Synthwave Top 10

Brian Hazard of Color Theory here.

I spend hours every week curating my Vocal Synthwave Retrowave playlist, which I update on Friday nights.

I thought it would be fun to highlight the best of the best once a month in the form of a countdown.

You can enjoy the top 10 with a smattering of audio commentary by yours truly as a podcast or on Soundcloud:

If you want to hear the songs blabber-free, you can listen on YouTube or follow the playlist on Spotify:

However you choose to listen, you’re in for a treat! This isn’t just a rundown of the usual suspects. If you love discovering hidden gems as much as I do, you’ve come to the right place.

As this is a work in progress, I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions! You can email me at colortheory@colortheory.com or hit me up on social media using the pretty icons at the bottom of the page.

If you’d like to get to know me and my music a little better, I’d love to send you three of my best songs when you join my mailing list. Your email address is safe with me and you can always unsubscribe whenever you like.


Thanks for listening!

Brian signature

And now I shall attempt to anticipate your questions…

Who died and made you the God of Synthwave™?

Assembling a top ten list is inherently presumptuous. It’s important to understand that my choices are a reflection of my subjective tastes, and not meant as any sort of objective declaration of quality or worth.

Moreover, I’m not declaring myself the ultimate arbiter of what is or isn’t synthwave. I’m open to all 80s-influenced synth-driven pop that doesn’t sound like “Blinding Lights.”

As for my personal qualifications, I’ve been releasing 80s-inspired synthpop records as Color Theory since 1994. In my “day job” as a mastering engineer, I’ve worked on over a thousand electronic music releases. Prior to all that, I earned a Bachelor of Music degree in Piano Performance from California State University, Long Beach.

How come no Mitch Murder, MAVS, Com Truise, Waveshaper, etc?

I’m highlighting the best synthwave songs, which by definition have lyrics, which by definition have vocals.

I love instrumental synthwave as much as the next guy, but I produce vocal synthwave myself, which is what inspired me to create the Vocal Synthwave Retrowave playlist that the top 10 is derived from.

That said, I’m always on the lookout for vocal features or remixes from otherwise instrumental artists!

How do you select the top 10?

The beginning of each month, I pick 10 favorites from my playlist adds for the previous month.

I’m looking for charismatic vocals (not just vocoder), obvious 80s elements, traditional verse/chorus song structures, and synth driven-arrangements.

I place a high value on production quality, but ultimately great songwriting rules the day. Lyrical clichés are a deal-breaker!

How do I get my song on the playlist?

Submit it to me on SubmitHub. It’ll cost you $2, half of which goes to me.

I get too many submissions to field them a la carte, so don’t bother with an Instagram DM.

But isn’t that payola?

No, it’s not. You’re paying for my time, not for placement. When all is said and done it amounts to about $10 per hour.

That $2 is basically a discouragement fee. If I accepted free submissions, I’d have hundreds more to work through, most of which would be grossly off target.

Why are there more than 10 songs?

I can’t very well rank my own stuff, but I don’t want to disqualify it either. If I release a new track in a given month, I’ll include it as a bonus “dishonorable mention.”

Why is your song always at the top of the VSR playlist, you greedy bastard?

I promote the playlist with Facebook and Instagram ads, which always feature the opening track. That way prospective listeners know they’ve come to the right place.

For a full breakdown of my playlist promotion methods, check out this article on my Passive Promotion blog.

Why bother with a top 10? Isn’t the playlist enough?

If Spotify notified listeners when playlists were updated, there might not be a need. As it stands, few listeners religiously check for updates.

The top 10 provides another opportunity to support the artists and the scene, and will hopefully increase playlist listenership in the process.

As a side benefit, the selection process helps me to better understand what I like in music, so that I can improve my own.

Why so many formats? Why not just release a podcast and be done with it?

I may end up doing just that, but I don’t know what people will take to. It’s not that much more work to host it on SoundCloud and YouTube.

If the top 10 catches on, I may create a dedicated website, SoundCloud account, YouTube channel, or all of the above!

back to colortheory.com