With an aesthetic that harkens back to a simpler time and a subculture (and meme) in its own right, vaporwave is hyperreal music and art genre born of the early 10s internet.
Vaporwave’s sound is characterized by its heavy recycling of 80s and 90s pop, dance and new age sounds combined with influences from R&B, shoegaze and chopped ‘n’ screwed hip-hop. The resulting morass of slow-motion musical tropes creates a dreamlike vibe that can be soporific, funky, uneasy, or anywhere in between. 80s and 90s drum machines sounds, washed out synths, big bass and breathy vocal effects are common elements in vaporwave music, and lo-fi processing is often used to give tracks the impression of being transferred from an archaic format such as VHS or early, low-bitrate internet audio.
In this tutorial, we’ll show you how to create your own vaporwave beat using BandLab, our free online music-making software that includes virtual instruments, drum kits and samples designed for creating music in a wide variety of genres.
1. Beginning with a rhythmic idea
Rhythm-wise, vaporwave tracks are dominated by kick and snare or clap sounds, and these will more often than not have a retro drum machine vibe. So, we’ll start by adding a virtual instrument track, and setting it to Drum Pads and Prince Kit.
Before we begin sequencing our drum hits we’ll drop the tempo down to 90 BPM for that syrupy feel, then we’ll add kicks on the 1st, 8th, 10th and 11th sixteenth notes, with claps on the second and fourth beats of the bar.
2. Developing the rhythm
Vaporwave tracks tend not to have hats that play through the beat, insteads they’re used to provide smaller rhythmic flourishes. Let’s add closed hats on the 3rd, 4th and 12th sixteenth notes.
This completes the rhythm that our beat will be based around, but the basic clap sound from the Prince Kit isn’t full enough on its own to create the vaporwave vibe we’re after.
3. Building a bigger clap
Fear not: we can make a more authentic vaporwave clap sound using samples from BandLab’s loop library. Click the Loops button to bring up the library, then select the Loops tab and enter “claps” into the search text field. Drag Latin Groove Claps onto a new track.
We need this live-sounding clap to feel a bit beefier, so in the Effects tab click the + button to add a new effect, and select Dynamics > GTR Squeeze. Turn the effect’s Sustain level up to 5.0 to emphasise the clap’s reverb tail a little more.
4. Creating an ephemeral feel
That’s the drum part composed, let’s add an audio loop to make sure that it fits the vibe we’re after. In the loop browser search for “Vapour” and drag Vapour Guitar 2 onto a new audio track. This will automatically set the project’s key to that of the loop, D major, and the loop will automatically be timestretched to for the project’s 90 BPM tempo.
We want this part to feel more dreamlike, so in the Effects tab add the Reverb > Studio Reverb effect.
5. Adding a beefy bass line
We’re going to compose a very simple four-bar bass line to underpin our vaporwave beat and instrument part, so copy out the existing parts to four bars in length by holding [alt] on Windows or [option] on Mac, then dragging them over.
Next create a new virtual instrument track and set its category to Synth Bass and its instrument to Sine Bass. Sequence this to play B1 for two bars, then F#1 for two bars.
This sub doesn’t feature much in harmonic content above the fundamental frequency, so let’s make it feel a little beefier by distorting it slightly. In the Effects tab add a new effect, selecting Distortion > BL Driver. This adds a little too much harmonic richness, so turn down the Drive knob to 0.8.
6. Adjusting levels
We have the basic elements of a vaporwave track, but the mix isn’t quite right – the Vapour Guitar and Sine Bass tracks are a little too loud. Use the horizontal Volume faders on these tracks to reduce their volume. Set the Vapour Guitar 02 track to -8.4dB or so, and the Sine Bass track to around -5.1dB.
So that’s how you make a vaporwave beat on BandLab!
Watch this space for more tips, tricks and tutorials on more beatmaking basics on BandLab. Subscribe to our YouTube channel for more video tutorials on music production techniques.