Let’s dive right into the heart of nostalgia. Synthwave and Retrowave music takes us on a time-traveling journey back to the ’80s, with their lush synthesizers and pulsating beats. If you’ve been yearning to master The Secret to Mixing & Processing Synthwave and Retrowave Music, this is your go-to guide.

You’ll learn how the right preset can elevate your tracks, why proper mixing techniques are crucial for that vibey retro sound, and ways to craft catchy synth lines that resonate with listeners.

Let’s dig in!

Table Of Contents:

What is Synthwave and Retrowave Music?

Imagine cruising down a digital highway with neon signs flashing by. That’s the essence of Synthwave, a genre that marries 80s nostalgia with modern electronic music. Now add in Retrowave, its sibling sub-genre, which dives even deeper into that retro 80s sound.

Both of these genres you back to times of VHS tapes and synth-pop anthems while injecting today’s production polish. It thrives on vintage synthesizers’ warm hums and drum machines’ punchy beats that defined an era’s soundtrack. Think about movies like “Drive” or games like “Hotline Miami”—that’s pure, uncut Synthwave for you.

The Power of Presets in Music Production

In creating these sonic time capsules, presets are our secret sauce—they’re not just shortcuts, they’re portals to authenticity. Getting your hands on the right preset packs and VST synths can ensure you have the best sounds right off the bat.

The Mixing Process Step by Step

Mixing is no joke when we talk about genres steeped heavily in ambiance and aesthetic—you need each element perfectly balanced so listeners can ride waves through time without any turbulence interrupting their journey.

To get this right, let us walk through the mixing process step by step: start clean (gain staging), carve spaces (EQ decisions), color your canvas (effects processing) then bring balance to all things (volume leveling). This way, every track sits together offering both clarity and depth—the ultimate goal being achieving synergy among elements reminiscent of vinyl warmth paired alongside digital crispness unique only within these two beloved genres.

Composing Your Own Synthwave Track

Creating something fresh yet timeless isn’t easy.

This statement captures what goes into composing a synth-heavy bop from scratch—we’re talking chord structures echoing distant memories tinged with nostalgia. The process is intricate, weaving together layers of sound to create an immersive auditory experience. Each element contributes to the overall vibe, transporting listeners on a journey through past and present.

Listen to some of your favorite synthwave tracks and ask yourself what kinds of elements they’re using. Get a feel for the drums, the synth basses, the ambient pads, and effects. Use your references to create a sound palette all your own. 

Key Takeaway: 

Hit the digital highway with Synthwave and Retrowave, genres blending 80s nostalgia and modern beats. Start with a solid preset pack for that authentic retro sound without endless knob-twiddling. When mixing, balance is key: clean start, precise EQing, tasteful effects, and volume control create a seamless time-travel experience.

The Mixing Process Step by Step

So you’ve got your Synthwave tracks laid out, and now it’s time to mix them into that sweet retro soundscape. But where do you start? First things first: let’s talk about setting the stage for a mix that’ll transport listeners straight back to the ’80s.

Gain Staging for Dynamic Control

Before diving into EQs and compressors, make sure your gain staging is on point. This isn’t just technical jargon; think of it like prepping ingredients before cooking – crucial. You want each track at an optimal level so they play nice together without any distortion ruining the party. And remember, even if an element seems peachy during solo playback, always check how tracks behave in context with others.

We’re aiming for consistency here folks because when those levels are balanced from the get-go, you set yourself up for smoother sailing ahead in the mixing process step by step.

Panning Instruments for Stereo Gold

Moving on to panning – this is where we create our wide retro canvas. The goal? To give every instrument its own special spot in the stereo field without stepping on anyone else’s toes. Your drums might sit cozy at center stage while pads could use a sprinkle of conservative stereo width; just enough to fill up space but not too much that they lose their place in line.

You don’t need a crazy wide spread right away—sometimes less is more when painting your 3D setting.

Finding Balance with Volume Adjustments

Tweaking volume levels is a Goldilocks game. You don’t want them too hot or cold but just right. Here’s where adjusting volume comes into play big time: thinning out instruments may be needed if things get cluttered because clarity matters.

Learn how professional mix engineers handle this delicate balance through one of our quick video tutorials.

Dialing In Frequencies Like It’s 1984 Again

This part takes patience as you sweep through frequencies looking for troublemakers causing muddiness or harshness. High pass filters are nifty tools allowing bass elements room while ensuring other components shine through properly.

Keep referencing those classic synth tunes too—they’re great guides reminding us what vibe we’re shooting after.

Typically, I like to high-pass instruments that don’t need low-end frequencies below 100Hz, as they’ll only clutter up the space and take away precious headroom. 

Incorporating Effects

Reverb are delay are key in synthwave. Reverb gives lifeless snare drums depth whereas delays add dimension to lead lines, turning simple notes into lush landscapes. These effects aren’t there to pile on top of each other though—it’s about finding the right balance that complements your music without overwhelming it. 

A skilled producer knows how to weave these elements seamlessly into a track, creating an immersive audio experience that stands out.

Key Takeaway: 

Start your mix by nailing gain staging for clear dynamics, then pan instruments to craft a wide retro soundscape. Remember, volume tweaks bring balance and clarity. Dial in those frequencies with patience and use effects sparingly to add depth without cluttering the sound.

Composing Your Own Synthwave Track

When it comes making pop synthwave, we’re talking neon lights, vintage synths, and all that good retro nostalgia packed into one genre. Here’s how you can start building your own synthwave track.

Chord Structures: The Skeleton of Your Song

Synthwave songs are often built on simple yet evocative chord progressions. Think less about complex jazz voicings and more about the triads and seventh chords that give off those wistful vibes from yesteryear’s summer hits. Start by picking a key—D minor is classic—and lay down four chords that loop in progression; this will be the backbone of your track.

Moving between minor and major can stir up some serious emotions. Remember when we were kids playing video games? That bittersweet victory screen music had us feeling victorious but also kind of sad it was over—that’s the mood you’re aiming for.

Melodies That Stick Like Bubblegum

A melody in synthwave isn’t just catchy—it’s like glitter at an ’80s prom night; it sticks around long after the party’s over. To craft these earworms, start with a lead sound from a synth preset. Maybe something brassy or with a sawtooth wave edge? Now noodle around within your chosen scale until you find something as memorable as an old arcade game jingle.

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel here—a solid melody can be simple but should carry enough emotion to make listeners feel they’ve traveled back in time without leaving their couches.

Arranging: Layering Those Synthy Goodness Waves

Your song structure might follow familiar territory—intro, verse, chorus—but it’s how you arrange these sections that’ll give them their timewarp quality. Use pads sparingly for atmospheric layers behind driving basslines which provide not just rhythm but narrative momentum too. And hey, speaking of arrangements…why not throw in some unexpected elements?

Maybe a bassline that’s quiet during the verses and jumps out during choruses, or a sudden switch-up where hi-hats drop out completely for few bars.

This helps create what I call ‘energy shifts’ – moments where listeners perk up because things got interesting.

Key Takeaway: 

Composing synthwave is your ticket to retro time-travel. Start with simple chord progressions, like D minor, for that nostalgic backbone. Then craft catchy melodies that could rival an old arcade jingle. When arranging, mix atmospheric pads and dynamic basslines to create energy shifts that keep listeners on their toes.

Panning Instruments for a Wide Retro Soundscape

With synthwave, panning individual instruments is your joystick to navigate that wide retro soundscape.

To nail that immersive audio experience, think about an ’80s movie scene: The hero strides down the street while the synth bass pumps steadily from somewhere deep within the cityscape—dead center in our mix. Drums are typically panned center too.

The Power of Precision Panning

If you want listeners to feel surrounded by sound without getting lost in it, precision is key. Start with hi hats lightly dancing off to one side—a subtle shift can bring movement without losing balance. As for synth basses? Keep them centered but play around with stereo spreader effects subtly. We’re crafting nostalgia here, not disorientation.

Next up are snare drums which demand attention yet don’t want to hog all the spotlight. So keep them close but not smack dab in the middle—that spot’s reserved for our low-end friend. We’ve got enough room on this sonic highway for everyone if placed just right.

Creating Space Without Losing Intimacy

A pad instrument could easily become overbearing if left unchecked—but we won’t let that happen. A conservative stereo width allows pads to envelop listeners without crowding out other elements—like wrapping them up in a warm blanket of pure ‘80s bliss.

This isn’t about throwing things randomly into space hoping they’ll find their place; it’s more akin to arranging furniture so every piece complements each other perfectly within a room—you wouldn’t put all your chairs stacked in one corner now would you?

Key Takeaway: 

Master the art of panning in Synthwave to create a wide, immersive retro soundscape. Keep bass and drums central for grounding, use subtle shifts for hi-hats, and ensure pads have enough width without overwhelming. Balance is key—treat volume levels and placement like arranging furniture or sorting M&Ms.

Balancing Volume Levels for Clarity in Your Mix

Imagine your Synthwave or Retrowave mix as a neon-lit skyline. Each building is an instrument, and the trick to getting that awe-inspiring view is making sure no skyscraper overshadows another. That’s what we’re doing when we adjust the volume of individual tracks; we’re sculpting our cityscape so every element shines through.

Picking Out The Right Tools

The first step in achieving clarity is all about reaching for the right tools. Gain staging sets up each track at optimal levels before you even start mixing – think of it like laying down solid foundations before construction goes full swing. Then there’s this nifty thing called a high pass filter which lets you roll off unnecessary low-end frequencies on non-bass instruments, preventing muddiness where basslines need to drive nostalgia.

A clear-cut way to manage individual instruments in a cluttered mix? Thinning out. Sometimes less really is more.

Creating Space with Panning and Volume Adjustments

To give each sound its own address on Main Street instead of cramming them all into one apartment complex, panning helps create width while adjusting volumes ensures they’re heard without stepping over each other’s toes. You want hi hats whispering sweet nothings left-of-center while keeping kick drums grounded front-and-center because phase compatibility issues are real party poopers if not kept in check.

Making use of stereo spreaders or careful EQ tweaks can open up room around congested areas too – imagine giving that pad instrument its own penthouse suite with views across the entire stereo field. But remember: stereo width should be handled like expensive perfume—a little goes long ways towards creating 3D setting vibes without losing any friends (or listeners).

Tuning Into Reference Tracks

Sometimes you gotta peek over at how others have constructed their sonic cities for inspiration—and that’s totally cool. Slipping on some reference tracks during playback gives perspective on volume level balance within professional mixes akin yours—that energy shift between chorus and verse? They’ve got it nailed down tight using strategies crafted by top-tier mix engineers who know just how much wiggle room there is before things get wonky.

Key Takeaway: 

To nail that Synthwave mix, treat your tracks like a city skyline where no building overshadows another. Use the right tools to set solid foundations with gain staging and high pass filters, creating clarity before mixing even starts.

Panning gives each sound its own space while careful volume adjustments prevent stepping on toes. Stereo spreaders or EQ tweaks can further open up room for an expansive retro soundscape. Look to reference tracks for pro-level balance insights.

Stereo Spread: Making Space While Keeping Phase Compatibility Issues at Bay

Using stereo spreader tools allows you not only extra width but also helps separate elements within your track—the difference between dancing alone versus rocking out at prom night circa ’80s. By strategically widening certain elements, your mix can gain that sought-after depth and clarity, making each instrument stand out while still blending harmoniously with the rest of the arrangement.

Just be sure to check for mono compatibility throughout the process, as overdoing stereo spreading can cause phase issues. 

FAQs in Relation to The Secret to Mixing & Processing Synthwave and Retrowave Music

What software is used to make synthwave music?

Synthwave artists often rock with Ableton Live, FL Studio, or Logic Pro.

Is there a difference between synthwave and Retrowave?

Synthwave leans on electronic nostalgia while Retrowave punches up the ’80s aesthetic; they’re siblings in sound but not twins.

How do people make synthwave music?

Crafting Synthwave tunes involves layering synths, drum machines, and reverb-heavy production for that vintage arcade feel.

How do I make my mix sound professional?

To nail that pro sound, balance your levels meticulously and polish with EQ, compression, and spatial effects like reverb.


So, you’ve journeyed through the neon glow of Synthwave and Retrowave. The secret to mixing synthwave and retrowave music should now be clearer. Start with the right preset packs, create layers in your mix with panning, use volume for clarity, and anchor your bass lines into your track with EQ.

Finally, remember: mixing is an art as much as it’s science. Use these tips not just as rules but as starting points on your quest to craft compelling music that stands out—even decades from its inspiration.

If you’re looking for more pro tips on mixing and production, make sure to check out Mix Elite Academy’s free trial. You’ll find endless hours of valuable content from top producers and mix engineers, as well as access to a massive community of music makers like yourself!