Custom maps in Beat Saber are illegal. When you download a custom map or song for Beat Saber, you are party to a crime (in most countries). Every custom map has map data files — and an audio file of music which is most likely copyrighted. Neither the mapper nor the player has the legal rights to transport that song. I often hear people talking about how Beat Saber needs to hook into Spotify or Amazon; some LEGAL source of music for custom maps. It isn’t that simple.
There are dozens of ways to “obtain music” that are considered legal; lots of it is streaming (Spotify, Pandora) some of it is downloaded (you can get MP3s from Amazon) — and sure, in some countries you can rip your OWN musical library from CDs to whatever format you like.
So — the question is, why can’t a mapper create the “legal” data and let the PLAYER choose the music source instead of partaking in the shady uploading and downloading of copyrighted music? Seems like a no-brainer, right?
No Two Songs Files Are Alike
Forget about the obvious differences between “songs”; radio version, explicit edition, movie version, blah blah DJ mix …
Depending on where you get your music, how you rip it, how you download it — the SONG may be similar by content, but not by file type, size, duration or or other particulars.
This is important.
Let’s take the song Separate Ways by Journey.
DIFFERENCE IN TIME
We’ll start by looking at Google Music.
What do you see here? These are the same song by the same group; there are at least five different run times for that same song.
Do you know which one your mapper used? He might not have used ANY of these. Even if you have a general run time like 5:25 — that could be 5:25.500 (500 milliseconds or half a second) or 5:25:010. That difference is important.
There are live versions too — and I happen to know that the version on Greatest Hits includes the “extended version” — yet it isn’t shown here.
DIFFERENCE IN PADDING
Ever hear a song that has a second or two of silence at beginning? At the end? This can happen for a variety of reasons. Maybe the download service did it. Maybe your CD ripper did that. Even the same song version with the same runtime in the same quality can have several seconds in the front where the next copy starts right away, but has several seconds of “footer” dead space.
This is important too.
DIFFERENCE IN ENCODING
The process of taking music and compressing it into MP3, OGG or other formats can have subtle changes to run time. This can affect quality, too. Frequency changes; too much bass, too much treble.
Anyone that knows anything about music knows that a 56k MP3 and a lossless FLAC file don’t even sound like the same song sometimes. While this doesn’t sound important now, but it hopefully will be soon.
The only way to know that you and … ANYONE … else has the exact same song 100% identical — would be to get it the exact same way in the exact same format from the exact same source.
Even that means nothing — and you’re going to find out why next.
Good Mappers Never Use Stock Songs
“But Shane, as long as the mapper gets it from Amazon Music and *I* get it from Amazon Music — everything should be great!”
I’m afraid not.
I’ve worked with some of the best mappers out there and I assure you that they do not use a stock copy of the song for their map.
Acquisition and Conversion
First, it has to be converted from “whatever” (CD, MP3, et al) to OGG format. Not everyone does it 100% the same way (but it is close — they all use Audacity and they probably use similar settings). That starts the variation traits of the song map vs what you downloaded from Amazon Music.
The Basic Edit
Mappers will then perform a variety of “basic edits” — including audio normalization. Trimming silence off the end, ADDING silence at the beginning so a song doesn’t start too soon. None of this is a formula. Each mapper handles this differently. While normalizing audio or fixing low volume in the song to improve the experience won’t change the run time or “beat map” of the custom song? Trimming and padding most certainly will.
Advanced Editing — Warping and Enhancement
Good mappers do a lot of work that players take for granted; not because they are ungrateful — but because they simply are ignorant of the process.
The best mappers are die hard music aficionados. They won’t work with low quality YouTube audio rips. They won’t allow for poorly normalized volume or other audio foibles. In fact, they may even artificially BOOST audio in some parts of the song because they want you to be able to HEAR it over Beat Saber as it is being played!
In some cases, a song may be shortened to avoid “player fatigue” by having the bridge cut out or a verse removed so you don’t have an 8 minute map.
Betcha never knew how much work could be required to simply prepare the audio file for mapping, right?
An even more interesting fact I bet you didn’t know is that mappers “warp” songs to fix inconsistencies in BPM (beats per minute). Otherwise, the map feels off-tempo when playing, or the mapper has to perform FINE granular adjustments to individual notes to compensate. The majority of average mappers aren’t even aware of this problem or aren’t willing to do the work needed to fix it. Hence all the poorly-timed maps out there. The savvy mappers handle variable bpm through various means, either by adjusting the map or using a tool like Reaper or WarpPro to actually synchronize (warp) the beat across the entire song.
I know, right? Who knew? That blew me away when I heard about it.
The very location of any beat in the song could have changed — and every other beat downstream of that one — could have changed.
What Does All This Mean?
This means that the song included in the map could (and likely is) considerably if not completely altered from any other version you have — or even ones you can get; be it from Amazon, YouTube Music, Google Music, iTunes (is that even a thing?), Spotify, Pandora or even pirated via torrents of some file sharing app or website.
The only thing the music file in that custom map folder shares with the version you have (or can get) is the name of the song and the artist.
If this still doesn’t compute, let me try explaining this another way.
What makes a poor custom map in Beat Saber? We’ve all played them — some of us have even made them (guilty). What’s makes them bad?
Timing; the foundation of every Beat Saber map. Exacting, perfectly synchronized timing.
When you play a map and say, “I’m just not feeling this map” — that’s because the flow feels off or you don’t groove with the song or you can’t match the organic feelings the mapper was trying to convey.
When you play a map and say, “Man, this map really sucks” — that’s likely down to timing — even just a tad.
“Miss … What exactly is a ‘tad’?”
How poor does timing have to be before it negatively impacts the game?
Well, I reached out to some good mappers and the answer may surprise you. Oh, and you get bonus points if you got the reference in this section’s header.
A tad is 50 milliseconds. One second is 1000 milliseconds. One twentieth of a second is all it takes. Once one beat is “off” it starts sliding downhill from there. Maybe you’ve played a song that starts off solid then by the end you’re wondering what the mapper could have possibly been thinking.
How much care do good mappers give to ensuring great timing?
TechButterly estimated over 150 hours of work went into this project — and of that time, 20+ of them were spent in pursuit of perfect timing.
There has to be SOME WAY …
At the very least, if you intend the custom song to be played as the mapper intended it — then no, there isn’t.
Yes, you could produce a file that contains various changes in trimming and padding based on a “master” copy. That is, if everyone agrees (good luck) that music will ONLY be obtained from Amazon|Google|Apple|whatever and any changes to timing should be documented in that file in a community supported format. Beat Saber (or some custom mod) could read that file and “generate” a copy of that Amazon|Google|Apple version with the timeline changes (padding put in, songs chopped down here or there).
I’ll tell you right now, no mapper is going to do that. These people are already spending 10–12+ hours of their time doing the creative piece; laying down patterns, creating lighting, etc. To overburden them with extra hours of tracking EVERY SINGLE timeline change to the song? Can’t see the adoption happening.
That still doesn’t account for Warping, audible changes and enhancements — things that simply cannot be “fixed” by throwing some data at it.
Streaming services that don’t allow non-DRM offline storage (are there any?) are no solution either. Any network hiccup or issue could cause 50ms+ instability during play if you’re streaming audio. There would have to be a synergy between Beat Saber and the streaming company — and those are mired in national vs international rights and many other things that simply wouldn’t make it economically viable for them to add this.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that custom songs = piracy and there really isn’t anything that can be done about it; not without licensing — and licensing is what holds back the variety of custom music that Beat Saber is thriving with today.
As such, companies like Sony and Facebook aren’t going to lift a finger to assist people in getting custom music on consoles or apparently even the Quest.
Eventually, the ride will come to an end and all custom music will have to go underground … people will have a second “offline hacked Quest” (like they do Nintendo Switch) to play custom music because they choose to enforce the Terms of Service that says you can’t … Facebook starts banning accounts … Beat Saber doesn’t run if it has been modified at all .. that sort of thing.
In the meantime, keep your conscience clear and purchase the songs you’re “illegally” playing in Beat Saber. :)