3 Ways to Make Your Music More Exciting With Layering

 

Modern music production is all about the larger-than-life sounds, and layering is at the heart of it. 

In short, layering is simply the combination of two or more complimentary sounds. It's an effective studio technique that will add a sense of depth, emotion and character to your music. With a little layering, your tracks, EPs and albums will sound alive. 

Check out these three layering techniques to add a new dimension to your music. 


1. Ambience

A layer of ambience is a great way to give depth and texture to your track.  

A warm synth or drone nicely tucked into the background of your track will do wonders when it comes to filling out your sound. Field recordings of rain, wind or vinyl crackle also work. Ambient sounds act as the glue that keeps the thinner parts of your track together.  

When adding ambient layers, make sure there aren't any fighting frequencies. Adjust the highs, mids and lows of each sound in your layer so your final mix doesn't sound cluttered. 

Listen to this hip-hop loop without any layering: 

And now the same loop with a rain recording layered on top at a low volume. It adds texture, detail and emotion, in part through the visual imagery of rain. Download the synth sample for free on Outro.

 

2. Panning

Duplicate tracks that need a little excitement and pan them to the left or right of the original. Doing this will make your music sound full and bright. Try the panning technique out on vocal samples, synths or just about any sound with a sustained tone. 

Listen to this house loop without any layering: 

And now same loop, with two duplicates of the synth track. The first duplicate is transposed up 12 semitones and panned to the right, and the second duplicate is transposed up 24 semitones and panned to the left. The lower frequencies of the duplicate synth tracks are EQed out. The loop takes on a new life—it's more dynamic and has a better sense of movement. All it took was a few layers. Download the drum loop and synth sample for free on Outro. 

You can also try: 

  • Adding FX to the duplicates
  • Reversing the duplicates
  • Automating panning throughout the track to create a moving layer of sound

 

3. Sample Stacking

Layering drum samples is a surefire way to make your music sound punchier, groovier and more interesting. 

There are a couple combinations that work really well:

  • Attack vs. sustain
    Combine a textural sample that has a unique sustain with another sample that has a punchy or quick attack. Be wary when it comes to pitch-shifting these samples—drastic changes in pitch will change up the sonic qualities you found compelling in the first place. 
     
  • Toning
    Mix and match sounds that occupy different parts of the frequency spectrum so they sound bigger together. They should compliment each other tonally. For example, pair a mid-range kick with a fat sub bass, or a vocal sample to a snare. 
     
  • Get Weird
    Move away from thinking of your drum kit in traditional terms (kick-drum-snare-hi-hat etc.). Combine multiple samples together and experiment with extreme effects and EQ. Work them into a rhythm and you'll have a great foundation for your track.  

With all of these options, remember to EQ out any competing frequencies so your samples don't sound forced or obviously composite. And keep in mind that sometimes you do find the perfect drum sound, and in that case keep it as it. Some samples don't need any layering.  

Get stacking with these free drum samples on Outro. 
 

Laying It All Out

Add layers using ambience, panning and sample stacking. It will make your music more exciting. 

Spend some time experimenting to find the right combinations of sound that will add texture, depth and detail to your music. Listen to a few layering pros to find out how they do it: BurialBrian Eno, Jan Jelinek

How do you use layering in your music? 

Let us know in the comments section down below.


Daniel Dixon

Daniel is a music producer with a love for breakbeats and basslines. Content writer at Outro.
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