A few weeks ago, we told you why MAGFest was the festival that gamers were least likely to know about, but also the one that they absolutely could not miss. A four-day event featuring live concerts, panels, cosplay and more - all centered on video games and the love of the culture surrounding them - the con just celebrated its 10th year and scored 6,200 attendees, doubling the record of the previous year.
This was my second year at MAGFest, and I was determined to find out why attendees both raved about it to their friends and planned to attend next year's event before this one ended. And after a few days, it was clear that despite a lot of other powerful factors, one theme was its underlying thread.
That theme was video game music: how fans interpreted it, reacted to it and created because of it.
There's a powerful energy in the music of video games. MAGFest attendees are drawn to it and to each other, as evidenced by websites such as OverClocked ReMix. Founded in 1999, the site gathers thousands of fan arrangements and houses a thriving community, while acting as a resource for musicians who enjoy arranging game music.
MAGFest boasts a long list of musical acts, some of which have been there since the very beginning. One of the longest-running is The OneUps, who formed in 2000 and have arranged themes from beloved video games such as "Castlevania," "Metroid," "Tetris" and more. Mustin, the band's producer, spoke about the first time The OneUps performed as a band and why arranging music from games held a spark for them.
"It was a religious experience for me. Music has always been my escape," he said. "The music I spent the most time with was video game music. There was always something about that little bossa nova tune from 'Mario Paint' that I found relaxing and carefree. The moment I heard it live, I knew that it was something that I wanted to do for a long time."
These compositions are based on original songs from video games, so they are all remixes of the tunes many gamers are familiar with.
Since the original songs are owned by the publisher (who, in many cases are Japan-based,) fans interested in composing new arrangements can be legally do so as long asthey obtain a license for their remix. This results in a small, fiercely devoted group of musicians doing what they love and selling it to the fans who love it.
Even so, as a whole, the scene is still an indie movement not bent on turning a profit. CDs and music tracks from these bands can be found on Amazon or iTunes, but they are not abundant. Typically, this music is sold on band websites or at events such as MAGFest.
"The remix culture gives artists like me the opportunity to reach out and meet other like-minded individuals - to express our love for these games the best way we can and to share that with the world. There's a real sense of community, of something bigger than us. Taking something you love and making it your own is something I've always found very satisfying."
"Although I love arranging and composing music in general, fans of the scene tend to be more passionate, and that really resonates," he said. "It fuels my creativity and encourages me to keep going."
Ultimately, the freedom that video game music remixers have lends them an independence that is worth more than money. Seeing joy on fans' faces, signing CDs or even transforming a tune that had meaning for them holds a thrill that keeps giving - even a decade after the remixers discovered the power behind the craft.
"I love being in The OneUps and being on stage, and I love collaborating with my friends all over the world on music via the magic of the Internet," Mustin said about his work. "More often than not, I'm able to do this with video game music arrangements. It's fun to take these older soundtracks created on primitive hardware and make them sound modern using today's technology. I do that for me, and others share my enjoyment."
"But nothing satisfies me more creatively than working on a piece of music by myself - where I don't have to answer to anyone or adjust my music to the desire of an employer."