In the world of gaming, some choose to preserve and honor games by collecting them, writing about them or even smile and talk about games as we guide ourselves and our friends through bit- riddled nostalgia. But there are some who choose to take a somewhat under appreciated part of a video game and create something almost completely new: the soundtrack. During New York Comic Con 2013, the calling card of a man named Ricky Brugal was discovered, along with his 8 bit soundtrack recreations. We had an interview with Ricky to discuss the world of 8-bit music and the origin of his career.
How exactly did you begin your career in music and how did you finally settle upon 8 bit tracks?
I’ve been into electronic music my entire life, but I first started creating music with old Casio keyboards and VSTs on my laptop in 2006. I started creating chip music specifically by experimenting with the LSDJ program in 2007, which led to an internship with 8bitpeoples in 2008. For those who might not know, 8bitpeoples is one of the longest running artist collectives in chip music, and also one of (if not THE) most popular and well respected distributors of chip music around. Artists such as Nullsleep, Bit Shifter, minusbaby, Anamanaguchi, and Starscream (now known as Infinity Shred) have released music with that group.
I settled on 8bit music tracks for a few reasons: creating music on 8bit (and 4bit) trackers is a fun challenge, and I feel that the sounds I get most accurately convey the “stories” I’m trying to write in my music. I’ve also always listened to this “style” of music: when I was younger, I would often connect my NES or SNES to a small radio and make mixtapes of all my favorite video game tunes.
Have video games always played a big part of your life?
Yeah, you could say that. While I make a HUGE distinction between video games and chip music (fun fact: more than a few of the more accomplished chip musicians either don’t play video games regularly or have never played a video game), it’s impossible to deny some connection in my case.
I’ve always been into reading and writing creative stories, and to me video games fall into that category. Growing up, they were definitely an escape but more importantly an inspiration to create stories of my own.
What were some of your favorite games growing up?
The original NES Mega Man series holds the top spot(s), of course…but also, River City Ransom, Wizards & Warriors, Gun.Smoke, Bad Street Brawler, Super Spike V’Ball, Chrono Trigger, Super Metroid, Tecmo Super Bowl…I’ll have to force myself to stop now because I could go on forever.
One thing these games have in common? They all have amazing soundtracks, of course.
My first time hearing your name was during New York Comic Con 2013. Was that your first time playing at a big venue? Was it an adrenaline rush for you?
I’d actually played a set with the ShiftyLook folks at New York Comic Con 2012 as well! It was still an adrenaline rush for sure. The chip music community is strong and firmly established, which is an awesome thing…but it’s always really cool and really exciting to play to new audiences and meet cool new people like you and teach more people about the work we do.
Photo via Chiptography
The music industry has millions of DJs/competitors in every genre. What’s the competition like for you with retro game music?
Our genre is a little different in that for the most part, people are EXTREMELY supportive of one another. I wouldn’t say there’s much competition at all in my experience, more just people trying to figure out what their style is and how to zero in on the folks who dig that style most…so it’s more about collaboration than competition.
One example of this collaboration: I also co-curate the I/O Chip Music series with my good friend Jessen Jurado: a monthly series of chip music shows focused on matching new artists with established ones to create awesome exposure opportunities and a generally amazing show. The good folks of 8static over in Philadelphia (another monthly chip music series) have been fiercely supportive of our efforts, and we often share advice with each other and even volunteer at each other’s shows. The community supports us through Kickstarter and buying merch and even something as simple as helping to promote shows.
That might not be the juiciest answer, but the supportive and collaborative culture of chip music is something I think we all appreciate a ton.
In general, how long does it take for you to create and develop your music?
A single track could take anywhere from an hour to a month to a year to create. For me, it usually takes about 4 to 5 hours of initial work to create the “skeleton” of a track, and then I’ll tweak it for a few weeks to a month before it’s ready for live performance. However, new ideas can hit at any time, so pretty much every song is a “living document” of sorts!
I have to say, I’ve visited your Sound Cloud page and you have some fantastic tracks! I can easily picture your music being played at raves or techno clubs. Have you ever thought of compiling an album?
Thanks! I actually have about 6 albums out, the latest one being “Assorted Women”. That album is available now at the Ricky Brugal bandcamp page, and further info on the making of the album is available here. Folks can grab the tunes at a “name your price” rate, with anyone paying $5 or more getting exclusive unreleased tracks, music videos, alternate album art, ringtones, and even source files for some of the songs!
At New York Comic Con 2013, you played right before another group, Chillbrave which also plays 8 bit music. Outside this interview, you revealed that you guys are friends. How did you meet?
Those Chillbrave guys are absolutely amazing, and I encourage everyone to check out their Sound Cloud page. I met them several years ago as solo artists, even before they created the Chillbrave duo. I’d heard their music online and seen them perform at chiptune open mics in the past, and most everyone agreed that they were extremely smart and talented guys. We’ve been friends since, have exchanged tips and tricks and booked shows together, and it’s been awesome to see that group just get better and better over time.
Any plans for a collaboration with Chillbrave?
That idea hasn’t been thrown out there yet, but anything’s possible! Right now I’ve been working on a project with my close friend OneRom, where we do a series of both covers and original tunes. I’m also working on an Assorted Women remix album featuring my favorite artists covering and remixing that album, and two more surprise collaboration albums with other amazing chip musicians.
Now that we’re stepping from current gen consoles to the the next gen Playstation 4 and Xbox One, it’s only a matter of time before the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 will be referred to as “retro”. What are some of your dream soundtracks from current gen that you’d like to mix?
I can’t lie to you: there aren’t any. While there are plenty of awesome soundtracks on the current gen that I dig, nothing really strikes me as something I’d like to remix or reimagine on my own. However, the soundtrack to “Hotline: Miami” is a lot of fun, and I wouldn’t mind picking their brains a bit!
Photo via JusListen Entertainment
Do you have any future projects coming soon?
Aside from the ones I’ve mentioned, I’m really focused on the I/O Chip Music series; we have some amazing shows coming up, including a huge one headlined by Sabrepulse on December 6th in Brooklyn! As far as personal projects, I’ll be releasing some tunes with Chippanze.org (a chip music label based in Brazil) sometime in 2014, and I’m working on a bunch of original tunes for that album as we speak.
What advice would you give to others that might be interested in dabbling in 8 bit mixing?
The most important advice I give to others is not to rush yourself and to take your music seriously! This music can be very difficult and sometimes tedious to create, and one of the most exciting things is that you learn new ways to bring your ideas to fruition constantly. So, there’s no reason to rush: work on your craft for a long time and be sure you’re 100% comfortable with what you’re producing before you “show your cards”, so to speak. Also, respect your own work! Don’t let people reduce what you do to anything less than what it is; this is serious music that we work extremely hard to create, and it’s more than a series of video game covers or “bleeps and bloops”.