For The Love Of Retro Soundtracks

Over the past few years, we have seen a resurgence in nostalgic 80’s music within film, TV and video games. It’s no surprise, as trends will usually come around full circle, but this new breed of soundtrack, packed with playful homages has created an aesthetically pleasing sound that has given an edge to their selected mediums. Here at ThinkSpace Education, we have taken a look at some of our favourite retro soundtracks that have been used in recent years.

Stranger Things

Stranger Things has been in charge of everyone’s Netflix accounts since its release this July. Created by the Duffer brothers, the supernatural period drama is known for its strong 80’s aesthetic, which has been a focal point of discussion. This has filled message boards with topics ranging from listing all of its references to the reasoning of the show’s font choices.

The soundtrack has been no exception.

retro soundtrack

With collaboration of throbbing bass lines, the iconic 80s Roland Juno and sparkling synth patches, the soundtrack is remembering a moment of time, paying tribute to many well-loved 80s films.

Or does it?

A large part of the dialogue around Stranger Things has been concerned with how ‘authentic’ it is. With comparisons to 90’s ambient techno and a very purposeful attempt from Michael Stein to avoid “80s Cheese,” there is a differentiation between Stranger Things and actual soundtracks from the time.

Despite this, Stranger Things is one of the most immersive period pieces created today and whilst we can praise Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein for their work, we can look at this as a trend that has stretched beyond traditional media.


retro soundtracks

Blood drenched, psychosis enduring, hyper-violent are just some of the words that have been described about Dennaton Games, Hotline Miami. A major aspect of the game is it’s music…although, Hotline Miami’s soundtrack should never have worked.

For those who aren’t familiar with the game, Hotline Miami was a cult indie hit back in 2012, with a soundtrack filled with licensed electro tracks pulled from Myspace and Bandcamp and absolutely zero interactivity built into the score.

On paper, this should have been a car crash. Instead, we were left with a thumping, David Lynch-esque sound that set a tense atmosphere as you see your character spiralling towards on-screen destruction.

Rich with the same ‘retro’ synth aesthetic, and using the same techniques such as filtering melodies over one another and throbbing bass sequences. Hotline Miami delivered the tone of the 80s, but using 80s cheese only as purposeful decoration, and not as a foundation.

What To Take Away

This approach is a great lesson in examining detail, research, and what to bring to your composition and what to leave behind.

Imagine working on a period piece, up to your neck in research and scraping over each and every element, such as Googling the perfect Lyre VST and trying to transpose your melody into a Hungarian minor scale…well, it can get too much.

Putting recreation above the service of the scene, you are ignoring the actual needs of the media. It becomes all icing and no cake. The other side of the argument is that harmonic and melodic structures of the past are not antiques being dusted off for you, but methods that have been continually employed for centuries to connote emotion.

You won’t be the first to plunder the musical structures of the past and you need to be aware of not just the methods that originate from the time period, but how that musical idea is used, whether in opera, film or popular music.

Have any of these soundtracks influenced you as a composer? To learn more about composition, whether for film, TV or games, take a look at our website or drop us a line.

And if you are wanting to dig deeper into the practical creation behind these soundtracks, why not check out the video below going into the synths used on Stranger Things and their individual patches.

About the Author
Matt Lightbound

Matt Lightbound

Matt is at the helm of all the things video game related. He's worked in the industry as a sound designer, composer, audio editor and voice casting/directing.

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