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Layering Synths

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I don't post here all that often, but I thought perhaps I could get some help with this. I've noticed a lot of guides on creating effective synth parts recommend layering several tracks on top of each other - I've tried to do it myself but I have utterly no idea how to get it right. Whenever I make 2 synth patches and layer them together it just sounds like a mess. Can anyone give me some tips?

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Since a sound file says more than a thousand words - upload one of the things you've tried. Soundcloud, or mp3 attachment here, whatever works.

Are the things you layer in the same frequency range?

Do they have sequencing going on - e.g. rhythmical patterns?

http://theheartcore.com/music/ni_pads.mp3 features 3 layers - kind of forgot what they were, but I think FM8, Massive and Absynth were involved. This is a pretty huge sound - so the rest of the mix has to take a backseat for a moment, if I'd use it in a song. That's an important consideration, too.

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Using sounds with a similar sound will produce a richer sound, which works well if you want the phat and complexity, but if you're looking for a thin, pure, clear sound you either use different sounds (thin, rhythmic, warm, clear, noisy etc) and combine them, or you just don't layer and instead find other ways to work with the sound.

In any case, layered sounds should usually be processed together, at least at some stage. I would route them both to the same aux/bus and apply compression and eq and wjatever else there. Any edits Id wanna make I can still do on their own channels, but they're still under the same compr and eq. That way I can control the combined sound and keep it from being overpowering or mud up the mix.

Ultimately, you gotta figure this stuff out with your own daw and your own ears, figure out what work for the sounds you use and in the styles you do.

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  • 2 weeks later...

You need to know what kind of sound you want first. When you find a synth sound you like, think of what would enhance it, depending on the sound that you're going for.

For example, if you want a distorted lead, you might find a mid range synth and then add the distortion to it. If the distortion is low fi, you might want to look for a thinner sounding high frequency synth that you could high pass filter, and add some light phasing. Then you could add both together with a touch of reverb/delay. That could give you a clean/distorted sound that would cut nicely through a full mix.

Panning '10 and 2' helps, especially with pad layers.

You don't always need to layer your synth sounds, sometimes all it needs is some processing. Chorus does wonders for lead synths.

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I try not to layer too many synths, except maybe leads. Most of the time I use synths to add texture and harmony, and the occasional lead/solo. And since drowning them in layers or effects can muddy things up very quickly, I tend to keep them dry and punchy. (though, even having them concentrate on counterpoint and harmony can still cause them to get overloaded and muddy at times)

It all depends on the song though, here's a little snippet of just the synths from one of my songs:


As you can hear there's nothing layered, it's all very dry because there's going to be another layer of samples over it (strings, keys, pads, more synths) and a big drumkit, and about 8 tracks of distorted guitars.

Here's a clip of some more synths going over that, these have some effects on them to add depth:


And here's a clip of the guitars:


And here's a clip of the drums and some backing synths. This one is unmixed so you get very roomy drums and the synths/guitars are low in the background).


And here is a clip of the drums after some mixing and effects:


So if you mix all that together (except for the unmixed drums one) you'll get an idea of how I use synths.

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