What is Synthwave?

Synthwave is a genre of electronic music that started in the early ‘80s and is based around synthesizer sounds and beat machines. It’s usually associated with neon lights, action movies, and Miami Vice themes.

Synthwave enjoyed peak popularity in the ‘80s with the development of electronic instruments but started to get revived in the last 10-15 years through the various house and electronic music producers who wanted to bring an ‘80s feel to their music. Synthwave songs are still quite popular today.

In this article, we’re going to present synthwave in detail, as well as other types of music connected with this genre.

Popular Movies With Synthwave Soundtracks

Synthwave music has seen a major revival, mostly from the popularity of some more recent soundtracks. The movie Drive with Ryan Gosling is most often mentioned as the biggest movie that revived synthwave in mainstream pop culture.

Netflix’s hit Stranger Things is the latest show that really carried this synthwave sound and showed it to the wide public, introducing it to the young ones who don’t really remember it from back in the day.

With that being said, synthwave in movies is not exactly a new thing—just take a listen to the Vangelis soundtrack in Blade or anything by Jean Michelle Jarre!

Is Synthwave Dead?

Synthwave is not dead, but the original synthwave with lo-fi sounds and analog synths is becoming rarer and rarer to find these days. It can take a bit of skill to get good warm and lo-fi sounds from digital synthesis and modern DAWs, although it’s very possible if you put a bit of effort in.

Additionally, modern music producers are simply not really conditioned to produce in this way, and it’s quite difficult to stand out when producing this type of music when music is getting crispier, louder, and more heavily produced.

That said, there are plenty of artists that are flying the synthwave flag; it’s just that they’re producing it in a more modern musical context. There are a lot of low-quality attempts at making synthwave in the music world, but there are still plenty of great current artists.

Popular Synthwave Artists

The Midnight

The Midnight is an Atlanta-based duo of producers and songwriters Tyler Lyle and Tim McEwan. They started working together in 2011 and are most recognizable for their albums Endless Summer and Nocturnal.


Waveshaper is a Swedish producer who specializes in synthwave. He creates music influenced by the European electronic scene from the ‘80s, with iconic synthesizers and in a retro-futuristic way.


Kavinsky is probably the best-known synthwave author and the most responsible for the rise of that sound in mainstream music. He is a French dj and producer who made the soundtrack for the movie Drive, which launched the whole movement to the surface. He is often compared with other French electronic groups like Daft Punk and Danger.


Gunship is an English synthwave band that is one of the leaders in the UK for this type of music.


Perturbator is a French DJ and guitarist James Kent. He originally started as a metal guitarist, but started producing his own synthwave music, inspired by the mixture of those synth sounds and metal music.

What Is the Difference Between Vaporwave and Synthwave?

Synthwave is designed to emulate the ‘80s vibe and sound from the action movies and video games that many people have fond memories of. Vaporwave, on the other hand, is a much slower, relaxed sound made from chopping up and slowing down other music releases.

They can overlap in the sense that some vaporwave authors can use ‘80s music for inspiration, but they are not the same thing at all.

What Is Outrun?

Outrun is just a synonym for synthwave as a genre. The term came from the game Out Run that was released in the 80’s. The term has also expanded as a reference to general retro 80’s aesthetics and effects.

Kavinsky also released an album with this name in 2013 OutRun, which triggered a significant revival in synthwave/outrun music.

Is Synthwave EDM?

Synthwave is technically a form of EDM, but not in the way that most people view it. Even though it does use the same instruments and ways of making, EDM is modern music that is typically viewed as dance/pop music that is played at clubs.

Synthwave, on the other hand, is a quite specialized genre that focuses just on the specific synth ‘80s sound and is intentionally made to sound retro.

How Do You Make Synthwave?

Synthwave can be made with either physical hardware synths or using synth plugins on your DAW.

Start learning how to use your synth in-depth and stop relying on presets—the best synth is the one you know best.

This way, you will get in-depth knowledge on how and why your synthesizer works the way it does. This will lead to you having total control over the sound and getting just what you need for your song, whether it is physical hardware or just a plugin.

In synthwave, the key is in the sound design, not lots of music theory knowledge.

As you’ve probably realized, synthwave songs don’t really necessarily have complicated melodies and tunes. They also don’t use tons of different instruments—drums, bass, and keyboard sounds are usually enough.

But, what they don’t have in numbers, they have in sound design. You have to be able to use those few sounds that you have in tons of different ways, which is where sound design comes into play.

If you’re looking for a more detailed list, good people on Reddit have made one available for beginners (read it here). There you can find advice on how to get started as well as the best software you can use, to begin with, so you don’t have to go through tons of garbage to find what you need.

When starting off, focus on the fundamentals, a synth or two, basic effects, and your song arrangements. As you learn more, you can start using other plugins.

Same as with the synthesizers, you should learn how to use your software to perfection. To start, you should focus on one or two basic synths, effects, and song arrangements.

This way, you will master the basics first, and once you do that, you can always add knowledge and improve your skill set and the sound of the finished product.


Synthwave has definitely made an impact and is here to stay. This type of music is quite specific and is destined to be a sub-genre forever, but if you like that sound, there is nothing better in the world.

This article tried to explain most of the things about synthwave music, but there is a lot more to know, so if you’re interested, you should search the internet more and you will find tons of interesting materials.

Brian Clark

Brian Clark

I’ve been a writer with Musician Wave for six years, turning my 17-year journey as a multi-instrumentalist and music producer into insightful news, tutorials, reviews, and features.

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