View Full Version : Any GM composers out there?

01-23-2005, 11:56 AM
EDIT: I changed the thread title to more accurately reflect where this thread is going. Anyone with additional feedback on the topic below - please join in!


I'm currently working on a project (pro bono) composing some music for an online MMORPG. Given that the client is web-based, and that the creators want the game to be playable over dial-up connections, we have elected to use General MIDI as the music format.

So far things are working well, and Logic+Quicktime are working fine as far as GM composing goes. I guess I'm looking for any pointers that any of you might have, if you've done this sort of thing before.

With the exception of a few ringtones, I've not composed exclusively in GM before, so it is a real eye-opener in terms of the sound limitations. That said, the limits are somewhat nice because it is forcing me to work harder to make it sound good!

Any advice, experience, pointers are greatly appreciated.

His Frogness
01-23-2005, 05:41 PM
The problem is that making it sound great on whatever GM synth you're using is only making it sound great to those who also use your GM synth.

I would look into the SoundFont or DLS technology to prevent my mmorpg from sounding like a Casio. You can design it so it doesn't cost any bandwidth by offering the DLS library on a website as a download, and have the game check the user's computer whenever the game is loaded to see if it can support the sf2 or dsl formats and if not it just goes to GM.

It's an awful lot of work but it's the only way you're going to get your music up to a respectable-ish level. And if you're going to go through all the trouble of finding good libraries that can be licensed for use or, dare I say, compile your own library, you might as well make your music interactive. You're probably going to be using Miles, and with DirectSound or Miles' own lower-level API you'll have everything you need to make it happen.

If you're not familiar with any of this, here's a little article that runs through the basics.

onstagemag (http://onstagemag.com/ar/emusic_downloadable_sounds/)

With DirectSound you don't even have to make sampled instruments. You can basically write a score, divide it into tracks, chop the tracks up into phrases, and that's your library.

01-24-2005, 07:51 PM
While I disagree with you to some extent about GM - (I think it sounds pretty much the same on any fully GM compliant machine, that's the whole point) - I do realize that it has limitations.

The great news is that the developers have given me the greenlight to start using DLS or SF2 for the music!!!

However, I've never used either format before. We have elected to use SF2 since it tends to be more "universal" and prolific.

So, if I'm composing using Logic Pro, which can playback SF2 files just fine, how would I go about changing what I'm doing now...? Am I still going to be exporting a standard MID file? How will that file know to reference the correct SF2 file...? Any pointers?

His Frogness
01-25-2005, 05:28 PM
You don't have to change anything, really. the .sf2 is just a replacement midi bank so you're still using the GM standard. What's changing is that you're going to have to make the .sf2 file, or find/license one that's appropriate (that shouldn't be too hard). Then you have to decide how to technically deliver those .sf2 files to the customer.

What kind of support are they giving you? I mean, they're going to have to program the client to handle audio, even if it's minimal. It would be nice if, while they're developing the audio-side of the client, they could add in a feature like .sf2 file-switching, so you can have a certain amount of custom .sf2 files per composition. Is that possible?

01-27-2005, 11:22 AM
They asked me to do some preliminary research, which I'm still doing. I don't think they've programmed audio into a client like this before (the programmers are all young) - it is kind of a "learning" experience for all of us.

After doing some more research I think I'd like to go the DLS route, since it seems to actually be more of a "standard" than the proprietary SF2 format from Creative. Logic supports DLS playback as well, and Microsoft has pretty good docs on their developers site.

However, I still have some questions that I'd love to ask if you're willing. As I said, this is totally new territory for me, so any support is appreciated. Feel free to PM me and we can take this offline if you'd like.

01-28-2005, 10:24 AM
Since you really have no control over how someone's GM synth will sound, there are a few things you can do to keep your music souding reasonably good on almost anything:

--Keep the music simple. Don't layer millions of tracks over each other thinking that it'll sound more full, because it may sound like trash on someone else's synth. Instead, I'd say as a general rule of thumb don't use any more than one bass track, one drum track, one for melody, one for harmony, etc. In other words, keep the polyphony as low as possible without letting the music suffer.

--Use the more "traditional" instruments. Drums, bass, string ensemble, flute, etc. Those are more likely to sound similar on different synths.

--Use the modulation and expression controllers, and pitch-bend where appropriate. Not all synths may respond to these, but those that do will get a more "realistic" and pleasant performance.

--Be careful with reverb and chorus. Every synth seems to render these differently and you may well end up destroying the sound if you try any funny tricks with these controllers.

I hope these pointers help you out. Post your GM files here for us to critique.