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Making It Complex – A Short Guide To Layering Sounds

Guide To Layering Sounds

Overview

When you break down how layering sounds works, the things that come to mind about the subject relate to finding the right sounds to layer in the first place, things like creating the sequence beyond the foundation, or even how to avoid making it overkill with too many layered sounds. There’s a lot of different ways to make your sound complex.

When you are layering sounds on top of one another throughout time there’s a couple different approaches and a few different ways to consider how your sounds should be layered to give you an ideal, complete element to your track.

Some people ignore the idea of layering sounds completely and it can be evident in the lack of an inspired percussion track, or a pad synth that’s got all the air but is lacking the depth from a lower octave. So let’s talk about how to layer those sounds so we can start making some intelligent pieces of music together.

Stacking Drums

Every producer has his or her own individual way of doing this. Some group their sampler tracks in different FL Studio channels; others may use Ableton’s drum rack to build a plethora of sounds to choose from. Depending on the workstation & the user, the technicalities of how you stack your drum layers is up for interpretation.

Stacking your drums can work in many different ways. Using 3 snares instead of one can give you some different levels and dynamics to play within your mix, by taking the best elements of each sound and highlighting them to create a collective new one.

The basis of layering your sounds really revolves around putting sounds together to make one-shots you have never heard before. There’s plenty of times where I’ll catch myself using Maschine and eventually having an entire group dedicated to just those layered sounds.

Using your layered sounds to stack drums and build a beefier foundation for your track is never a bad idea.

Building a Complex Sequence With Familiar Elements & Layers of Sound

When working with a collaborator not too long ago, I was listening to a track he sent me that I fell in love with and really analyzed what was going on in the track.

The song started with some dreamy instrumentation and a 4-on-the-floor pattern, and then eventually it transitions into a cool half-time transition where the drums really get their moment to shine.

Sometimes, the best part about layering sounds is knowing that when you have a good set of sounds, taking them out of the song at the beginning and adding them into later parts can build extra sonic depth and give those patterns and sounds more meaning.

Along with how you sequence those layered sounds within the song, the way they are sequenced within their own groups and loops is very important too.

As an exercise, try taking some common percussive cadences from the elements of any genre, for this time we can say trap, say the sequence we wanna draw inspiration from comes through the hi-hats usually? Flip hat formula on its head and let an electronic rim shot carry that pattern.

When you layer a familiar element to a track with an unfamiliar sound texture, you create another layer of depth for your style to flourish in.

Conclusion

Complex percussion & layered sounds can be seen in the work of countless artists. Sometimes when you’re listening to your favorite artist and you say, “how did they get that kick? That snare? Those horns?” It really isn’t “one” sound.

Layering your sounds and sequencing them throughout the track can definitely serve its purpose of giving the listener a unique experience every time if you’re tossing in elements that they can focus on at various parts of the track.

Part of the beauty of music is that after we create it, the listener will enjoy and interpret it for what it is. So don’t get too caught up in a layer the right stack of snares to get a good pop, because sometimes you already may have enough in the first place.

About the author

Dom McLennon – US, 21-year-old musician and the member of the AliveSinceForever.com, creative collective. Experience in projects regarding recording, producing, directing, as well as many other skills in the group and beyond.
  • Ryan

    Layering sub-frequencies (kick drums for example) can introduce noticeable phasing issues. You may end up with a weaker kick drum due to the subtraction of low-frequency energy.

    • Think I’m at that spot now with my kickdrums. I have 3 in total, 2 come on top of the 1st, I totally like the top sound of them together, yet it’s not as full as I want it to be. Best would be to make them as one by removing all the low of the 2 other kicks and use use their tops to fill the main kick with the low-end. And to make sure they are at the same pitch. What you say?

    • Think I’m at that spot now with my kickdrums. I have 3 in total, 2 come on top of the 1st, I totally like the top sound of them together, yet it’s not as full as I want it to be. Best would be to make them as one by removing all the low of the 2 other kicks and use use their tops to fill the main kick with the low-end. And to make sure they are at the same pitch. What you say?

      • Ryan

        You’re idea of rolling-off the low frequencies is probably the best approach. This way you won’t get any lumpiness or power loss. But, you could do a test if you were unsure:

        Export one version with all kicks together (not rolled off), then export one version with two of the kicks rolled-off. You could then try each and compare which is more suitable to the music.

        If you examine them at sample level you could see if the waveform ‘looks’ healthy and loud. Also, always have kick drums in mono format (but you probably know that!). As long as it sounds loud enough and low enough, the phasing is probably fine.

      • Thanks for the reply and extra tips 🙂 In 2013 I started using visual aids, like a spectrum analyzer and oscilloscope. Very handy to ‘see’ sound 🙂

      • Ryan

        No problem – hope it works out.