Using Soundfonts for retro game music
Updated: Jan 6
Soundfonts have been around since the mid 90's and thus you can find one for nearly every retro game there is, from the earliest console to the Nintendo DS. Essentially, if the game used some sort of Midi format to trigger samples, chances are that someone has extracted the samples for us to use in our own music. Games, such as Undertale famously use soundfonts for the soundtrack and there are a lot of articles intimating that Toby Fox (the creator) extensively used the Earthbound sounds, as that game was a massive inspiration for him.
Where can you find these soundfonts?
Whenever I have been asked to use specific game sounds for a client I have just googled the term "*Game Name* + SF2" and nine times out of ten that will direct me to a site where I can download the file for free. If you don't know what game or system you'd like to emulate the sound of you can just start downloading them from sites like musical-artifacts.com or www.williamkage.com and start trying some out. There are two formats you may come across with the most common being .sf2 but you may see .sfz sometimes too. If you have a choice, go for the former as it's the more modern format and some players don't support the older file type.
What do you need to enable you to write music with them?
The two prerequisites are a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) to sequence the notes and a plugin that you can load the soundfont into. Famous DAW's are Garageband, Logic Pro, Cubase, Ableton Live, Reaper and Studio One though there are many more and as long as they support running plugins you should be fine. Some, such as Logic Pro, can play soundfonts with their built in samplers, but if yours can't then we can use a plugin like Sforzando or DSK SF2 to load and play the sounds (linked at the bottom of the page).
How do you load these sounds? I made a video a while back showing how to load Soundfonts into Logic's sampler and Sforzando a while ago so follow along if you are having any difficulties: https://youtu.be/9PYntEMJswM. Also in the video, I show how to use the sounds in a composition, so watch the whole thing if you'd like to learn more.
I will make tutorials on using Soundfonts in the future and may break down some client tracks so you can hear them in use, for work that you can get paid for. So subscribe to the YouTube channel if you are not already doing so and I will see you there.
Free Soundfont Plugins:
DSK SF2: https://www.dskmusic.com/dsk-sf2/