Howdy y’all. Hyphen here.
When people see us live for their first time, one of the most frequent questions we get is, “How do you use the DS and Game Boy to make music?” The answer is too complicated to detail while just standing around, so we thought we’d write up a little tutorial for how to do what we do. So, we welcome you to:
This is the first in an ongoing series on how you can use some of our atypical equipment. To start out, I’m going to take the lead and tell you a little bit about how I program music on the Game Boy. But before we get down to the nitty-gritty, let’s gather our materials:
- A Game Boy
Released in July 1989, the Game Boy was a revolution in portable gaming. It stole time away from kids (and adults) of all ages everywhere they went. These days, it is seen as garbage or attic fodder by most. Because of this, a Game Boy can be acquired relatively cheaply. If you have a local retro games dealer, one of these can be picked up for around $15-20. The old grey brick model (also known as the DMG) is usually best for sound quality, but a Game Boy Color or Game Boy Advance will work just fine. And if you’re ready to go for the highest quality, there is an underground of folks rebuilding these old systems just for music purposes, often adding a backlight and higher quality output (at a higher price, of course). If you’re interested, you can check out the work of Nonfinite, who makes incredible custom systems.
Money Spent: $15-100
- Little Sound DJ
One of many portable tracker softwares, LSDJ is INCREDIBLY full-featured and not terribly hard to use. You can try it for free on a Game Boy Emulator (here’s a good one for PC and one for Mac), and buy the full version for a $2 donation at LSDJ’s site.
Money Spent: $2
- A Flashable Game Boy Cartridge
This one can be occasionally tricky. Searches will often turn up a lot of Chinese websites and places that look a bit too shady, but these can be found from reputable sources as well. Aforementioned Nonfinite sells these, but you can also check out Kitsch-Bent. I bought the cheapest model (the Smart Card), which comes with a USB port right on the cartridge for easy programming. Don’t want to program it yourself? No worries! Most dealers will flash LSDJ right to the cart, so long as you can prove you’ve paid the $2 for the program.
Money Spent: $30-70
- A Game Boy Link Cable (optional)
Now, you need to remember that the Game Boy is limited to 4 channels of sound going on at once. Though I only use one Game Boy in my set up (since we have guitar, synth and vocals going as well), if you want to create a full chip symphony you will need more than one going at once (which means another Game Boy and cartridge). The link cable can sync up both of your handhelds within LSDJ, making it easy to direct a full chip orchestra. You can find these at Kitsch-Bent, as well as other online retailers.
Money Spent: $4 or so
So, now you’ve dropped a little cash, received all of your equipment, and your table looks like this:
Don’t feel like a chiptune superstar yet? We’re not done yet! Enjoy a little inspiration from I Fight Dragons and head on over to part 2 of the series.