Demoscene, demoscene, demoscene.
There exists an obscure music format that an entire generation of kids grew up with, most without ever realizing the sub-culture and community that had grown up around them. The file format is called Music Modules, or Mods for short. There are many different kinds of Mod formats, each with their own unique set of features, but they all work using the same basic principles: The Mod file contains the “patterns” (digital sheet music) as well as the “samples” (instruments) that play according to the patterns. In this way it is somewhat of a cross between a MIDI and an MP3 file. Because each Mod includes the instruments with the file, each Mod can have a unique sound.
Mods were frequently used in videogames and PC games during the 1990s. If you had a Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, or Atari Jaguar, chances are you have listened to Mod music and never even knew it.
The Mod community has been around for a long time and includes some of the best Demoscene musicians in the world. Making your own mods is free and easy and when you’re finished with your masterpiece you can unleash it on the world for comment and rating via websites like The Mod Archive.
In order to make music modules you will need a computer with a sound card (if you bought a computer after about 1993 you should be okay :D) and a Tracker. The Tracker I use most frequently to make Mods is Schism Tracker. Schism Tracker is a remake of a classic DOS-based Mod Tracker known as Impulse Tracker. Schism Tracker will run on Windows, Linux, and Mac and is free to download.
If you’re interested in getting started with making music on your computer, check out this tutorial for Impulse / Schism Tracker and have fun!
One day, Philipp Keller got fed up with installing sound libraries to listen to old-skool music files, so he decided to write a script that takes the hassle out of it and convert any mod to an mp3 file. Now you can download his script for free and use it on your own Linux box to convert your precious mod collection to mp3 for on-the-go listening.
Playing your music modules as mp3 files has the added effect of allowing you to scrobble your music to Last.fm. Typically, playing anything but an mp3 causes Last.fm to disregard your tune. I know that if Last.fm or the WinAmp Audioscrobbler plugin took my mod playing seriously, I’d have a way different collection. Now I can.
Open source rules. Long live music modules!
Here’s a list of the top places I get my music, which I develop to:
1. Nectarine Demoscene Radio (http://www.nectarine.fr)
2. Rainwave.cc Videogame Music Radio (http://www.rainwave.cc)
There are quite a few video game stations around the net but none offer the quality of music that Rainwave does. Each user can vote for songs as well as create an account that tracks all kinds of neat things. Definitely a hidden gem of the internet.
3. Modarchive – The internet’s largest collection of music modules (http://modarchive.org)
Many of you may not be familiar with the file formats that this website provides. WinAMP will play all of them, though. Give it a try. Music modules are similar to MIDI music in that they contain the electronic “sheet music” of the music inside them, but they also go a step further and include samples of each of the instruments used in the music. This was very helpful at a time when home computers could not handle large compressed audio (such as MP3) and MIDI quality was poor.
4. Demoscene.tv – streaming video of demos (http://www.demoscene.tv)
Though it seems a bit of a waste to stream video but only listen to the audio, this site really shines if you have a second monitor that you blast this site’s streams on fullscreen. Great graphics, fast streams. Perfect for programming.
5. Kohina – Old School game and demo music (http://www.kohina.org)
Kohina is a good station that plays tracks not found or often played on other stations. For this, it’s not a regular on my speakers. But, it is nice to sometimes leave the beaten path and explore some new sounds.
6. Digitally Imported – di.fm (http://www.di.fm)
Digitally imported is one of the largest streaming radio sites on the internet today. They have a ton of different stations ranging from Trance (my favorite) to things like Ambient and Chillout (also good). Plus, they offer high-quality streams for only $4.95 / month.
I’m always on the lookout for more internet radio stations or demo/videogame music sites. Does anyone have any not listed here? Please tell me!