5 Ways to Layer Synth Sounds

Ever thought your track sounds one dimensional with no width or depth. This blog post well tell you how to make your track sound bigger.

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By Adrian Earnshaw

There will be times when you have finished writing your latest masterpiece but the overall sound feels one dimensional. In this blog post, I will briefly share with you 5 tips on how to add a little spice to your sounds to make your track sound more rounded. Although I use Steinberg Cubase these tips require no specific DAW or synthesizer. So without further ado, tip 1 is on its way below.

1. Similar Sounding Synthesizer Patches

Okay, this one may sound very obvious, but it is surprising to forget this in the heat of composition. Layering two similar-sounding patches together can help thicken up the sound, however, caution is required.

If the patches sound too similar a buildup of frequencies will occur thus making the whole synth line sound perceptually louder. Naturally, this may lead to problems when it comes to balancing the mix. 

When choosing your complementary sound you may want to go for something similar but with slightly different characteristics. You can then EQ out the unwanted frequencies.

As an example, if the sound has a nice high-end sheen that you like, you may want to EQ out the bass end below between 40hz – 80hz. This would give your other sound room to breathe without sounding muddy.

“If the patches sound too similar a buildup of frequencies will occur thus making the whole synth line sound perceptually louder.”

2. Opposite Sounding Synth Patches

Just as we use similar-sounding synth patches, how about using ones that do not share sound qualities in common. What do I mean by this?

As an example, you have a nice blade runner synth type lead but it just lacks bite at the beginning, the attack stage of the sound. You could shorten the attack but this may destroy the vibe you are after on that patch. Why not find a more percussive sound and layer it?

You will then get the percussive attack from one sound leading into the slow release of the main synth patch. This little trick can work in reverse as well. You may have a nice percussive sound but want a longer release stage with a tonal difference. Design or locate a single patch that fits those characteristics and layer the two sounds together.

In the mixing stage, you can then easily EQ out the irrelevant frequencies so that the two patches are not competing for the same sound stage.

3. Layering Ambient Sounds

Yep, good old nature can provide some interesting twists to spice up your sounds. You may want some gentle running water or background city murmurings on your recording. Layer these up with your synth patch to provide a whole new soundscape. 

The time-honoured classic is that of vinyl static, the sound of an old record being played. This type of backing can give your track an old-style recording feel but don’t overdo it as it can get annoying if kept running for the whole 3 minutes 30 seconds of your track.

To add a different take to your ambient sound you could mangle it by using a resonator plugin or something like Soundtoys Crystallizer plugin.

4. Avoid Repetition

As the saying goes ‘You can have too much of a good thing’. Using one type of sound throughout the whole track can get boring very quickly, no matter how unique it sounds. Try to mix things up and have a palette of sound for the track and bring them in out. 

It is, however, a good idea to keep at least one of the synth sounds common throughout the track. This helps make the track not sound too disjointed and provides a connection through the whole piece. It also provides the listener with a continuous reference point to return to.

What I mean by this is if you have a percussive sound layered with your main synth lead, when you reach the chorus or move to another section change one of them. To make all the previous tips add width to your track we move to the final tip.

5. Pan, Pan and Pan Some More

Now we have layered our synth patches to make something new, it is easy to add width and dimension by panning the sounds. How, you do this depends on the number of synth sounds you have layered.

One word of warning though, do not layer too many sounds together. I would suggest no more than two or three different synth patches. Done right you won’t have too many competing frequencies. All this will help you avoid muddying the sound stage.

If you have similar-sounding patches layered you may consider panning them 30% left and the other 30% right. Where you have layered three sounds together you can get a nice soundscape by panning two sounds opposite each other but keeping the stronger sound out of the three in the centre.

Conclusion

I hope this little insight into how I go about creating layered sounds for my tracks is useful. If you have any questions or ideas of your own please feel free to leave them in the comments below. You can always drop me a message using the form on the contact page. 

You never know it could inspire another article in which you will have a personal mention. I will also use the post to promote your music.

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