Continuing Constructive Feedback for Audio Engineering Students’ Production Techniques: Sound Layering
I’d like to expand on my last topic of sound selections in your production: the art of layering sounds so that they cut through in your mix for a more professional sound in your audio tracks. I generally approach this with the frequency content being my main focus. Does the sound or patch you’ve selected translate properly to other monitors once you take your song out of the studio. What I mean by that is, does it sound right on a mid range home stereo system, in your car, or more commonly, in your headphones? I’ve learned this craft from practice and observation of some of the best mixers in the world such as, Dave Pensado, Michael Schlesinger, Manny Marroquin, and Dave Way.
I’m going to keep it simple in this blog entry. Those of you who are just starting out, like the students in our music production school, can quickly apply some of these techniques to your productions or mixes. Every young producer I know loves their low end content. “Listen to how much bass there,” and “Damn, I can sure make those speakers shake”. My response is “That’s cool, but what about your listeners who aren’t listening through 18” woofers”?
While I’m mixing at our studios, one of my approaches to remedy the translation effect is to make a copy of the sound onto another channel on the console. I’ll start by filtering both tracks. One will be my low frequency content (I like to call this the booty of the sound), and the other will be my mid-high frequency content (I call this the point of the sound or the attack). For a typical synth bass sound, on my first channel I’ll start with a low pass filter starting my cutoff at around 300 hz. The content in between 300 hz-400 hz generally is in the mud range. I’m not worried too much about preserving that area. On my second track, I apply a high pass filter, setting it’s cut off at around 500 hz. You might be thinking, “what about the frequencies between 400hz-500hz?” Well, the slopes of the two filters will still allow the content between these frequency ranges to come through. Once I’ve achieved my desired effect with the booty and the point, I now have the ability the control the levels of each one separately. Carefully balancing the two channels so that it will translate over a variety of listening systems. Having this one sound split into two frequency ranges, or sometimes more, I can also compress each one separately. This gives me even more control over the blend of this instrument, as well as allowing me some room to blend in my bass drum.
If your song productions are done in sequencing program or DAW, an easy way to have greater control and flexibility is to simply print your sounds at different octaves. Transpose your low synths up an octave or two and you’ve instantly taken over control of the frequency content in your mix.