Want to make a fuller, fatter lead sound? Then you need to learn how to layer leads.
Layering your lead sound is a must-know technique that serves electronic music producers well.
Once you know the process behind it, you can make all your lead sounds shine by enriching missing qualities and frequencies or making mind-bending harmonies that makes your listeners crave more.
This article will teach you the five steps on how to layer your leads properly. You will also learn why to layer leads in the first place.
Let’s dive into and look at the 'why.'
Why Layer Leads?
Layering leads is a standard practice of electronic music producers to give their main lead sound more impact.
The approach is simple. It’s about adding elements to a lead sound that either is missing or can complement and harmonize with the main melody.
Depending on what sounds you use, your approach can look different. But luckily, in this article, you will discover what you should think about when layering your lead sound.
5 Steps To Layer Your Lead Synth Sound
In this five-step approach, you will learn what to consider before adding another layer to your lead sound and how to do it.
And it doesn't matter if you want to learn how to layer progressive house leads or synth leads. The process you're about to learn works for all genres.
Let’s begin with the first step of starting with your main melody:
1. Start with your main melody
The first step to layering your lead in Ableton is creating your main melody and choosing your main lead sound. Since this will be the hook and carry your track forward, you want it to be good.
After writing your melody, you can experiment with your synth by choosing different sounds to see what fits best. The result will ultimately determine how you want to layer your sound, so pay good attention to what you do here.
2. Determine what’s missing
The second step is determining what’s missing from your main lead sound. Let’s say you started with a very high-frequency focused synth sound with a little low-end. In that case, you want to look at layering the bottom portion of your lead sound.
The opposite is also true. If your main lead sound is rich in lower frequencies, you might want to add a layer of higher frequencies for some extra sparkle.
You layer your lead because you want a fuller sound. Therefore, you want to fill out your frequency spectrum as much as possible. Of course, it needs to fit the rest of your track., but it’s a great starting point for a successful layer.
3. Find your layer
After determining what’s missing from your original sound, you want to start crafting the lead sound you want to layer with.
As mentioned in step two, it’s about complementing what’s missing in your main lead sound. If you want to add lower frequencies, start by crafting or finding a similar sound richer in lower frequencies.
Use the filter to further dial in your sound. You can go up or down one (or more) octaves to get a darker or brighter sound.
And when selecting your second sound, think about qualities and frequencies that you can add to your first sound. If your main lead is cold and metallic, you may want to add a warm layer with organic qualities to balance things out.
4. Add your touch
Adding your touch and stylistic choice is vital for taking your layered lead sound to the next level. Are you known for making big, epic sounds? Then you might want to add grand reverbs to your high-end layer.
Or a dash of a chorus to make the mids a bit more undefined.
5. Add contrast and spice
Your second layer doesn't have to play the same notes as your main lead sound. This part is up for experimentation. You might find that your lead needs a layer all the time. That’s fine.
But if you want to experiment, you can try raising your second lead sound a fifth (+7 semitones) above your main. You can also try adding or removing notes or letting your second lead complement the hook in your main chorus.
Make your mix interesting.
If your main lead does better with a layer, let it play throughout your track.
But if your main lead sound can stand well on its own, you might want to look at introducing your second sound at well-specified times in your arrangement.
Think contrast, and don’t be afraid to spice things up – either with harmonies, chords or complementing hooks.
Layering leads is very common for electronic music producers. Sometimes, one instrument isn’t enough to achieve the impact you want.
In that case, adding complementing sounds and filling in the gaps is a great way to make your lead sounds shine.
And that’s the most important part of your lead sound. It’s supposed to be the main instrument in your track – the part that gets stuck in people’s heads.
Therefore, you should resort to doing all things necessary to make sure it shines.
Luckily, after reading this article, you've discovered the process of how you can layer leads sounds effectively.
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Thanks for reading, and see you in the next article.
About the author
Pelle Sundin is a Swedish music producer and writer, active with his chillout project PLMTRZ. He also produces psytrance. When he's not producing, he surfs, skates, and chugs coffee.