How to build ’80s-style pads in NI Massive

If you’re drawn to the synth-heavy movie and TV soundtracks of the late ’70s and early-to-late ’80s, the rich, dense synth pads that feature so prominently in most of them are bound to have caught your ear.

With so many soft synths now offering complex, forever-evolving programs, it’s easy to forget that the instruments that originally produced those sounds were considerably less ‘sophisticated’. So, if you want to make a comparable sound from scratch, you need to keep things simple.

Here, we'll build a synth pad from scratch in Massive, demonstrating that nearly all of the sonic richness comes from basic oscillator shapes, detune, simple filtering, careful envelope shaping and – cheating slightly – a sprinkling of effects…

For more on producing retro synth soundtracks, pick up the June edition of Future Music.

Step 1: We start with Massive’s default patch. We select Square-Saw II, Sin-Square and Square-Saw I as Oscillator types and detune them to build a broad pitch base. We set up Envelope 1 as a modulation source for the Amplifier in each, and lengthen the Attack time slightly.

Step 2: We dial in some White Noise and set up twin 4-pole and 2-pole low-pass filters. These are both slightly modulated by Envelope 2 to give some bite to each note. We modify the main Amp Envelope (4), to provide a slightly softer start to each note.

Step 3: We set FX1 to Phaser, with a slow Rate, plenty of Feedback and Depth but a subtle Dry/Wet balance. We set FX2 to Reverb with fairly large Size and Density amounts but a dull overall Colour. Again, we favour the Dry signal.

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