Typical 80s sequenced synth workflow?

famous beagle

Well-known member
Curious if anyone has any insight on this. I've gotten into synths a good bit over the past 10 years (guitar is my main instrument), and I've been curious about the typical workflow that bands used in the 80s for a song with a prominent synth track, whether it's a bass line, arpeggios, etc.

Let's take Van Halen's "I'll Wait," for example (a criminally underrated VH track, IMHO). I could see the intro riff being played live, but there's that middle breakdown section before the guitar solo that certainly sounds sequenced. (I could be wrong, but it sounds very even to me). There's also the synth bass throughout most (if not all) of the track. So, my question is, what's the workflow for something like this?

Was it commonplace to stripe the tape with time code right away for a song like this with the foresight that sequenced parts could be added later? I suppose an alternative is to sequence out all the keys parts for the whole song first and then simply record those onto tape, overdubbing the rest of the instruments to that? Of course, that would require that you have the entire song mapped out before you start recording.

Were there other possible ways of doing it back then besides those two ways?

The reason I'm asking is because, although I certainly have a digital rig that I use for work and some other things where I need the convenience, I prefer to record to tape for my "fun" stuff. And so I'm wondering what the best way is to integrate some synths into my workflow. I know that playing the synths live to tape is always an option, but you're limited in that regard with the tweaking of the parameters, etc.

Just wondering if anyone has any insight on this. Thanks!
I have a few synths and am a guitar player for a long time playing live for a long time. Played with a lot of good keyboard players. They were very good at piano and organ but when it came to the synths they approached them in the same way. I have only worked with a very few keyboardists who knew how to unlock their real potential. This guy was one of them, he played all the keys on this. His problem was we had to beat him to death. He could play his ass off, classical, rock, jazz, as long as he was playing to his own drummer. He had a very difficult time playing with others. I don't know how many takes this took. We left in the sour note just before the second verse because it kind of fit the opening line of the second verse and we just weren't going through it again lol. This is from multiple tracks cobbled together. He could have made good money being a lounge lizard. Eventually I decided I had to let him go and he as a good friend. I call the drummer who is another good friend of both of us. I am explaining no matter how much we love him and how well he plays alone we have to let him go he is just holding us back. I didn't know the speakerphone was on and he was sitting next to the drummer.
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