Making Synthwave Music 101

Making Synthwave Music

Do you want to make Synthwave music and don’t know how to go about it? Well, all hope is not lost as this article is written just for you. We will guide you as we give you the basic tips required to make this type of music. The explanation has been broken down so easily to make it easier for anyone to understand. 

Let’s begin…

Drum Selection 

The first thing you need is to select the drum you want to use. The right drum will go a long way in determining what the final production sounds like. 

So, pick a drum sample that was created in the 1980s. Why the 1980s you might ask? The reason is that the genre was inspired during this period; hence, the samples from this time will sound like how Synthwave music originally sounded. 

If we were to recommend which drum machine samples to go for, it will be the Roland TR-909 or the Linn 9000. The only issue with using samples from these machines is that sounds may not meet modern production needs. Therefore, you will have to engage in a good chunk of processing.

However, if you don’t want to go through all that and are already good with sound mixing and design, you can just run a search for “drum samples from the 80s”. Once you get them, you can then design and mix them. 

Drum Placement

After getting the samples, the next thing is to produce some drum loops. The general tempo recommendation falls within the 100 to 120 BPM range. Nevertheless, you can go ahead with your production using any tempo of your choosing. 

In placing the drum, we advise you to do less so that you can space the extended snare hits to accommodate the synths and cause them to be heard distinctly.

A common pattern used by most folks is the 4-to-the-floor kick, which has a big snare once in every 2nd and 4th hit. But just like the tempo, you can play around with other patterns. However, do not fill them with so many hits.

You can place hihats in any of these grids (1/4, 1/8. 1/16) based on the speed you are trying to create. If you choose the last two grids, tweak the velocity slightly to prevent the pattern from sounding too robotic. 

Gated Reverb

You will have to make your own reverb tail as the machine drums recommended above do not possess tom and large snare drums fills. There are several techniques for creating the tail, but we will be using the gated reverb technique.

To begin, add your top VST reverb. After that, play it using the decay time and room size. If you are satisfied with what you are hearing, then include a gate immediately behind the reverb. This action will create a reverb tail somewhere. You can learn how to create a reverb tail effect here

If you want to further cause the reverb to be created properly, you can include some OTT comprehension percentages. A cut of 300 to 600Hz is perfect for this. 

This step will require some adjustments here and there to achieve the best snare. While you do this, do not feel bad if it doesn’t sound as well as you desire.

Bass

To create a Synthwave bass, you need to begin with a simple waveform or wavetable. It can either be a square or a saw save. 

Once you have done the above, and then set a low–pass filter to enable and ensure it is attached to an envelope. The envelope’s sustain should be decreased and the decay time adjusted. The filter resonance should be adjusted and all parameters fine-tuned. 

You can enhance the sound by altering the waveforms, then include extra oscillators, and then let it played using a flanger, chorus, or some other effect. Ensure the frequencies are less than 150Hz mono after this. 

Although the bass is usually played on the 8th note based on the chord progression’s fundamental tones, however, you can still create notes that are longer. Visit https://www.musical-u.com/learn/exploring-common-chord-progressions/ to check out some common chord progressions. Once you created a longer note, do not fail to alter the envelope’s decay time to accommodate the notes being played. 

Chords 

To start, select a saw, and then include different voices before detuning them a bit. Now, increase the envelope’s sustain volume a bit before increasing the release time slightly. 

After that, let a low-pass filter be added and attached to a different envelope following the same process used for the bass. Then let the filter resonance be increased and all parameters fine-tuned. 

After this, effects can then be added. Such effects that can be added included modulation or reverb effects such as phasers or flangers. 

Lead 

To add the lead, you can use the patch we used when arranging the chords. If you want variation, simply alter the waveform and the settings of the ADSR. 

If you want to make a vibrato, the tune should be modulated using an LFO. We recommend using 7 Hz as it perfectly okay. Some synth will allow the user to carry out automatic modulation depth. If yours allow this, begin with notes that doesn’t have any vibrato which you’ll increase slowly but progressively as the notes decay.

Vocoded Vocals

You can distort vocals using the vocoder effect. Several plugins for making synthwave music are equipped with this effect. And the working of each vocoder varies, but most of them come with certain presets that can be used.

To get the best from your vocoder, you need to supply it with a sidechain signal. Your chords MIDI should be duplicated on a fresh audio track before inserting a new synth. 

Begin with a simple saw wave that doesn’t have any effect or filter. Different detuned voices can be added. After this, mute the track, then open your vocoder and choose the chords you just created and input it as a sidechain. 

Processing

If after the production, you aren’t getting the vintage or analog vibe sound, you can go ahead and process it with a lofi plugin. Such plugins make use of different kinds of effects which include saturation, distortion, and pitch and filter modulation. 

Conclusion

With the guide above, you can make your very own Synthwave music irrespective of the DAW or VST you make use of. Once you get the above basic techniques, you can then experiment further with effects, waveforms, and techniques.  

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