Note: For privacy reasons, interviewees are referred to as either their FFXIV screen names or band names in this article.
It’s a perfectly normal day in Gridania as you stroll through the dappled trees and over to the Lancer’s Guild, looking for the latest quest or just poking your head in. Yet, there’s one thing that doesn’t quite fit in with this perfectly normal day: a troupe of Moogles are planted just outside the guild playing an instrumental rendition of Cardi B’s “WAP.”
This was the scene a handful of players stumbled upon after I had watched a performance of The Moogle Troupe, a player-made band that puts on shows across the various servers of Final Fantasy XIV. It’s just one of many bands that have popped up across the MMORPG, as the game’s player base skyrockets and its community thrives. Dozens of player bands perform pop-up events, conduct livestreams on Twitch, play at in-game night clubs, and more. Oftentimes, they play music from Final Fantasy XIV, but it’s not unusual to hear a selection of anime openings, rock songs, pop, and whatever else strikes a performer’s fancy.
The one-person band Moogle Troupe got their start years ago, playing around with the game’s rudimentary instrument system. It’s a similar story to what I heard from other bands, as well.
“In 2017, the very first day they ever released an instrument that was the original harp, I noticed immediately that you can only play one note at a time,” Moogle Troupe tells Fanbyte in an interview. “And I borrowed a friend’s account and played around with pushing notes on each one, alternating between them and discussing some ideas from that.”
By December 2017, shortly after Patch 4.15 added instruments to FFXIV, Moogle Troupe was managing three accounts to “split up the notes of the original harp to play chords,” and has evolved that process ever since.
Others, like the Tyon Rush band, used to connect their keyboards to the game using third-party programs and would put on performances that way. Over time, however, bands have opted for using automated programs to orchestrate different Bard characters. For example, Moogle Troupe uses Bard Music Player, which is also used by Tyon Rush and a metal-focused band called Mosh Mosh. Bard Music Player, as explained by the fan blogger Aywren Sojouruner, allows users to upload a pre-made MIDI (musical instrument digital interface) file and the program reads its notes and transcribes it into key-strokes in the game as music. The player automates the keystrokes, but the bands still need to edit the MIDI files to perfect them, and bind notes to the various keys on a Bard’s instrument in-game. Other applications are also in circulation.
“Over time, I recognized that the best music player is one you make yourself, so I decided to start learning [the programming language] C#,” says Mewsical of The Songbirds. “Eventually, over the course of months and years, I created MiqoMusicPlayer, a constantly evolving project which continues to this day.”
Despite using automated programs, running a band in Final Fantasy XIV is an arduous process, especially since the majority of bands are run by simply one person. That fact absolutely astounded me as my character sat on the grass of Gridania, soaking in the Eorzean equivalent of a pop concert.
“For my performances, I use two PCs: one for music and the second for streaming,” explains None Li, [the owner of] Mosh Mosh. “I’m doing a lot of multitasking because I do have to focus on a lot — Discord, Twitch chat, music requests, in-game requests, [and running] Mogamp for music.”
It’s a passion project for each and every person — one that can take hours upon hours across several days to compose, prepare, and perform, especially for newer bands. “Transcribing one song does take a lot of work until it’s finished and perfect,” they continue. “Right now, I can finish a song in one to two days, or up to five days if I’m very lazy. And that’s just to cover one song.”
Rearranging and editing songs to eventually create an in-game version, can take anywhere between six to 16 hours so that it’s “complete without any sound issues,” explains Li.
Still, the payoff has been worth it for many of these bands, especially because of the robust communities that have grown around them. For example, The Songbirds have a very active Discord server with over 1,500 members. Its channels provide live updates whenever the band is performing, highlight other bands throughout Eorzea, and even contain a “Crystal Academy” that helps budding musicians learn how to play in-game.
Whether through Discord or email, each band takes requests from players, including the occasional Eternal Bonding Ceremony. Seeing a band perform is fascinating, especially for new players getting acquainted with FFXIV‘s culture. Even outside of scheduled events, it’s not uncommon to see groups gather around performances, with glow sticks waving in the air.
While the rise of player-made bands has been organically meteoric over the last few years, the COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly played a role, as well. As players were stuck inside for weeks and months on end, more people had the chance to discover performances, and the performers had even more of an opportunity to hone their craft. Tyon Rush goes into detail about this becoming a hobby, saying, “One of the things I really loved about going to college for music education, actually was not music education. It was a class called Orchestration … I learned how to take either music that’s already been written or, you know, like a piano piece and expand it into multiple engines and create larger works out of it. And that was probably my favorite class out of the four years I had in my undergrad. I loved arranging and orchestrating music … So this has been a huge outlet for me to be able to do this kind of thing and then share it with people in-game.”
One constant throughout my interviews with these various Eorzean bands is that they’re eager to share ideas for how Square Enix can improve the game’s instrument system. Mosh Mosh points out how more octaves and velocity control for each instrument could drastically improve performances, while Tyon Rush and Moogle Troupe say that a general bump in sound quality is the number one thing they hope for.
When I started researching Final Fantasy XIV bands, it was something of an oddity I was interested in. But, over the course of talking to different players, watching performances has now become one of my favorite activities in the lively MMORPG. The appeal isn’t in just listening to bands play music, but also watching their visual spectacles. Moogle Troupe and The Songbirds both have dedicated characters that perform choreographed dances with emotes and ability animations for different routines, adding visual flair to accompany the tunes. There are seemingly countless events and performances scheduled every week, always providing something new to see and new people to meet. Whether it’s a group of diminutive Moogles playing the Costa Del Sol theme or a party of cat girls playing “A Cruel Angel’s Thesis” from Neon Genesis Evangelion, the energy around these performances is electric.
The band scene is simply a microcosm of the larger Final Fantasy XIV community; however, at its core, it’s one of the best examples I’ve ever seen of how games can bring us together and teach us new things — something perfectly highlighted by Mewsical of The Songbirds.
“I think that, in working on The Songbirds for the past several years, I’ve come to realize just how much one can accomplish by setting your mind to something and just trying,” she says. “If you asked me in 2017, I would have told you I didn’t know the first thing about music arrangement, coding, community management, and Twitch streaming. And yet those are our daily activities now. Knowing that you can succeed if you try is probably the most valuable lesson I have learned through this journey.”