Creating a song for StepMania (and syncing it up PROPERLY), is actually a bit more complex than just placing arrows on a chart when you hear where you want notes to be placed. With this guide, you should ascertain a general understanding of how to create a SM file, collaborate and input backgrounds, banners, and CD titles to your song, and of coarse, actually step the song to a decent syncing ability.
It should be noted that newbies to the game should NOT try to create songs until they are good enough players to be able to complete the song they are going to step (in other words, if a song dictates fast guitar paces, or intense drumming sequences, don't step the song unless you are sure you can pass these sequences if you were to step them accurately). This way you will have an easier ability to double check a song's accuracy if you are stepping the file from scratch in the editor.
 Creating the .SM file
- What is a .SM file?
It is an acronym for StepMania file, and it is the format that StepMania generally accepts for arrow placement for a song. This format starts off simple when you put it into a text editor, but it expands and becomes more useful as you edit the .SM file in the StepMania song editor.
Although before you create your SM file, you should create a folder with the song's name as the folders name, and place it on the desktop (as you will be adding files and making changes, leaving it on the desktop will bypass having to worry about needing any administrative privileges to add, remove, copy, or paste anything to that folder).
After you do this, move your .mp3, .wav, or .ogg file into the folder. It does not have to be named the same as the folder, nor do any of the other files. Renaming files to match the song name only helps you when putting down the information in notepad, or when others are looking for your .sm file among other ones.
If you have a background (640x480 or bigger to avoid stretching), a banner (exact dimensions of 256x80 for perfect sizing in most StepMania themes), or a CD title (under 250 x 250 if you are sharing it with others), also move them into the folder.
When preparations are complete, open up a text editor, and follow the steps listed:
- Copy and paste the following code into a text editor as is for now:
- When you have done that fill in the information necessary for your song name (under title, the subtitle of your song (possibly album it came from), and the author of the song. They should look something like this:
#TITLE:Song Title Here;
#SUBTITLE:Album name or song sub message;
#ARTIST:Artist's / band name here;
- Now that this is finished, place in your background / banner / CD title / song file information (be sure to include your extension name!!!) It should look something like this:
#LYRICSPATH:Your Lyrics file.lrc; (Don't worry about this if you don't have a lyrics file, no one pays attention to them anyway, so leave it blank.)
#CDTITLE:Your CD Title.png;
#MUSIC:Your Music File.mp3;
- The following file extensions are the most common for their area. You CAN implement .avi or .mpg files for your banner or background if you feel it is necessary...but it can lag the game for slower computers, so use caution when using videos for a BACKGROUND...banner is fine regardless.
- Now you have the rest of the .SM file. Don't worry about any of it for now (UNLESS you know the intro BPM to your .SM file, in which you should input this value right away in the BPM's section). Hit "Save As" and save it as "all files", and then find your folder. Save it as "Song Name.sm" and you are finished! All you have to do now is move this file into your Stepmania\Songs\Song collection folder\ area.
 Finding BPM(s) for your song
This part is tricky, and is the number one reason why people can't sync files properly (aside from trying to create a file even when they have no concept of rhythm at all). You can do one of two things:
- Search online for a BPM analysis program (which usually fails miserably, but still is done by most of the StepMania population)
- Use DDReam Studio made specifically for making SM files and detecting BPMs.
If you use DDReam Studio, you don't even have to create the SM file...it will actually create it for you if you go through the options menu, as well as help you analyze alternate BPM's, use the sound waves to detect beats and patterns, and a bunch of other things that the StepMania default step editor DOESN'T DO which actually can help you create a MUCH better file in the long run. There is a full documentary of how to use DDReam studio to make VERY high quality SM files which is listed in the external links on the main page if you wish to read it (or you can click here), otherwise I will be talking about how to use the default StepMania editor to create SM files.
If you decide to actually use BPM analyzing software...you should divide up the song into multiple parts using Audacity where it seems to have an incline or decline in speed. Once you have your multiple BPMs, you can do one of two things:
- Open up the .SM file in notepad again and put in the BPM changes that way
- Add the BPM changes in through the StepMania editor
Either way isn't much of a difficulty (unless your BPM's are seriously different, like a 200 to 1,000 BPM spike, and then a decline back to 200 BPM again, which will take FOREVER in the Stepmania editor, and should be done through notepad. Now that you have the BPM's of your song, you can begin stepping certain areas of the song through the Stepmania Song editor.
 The Stepmania Song Editor
From the StepMania main menu, select "Song edit", and go to the folder you put the song in. From here you should be able to find you song, and see that you need to create a difficulty for your step file....so according to what file you are stepping, make an estimation and pick the best one that suits what you are going to be stepping for the song (be AWARE that as you get into much harder groups of songs and very advanced players, BOTH the Beginner and Edit difficulties are commonly used for EXTREMELY difficult or DUMP difficulties for files [usually EDIT signifies something extremely difficult but passable, but BEGINNER usually represents a pretty much impossible / jukebox sim file], while Light, Medium, Heavy, and Challenge, tend to signify their accurately placed difficulty levels). If you intend on your step having multiple difficulties, try to avoid these two difficulties unless you are intending on making one of these types of steps later on.
- Now that you have picked your difficulty, you can start to edit your SM file!
- Start by listening to your SM, and pressing "left" or "right" to change the size of the notes per measure (4th, 8th, 16th, etc.) and try to place an arrow as accurately as possible on your first beat (try not to worry about holds, doubles, mines, or any of the special stuff just yet), and keep trying to accurately place arrows as close to the beats as you possibly can. To help you, try using assist kick (F4), to make sure the arrow ticks EXACTLY when the beat is played (the more accurate it is, the less you should be hearing the tick and the more you should be able to focus only on the song's beat.
- Keep testing song by selecting an area (Holding down shift and pressing up / down arrow keys) and then pressing P to play that selection, or by pressing Control and P at the same time to play the entire part of the song you have stepped so far. Even if you thought it was on sync at first, you WILL find errors, and it WILL happen frequently.
- If you are having trouble with the song, or are getting annoyed of having to play back after every arrow, select about 5 seconds of un-stepped song area and press P to listen to it a few times, and then press Control and R at the same time to "record" yourself playing the arrows in that area about to where they belong. Then you can test the whole thing and correct the arrows that are slightly off, and correct any other mistakes you may have made. If you mess up during the recording...it is alright! Just press "Enter" and hit "clear", and all the arrows you recorded will disappear. Now you can start over again and correctly record the arrows.
- Once you manage to finish the step file, in terms of syncing...go back to the beginning and listen to how the notes hold and how intensely that they are being played. Through this you need to determine what patterns (doubles, hands, quads, and of coarse hold notes), they should be. After you think you are all finished with this judgment, you may want to save and close the file...and then replay it the next day to see if you still feel it is correctly synced, or that the arrows are what they should be. To save your .SM file, hit escape and then save your changes.
- If you feel everything is in order...give it to some other people to play, if they feel the file is decent, then you are gold...but if they give you some criticism...just follow suit with it and make any corrections that need to be made and ask for their opinions again). If it gets decent reviews...submit it online somewhere and see other opinions. If you feel it is properly synced, along with the reinforcement of a few other SM players, then you should have a decent enough SM file to have some real nice replay value. As you make more and more SM files, this ability of judgment will come more and more easy and making SM files will become more and more part of a natural thing instead of something new and annoying.
- Things to watch out for
- BPM, being just 1 BPM off could seriously mess up the sync of your song, especially if you are trying to use a consistent stream of notes an equal frame distance apart.
- Constantly Saving your files, as if you mess up on something major, or StepMania for some reason or another crashes, you might have to step a lot of the file all over again if you don't constantly save your work.
- 64th notes, if you are stepping a song, you normally won't need to use anything higher than 16th or 24th notes if the BPM is correct. This doesn't mean you WON'T use them...but if you have to use a LOT of them in order to keep your song on sync for a rather simple pattern...DEFINITELY CHECK your BPM.