The concept of layering in music is very simple. The goal is to take several sounds and stack them on top of each other to make a fuller, fatter sound. This will make your track sound professionally done!
To start, I typically find or create a favorite loop. This acts as my base. Then, I find another track to ” stack” over my base loop. I’ll play the 2 tracks together, stop, and add a third track. I do this until I accomplish my goal of a fatter sound.
However, sometimes I layer with a different goal in mind. And that is what we’ll be discussing.
Why do we layer tracks?
Artists all over the world layer tracks to find Inspiration. You’ve heard of writers block right? Musical artist run into this wall all the time. There is an infinite amount of possibilities in music. It can become overwhelming to think about all the different ways we can arrange audio.
That’s why we layer; it almost does the thinking for us.
I know plenty of artists who layer totally unrelated tracks together to find inspiration. Have you ever put Death Metal and Jazz together? It gets weird. Personally I have a hard time thinking creatively with that technique. I usually layer closely related tracks or I do something called dynamic layering
If you want to try out this method, you’re going to need an arpeggio and I like to have at least three different (digital) instruments ready to go on my DAW.
In attempt to make the explanation a bit easier to understand, I broke the process down,
- Create or find a favorite sample to use as your base. I would advise you to keep the loop a simple chord progression if you are a beginner.
- Duplicate your sample and layer that in time with your original sample. You can have as many duplicates as you desire.
- Assign a sound or texture to your duplicate sample (Preferably a sound different from your original sample).
- Assign an arpeggio or note randomizer to your duplicate sample.
- Hit play and make adjustments to fit your taste! Make sure to experiment!
Ben does an excellent job explaining this concept. Please click the link below to hear his explanation.
In the video, did you notice how Ben changed the speed of the arpeggio and made adjustments to his synths? Try your best to experiment with all your options! I’ve learned so much about sound engineering and creative producing using this technique and I know you will too.
As I mentioned before, you can absolutely layer unrelated samples together. Personally, I don’t do this often, but there a lot of artists that do and have seen great results.
Understand that you will most likely have to make a lot of adjustments to your samples. Make sure you dedicate one sample as your base and build off from that. You will make all of your key changes and other adjustments around the base sample.
If you do not have a DAW that is able to change the key in different samples. I would suggest sticking with dynamic.
Wait! There’s More!
Another layering technique I should note, is Harmonic Layering
Harmonic layering is typically a technique used by vocalists, but this concept can also be applied to digital sounds. To be polite, we’ll use the vocalist in our example.
Think of it as a one-man a Capella group.
Let’s say this particular track we are recording is in C major. The vocalist will sing a G to provide the higher, and brighter sample, followed by a mid-range sample, in which he will sing an E. And finally, a C will be sung to provide a bass sample. The artist will then layer those three recordings together in time, creating a triad!
Band layering is another great way to build your track and find a little inspiration. This technique is great for testing samples to see if they compliment each other (according with your taste of course)!
The procedure is simple,
- Find or create 3 to 5 samples you like
- Throw them into your track
- Make sure to make the right adjustments to key change or tempo if needed
Notice how in this technique, I never mentioned a base sample. You can for sure start with a base sample if you want! But sometimes it’s fun have a bit of randomness in your creative process. And sometimes it makes great music!
There is No Limit
In the end, layering is layering! Sure, there are a few techniques that are helpful, but do not restrict yourself to these. Get creative and build your own techniques!
Again, the goal in layering is typically used for creating a full, fat, sound. Usually after a melody is produced and the track is partially organized. But you can use layering from the very beginning! It will make you see sides of music you’ve never seen and create styles that were foreign to you before.
It’s a great tool to have in your pocket, and you should use it when you can.