The 8-bit sound is a sound that is a product of the early digital synthesis. It has a distinctive chiptune sound that’s been used in many different instances. From video games to chiptunes songs, the 8-bit sound has been heard by most people. However, it’s not so easy to make. It takes a lot of effort and time to learn the craft.
To get started with 8-bit music production, you will first need a digital audio workstation (DAW). A DAW is a kind of software dedicated to producing, editing, mixing, and mastering music which we will explain better in our article. Next, you need the right plugins to achieve the chiptune sounds.
In this guide, we will go through all of the steps for making 8-bit music, explaining each tool you will need, as well as some tips and tricks so you can take your music production skills to the next level.
What Is 8-bit Music?
8-Bit music (Chiptune music) is a style of music that is made using electronically using synthesizers and even game consoles. The sound usually resembles the soundtrack of video games from the ’80s. At the time, the amount of information that could be put inside a cartridge was small so 8 bits was the maximum resolution the soundtrack could have.
This aesthetic has many fans and enthusiasts. Nowadays, you can produce this type of electronic music with digital audio workstations and plugins on your laptop.
How to Make 8 Bit Music – Tools You’re Going to Need
Choosing Your DAW
When choosing a DAW, it’s important to think about what you need. You should choose a DAW that is compatible with your computer and has the plugins you need to create 8-bit music. Some popular DAWs include:
- Ableton Live
- Avid Pro Tools
- Apple Logic Pro
- Studio One
These are just some of the more popular digital audio workstations on the market. There are many options for each person’s needs and budget, so it’s worth taking some time to decide which one is right for you.
We recommend that you take a look at our Best DAW Software 2022 article since it goes deeper into the subject.
Alternative: Music Trackers
Another popular alternative in the 8-bit world is using a music tracker. Music trackers are often more complex than DAWs but they can give you a more advanced result if you’re strictly making 8-bit music.
One of the most popular music tracker is the MilkyTracker. It features several sound processors and tools to create this art form. Here is a useful video about MilkyTracker:
If you’re a beginner, we recommend you stick with the DAW first since it is the most widely used type of software in the music industry. Due to this reason, in this article, we will focus on using the DAW virtual studio technology.
In order to get that 8-bit sound, you will need some plugins. There are a few specific plugins that you will need in order to achieve the vintage sound you’re after.
Audio plugins are tools that run inside your digital audio workstation. These can have different purposes such as drum machines, synthesizers, audio effects (reverb, delay, chorus, phaser), etc. While there are a lot of paid and free plugins online, most DAWs already come with stock plugins that will cover the basics such as EQs and compressors.
What Are Some Great 8-Bit Plugins and Chiptune Plugins?
Monophonic pulse wave synthesizer with lots of features such as 2 oscillators with custom pulse waveforms and a tempo-sync LFO. This plugin will give you that characteristic square-wave sound you hear on many chiptune songs. Useful for creating basses, leads, chords and melodies. Free plugin.
This is a plugin that samples sound chips from vintage computers and gaming consoles such as the Game Boy. Its user-friendly interface is pretty easy to understand and there are lots of functionalities. Paid plugin.
Impact Soundworks Super Audio Cart
The Super Audio Cart is a Kontakt instrument, meaning it runs inside Native Instruments Kontakt. Even though the package is kind of expensive, it features a lot of sound chip style samples that are completely customizable. Paid plugin.
The Basic 64 emulates the sound chips from a vintage computer. There are several controls available and the songs are highly customizable. While the plugin is a bit complex to use, it is easy to get a grip if you learn about the basic concepts of synthesis. Free plugin.
Learning the Basic about Music Production
Music production is a complex subject and it is important to learn the basics right from the start. Luckily, nowadays it is quite easily to get into the craft since there are a lot of guides online and tutorials on YouTube.
We recommend that you get familiarized with simple concepts first such as MIDI and what each sound effect and processor does. Here is a great video by Sonic Academy that cover a lot of these concepts in simple terms: Ultimate Beginner’s Guide To Music Production.
Getting and Developing Your Sound
The last step is getting and developing your sound. Everyone is different and your musical influences will reflect on your music. We recommend that you listen to a lot of 8-bit music artists and as well as other genres to gather inspiration. Also, never be affraid to try new things since music is a creative process and there is no right or wrong.
How Do You Make An 8-Bit Song?
Pick Your Sounds
As we’ve explained, you must pick the right sounds and plugins to make 8-bit music. Take a look at the free plugins we’ve listed on the last section for some inspiration. On the topic below, we will also link to some free and paid 8-bit drum samples you can download.
Create a Drum Beat
One of the first things to do when making 8-bit music is to create a drum beat. This can be done with two different methods:
- Creating your own drum loops and samples
- Downloading pre-made drum loops and samples
Creating your own will allow you to make an entirely original sound, but it will take a lot more time and effort. If you take the easier route and download pre-made loops, make sure they are high quality for best results. You can find free downloads on sites like Looperman.
Here are some useful 8-bit drum samples for you to get started:
- Free 8-BIT Chiptune Drum Samples
- 8-Bit Hits (Royalty-Free Drum Samples)
- Bitkits 8-Bit Drum Sample Packs
- 8UP 8-Bit Samples (Paid)
Create a Chord Progression
The chord progression of a song is its harmonical basis. Even though the theme can be quite daunting, having some degree of knowledge over music theory is important for any music producer. Here is a video from Splice that explains chord progressions, with a MIDI file bonus:
If you’re a beginner, you can search for popular chord progressions to use in our compositions, but it is important that you learn to create your own chords, either by drawing it on the piano roll or by playing it with a MIDI keyboard.
Create The Melody
The melody is the most important element of a song. A great melody will stay on the listener’s mind long after he or she listened to your track. Of course, to create one, you will need some knowledge in music theory.
A great tip is to hum your melody. After you have your chord progression, try humming some notes over it to spark some creativity. You can even record yourself and create a MIDI version of the part later. Also check out this video from Splice about the subject:
Arrange your Song
The arrangement of a song refers to the sections of your composition and how it transitions from one part to another. Most songs usually have an intro, a verse, a chorus and a bridge. The sequence of these parts is up to you. As an example, your song could have the following popular arrangement:
Intro – Verse – Chorus – Verse – Chorus – Bridge – Chorus
As the name implies, it is the introduction of the song, the first thing your listener will hear. This section should state the theme of your song clearly.
This is the story-telling section. The instrumental on this party is usually softer, dynamic speaking.
The chorus is the main part of a song. It is the part that people will remember the most. With sound chip music, you should place the main part of your melody here.
Play Around With Some Effects
Add some effects to your song such as tremolo and chorus. Like we said before, it is best to be familiarized with what each type of effect does, but make sure to get creative since there are no rules for making music.
Learn About Mixing and Mastering
Mixing and mastering are the two last steps before your song is ready for the world. The mixing process refers to going through each element of your song and applying processing such as EQ and compressor so that they sound their best and work with the rest of the track.
The mastering step is meant to get your sound to a loudness level where it can compete with all of the other songs out there. These two processes are complex, and in the case of chiptune music, some processes may vary if compared to traditional music.
It is still, however, important to learn the basics. This video has some useful information about the mixing process: Mixing Start To Finish: A Step by Step Guide to Balanced Mixes. Make sure to also check our Basic Mixing Techniques article.
Bonus Tip: How to Get Inspiration for 8-Bit Music
It is important that you listen to different 8-bit music artists in order to get inspiration for your songs. Not only that, try playing some vintage games such as Super Mario Bros to get inspired since these games and chiptune music are intrinsically related. Also try applying concepts from other genres to your 8-bit style songs.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Are Sound Chips?
Sound chips are circuits make to produce different sounds via a programmable sound generator. These circuits are found on vintage computers and game consoles such as the NES and Game Boy, so they are an essential part of 8-bit music.
Can I Achieve Great Results With an Online Chiptune Maker?
You can use an online music sequencer dedicated for this purpose to create 8-bit music, and this is the easiest way for beginners to get involved with the craft. However, we recommend that you start working with a modern composition software as soon as possible to achieve the most professional results.
These were our steps, tips and tricks on how to make 8-bit music. Once again, remember to start at the base: learn the basic concepts about music production and get some knowledge about music theory before you start venturing into this world. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t experiment, however: get your hands to work as soon as possible.
Another thing to keep in mind are the limitations present in this kind of music: modern digital audio workstations allows us to do pretty much anything music-related, but 8-bit music is about working with the limitations of a simple sound circuit. This is important to take into account on your compositions to make them sound true to the chiptune style.We hope this article was helpful. If you want to learn more about music production and all the processes that go into this craft, check out our related articles about the subject. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions or suggestions for our platform!