The Evolution and Revival of Keygen and Tracker Music

The 90s were known for… Well…  A lot. 
Superhero classics like Batman Forever, Iconic video games like The Ocarina of Time, and even mind-blowing musical successes like Black Hole Sun, Enter Sandman, and… Pretty much ANYTHING by the Backstreet Boys.
But among all of the classical greatness lived a far less known, but equally epic genre of music, characterized by a distinctly “artificial” or “video game” sound. A type of music that started in the hot, dusty basements of budding hackers and program pirates across the globe.
In this blog post, we’ll be taking a peek into a brief period in the history of digital music production. Specifically, the 1990s and early 2000s which gave rise to tracker music. If you’ve ever used a Keygen as a young adult to get access to the premium version of a favorite software or video game, then you know exactly the kind of music that I’m talking about. 
Let’s take a trip down nostalgia lane to see exactly where it came from. 
Trackers— Where It All Started
Trackers were software programs that allowed users to sequence music with a digital grid. Pretty much overnight, this revolutionized the way that music was produced. Why? Because it gave the everyman, the ability to make music, without having to understand classical theory in-depth or having to go into a recording studio. 
Of course, there were limitations. 
Without a full studio, and because of the 8-bit and 16-bit audio limitations on most of the machinery at the time, the music sounded….
Digital. 
For arguably the first time, the music we were creating came from computers that produced limited tones, instead of machinery that replicated instruments or instruments themselves. And above all this software and the computers needed to run it were available to the everyone that had a computer. 
The Very First— Ultimate Soundtracker
Ultimate Soundtracker, was released in 1987 for Amiga computers, which despite having the effective computing power of a TI-87 calculator were industry-leading at the time. Shortly after its release and the success of the program, other tracking software emerged, opening the world of music production to pioneers who produced sounds by intuition rather than by training. 
Tracker software like FastTracker, Scream Tracker, and Impulse Tracker very quickly became staples for hobbyist musicians and demoscene enthusiasts. Like most ‘underground’ scenes, these programs became absolutely prolific in this small sector of the market. Creating a vibrant, highly engaged, and highly collaborative community dedicated to pushing the boundaries of digital sound.
Tracker Music— The Aesthetic
Fortunately —or unfortunately to some— tracking music was defined by the limitations we touched on earlier: 8-bit and 16-bit audio. 
These weren’t exactly conducive to producing the traditional sounds we’ve come to expect from our music. Creators in the scene relied heavily on chiptune elements, where simple waveforms and sound samples were blended together to produce sounds that quickly rose in popularity. 
During this time, we saw the birth of music styles that carried the spirit of early computer culture. Think of it like House music, meeting Mario theme tracks from the NES, and having a baby.
That’s early Tracker Music in a nutshell.
Keygen Music— The Other Side of the Coin
At the same time that tracker music was rising in popularity, Keygen's were being used in the rapidly growing world of digital piracy. Kids around the world were "cracking" software and using Keygens to do it. 
Keygens —key generators— are simple programs that 90s hackers and software pirates —AKA many of us— used to generate serial keys for software activation. Creators of these programs were also almost always in the "Demoscene" and Warez communities. When not coding Keygens they were busy using the new tracker software to create the unique and expressly underground 8-bit and 16-but tracks. In an effort to stand out and differentiate the different Warez communities like Razor 1991 or AiR Keygen makers would incorporate their different Tracker music files which would autoplay at max volume while the Keygen was open. It was a secret and fun way to showcase their music in the programs they had written.
The result was genius. 
Keygen music became a genre in and of itself, holding a nostalgic place in the hearts of many until this day. 
Tracker Music and the Modern World— What Happened Next
Recently, there’s been a massive resurgence of interest in both Keygen and tracker music. Thanks to the broader revival of retro aesthetics and chiptune-styled music, more and more people are discovering, or rediscovering this brainchild of the 90s. 
Modern musicians and producers are revisiting sounds of the past, embracing the simplicity and purity of 8-bit and 16-bit audio. 
But of course, there’s more to this revival than pure nostalgia. Artists have grown to appreciate the unique qualities that arise from working within strict technical limitations. Modern programs like Renoise and the popularity of platforms like Bandcamp and SoundCloud have enabled a new generation of artists to explore and expand on the foundations that were laid by their predecessors. 
In Conclusion
There’s something in the air, and it's not just a nostalgia wave. 
The revival of Keygen and Tracker music underscores the broader cultural trend that values the intersection of art and technology. This makes sense given that technology is becoming more and more intertwined with our lives as time passes. 
The early pioneers of these genres demonstrated that creativity could flourish even in the most constrained environments. Today’s artists have taken up the mantle, drawing inspiration from them, to see how much further they can push the boundaries of creativity within such a limited environment. 
As digital music production tools continue to evolve, the influence of Tracker and Keygen music remains a testament to the enduring appeal of innovative, boundary-pushing soundscapes.
Check out our original hour long mix of music compiled from actual Keygens!
Here are some awesome resources if you want to learn more or get into making your own Keygen Tracker music!