Listening In With 8-bit Music Theory | Game8 Connect

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Resident music theorist and fellow gamer 8-Bit Music Theory joins us for Game8 Connect to talk about the ins and outs of breaking down the hottest tracks the gaming world has to offer.

Game8 Connect - 8-bit Music Theory

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Welcome to Game8 Connect, where we dive into the world of your favorite content creators and explore the person behind the screen! In this article, we spoke with your favorite one-stop shop for video game music breakdowns, 8-Bit Music Theory! We asked about his journey as a YouTuber, his process of breaking down video game musical scores for the uninitiated, and his list of must-listen tracks from the gaming scene.

Who is 8-bit Music Theory?

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8-bit Music Theory is a YouTuber and content creator who specializes in breaking down and discussing what makes video game music tick. Offering more than just reactionary content, 8-bit Music Theory regularly goes over the nitty-gritty of music theory (as his and his channel’s name would suggest).

His content isn’t exclusive to the musically inclined, however, as 8-bit Music Theory prides himself in his dedication to making the subject of music theory more accessible to the average listener. Leave it to a theorist to make the most complex ideas generalizable.

8-bit Music Theory’s First Steps as a Gamer, Musician, and YouTuber

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Just based on 8-bit Music Theory’s channel name, it’s quite easy to guess what he’s all about. If you guessed gaming, music, and YouTube in that order, then you’re right on the rupees. But all this knowledge about video games, music theory, and content creation had to come from somewhere. As with many stories, it all started when he was younger.

"I was a gamer first and a musician second, but it’s pretty close," he said. "I was late to the game. My first game console was the GameBoy Color [and] I played tons of Pokemon. The Game Cube was the first console that I bought with my own money and that was when I really got into playing games all the time."

"I’ve played The Wind Waker a bunch of times," 8-bit Music Theory said on the topic of their most played games. "It’s one of those games that I come back to every couple [of] years and play through again. Same with Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door."

"But if you’re talking about just hours put into a game, there’s a couple of weird ones," he continued. "I’ve played a lot of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. It’s kind of a weird pull, but I’ve also played a lot of Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth. It’s not a good game, but I did play it for like 300 hours. It just had a grip on me."

"When I die, I hope I get up to the pearly gates and they have how much time I spent playing every game," he joked. "Just a big chart that I can go over with my life stats."

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It wasn’t just video games that preoccupied him at that age, however, as 8-bit Music Theory revealed that he’d been quite the Mozart when it came to analyzing video game music.

"I also loved learning instruments and trying to play music," he shared. "[I loved] trying to figure out the music from games that I liked on the piano."

"I started playing drums when I was eight or nine years old," he continued. "I remember my parents made me take piano lessons and I hated it. I tried to get out of it. They told me that if picked a different instrument, then I could stop taking piano lessons."
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"After getting into it a little bit — when you’re that young, you’re not seriously checking out bands — getting a little older and getting into prog rock and rush and all those great drummers, those were big inspirations."

"[It] wasn’t until after I graduated music school, [when] I did a Jazz Studies Program, and my dream was to be a working drummer, a professional drummer," he continued. "Looking back, now that this is my job, I can remember moments as a kid trying to break down why certain chords or notes feel a certain way."

And thus, a gamer with a distinct appreciation for video game music was born. But how did this fascination translate into a fully-fledged YouTube channel? 8-bit Music Theory was more than happy to spill the details.

"After graduating, I started the channel as [kind of a] hobby because I liked watching analytical YouTube videos on Film Theory, but there were never any analytical music-type videos or at least none of the specific kind I would have liked," he said. "And so, in my spare time, I just [kinda] thought that if no one was gonna make these, I’ll just make some myself."

"When thinking of a theme for the channel, I tried to think of what kind of music I should analyze," he continued. "I was big into video game music cover channels on YouTube. There’s clearly a community of video game music that people get passionate about."
"I was waffling between ‘should I talk about Beatles music mostly or video game music mostly?’ and I was like ‘Oh, okay, I’ll do video game music.’"

"I remember the first post that I had considered making was about the Sonic 1 Soundtrack," he shared on the topic of his first-ever upload. "I transcribed all the music from Sonic 1. I think that was the first video game soundtrack I transcribed for the purpose of analysis."

"The channel blew up really fast compared to a lot of YouTube channels. Within a year I put my attempt at a music career to the side to focus on YouTube because it very quickly outpaced my drummer career. I’ve been doing that ever since."

Breaking Down 8-bit Music Theory’s Breakdowns

Music Theory is a line of study that not all gamers can relate to, so how does 8-bit Music Theory make his content more digestible for the masses? We asked him the very same question.

"I think a lot about trying to make the very technical music theory stuff more accessible," he said in response. "From what I’ve gathered in 7 years of doing this, the thing thing that makes music interesting is the emotional effect of it. So if you are breaking down a piece of music, even if you’re using technical language, [you explain why] it feels such and such a way."

Even with such an approach, YouTube as a full-time job isn’t for the faint of heart, as 8-bit Music Theory eventually realized as he got started on the platform.

"It’s really hard, yeah. It takes a long time," he chuckled. "But I like to do it! I like to beat my head against the wall and go ‘What is that note? What are the cellos doing in this bit?’ and it does take a while so I get why no one does it."

"For me, the transcription is the fun part of the video," he admitted. "The work of it is finding a way to explain this in a way anyone else would want to hear."

Running a YouTube Channel from Scratch and Learning Things on the Fly

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To elaborate more on the channel side of things, we asked 8-bit Music Theory how his YouTube channel was set up and what challenges he met during his first few months running it.

"My biggest obstacle for doing stuff was not knowing how to do any of it," he laughed. "[The] first video I ever made, I put together using Windows Movie Maker. And to be able to point out specific parts of the sheet music I was using, I put it into MS Paint and drew a crappy red arrow using the pencil tool."

"It’s kinda funny because I think that’s the best way to learn how to do something," he said. "Just use whatever crappy tools you have to make however crappy of a version you [can] make."

"After making like 15 videos I started to [run] into problems where I couldn’t do what I wanted to do. And then I started looking at other video editing software and it wasn’t intimidating. Whereas if you start from zero and look at video editing software, it’s super intimidating."

"The first 20 videos I made were total crap, I just threw them out," he elaborated. "Even though they were total crap, the content was interesting enough that people watched them. What I was excited [to] talk about, and what was cool about these soundtracks was also exciting for other people to hear about. It’s clear that production value doesn’t mean that much in the grand scheme of things."

Discourse on Music Theory with the 8-bit Music Theorist Himself

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"My ultimate goal as 8-Bit Music Theory, as this persona, is to get people excited about music," he said on the topic of his main goal with his videos. "To make people understand why this music is worthy of being passionate about. To give people an understanding of not just how hard it is to make a soundtrack and how much goes into it, but [also] how much creative inspiration goes into it."

"I want to fight the prevailing notion among amateur and intermediate-level musicians that it’s not good to get technical about the music," he established. "I met a lot of people who would say things like ‘I don’t want to learn music theory and kill my creative spark’. I get the concern because there is a type of musician who starts to learn music theory rules and then stops making creative choices. If you think that way, you just need to be exposed to better music."

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"There’s nobody who would say that Stanley Kubrick was a great filmmaker but he didn’t know film theory," he continued." That sentiment does not exist in this world because, by nature of making great films, he knows how to construct great films. You hear that about musicians all the time like with Jimi Hendrix."

"You cannot play well without understanding how music works. The more you learn about your craft, the more creative you are, generally speaking," he said finally, closing his opinion on the topic.

He also had much to say about video game music as a concept, saying "All video game music is written for a specific purpose because it’s trying to serve the game in some way. Not losing sight of that is very important because it’s very easy to lose sight of and get caught up in ‘oh, they put a fourth in this chord’ and such."

8-bit Music Theory’s Video Game Music Hall of Fame

Like every artist worthy of an ovation, 8-bit Music Theory has a list of great works that he considers deserving of a spot in his Hall of Fame. "For a Hall of Fame, you gotta have the greats. You gotta have Zelda. You gotta have Mario. I’m showing my Nintendo fanboy bias," he warned as we cemented his entries, but let’s take a look at his choices and see for ourselves.

The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker

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"The Wind Waker is my favorite Zelda soundtrack and I think it’s the best one," he admitted. "Gonna be controversial among the game music nerds — I’m sure Ocarina of Time gets more praise — but I think Windwaker is better. It edges it out a little bit."

Super Mario 3D World and Mario Kart 8

"I love the Mario Kart 8 soundtrack, that’s gotta go on there," he said. "If I can have another mainline Mario game, I’d [do] Super Mario 3D World. It’s a weird pick, but it’s got a lot of great tunes and a huge variety, especially if you’re talking about video game soundtracks that could only be video game soundtracks."

Chrono Trigger

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"Chrono Trigger has a very specific musical vocabulary that I think has inspired a lot of people," he shared. "[It] seems like one of those soundtracks that you have to know as a game music nerd because of its very specific style."

"It uses these certain types of chord voicings in a way that’s completely unique at the time," he continued. "If you’re going to be writing music in the 2020’s, you gotta know about that soundtrack."

Chibi-Robo!

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"I think maybe I would do Chibi-Robo! too," he tried, barely stifling his embarrassment. "It’s a weird pick. It’s a super weird soundtrack but I love it. It’s got tons of great tunes and it’s kind of all over the place but it's got this great mixture of charming and super weird music that fits the aesthetic of the game perfectly."

Snipperclips

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"I’m gonna say Snipperclips if you remember that game for Switch," he said. "The soundtrack is super fun, goofy, and super melodic. If you want to write a good, strong melody, just listen to Snipperclips all day and see what comes out."

"The composer, Calum Bowen, has this way of writing melodies that seems obvious — almost a nursery rhyme level in simplicity, but they’re just perfect."

What’s Next for 8-bit Music Theory?

A New Album in the Works

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"I want to write and record an album," he teased. "It’s something that I’m working on now. It’s still in its early stages."

"I put out an album last year of video game covers, a jazz fusion arrangement of video game tunes called ‘Let’s Play by 8-bit and The Single Players’. I tried to tie that into the channel because it’s video game stuff. But any kind of non-video-game-related stuff I probably won’t post on my channel."

New Upload Schedules and Release Methodology

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"I try and put out two videos a month, but lately, in the last year or two, I’ve been experimenting with batch cooking," he explained. "[This is where] I work really hard and really push myself for two months, and then I take a month off to work on other projects. I make 3 months worth of videos in those two months, then space out the release schedule so the releases are consistent. That’s been working well for me."

"I’m not hopping on the TikTok/YouTube Shorts bandwagon," he added. "It’s probably a bad idea. I should be, but I don’t think you can make good content in a format you don’t enjoy engaging with. If you’re not fired about it, if you don’t have that kind of energy, you’re not gonna [make] something anybody would care about, probably. That’s what I’ve found to be true in my life, anyway."

More About 8-bit Music Theory

He is a Massive Beatles Nerd

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It’s not all games and G-clefs for 8-bit Music Theory, though, as any great artist draws their inspiration from plenty of sources. Case in point; 8-bit Music Theory is REALLY into The Beatles.Yes, those Beatles.

"I’m a big Beatles nerd, but I didn’t mean to bring them up every single question," he said bashfully. "I got a book called ‘The Songwriting Secrets of the Beatles by Dominic Pedler. [It] was a very interesting approach to theory where it was not academic. It was a lot more descriptive of ‘oh, this kind of note choices make these kinds of sounds’ instead of what I was getting at school, which was very technical.

"Having that laid-back approach to it and talking about the Beatles — more contemporary music — was a huge influence on my approach to analysis and my approach to my channel. Really, I just try and do that book but for video game music."

Parting Words from 8-bit Music Theory

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For the intrepid and aspiring among you who wish to enter content creation someday, 8-bit Music Theory has a few parting words to tell you:

"The content of what you put out is what matters. People don’t really care about production values, people don’t really care about style. Having cool style can expand your reach, but if you do not have an idea, all the style in the world is not gonna make a difference."

"Just start making stuff. Make 20 videos, and over the course of making those 20 videos, you’ll teach yourself how to do it well. You will find out what parts of the process you like doing and hate doing. You can change course so you’re doing more of what you like and less of what you hate. You really just have to start doing it."

Those interested in learning more about 8-bit Music Theory can do so via the links provided below:

8-bit Music Theory’s Reddit AMA
8-bit Music Theory’s Twitter
8-bit Music Theory’s YouTube Channel
8-bit Music Theory’s Patreon

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