Music defines people. Whether its hard-hitting rock and heavy metal or easy listening classical symphonies, you would be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t enjoy some form of music. With the rise of the internet in the 1990s, many people suddenly found a way to connect with others of similar interests to theirs. Those who listened to music were no exception, as historical events like the rise and fall of Napster have proven. Online music sites have become a common site on many people’s browsers, such as Pandora, Last.FM, and others. Each of these sites is devoted to sharing types and genres of music in one way or another. It was a site such as this that I was interested in examining further.
The site in question is known as OverClocked Remix (OCR) and is devoted to “the appreciation and promotion of video game music as an art form.” It fulfills this goal by encouraging musicians to “remix” tunes and melodies originally found in video games into entirely new compositions. While such a topic may seem odd to some people, OCR has grown over the years since its original founding in 1999 and now sports a large online community and thousands of hosted songs which are freely available to download and listen to. Several things interested me in regards to OCR. First of all, OCR is a new movement in the musical field that is exploring a new form of source material. What is it about this music that has attracted such a large community? What really is holding the community together? Is it the music or something else? Given the rise in popularity of the site over the last ten years, I was also curious to take a deeper look into what people thought of the music it produced.
With this goal in mind I set about to collect folkloric items from multiple sources with relation to OCR. Since the community is based online, many of its members are spread out across the world, so I had to contact a majority of them through e-mail. In the end, I was able to collect interviews from several different sources of varied involvement with OCR. First, I was able to interview OCR’s head submission reviewer, Larry Oji, to talk about the history of the site and how it works. Then I also contacted a series of artists who have submitted music to OCR’s collection (commonly known on OCR as remixers), asking about their experiences with the site. Lastly, I interviewed people who listened to the music produced by OCR, asking them to share their opinions related to why they had kept listening. In each interview I looked for answers to the aforementioned questions, focusing on experiences and interests.
In interviewing individuals for this project, one thing that I was particularly interested in was the community aspect to OCR. Although the declared goal of the site is to create music, OCR has a large community of over 20,000 registered users communicating and interacting through the site (Overclocked Remix FAQ). How did such a site gain such a large following? How had people come to OCR in the first place? This was one thing that I set out to learn, asking each interviewee how they had found OCR, and many had different stories to tell. For example, Christopher Getman, who goes by Mazedude on OCR, related that while he had been in college a friend of his had asked him to create an arrangement of a song from Chrono Trigger. “I was kinda opposed to the idea of just doing a remix.” He wrote to me. “But I decided to humor him, and actually had a lot of fun putting it together. Then when it was almost done I decided to check to see if anyone else was into game music arrangements, and through a link on my friend Jake ------‘s site, I found Overclocked.”
Christopher went on to explain that he submitted his first song and people liked it. “…it was accepted with rave reviews, so... I was inspired to do another one. Then another one. And the rest is history.”
Daniel Cabrera, who goes by the name Disco Dan on OCR, had a different experience from Christopher but was no less intrigued by what OCR had to offer.
"The first song I seriously attempted to arrange (at the time, I hadn't thought to call it a remix, and that term only occurred to me after visiting OCR for the first time) was the music from Gemini Man's stage. As I was brainstorming the possibilities, it occurred to me that the music had a natural fit for a Salsa tune. Not wanting to inadvertently copy someone's idea, I searched for "Gemini Man" and "salsa" to see if anyone else had thought of the same thing. The first match was, in fact, a salsa arrangement of the song, by an artist known by "McVaffe", hosted on a site called OverClocked ReMix…What I couldn't believe was that there was actually a site devoted to this very idea. While I was a tiny bit sad that I hadn't been the first one to think of it, I was thrilled that there was a community devoted to reinventing video game music."
As it turns out, a lot of people had a different experience encountering OCR for the first time. Injury was sent a song from OCR by a friend which “…had tags for OCR…I promptly downloaded every song I could find.” Meanwhile Daniel Barnaba told how he had found OCR looking for somewhere to post his video game remixes after an earlier game remix site called vgmix.com had gone under.
One of the individuals that I interviewed, Larry Oji, was not just a contributor to OCR, he was also the head submissions evaluator, as I mentioned earlier. His position on OCR requires him to listen to almost all of the submissions of the site before approving them for further evaluation or rejecting them on terms of quality. This gives him a unique perspective as he is able to see all of the newcomers to the site collection of remixes and correspond with them in some way. While responding to my questions, he pointed out that many people came to OCR for the “good feelings associated with classic game music” and that many of them would “later get past game nostalgia…and become a lot more devoted to the community.” Others voiced their thoughts on what made the community stand out to people, many of them mentioning the welcoming atmosphere that they found on OCR. Cain McCormack, (who goes by Fishy) said about OCR that “You don't get that kind of help and real community feel anywhere else.”
OCRemix has also helped foster this sense of community by regularly showing at conventions and having OCR ‘meetups’, where anyone on OCR is encouraged to come and meet up, hang out, mix music, and have some fun. Some of these meetups are spontaneous, and some are planned. “…I knew I was about to have a great time.” Andrew Aversa (Zircon) wrote, speaking of his first meetup. “As we went into the city, I met djpretzel, Jose the Bronx Rican, Bahamut, and many other remixers and forum members who are still my good friends today. Oh, and this girl named Jill...” Andrew goes on to show how involved and in touch the OCR community members are with each other. “When I want to relax, I play games with people on OCR…If I'm having a party, it's probably with people from OCR.” Of course, the best proof of the community and friendship that comes from the OCR group shows in his simple, basic, sweet statement “I met my wife through OCReMix.” The Jill he mentioned in his quote earlier? They were married in July of 2009, and yes, members of OCR were in attendance at the wedding (Zircon Studios). As remixer Daniel Floyd so aptly puts it “We've got something very special here.”
That something special just doesn’t apply to those who submit music to the site. Even in my own time online OCR’s forum boards, I’ve noticed that I don’t see any of the usual so called trolls of the internet. OCR’s boards are friendly, open and welcoming place. When interviewing people who just listened to OCR, several of them expressed an interest in contributing themselves. One in particular named Joe mentioned that he’d “…be interested in eventually sending in a remix of my own or collaborating with someone…” OCRemix even has concessions for those who wish to move from listener to remixer, offering help, suggestions, and feedback. One remixer who calls herself Injury even hosts a once a week online seminar designed to help people improve their composition skills.
One last example of the good fellowship and closeness that those on OCR share is exemplified by the case of a remixer known as bLiNd. Over the course of one summer, bLiNd became extremely sick. Apparently, he was in recovery but still feeling very low when a member of OCR received the news. As a get well gift to bLiNd, the entire OCR community banded together to create a remix album, inspired by bLiNd’s favorite game Super Metroid, almost overnight. Once he was recovered, bLiNd even submitted a few tracks of his own, and the album, Reserve Tank: VARIAtions, was given its own webpage and left open to the public. (Reserve Tank - VARIAtions) This is where OCR lives up to its community in the best way possible, bonding together and producing the music that they all love.
Speaking of music is vital, as it is the core component of the site as much as the community. Speaking from a folkloric viewpoint, while the remixers and fans of OCR are its community and culture, the music is their chosen form of expression. As Mustin said when asked what he felt tied the community together, “It's the music. The hobby brings together the "remixers"…and the fans…that have the initial nostalgia for this music.” OCR’s community is linked on this central point, they all arrived with the intent to either create or listen to a new genre of music.
This new genre of music is part of what makes OCR so unique and why it should be of such interests to folklorists. Earlier, I mentioned OCR’s purpose which was to expand the “appreciation and promotion of video game music as an art form.” The video game industry itself is only a few decades old, and video game music as a genre itself is even younger. OCRemix is on the forefront of the birth of a new style of music, one that just as video games do, combines many different types of inspiration with its own to create an entirely new form or style.
In my interviews with the assorted remixers of OCR, one question that I made sure to ask was what had made them interested in video game music. Was it something they had enjoyed when they were young? Was it the newness or differences in the sound? To my surprise, every single one of them answered that it had something to do with them playing video games as a kid. “These games…are a part of my childhood, the music is very meaningful and paying respect in the form of a remix is very appealing to me.” wrote Injury. Cain McCormack responded “I'd always been a huge fan of [Final Fantasy VII]…the music was so interesting and heartfelt.” Some even went further into detail. “…regardless of the "quality" of the sounds…” said Daniel Barnaba (Vampire Hunter Dan) “…I felt I could hear the orchestra the composers must have heard in their minds as they wrote for various console games.” Daniel Cabrera similarly wrote “I found the music was stuck in my head along with beats…I thought "These tracks have such great potential if they could be filled out a bit more and given life"…I set out to make real the music…playing through my head.”
Many of those that I interviewed also mentioned how much time and effort they put into a single remix. Although the time varied between each song, the creation of a single remix seemed to take anywhere from several hours to several dozen. For a voluntary project that confers no monetary reward, the sheer amount of remixes posted on OCR shows just how devoted these people are to their art. Some remixes go further than just creating individual songs, however. A growing trend on OCR is to team up with a large group of people and create an entire remix album, usually a song to song match to the original game soundtrack. One such project was the aforementioned Reserve Tank, but many others have been released over the years, some to national fame and recognition. One of these albums was the two year long Final Fantasy VII Remix Project: Voices of the Lifestream which involved 40 different remixers (Voices of the Lifestream). Andrew Aversa, who headed the project, described the experience in our interview:
"On the evening when it first came out, we desperately needed seeders for the torrent, so I was uploading as fast as I could from my apartment. Comcast kept throttling my connection, however, so I had to reset it every few minutes! I stayed up until 3 A.M. doing as much as I could. While this was going on, there were so many people excited about the project that we had to make an entirely new IRC chatroom just so people could talk about it. After I woke up the next morning, I saw that we had struck gold on Digg and traffic was through the roof. We were at one point transferring about 250 megabytes per SECOND over the torrent, a record that has yet to be beaten by any other OCR project. There were dozens of people in the IRC chatroom gushing over the project, and the forums were ablaze with reviews."
Voices went on to be nationally recognized in various types of media and a huge hit for OCRemix. Not too long later, OCR struck gold again when it was asked to remix music for a major commercial release, a remake of Street Fighter II. Larry Oji, when asked to share some of his favorite moments at OCR, related the following:
"The coolest moment for me was meeting up with djpretzel for dinner where he let me know that Capcom had asked OCR to provide the soundtrack for Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix. Since Street Fighter II was my favorite game ever, I knew I had to be involved in some way to help shape our work, and I knew our ReMixers would do a kick ass job, because they always deliver. That was definitely my proudest moment with the site, moreso for the validation it gave to our musicians and our community."
OverClocked Remixes release of the OC Remix: Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix Official Soundtrack was another huge hit for the site, as many of the people who played the game were informed that the music had been remixed by artists from OCR. One Capcom official who had worked on the game even mentioned that when showing the game to fans, the first thing that they commented on was the not the game, but the music (Ars Technica).
In light of this media coverage of OCR, when interviewing listeners of OCR, I asked them what effect they felt the mass media coverage could have on OCR to mixed responses. While David Hendricks felt that it was a good thing all around to see the attention being granted to OCR, others worried that too much attention would negatively impact either the medium or the quality of music on it, causing people to either overlook other smaller remix sites or flooding of OCR with lower quality music. Joe for one, stressed the importance that “…they aren't the only horse in town when it comes to video game music.”
One of the final questions that I asked was what sort of contribution did each person feel OCR had made to music as a whole, if there was one, with what they had produced. While there were a few who felt that while the music was good but OCR was still too small to have had a real impact, there were some who felt that OCR’s impact was larger than most gave it credit for, and some were of the opinion that OCR had a greatly beneficial impact of some kind. OCR “…draws attention to the music itself, separate from the game…” said Daniel Floyd who was one who held that OCR had made a substantial impact. “…game music has seen a surge in popularity in the last five years or so, with numerous live concerts and shows springing up worldwide. I like to think that OCR helped to make that possible.”
I believe that OverClocked Remix is something that should be paid more attention to by those interested in collecting modern folkloric research. OCR is an incredible example of a community of tightly knit community comprised primarily of digital contact. Of the remixers I interviewed alone, only four lived in the same state as another member. One was from London. A quick search of forum profiles shows remixers from all across the world, from Europe to Australia. Despite the large distances involved, members of OCR develop friendships, find ways to spend time together and even get married to one another. The cultural attributes of a true internet based community such as this one not only are interesting to observe, they show us hints of what an increasingly connected digital world could be like.
In addition to being so closely tied, the music generated by OCR is unique, new and very impressive. Its level of freedom and experimentation allows for more unique sounds and styles, which leads to truly creative new sounds. As Christopher Getman wrote for his interview, “…if it's a case of asking me to write an original piano solo, the end result would be unremarkable. But, let me go off in a crazy acid jazz direction on a theme from Super Mario Kart, and I'll work wonders.”
This new and unique music is one of the reasons that I feel this music should be of great interest to folklore collections. The music of OCR is a cultural expression, a sign of a generation that is rapidly growing by leaps and bounds. Several interviewees made a point during their interviews that since the rise of OCR, game music has begun appearing in many other places, from professional bands to rap artists to full scale symphony orchestra shows such as Play and Video Games Live. “…people our age have been playing since we were kids…” pointed out Ryan Hendricks. “…so the music we listen to is based on the games we played. And OCRemix is really catered to our generation of gamers.”
For the time being, OverClocked Remix is standing tall and growing more firm every day. Perhaps one day will come when for whatever reason OCR no longer exists, and if it ever does, I for one will be glad for my carefully backed up DVDs containing the complete works of OverClocked Remix.