Layering sounds is another great technique that if used well, can give life to a song and make a thin groove sound thick. In this tutorial we’ll look at how to use the layering technique effectively.
To create a rich and full sound using layering, you need to select your sounds carefully. This is the most important aspect of layering sounds together. You’ll need to be creative about it and choose sounds that wont cause any muddiness, masking or phase cancellation.
Make sure that each sound is dominating it’s own frequency range and dynamic signature. It doesn’t matter how many sounds you add, the aim is to make the final results sound great. Below I have some examples that I hope will give you ideas on how you can use layering more effectively in your production.
Layering Bass Sound
For this example I’ll show you how to use a simple high and low shelf equalizer to achieve a full and unique bass sound by layering 2 different bass sounds that occupy different frequencies. Check out the original bass sounds below:
As you can hear, they are dominating different frequencies. Bass 1 has more high-end and attack, bass 2 has more low frequencies. That makes them a good combination because they wont fight for space in the mix.
To help them gel together I had to do a few processing tricks which I’ll show you. First thing I did was to change the envelope of Bass 1 by cutting out a bit of its attack and also shortened the release. I didn’t change the envelope on bass 2.
I did that so that they don’t kick-in at the same time. Then I added an EQ to make sure each bass is dominating the right frequencies without interfering with each other.
All I did was to add a high pass filter on Bass 1 and a low pass filter on Bass 2. As shown in the images below:
You have to keep in mind that this is not the final EQ adjustments. These settings are for blending the 2 sounds together and you’ll also need to make some adjustments to make your final bass sit well in the mix.
Right after adding the EQ I decided to send both bass sounds to a buss channel so that I can add compression to glue them together. After adding some compression I then added some tape saturation to add warmth and crunch. Listen to the final results of the 2 bass sounds blended together.
Final Bass Sound
Layering Piano Sounds
For our next example I’ll show you a really neat trick I use to layer an Acoustic Piano with an Electric Piano without using an EQ. This trick was used in a lot of classic deep house songs. This creates a really great lush and atmospheric effect.
The 1st thing you’ll need to do is choose 2 sounds that work well together and don’t dominate the same frequency. I chose a good Classic MK1 Suitcase electric piano to dominate the low-end and a Grand Piano for the higher frequencies.
Check out the original audio examples below:
For processing, I’m only going to use an auto-filter, delay and reverb effects. The auto-filter will be the only effect in the inserts and the other 2 will be on return channels.
Just so you don’t get confused, Piano 1 is the acoustic piano (Grand Piano) and Piano 2 is the electric piano (Suitcase). This time I wont do anything to the envelope, the auto-filter will take care of that.
Insert the auto-filter in the electric piano channel strip. For this example I used the Classic Auto-Filter by Kjaerhus Audio. The settings are as shown in the image below:
After that I added a delay and reverb effect to add more depth and space. This also pushes the electric piano at the back in the mix for the grand piano to shine. If you want to learn some effective ways to use both reverb and delay then check out my previous blog posts. The final thing to do is to find a good balance for the 2 sounds to work well together.
I didn’t add any other processing for this example but I would encourage you to add EQ to remove unwanted frequencies and compression to glue them together. Check out the 2 sounds after adding an auto-filter, delay and reverb.
Final Piano Sound
Layering sounds can be a lot of fun and tricky as well. Some sound design knowledge can really help you create really great sounds, so do invest some time learning sound design especially for the specific VST you use for your production.
What’s fun about this is that there is no wrong or right way to do it, you just fiddle around till you come up with something dope. I hope this tutorial does give you some ideas about how you’re going to use this technique to make your production sound bigger.
Another tip would be to play around with the layered sounds in your arrangement, but that’s only if they sound good when isolated. Have fun and be creative with it.
Below I have 2 great videos as additional info for this tutorial. One is about layering synth sounds and the other is about layering drum sounds. Enjoy and leave your questions and comments below.