Understanding the Basics of Sound Layering

Sound mixer panel

In a quest for the ultimate sound quality, the fundamental principles of sound engineering must be at play. The idea of combining different sounds to achieve harmony is as old as music itself. But the thing is, it’s very easy to err when combining and blending different sounds with almost the same characteristics. To help you avoid such pitfalls, you need to have a better understanding of sound quality and things that can help in masking muddy transients and the inconsistencies in the sound dynamics.

Below are tips to understanding the basics of sound layering.

1. It All Starts With the Basics

Before you even get to sound layering, it’s imperative to have an overview understanding of what sound is along with the nitty-gritties of sound engineering. A lot goes on when modifying and altering sounds in terms of volume, pitch, equalization, and sound effects. For instance, sound technicians have to not only deal with the sound itself, but they also have to deal with electrical sound frequencies. You also need to take into consideration the fact that in the same way light bounces off objects and penetrates others, sound also comes from vibrations that bounce on or go through objects and this can alter how it’s heard through our ears.

In fact, our eardrums work in the same retrospect, by analyzing the vibrations and recording them into something our brains can perceive. According to the guys at Samplified, creating music is more or less like painting a picture, and understanding sound layering is one of the things you need as a music artist or beat creator to end up with good sound. It provides you with the insights you need to stack different sounds while using the unique elements they possess to improve sound quality and creating the perception of a denser and fuller sound.

2. In Sound Layering, Less Is More

You are allowed to stack as many sound layers as you possibly can. But it’s imperative to ensure that you know how each layer is contributing to the quality of the sound. One thing to note is that some sound layers can be identical, performing the role of two or three layers. Having the capabilities to isolate and mute each channel will provide you with an idea of how individual sound layers perform.

3. Understanding Transient Reduction

Now, when there are higher amplitudes in a mix, it’s important to know how to reduce or ultimately isolate them before they can ruin your stacked sound. Transients are short-lived high energy oscillations at the beginning of a sound wave. The perception of sound quality in our brains is determined by how long or short-lived these transients are. The perfect solution when reducing transients in sounds is to utilize a transparent limiter plugin. This is what sound compression is all about. Sound layering is all about the dynamics of sound including transients. But knowing how to reduce these transients will help you to find the perfect balance and achieve the best dynamic sound ranges.

4. Sound Design

To better understand the basics of sound layering, you also need to have an in-depth knowledge of sound design and the important elements that play a major role in sound layering. It’s these sound elements that are layered when creating the desired sound effects depending on the sounds you’re looking to create. Below are four important elements in sound design:

  • Voice-over – This is what you see in film narrations such as National Geographic films and the like. In such films, you never see the narrator, but they’ll guide you through understanding it. Voice-over involves layering a narration on either a video or a scene. It’s also used in journalism by reporters.
  • Ambiance – Ambient sound or sound ambiance is considered as the background noise/sound in an audio or video file. Now when it comes to sound layering, the ambiance is usually eliminated in such files to improve the quality of sound in a way that the ambiance doesn’t overwhelm or distract the audience.
  • Foley sounds – Foley sounds are the distinct sounds that help to identify us with our world. They include birds chirping, sounds of the wind, and the rustling of leaves to mention but a few. These are sounds that can either be eliminated or added as layers in a sound recording
  • Music – This is the most crucial element of sound design and engineering. A lot of effort is put to ensure that the type of music you listen to is of the best audio and sound quality. All the crucial elements in a music audio file must be layered, adjusted, and balanced in creating the perfect effect.

When it comes to sound layering, it’s important to have an ear for sounds. While the equipment in your sound or music lab can help in improving sound quality, having an ear that differentiates between good sounds can make a huge difference in noticing sound undertones.