Layering combines sounds. Most synths and samplers allow layering within a single preset. If not, or if all layers are already in use, you can usually layer complete presets. These layering tips can improve how synths and samplers feel in a mix.

  • Add dynamics. Layering two sounds with different velocity responses can add exciting dynamic effects. For example, one layer could have no velocity response and provide the main sound, while a second layer, with a harder or more percussive sound, could respond fully to velocity so that it plays only with higher-velocity notes.
  • Stronger leads. Use the same synth sound for both layers. As in the above example, one layer provides the main sound and has no velocity. Detune a second layer slightly compared to the other layer. Use maximum velocity response on the detuned one so that hitting it harder brings in the layer to create chorusing. Normally chorusing tends to diffuse the sound a bit, but because the detuned layer increases the overall level when played, the sound is bigger and fatter.
  • Fuller acoustic guitar or piano sound. Layer a sine wave along with the guitar or piano’s lower notes. To attenuate the sine wave at higher notes, modulate the sine wave’s amplitude negatively according to keyboard note position (i.e., the higher you play on the keyboard, the lower the sine wave level). Also keep the overall level low—just enough to provide a slight psycho-acoustic boost.
  • Bigger harp sounds. Layer a triangle wave with harp, and adjust the triangle’s amplitude envelope so that it’s the same as the harp envelope. The triangle wave provides depth, while the sample provides detail and realism. Initially set the triangle wave to the lowest possible level, then bring it up slowly to taste. Keep it subtle.
  • Add some male voices to an ethereal female choir. Layer a triangle wave tuned an octave lower with the female choir. This gives a powerful bottom end that sounds like males singing along. To maintain the ethereal quality in the upper registers, modulate the triangle wave amplitude by keyboard position to reduce the amplitude on higher notes.
  • Larger-than-life string sounds. String synthesizers of the 70s, based on sawtooth or pulse waves, created rich, syrupy string sounds that weren’t super-lifelike, but nonetheless sounded pretty cool. Sampled strings sound more realistic, but may lack the smoothness of analog simulations. For the best of both worlds, dial up a sawtooth or pulse wave, and adjust its envelope for as realistic a string sound as possible. Now layer it behind a string section sample, and the synthesized waveform will supplement the digital waveform with a smooth, analog quality.
  • Strengthen attacks. Take advantage of the fairly complex attacks found in bass sounds (slap bass, synth bass, plucked acoustic bass, etc.). Transpose a bass waveform up one or two octaves, and layer it behind the primary sound. Add a fairly rapid decay to the bass so that its sustain doesn’t become a major part of the composite sound.
  • Hybrid pitched sounds. Percussion instruments, when played across a keyboard, acquire a sense of pitch. Layering these with conventional melodic samples can yield hybrid sounds that are melodic, but have complex and interesting transients. Cowbell is one of my favorite samples for this application. Claves, triangle dropped down an octave, struck metal, and other pitch-friendly percussion sounds can also give good results.
  • Not using waveforms as intended. Some tweaks create entirely new presets if you apply a sound “incorrectly.” These sounds may even work on their own, without layering. I’ve stumbled on some wonderful “electric piano” sounds by transposing electric bass sounds up an octave or two.

  Craig Anderton

thank you for visiting!

​​​​​​Web Resources

YouTube Channel with music videos, instructional videos, and more

Craig Anderton Interview with extensive biographical material from One Louder magazine

The Twitter feed at features updates about upcoming articles, products, tips, and more

​Craig Anderton's Sound, Studio, and Stage discussion forum on Harmony Central, open to all 24/7

Upcoming Personal Appearances

Between the Waves Conference, Madison, WI

Thursday, June 14 through Sunday, June 17
Workshops to be announced

Sweetwater Gearfest, Fort Wayne, IN

Friday June 22, 11:30 AM - 12:30 PM

Mastering in Your DAW

Your music isn’t done until it’s been mastered. But can you really do it in your DAW, or do you need specialized tools and talents? Find out the truth about mastering - even better, bring a song to be mastered on a USB stick, and your song might be chosen for mastering during the workshop.

Saturday June 23, 9:45 - 10:45 AM

Modern Songwriting Methods with Music Software

Today’s software offers unprecedented tools for songwriters, including simplified arranging, chord tracks, harmonic editing, instrument/software integration, and more. Find out how to take full advantage of these new technologies and streamline the music creation process.​

Summer NAMM, Nashville Tennessee

Thursday June 28,10:30 - 10:55 AM

TEC Tracks keynote address on "Technology and the Future of the Music Industry." 

23 years ago, and 4 years before Napster, Craig predicted that on-demand music delivered online would replace physical media. 37 years ago, in an AES white paper he predicted the rise of what we now call EDM and the technology that would make it possible. What's next? Here's your chance to see the future.

Friday, June 29, 1:00 - 2:00 PM

Panel Discussion, The Future of Studio Technology

There have been several inflection points in the techno-history of music production, most notably the transition from analog to digital, but also an evolutionary series of tape and file formats. Where does music-production technology go next? Are smartphones viable production platforms? Are remote and virtual collaboration approaches workable?​​

Friday, June 29, 4:00 - 5:00 PM 

Panel Discussion, "New Trends in the Guitar"
Moderated by Laura B. Whitmore, Mad Sun Marketing, and hosted by Guitar Player Magazine 
Where does the guitar stand in a digital world? In no uncertain terms, it’s more prevalent than ever. And in this special Friday-afternoon session, you’ll find out why. Laura B. Whitmore of Mad Sun Marketing will lead a group of guitar industry leaders through an insightful look at this cornerstone of the music industry. They’ll discuss real ideas, tips and success stories focused on new trends in guitar design and performance. Find out what it means to you—and to everyone at Summer NAMM.

“It’s Just Kids in Their Bedroom Pushing Buttons”

​I’m getting really, really tired of “real” musicians dissing anyone who doesn’t play a musical instrument invented before 1950. I’m not just talking about turntablists, although that counts too. I recently talked with a couple of music fans, one 68 and the other 74 (yes, that old). They couldn’t stop talking about some musicians they saw playing turntables—and these are people you’d more likely find in a symphony hall. They totally got that it took a lot of dexterity and talent to play a turnable in a way that was musically relevant, flashy, and integrated with other musicians.

But I’m not just talking about that. Yeah, I’m a “real” musician. I’ve played Carnegie Hall, done session work, played 200 gigs a year, and played on plenty of commercial releases. But I also know that doing a DJ set where you keep thousands of people entertained for hours, read the crowd’s mood with pinpoint precision and weave your music accordingly, introduce effects and tempo-synched loops, throw in some one-shots, maybe add some instrumental lines on a “real” instrument (yes, an MPC is a real instrument), and never make one mistake, is really difficult. You don’t get there by pushing buttons. You get there by having an uncanny ability to put together the right music, at the right time, in the right way, and doing sophisticated beat-matching and harmonic-matching. I find it more difficult than playing guitar.

I’ve heard way too many musicians complain about "idiot DJs who just push buttons" take over their gigs. Well if it’s so damn easy, then you do it and show those “kids” how being a real musician gives you such an advantage. Or are you too afraid that once you start doing it, you’re going to find out that it’s really fun...and you really like it?

This just in: "Electronic Ear Candy" was one of ten products selected asThe Best Music Software Highlights of the New Year on!

Welcome, and thank you for stopping by. This is the place to check out my music, find out about new products I've made or designed, see slide shows from workshops, and more. Please check back at least once a week to see what's new, and feel free to share anything that's here.