In the following article, I will discuss some production tips and techniques to create vaporwave. These tips are all within a digital audio workstation (DAW), software used to record and manipulate audio. In this article, I will use Studio One as an example, but these tips can be applied to any DAW.
8 Vaporwave Tips That Will Help You Making Dope Vaporwave Music
Tips #1 | Non-Destructive Editing
What is non-destructive editing? Simply put, it is editing audio within a DAW without destroying the original audio file. Why is non-destructive editing important? As changes are made to the audio file, non-destructive editing allows for layering effects while keeping the ability to turn each effect on and off independent of the other effects. The effects can also be toggled in real-time, compared to destructive editing, which requires time to render the effect before hearing it.
Some examples of non-destructive editing DAWs include Ableton Live, FL Studio, Reaper, Pro Tools, and Studio One, among others. Destructive editing DAWs have mostly gone by the wayside, but some like Audacity still exist.
Tips #2 | Sample Sources
Most vaporwave relies heavily on sampling, or using existing pieces music, and transforming the samples into new works of music. We will discuss how to make these transformations in the following steps, but for now we will discuss how to find a sample in the first place.
Samples can be found in any genre, but many samples in vaporwave come from 80s RnB artists like Diana Ross and Anita Baker. Try watching a video by one of these artists on YouTube, then use the recommendations on the right side of the video to find a song to sample. After finding a song, load the sample into a DAW.
For this article, we will sample George Benson’s "Turn Your Love Around" and transform it into one of my vaporwave songs, "WVOL 5".
Turn Your Love Around - Original Song
Tips #3 | Manipulating Pitch and Tempo
It is important to manipulate pitch and tempo independently. Most non-destructive editing DAWs offer pitch and tempo as separate controls, while some destructive editing DAWs like Audacity can combine these controls together. For our sample, I will change the tempo to 85% of the original, and pitch shift -4 semitones.
Duplicate the main track after pitch shifting and add 12 semitones to make an octave double. For our track, we will add a duplicate track pitched up 8 semitones from the original, which is 12 semitones higher than our main track at -4 semitones. The octave layer can add some “air” to synths, pianos, and voices. Turn the octave double track down lower than the main track though, because it can sound glitchy if it's too loud.
Turn Your Love Around - Slowed & Pitched Down
Turn Your Love Around - Octave Added
Tips #4 | Ordering Effects & Plugins
Add EQ first, then compression, then effects, then echo or reverb. This order will get the most clarity from each effect possible.
Tips #5 | EQ
Use both hi-pass and lo-pass filters. A hi-pass filter rolls off the bass and allows higher frequencies to pass through. In the same manner, a lo-pass filter rolls off the very high end and allows lower frequencies to pass through. Turn the hi-pass filter up to 100 Hz and turn the lo-pass filter to 8 kHz. Between the two of them, they'll sound more like cassette tape.
Adding hi-pass and lo-pass filters in Studio One
Turn Your Love Around - EQ Added
Tips #6 | Compression
Compressors can create the effect of "automatic gain adjustment." It's what gives Daft Punk and future funk the "bouncy" feeling when the kick drum hits.
Taking it one step further, using an expander (compressor and noise gate combined) can really nail that dirty VHS automatic gain adjustment effect. It will compress loud hits and suck out the sound when quiet.
Using an expander in Studio One
Turn Your Love Around - Expander Added
Tips #7 | Effects
I primarily use three effects – distortion, bitcrusher, and chorus. Light distortion will dirty up the sound a little bit. Light bitcrusher effect has a similar effect to distortion, but with a “crunchier” and more “8-bit” sound. Chorus will also provide a washy "underwater" sound. For our song, we will add some light distortion.
Using distortion in Studio One
Turn Your Love Around - Distortion Added
Tips #8 | Reverb & Delay
Using a ridiculous amount of reverb sounds good in vaporwave. “Arena,” “Cathedral,” and “Tunnel” reverb presets have the longest reverb tails and can generally be used without much tweaking. If there is too much reverb, turn down the “wet/dry mix” to hear more "dry" original signal and less "wet" reverb.
Earlier I mentioned putting EQ, compression, and effects before reverb. A good exception to that rule is gated reverb, a sound that defined 80s electronic drum sounds like Prince and Phil Collins. To achieve gated reverb, use a noise gate after adding reverb.
For an even larger reverb sound, add a small amount of delay or echo. 1/8 note, 1/8 triplet, and 1/16 note delay typically works best. For a "slap effect," which can sometimes be more useful over reverb, try 1/32 or 1/64 note. More feedback will create a longer and more washed out echo sound, more wet/dry mix will hear more of the echo rather than the dry original sound. 50% on the wet/dry mix will be equal dry original sound and wet echo.
Using reverb and delay in Studio One
Turn Your Love Around - Reverb & Delay Added
With a little creative looping added, and some tweaking of the lo-pass filter, here is the final product!
Turn Your Love Around
The layering of effects can bring the most out of a sample and turn it into a vaporwave banger! I hope my production tips have been helpful in helping create more and better vaporwave.
V H 1 C L A S S I C, aka Keith Goodwin, is a vaporwave producer based in Nashville, TN. Keith has been active in vaporwave since his first work in 2014. He recently performed his vaporwave music at SXSW 2019. He is active in the reddit and YouTube vaporwave communities. His music is available for streaming or download, and on YouTube on the V H 1 C L A S S I C channel.