Where words fail, music speaks.
The ABC music system is one of the novelties of Lord of the Rings Online. Musicians can perform songs in-game that other players can listen and dance to, from solo songs to full band performances. This is special, no other MMO has a fully fledged music system quite like LOTRO’s.
From rather humble beginnings, the LOTRO music scene has grown dramatically in recent years. There are now tons of musicians and bands around, many of which have music as their “end-game” activity. New instruments are added to the music system. Special music converters help musicians prepare songs, special plugins help bands perform songs. Every day, there are scheduled concerts and non-scheduled performances across the LOTRO servers. Many events are streamed live or recorded for Youtube. The biggest music event of them all, Weatherstock, celebrates its 10th anniversary this summer.
I have been pretty active in the LOTRO music community ever since I created a little hobbit bard on the Laurelin server, late in 2008. This has been a source of lots of fun (and admittedly, also some frustration, which might be the subject of a follow-up post). I thought I’d share some of the moments related to music in LOTRO that I look back upon with great fondness. Some are things I have done myself, but the most fun are the times when others have made an impression.
I hope yer enjoy these small tales of nostalgia. My apologies that this is a bit Laurelin-centric, but I hope you will add yer own tales to the comments below.
Those first times
Most LOTRO musicians remember it. The first time they picked up an instrument and started playing some notes on it. The realization slowly started to sink in: “Hey, I can play songs on this. And others can listen to what I play.”
Trust me, this gives you a warm fuzzy feeling. I’m not sure whether it is one of joy or empowerment, though. The fact that you can shape the game experience for others, that you can impact other players through different means than chats and emotes is a strong motivation for many musicians.
My own first time playing the lute in November 2008 was one of joy. Plucking the lute strings, trying the sounds, pondering on whether it was possible to perform full songs… a new world had opened up. Soon, I was scouring ABC sites for versions of “Concerning hobbits”. Shortly after, I started converting my own songs. I still do to this day.
However, the big eye-opener was the time I figured out I’d like to sing along to the songs I played. Writing my own lyrics and performing them, that is surely what bards should do?
No-one did that back in the spring of 2010, though, because plugins like Lyrical or Poetical weren’t around yet to help you perform lyrics. Happily, Simbo (one of the Grand Order hobbits) had created an external app to run alongside LOTRO, with much of the same functionality as the later lyrics plugins. You can read more about my work on that first song here. Here, I’ll just say I will never forget the responses, slack jaws of hobbits nearby and ensuing /tells asking “what the heck” when I “sang” in-game for the first time, matching words with the melody line of the song.
Early-day Lina, from back when the instruments didn’t scale to size. Hobbits playing the theorbo were a particular joy to see!
Most LOTRO musicians perform songs by using “playback” of prepared ABC files. They prepare the files in advance, ready them in-game, press “play” and then let the music system take over. Which is fun on its own, but this also means that most musicians can’t really react dynamically to what happens in the game. If for some reason the playback stops mid-song (for instance, if you move out of music mode), you have to start again from the beginning.
Some play freehand, though. And it is a joy to see every time (you can actually see if someone performs freehand too. The note heads streaming from free-played instrument are filled, while playback gives empty note heads).
Basically, freehand means that you hook up an instrument (like a MIDI keyboard) to your computer and perform on this, sending notes to the game through a program like LOTRO MIDI player. So you really perform the song yourself, and it plays in-game. While it is hard to play freehand synced in a band due to latency issues, this can lead to some blistering solo performances.
The first freehand-player I ran into was Lotti, the founder of Green Dragon Friday. She often performed at the Dragon, freeplaying merrily on her lute. It felt precious every time.
Lotti playing freehand at the Dragon, filled note heads and all.
Rock stars wearing Shades
The Shades is perhaps the closest we have to “rock stars” in LOTRO. Interestingly, they never really played rock, but rather sweet-sounding folk/new age/celtic music.
The Shades were one of the first LOTRO bands, playing on Laurelin from November 2007 onward. They soon got a huge following, and their concerts drew massive crowds. They performed grand annual musicals, with lots of efforts put into their music, song lyrics and costumes. They performed and won awards at Weatherstock. They were also covered in media outside of LOTRO fan sites, like Engadget.
What made them real special, though, is that they wrote all their songs themselves. Or rather, their band leader Achazia did. She still writes songs to this day, although sadly not so much for LOTRO. Still, at least we have the memories of a band with a truly unique sound, fresher than the tons of “rock bands” saturating the LOTRO music scene today.
My personal favourite Shades song? It’s pretty obvious: Little Delving, one of their Shire-based songs. Jolly and light, just as it should be, and I fell in love with it the first time I heard it.Little Delving, by The Shades
Under a loud Violet Moon
In the early days, there were several hobbit bands on Laurelin. The Pied Pipers was one of them, hailing from the People of the Shire kinship. One of their members, Firefern, wrote an ABC song converter that often led to superior results to LOTRO MIDI player. And the Pipers put the converter to good use in one of their songs.
Back then, everyone wanted to play songs by real-life band Blackmore’s Night. Many of their medieval/folk-based songs were deemed perfect for the LOTRO setting, especially by roleplayers. A recurring favourite was Under a Violet Moon, and the Pipers had their own grand version of it.
I distinctly remember the first time I heard it. Not so much the place (I think it was at the Green Dragon), but the impact it made. The Pipers used variations in dynamics/volume to good effect, starting soft before going full blast on the chorus, piling on the bagpipes. It was ear-shatteringly loud.
And while I have a somewhat strained relationship with LOTRO bagpipes in general, the ensuing wall of sound created by the Pipers more or less blew my objections away. It really made an impression, and even to this day I try to emulate this sound in The Brandy Badgers, playing some songs on the edge of overload and distortion. Grand fun!
The Pied Pipers rehearsing before the 3rd anniversary of Green Dragon Friday; Firefern, Cloves and Dittany.
Multi-part songs without Maestro
In the spring of 2010, the musicians in the Grand Order set up a musical collective to run alongside The Songburrow Strollers, which was the main kin band. This resulted in The Brandy Badgers, who perform to this day.
The Badgers was set up to explore music that could be deemed out of character in a Tolkien setting. So we wrote up a strange and tongue-in-cheek backstory for the band, showing that this wasn’t really to be taken serious. You can read more about this approach here.
In 2010-2011, we wanted to put on our first large performance, based on Jethro Tull songs. The Badgers were around seven or eight hobbits then, so we needed to create songs playable for a large band. This was somewhat challenging in the early days. Converters like Maestro did not exist, and I hadn’t started exploring Firefern’s yet (if it was even publicly available then). Instead, I used LOTRO Midi Player.
And boy, that took a lot of work. No easy way to convert drum sounds, so you needed to use a separate “drum conversion” program. You could only export one track at a time, which you had to glue into a master multipart ABC file. Endless problems of getting the songs to “sync” and not sound choppy upon playback. No good way to convert songs with tempo changes. Once you thought you had a good version, it crumbled and fell apart when you performed it in-game. And so on.
Basically, songs that you can convert and preview in Maestro in 10 minutes today, took hours or even days back in the LOTRO Midi Player age. Getting 10-11 songs together for a performance… I put weeks worth of work into those conversions.
Still, actually performing the songs live for the first time? Massive fun. Worth all the work? Of course!
Rare picture from that first performance in 2011
The biggest music event of them all
In June 2011, Turbine reclaimed the European servers that had been operated by Codemasters. Them were gloomy days for European players, but on the bright side, many started to explore other servers than the main ones they played on. The then Chief of the Grand Order, Rowana, had heard of a music event on the Landroval server called Weatherstock, inviting bands to come play on top of Weathertop. She wondered if the Songburrow Strollers would like sign up. We did.
Granted, we didn’t know much about Weatherstock, but the organizers in the Lonely Mountain Band were ever so helpful, providing lots of assistance and guidance and tips on the way there. So when we logged in for the event, we were rather excited.
Nothing… NOTHING could prepare us for the chaos that waited.
Hundreds of players roaming around outside the Forsaken Inn. A procession of players lagging its way towards Weathertop. Emotes and cheering. Lag skips, disconnects, heartbreak…
It was glorious.
Because it was all so friendly, everyone were so merry and cheerful. It sort of got to us. When us Strollers went up to perform, we did our regular happy hobbit shtick. This included an encore of our local favourite, “The Bywater Bouncing Song” (Orange Blossom Special), in which we urged the audience to bounce along. They did. You could almost feel the server wobble under the weight of players bouncing. It brought the house down, and nearly the server with it.
The Strollers picked up a shared “Light of the Dark” award that night. But what I remember best is the sheer jubilant chaos of it all. Hundreds of players gathered for a good time, ably assisted by the organizers and a huge logistics operation. You can’t beat that. On July 21, you can experience it yourself during Weatherstock 10. Just remember to clear your calendar, the event lasts a fair bit of time!Some impressions from Weatherstock 2011, by Astleigh
A particularly grand thing at LOTRO music events is to come across songs you haven’t heard before in real-life, but that you really enjoy in-game. I have come across lots of grand new songs just by listening to in-game performances.
A particular favourite was performed by the band Mornie Alantie during Weatherstock in 2012. A song called Moskau. Of course, with in-game lyrics relating to Mordor…
This is how it sounded like in-game, complete with Weatherstock lag and emotes and all.Mornie Alantie – The Mordor Song, video by Kaoru
I remembered that infectious beat of the song and just knew I had to seek it out in real-life. Which led to hysterics when I found the video below, where the original band Dschinghis Khan performs the song during a tv show. I caved in and rolled on the floor laughing. Marvellous! It’s been in my playlist ever since.Dschinghis Khan – Moskau
Five years of strolling
The Songburrow Strollers is the kinship band of the Grand Order. The Strollers have been semi-dormant in recent years, gathering only for special occasions. They were one of the most active bands on Laurelin in the period of 2008-2013, though, with lots of tours and concerts, regular performances at the Green Dragon, three visits to Weatherstock… we were pretty busy.
In 2013, us Strollers celebrated our 5th anniversary and figured we would actually stroll for a change: Visiting five former concert venues in one night, with a pleasant stroll between them. We put a lot of effort into announcing the event, making an anniversary video presenting the Strollers, its members and the chosen concert venues (see below). Lots of hobbits showed up to follow us through the Shire. While some wrinkled their nose at dancing inside the pig pens in Budgeford, this was soon forgotten as soon as the jigs, reels and waltzes started. The fun really took off inside the Ivy Bush, with lots of “guest Strollers” joining us on stage. You can see lots of screenshots from the night here.
A walking concert was a bit of an undertaking in 2013, not least due to the LOTRO chat bug. Still, the evening was tons of fun, perhaps the grandest event the Strollers ever hosted. The best part was that we didn’t just stand on a stage and play songs and spam song lyrics for two hours, but that we were able to walk alongside and chat with the other hobbits who had come to celebrate with us. Lots of good-natured and friendly hobbit banter ensued!The Strollers 5th anniversary video
So many memories
These are just some of the magical moments I remember. There are many others. Visiting Archet Aid for the first time. Seeing Shire Rose perform a musical based on Bilbo’s journey “There and Back Again”. Experimenting with the new fiddles which were added recently. Hearing others perform songs I play myself, in different versions and with different lyrics. Or coming across a first-time musician, playing the same old ABC files I did back in the day. The list goes on. It keeps growing too.
I hope yer enjoyed this stroll through the music scene in LOTRO. If yer have yer own magical moments, I’d love to hear them too! Please share them in the comments below so all can see.