Computer Music magazine reminds us, in their July 2014 article 5 Steps to Producing Perfect 80s Pop, why the 1980’s is a musical decade we definitely don’t want to forget. Here is a list of things that make 80s music so unique.
1. Synth Arpeggios
Hardware synthesizers often featured onboard arpeggiators. The classic up/down pattern was common and often had a ping-pong delay effect added to create further movement to the sound. Also, fat synth leads were often featured as you can hear on a track like Don’t You Want Me? by The Human League.
2. Beat Programming
Drum tracks featured distinctive sounds from drum machines like the Oberheim DMX & Roland TR series. When it came to programming the drums plenty of synthetic toms, cowbells and delayed claps were applied. Also, kick drums didn’t sound as heavy as they do now, instead the power came from the percussive snare. You can hear the effect on tracks like Take Me Home by Phil Collins.
3. Vocal Reverb
There are distinctive elements to '80s vocals, especially from British artists. The vocals were often sung dramatically with vibrato. In addition, the lack of pitch and timing correction meant that singers’ shortcomings couldn’t be corrected digitally.
Slapback delay and harmonization would often thicken up dry vocals. Also, reverb was used liberally to create the expression of epic halls or cave-like spaces. You can hear the effect on tracks like Shout by Tears for Fears.
4. Bass Bounce
The sound of a bouncy bass playing eighth-notes is a standard '80s pop sound. A square wave was often applied as you can hear in Blue Monday by New Order.
Remember this was the era of two-inch tape recording not digital. This made the final production sound very wide and solid - very 80s.
My latest album “Not That I’m Crazy” features the Roland Jupiter-8 and other sounds from the 80s.