Join composer Lee Rosevere of audio drama Gr8 and Terrible as we take a trip into a retrowave soundtrack for a high school fantasy story. An immersive listening experience. Headphones recommended.
The piece of music we’re listening to now in the background is called Discovery. It’s a retrowave soundtrack from a fiction podcast called Gr8 And Terrible by A.R. Oliveri. Today we’ll break it down and get into what retrowave is and how and why this piece was put together. You’re listening to How I Make Music, where audio drama composers get to tell their own stories Every Wednesday, we break apart a song soundtrack or composition and take a trip into how it was made. My name is Lee Rosevere. I’m a composer in Charlottetown PEI in Canada and this is How I Make Music. Welcome back to How I Make Music Episode 84, Discovery, by me, Lee Rosevere.
01:12 Gr8 And Terrible audio drama
Gr8 And Terrible is a fiction podcast about a high school student that stumbles upon an ancient curse that grants immortality. But there’s a catch: every full moon she must kill someone or she’ll die.
01:26 80s influences
I was always a big fan of the 80s in general as being a child of the 80s and growing up and listening to all the pop music that was around at the time, including a lot of the synth artists. My first introduction to the synth world was probably Jean-Michel Jarre, the Equinox album that I owned on an eight track. Played it a lot. Then moved on to listening to pop songs that were hits at the time such as Axel F. Paul Hardcastle had a big hit with the song 19. Fly By Night by him was one that I listened to a lot. Take a listen.
The entire retrowave genre I rediscovered in 2012 or so by an artist named D/A/D. He put out an album called the Construct and one song on there particular called Love Will Make You Stay really caught my ear. What is this whole retrowave thing? I lived through this once already. So it’s kind of cool to go through it again because it’s just you know, firing all the nostalgia synapses. I was really taken with the whole sound and how it’s changed and what it was doing in the current time, and how it can sound somewhere in between the past and the future at the same time. I really taken with that and started listening to a lot of it and then decided that I think I’m going to try making some of this music. So retro wave is a bit of everything the past and the future all brought together with the sounds of the 80s but a lot of them have been amped up for current times. They’re mostly associated with movies from the 80s like the action, sci-fi or the horror movies. The Stranger Things soundtrack really brought the retrowave genre back and more recently in Kung Fury, which is actually scored by Zack Robinson, also bringing that sound even more into the mainstream than it was before. So some of the most common and instruments that are used in retro wave are a huge snare drums. Lots of reverb, which I am always a big fan of. Retro synths, like the ones from the 80s. I’m always drawn to spacey or ambient because that’s where all the influences are. And like Brian Eno’s music and other things all just kind of mush together.
04:46 Song breakdown
So I want to break down the song for you and show you some of the individual parts. It first started with this synth melody And then I brought some arpeggios into it. And there’s two basses going on at the same time here. The strings are an instrument called Manitron that I have used on practically all my stuff. There’s an organ pad that’s doubling up the main melody and adding a little bit more texture. There’s a synth called Futura, which is adding that brassy sound. The guitar is actually a sampled VST. I wish I could play guitar properly, I would have a lot more fun doing this kind of music. And there’s a little bit of a vocoder in there, which is an instrument used a lot in Daft Punk or Kraftwerk’s music.
06:41 Recording while composing
The bassline was played slightly differently each time because I couldn’t remember what I had played the time before. So I was just playing it from beginning to end in real time, and hopefully didn’t make a mistake. I was writing it and playing it at the same time. And this is actually a way they used to do it in the 70s. Before they had sequencers, they had to play all the parts in real time on real instruments. And if they messed up, they had to go back to the beginning and do it again. But there is something to be said for playing the song from beginning to end. And really kind of hearing how the whole thing sounds as it’s being composed, you know, as it goes along.
07:48 Sampled drums
Drums is my first instrument, but I didn’t play and I haven’t played drums on anything in years. So just because it’s so easier now to just like not well, the sounds are all there and they’re all perfectly recorded, I can just like hit a button. And there are no actual live drums on this because I wanted to have the authentic 80s drum sound, which means using drum samples or instruments from the times. Or with that kind of sound on it, because I can’t replicate it in the studio, the little studio I have. But obviously, you need that sound for this kind of song. Otherwise it just won’t sound right. The production of this music sounds better if it’s bigger. So up till halfway through the song I’m using a Linn drum machine for the kick and for the clap sound. But then I really wanted this next level to come in with a snare.
08:53 The 80s gated snare
So have this huge, huge snare drum sound. I was imagining Phil Collins or Peter Gabriel. It’s in your face. It’s got a lot of reverb on it and it just sounds massive. A lot of people are not fans of the gated snare sound that was very popular in the early 80s that Phil Collins basically created by accident. It was on a Peter Gabriel record “Intruder”. Here’s how it sounds. And Phil was playing drums and they were in the studio and he had just hit like this big drum sound this big word room and then they lifted the talkback and it just over-compressed sound came out and it just cut off. And they just thought that sounds awesome. So like they completely discovered it by accident, but then after that everybody copied it.
09:55 Rockit Maxx
I was trying to come up with the most 80s name I could possibly think of. And I did a combination of Rockit by Herbie Hancock and Max Headroom and put them together and added an extra x at the end of Max just to make it a little bit more cheesy. Here’s another snippet of one of the songs from the Rockit Maxx album. This is called LA Montage. A lot of the music that was written for this Rockit Maxx project was used with free VST s which are virtual instruments. I would always say to someone, don’t let the fact that it’s free stop you.
Well, that’s it for this week’s episode. We’ll listen to the full track in just a moment. But before we do that, thank you for listening to How I Make Music. You can catch new episodes every Wednesday on Spotify, Apple, or wherever else you get podcasts. We’ve been listening to the music featured in the audio drama called Gr8 And Terrible. To hear that full story or check out my other compositions, follow the links in the show notes. You can also check out what’s on offer at patreon.com/howimakemusic. Visit howimakemusic.com for more on the aims of the show. How I Make Music is created by John Bartmann. For audio experiences that keep people listening, contact John via the show notes. And now here’s Discovery in its entirety by my retrowave alter ego Rockit Maxx. My name is Lee Rosevere, and thanks for listening to How I Make Music. We’ll catch you next Wednesday.
* Rockit Maxx by Lee Rosevere on Bandcamp leerosevere.bandcamp.com/album/rockit-maxx
Jean-Michel Jarre – Equinoxe, Pt. 1
Paul Hardcastle – Fly By Night
D/A/D – Love Will Make You Stay
Mitch Murder – Enter The Fury
Lee Rosevere – L.A. Montage
ABOUT THIS SHOW
How I Make Music is a dramatically edited sound experience where behind-the-scenes musicians get to tell their own stories. Every Wednesday, we challenge audio drama composers to break apart a song, soundtrack or composition and get into why and how it was made.
How I Make Music is created by John Bartmann. For audio experiences that keep people listening, visit johnbartmann.com