don't be in a video game cover band -- be in a video game sounding band
OK, I LOVE video game music, as I type this last paragraph I am listening to (of all things the "Mario Bros World" 1-1 music on Pandora) but after playing video game music for almost 10 years I realized something recently. The most successful VGM bands are bands that apply specific aspects of what make VGM great to original musical offerings. Find what excites you about video game music and by all means tap into its amazing community of fans. But in my opinion you would serve yourself and your creative ability better by carving your own path and having as much fun as possible in the process.