I keep getting recommended this video on chiptune, both by algorithms and by friends. I’ve not watched it yet the way it’s framed honestly squicks me a little. Recently a friend asked if “fakebit vs realbit1” is just elitism and gatekeeping, or if there is something to it. Thinking about how to answer them has made me have to dig these feelings out from deep in me. Things I’ve not thought about since I was still making SID and Adlib tunes. What follows is completely subjective thought.
What even is fakebit?
To me, fakebit is an aesthetic. It’s similar to demakes and “real chiptune” but without the limitations that come to that. I throw away the “realness” of the hardware to create something that sounds exactly how I want. That is the point, that is intentional. It sounds like it could be chiptune but it’s refined, without limits. I like the term to describe this likely because I create both, so having a term to separate my stuff that is made within the limits is very useful for me.
When fakebit is this, It’s deeply creative, everything you make is a homage to your love to that sound and style, it’s fake in the same way that fake fur is, Able to emulate the look and feel, but without needing to use the real thing.
It seems like, to many others, especially outsiders, fakebit has become a rallying cry to “call out inauthentic” works, a means to elitism. A value judgement. They don’t understand that the limitations are not the art.
What even is this argument then?
The argument is that fakebit harms chiptune because it’s inauthetic. The idea that it makes the really wild things people have managed to get out of the hardware look less amazing, and at the same time make the really bad examples look more common and easy.
The truth is, it is more difficult to make something that sounds good in the limitations of hardware. Their argument is because it’s not real hardware, real limitations, it’s not real art Q.E.D. That “fake art” thus, harms “real art”.
I don’t agree with this at all. There is more than one way to make art, and not all of the output ever put out on the hardware was art either. For every Tim Follin putting out rad prog rock on the hardware, there was another programmer just making it play a public domain song (or sometimes just stolen melodies) to make the game have music. It simply being on the real hardware doesn’t make it good.
What is true of the harm.
Back when “8-bit” was a bit of a massive thing everywhere. There certainly was a lot of people trying to put out 8bit covers and demakes and post them to YouTube to maybe get popular. I remember in that space, “fakebit” vs chiptune was a huge thing because people were creating and upload awful midislaps2 to release tons of these to YouTube and hope they built a following.
But the harm of midislap songs actually go far beyond fake chiptune, you see it in every single genre and style. Think back to those low effort “techno remix” or the current mess of eurobeat and bardcore remixes. When your goal is to chase whats popular, make content to make money…
It’s a deeply cynical reason to create, channels like that still create today. They don’t care if the thing sounds right or wrong, they don’t even care if people comment on the thing to tell others that it’s fake. They care about the view and the engagement. Your negative comment is just as good for them as someone getting “tricked” and thinking that this is what “real chiptune” sounds like.
Why do people care about the limitations?
As always, whenever there is people calling out this kind of thing, be it plagarism, ai art, or midislaps, people take away, and give the wrong argument towards this kind of thing. The argument becomes performative, no longer is it calling out that the art was done cynically… it becomes that they didn’t use the right tool to make their cynical trash. As has happened with the retro game revival, it’s now all about authenticity of the tools, not the authenticity of the purpose.
Art, Writing, Music… the general person doesn’t really understand how these things really work. How things are made. When it comes to electronic music and digital art, people tend to hyperfixate on the tools, of the trade, much like they did with the traditional forms of these before. A guitarist is a god because they put the work into learning how to move their fingers just right on the fretboard and strings, A painter is a genius because they learned how to mix the paints on the palette just right to get the perfect texture… How do you reconcile this with digital work that you don’t understand? Clearly the limitations MUST be the art otherwise what separates them from everyone else.
oh god you’re gonna make it about capitalism now.
Capitalism has taught so many people that the arts are like pro sports. that things they perceive as easier literally makes doing it that way inauthentic or cheating.
That’s the wrong way to think about art, but I understand. When you see someone making something “just for the money” with as low effort as possible, it sucks. You don’t need to bring anything in but that though. Instead of questioning if something sucks because it’s not using the right limitations, ask if it’s really that it’s a low effort money grab.
Chiptune has always been loose in what it meant, it’s only much more recent that folks started to separate “fakebit” from chiptune. Some of the earliest things called chiptune or chipmusic was literally just a soundalike, made with samples on the amiga. While I absolutely accept that words change meaning, this style has always been part of it.
I don’t agree that we should banish the word fakebit, it clearly has worth, there are dozens of musicians you can find on soundcloud and youtube that unironically use the term to describe their own music. Instead I think the right take is to say, loudly, fakebit is good actually, as time goes forward there is no point to keep ourselves stuck to the old hardware. Limitations are not a thing to stay static, creating music that sounds like it’s from soundchips has never been easier, with furnace tracker3 as well as VSTs and DAWs that are actually within reach by normal people.
Thanks and Other thoughts.
Thanks to Zia for reading over and giving me a “+1” response.
Thanks to FreeFull for reading over and reminding me the fact that chiptune/chipmusic’s definition has changed over time.
I wish that the YouTube algorithm didn’t fool people into watching videos on topics by people who aren’t part of that community. The video that caused this from what I’ve heard from two people who are… is honestly pretty awful.
I’ve never heard anyone within the community actually use the term realbit. ↩
midislap, a mildly perjorative way of referring to low effort songs where someone downloads a free midi and uses some VSTs to make a “remix” without changing any arrangement. ↩