Hot on the heels of the Super Meat Boy podcast installment featuring game designers Edmund and Tommy, this morning we're catching up with musician Danny Baranowsky.

Today marks the release of the 97-minute album Super Meat Boy! Soundtrack via digital download on Bandcamp, while a special edition on compact disc is due out in late November. The composer of the Xbox Live Arcade title, headed for PC and WiiWare, discusses the critical response to Team Meat's first foray into console gaming. The soundtrack for the 2D sidescrolling puzzle game began as background music for the Meat Boy Flash game on Newgrounds, followed by a year-long process of arrangement and additional music composition.

Danny B. began his career as a musician posting arrangements of classic console themes to the online community OverClocked ReMix. He went on to score Canabalt and Gravity Hook, two popular Flash titles by independent designer Adam Atomic. When Alec Holowka's soundtrack album to the IGF grand prize winner Aquaria surfaced, Danny B. both did the mastering and arranged the mini-boss theme. With Super Meat Boy he has emerged as an up-and-coming console game composer, nominated earlier this year for the Independent Games Festival's Excellence in Audio award. Three of his tracks from the indie game will be making their way as playable downloadable content to Rock Band 3 this January.

How much of the game were you able to playtest prior to the launch on XBLA?

Danny B.: There's a lot of music in Super Meat Boy that I never got to hear in-game, together with gameplay until it was out. I had beta builds for the first few chapters.

Was there anything that took you by surprise?

There were a couple glitches, but they will be resolved really soon. The chapter five hard music wasn't correct, and another track had been completely omitted. The first patch is going to fix that.

Clearly one advantage that you have over game composers of previous console eras is that problems like these can be solved through a patch. You don't have to demand a recall of thousands of cartridges to get that overlooked music theme back in the game.

Yeah, it's kind of cool too that with the patch I can say, "Here, have a new music track!" Apart from a few minor bugs, the game is crazy impressive, especially given that it's just two people designing and coding it.

Having only received a partial build before, you must be seeing a lot of things in the game for the first time.

I was the first person to 100% it. I was also accused of cheating. (laughs)

I noticed your mentioning it on twitter. What was that all about?

The night before launch I got a new Xbox and gave my old one to my brother. When it switched my stuff over, it erased all my scores but kept my level count. As a consequence, it was saying that I beat 307 levels in 68 seconds. Next thing I know, I get all these people freaking out and screaming at me for cheating, telling me I'm going to get banned from my own game! It's funny, because I would hit them back and tell them what was going on, and it would always inevitably lead to them saying, "I love your game, I love your music! Can you tell me how to get the secret achievements?" (laughs)


IGF finalists Baiyon and Danny B. at the 2010 Game Developers Conference

You had mentioned that seeing Super Meat Boy listed on the Xbox Live Arcade store was a surreal experience. Had you not been fully prepared for the idea of your game being completed?

I knew it was going to happen, but nothing really prepares you for the moment. Hearing my music coming out of my Xbox is just insane. I've been playing videogames since I was a kid, and now I'm in it. Canabalt was an amazing Flash/ iPhone game and no less legitimate, but even my grandparents can understand the concept of my having a game on the Xbox.

Do you find you require external validation in order to evaluate your music?

It's great to feel that people love what you make. I'd be lying if I said that the idea of being a pseudo internet celebrity is not totally awesome. As far as what helps me to improve, I get my constructive criticism from a small group of people whose opinions I trust. I've been writing this music for over a year and listening to it over and over again. That chapter one track I've probably heard thousands of times, so it can be difficult to listen and be objective about it.

Are indie game creators accounting for a significant source of the constructive criticism?

Yeah, Adam Atomic, definitely. Edmund McMillen is someone where I've gotten to know how he hears and critiques my music. Sometimes it can be a big hurdle just to know what people are saying if they don't have a musical vocabulary. Edmund doesn't always know all the musical terms and stuff but he has a way with communicating. Another really important one is Ari Asulin, who went by Protricity on OverClocked ReMix. I get really good feedback from him. He's the guy that actually taught me how to use Reason. He is very, very critical and I know him well enough that I can listen to him without being offended. I'll listen to anyone that can give me advice that leads to a better song.


In Super Meat Boy there are playable characters from Braid, Bit.Trip series installments and games by The Behemoth. Are these cross-overs a reflection of ease of communication in the independent game sphere? It's hard to imagine the same thing occurring so naturally in a triple-A game from an intellectual property standpoint.

For myself, I've recently been reaching out to other indie game composers to do some remixes for the Super Meat Boy album. Another Soundscape is doing music for a game called Cobalt. Josh Whelchel did The Spirit Engine 2. I would imagine it's pretty similar to Tommy and Edmund's point-of-view. I can only imagine the mountain of paperwork that has to happen in a triple-A game to feature another character from another game and IP. Whereas with indie stuff it's literally as simple as talking it through with the creator.

With your background as an OCR judge, do you find it rewarding from an artistic standpoint to be involved on both sides of arranging videogame music?

Remixing music is really intellectually stimulating. The melody and harmony are already there, which you've already objectively chosen as good, so you can concentrate on how this existing song sounds. Sometimes I'll try to get away from my music for a few weeks so that I can forget about it and approach it from a fresh viewpoint. If somebody takes your stuff and does it in their own way, you can then view your own material more objectively.

Not only is it useful for identifying your strengths and weaknesses, it's also very enjoyable. Josh did a hilarious remix with a female vocalist, while Mattias--or whatever his crazy Swedish name is--is working with a power of funk that I simply don't possess. Back when I was doing remixes, I always tried to do something that was off the wall, asking "How would this song sound in a completely different universe?" I'm really happy because that's what I got from Josh and Another Soundscape.

You've mentioned online that as players progress through Super Meat Boy they might be noticing greater technical refinement in the audio. What changed in your process over the course of development?

I'm not sure I made drastic improvements in the way I write music so much as exercised more diligence with production habits. Over the course of the game I was learning better how to make "Meat Boy music." My ability to record guitar vastly improved as well. The main theme of the game was recorded on an $80 Jackson electric guitar that had to be re-tuned every single measure. Eventually I got a Fender Stratocaster with a synthesizer in it so it can emulate the sound of other guitars. I went with Peter Trentacoste, the guitarist I work with, to go get it at Best Buy. We brought it home and that day recorded the forest track. It's the very first thing that guitar ever played.

What was your experience doing the music for the live action commercial that looked like it was taped on VHS a decade ago?

They wanted something that was crazy fast. I wrote a medley starting with the main theme that goes through all the world tracks. It's an insane BPM, the fastest track I've ever written in my life. Some people have criticized it, saying the music isn't authentic to the period. I didn't know it was going to be retro, and there's also an Xbox 360 in the commercial! Being anachronistic is kind of the idea.

Percussion has always been a fresh and innovative element of your music. Is there a particular track on the Super Meat Boy album that has something special going on in that department?

Thanks. I've been playing drums for fifteen years, and there's nothing else in my life that I've done as consistently for that long. I will never ever claim to be an authentic drum and bass music creator, but that's what I tried to do with the hard mode "Hell" track in Super Meat Boy. It's videogame music with drum and bass elements. I know if anyone out there that actually makes DnB music is reading this and has heard this song they're just shaking their head in disgust, because it's probably not even close. But it's one of those moments where when I was done with it, I could hardly believe that I had done it because I loved it so much. (I'm going to be recording an album of live music next year, where it will actually be me playing.)

When working largely independently on a game like this, what gives you confidence that you've succeeded?

One of the things that's important when doing anything creative is being honest with yourself. Sometimes when you're alone, you can lie to yourself, saying "Well, this is good enough." When you're showing your music to others, to people you trust and you love, it puts you in a more critical zone.

Of course, when I send stuff to Edmund he says whether he likes it or not. I was a little bit worried that the orchestral turn that I took in the last few chapters was not going to jive, but now I feel really good about this soundtrack. There was not any part of it that I would play for people that didn't feel good. I've worked on Super Meat Boy so hard for so long that I can feel satisfied with it.

More music by Danny B.'s can be heard on dB soundworks and the artist's Bandcamp page. Also check out the GDC music chat. Photo by Jeriaska.