How to Create Big Future Bass Music - Arrangement and Layering

How to Layer Synths: With Examples, Screenshots, WAV files, and More

In Future Bass, Synths by andrewish

 

Have you ever felt like your songs lack the clarity and power of your favorite producers? Part of the secret to creating a “big” sound is a technique called layering. Using this technique, you can stack several synths on top of each other to create a big sound greater than any individual synth in the stack.

These two tracks by Flume and Wave Racer are good examples of the kind of sound this technique creates.

New producers often have a hard time understanding how to correctly layer synths. Even veteran producers struggle with deciding which sounds to layer.

Grammy nominated and Spellemann Award winning audio engineer Matthew Weiss even names layering as the third most important thing separating amateurs producers from the pros.

But don’t worry! We got you.

Our goal is that after reading this article, you will be able to consistently layer well in your own production.

Contents of this article:

The basic framework for layering

Frequency range
Timbre

How to properly layer synths (with examples)

Layer 1: Main Synth
Layer 2: Highs
Layer 3: Saw Bass
Layer 4: Sub Bass
Layer 5: Main Support
Layer 6: White Noise

Setting up return tracks

Results

Resources

*** click here to download the presets used in this article ***

The basic framework for layering

There are two main things to consider when it comes to layering synths:

  1. Making sure your synths are separated into different frequency bands
  2. Choosing synths with different timbre

First, let’s cover frequency range.

Frequency range refers to the frequencies that each synth covers on a spectrum of 20hz to 20,000hz, which is the range of human hearing.

Much like the way that an orchestra is split up, you want to make sure that each synth sits in its own specific frequency range.

Layering synths that create sounds on overlapping frequencies over isn’t necessarily bad, but giving each specific sound its own dedicated space in the frequency spectrum makes mixing and layering much easier.

To see what frequencies a synth is hitting, add a Spectrum Analyzer plugin to the track.


Ableton’s Spectrum Analyzer is great for checking the frequency range of a synth.

The Spectrum Analyzer is a great way to quickly see what frequencies a synth covers. This is a native Ableton plugin, so if you already use Ableton it’s basically free.

To find the Spectrum Analyzer, navigate to your “audio effects” folder in the left sidebar and search for “spectrum”.

You can then separate synths into different frequency ranges using EQ through high-pass filters and low-pass filters.

For example, this high-pass filter restricts any frequencies below 1,000khz from coming through:


A high-pass filter using Ableton’s EQ Eight.

A synth that has a high-pass filter on it like the one shown here is a good fit for layering with other synths that cover lower to midrange frequencies.

Note that all of Ableton’s native frequency-related plugins, such as EQ and the Spectrum Analyzer, show frequency on a logarithmic scale. That’s why the difference between 100hz and 1,000hz appears the same on the EQ Eight plugin as the difference between 1,000hz and 10,000hz, even though it’s 100 times higher frequency.

Next, let’s take a look at timbre.

Timbre is the quality of a note that distinguishes it from another sound.

This is why a C3 note on a piano sounds different from a C3 note on a flute or a guitar. Even though you are playing the same note, you register the sounds as coming from different instruments because of their timbre.

To get a sense of how timbre differs between synths, take a look at the following spectrum analysis of two synths, a sine wave and a saw wave:


Frequency of a sine wave, from the Ableton Bible.


Frequency of a saw wave, from the Ableton Bible.

Even though these synths are both playing the same note, their timbre results in very different frequency profiles across the spectrum.

Timbre is important in layering because you want to choose synths to layer that have complimentary timbre.

For example, it doesn’t make sense to layer two supersaws in the same frequency range, even if they sound slightly different. More often than not, layering similar synths makes your sound worse, not better.

Think about adding sounds that compliment each other, each having unique characteristics.

For example, if your main layer is a supersaw, choose something with a different character and tonality to layer against it.

A great example of a track that does this is “Burn” by KSHMR & DallasK. And if you haven’t already, you can visit Splice.com to download the Ableton project file. Use the project file as a reference to get a better understanding of what each synth in the layer stack does for the sound as a whole.

How to properly layer synths (with examples)


Future Bass Layering project file

Before you keep reading, here is the the demo track that we will walk through in this article:

To begin, we’re going to lay down a basic drum groove.

Note– all of our synths are grouped and running through light compression and sidechain compression.

Layer 1: Main Synth

At Makr, we like to start with our main synth first, ensuring that the rest of the stack is correctly layered it.

This synth is constructed using Xfer Records Serum, one of the best synths on the market (in our humble opinion). The patch we’re using is a preset from our Serum Future Bass pack.


LD Duper, a patch from our Serum Future Bass Pack. Get the patch here for free.


Midi of our main chord synth.

This layer is going to be our main synth, the meat of our future bass sandwich. Every other layer is going to add to it and accentuate it, helping to achieve a clear and big sound.

To prepare the main synth for layering, we added a high-pass filter, taking out the lows to make room for the sub bass.


High Pass Filter

We then added some saturation give the sound a bit more grit and distortion, as well as some side-chain compression to help it move with the kick.

Solo’d:

With Group:

Note– You can see the midi used in this demo track. Part of the character of Future Bass is using extended chords (7ths, 9ths, etc.), rather than a more basic three note chord structure.  

Layer 2: Highs

Now that we have the main synth set up and ready to go, the next step is to layer a higher octave synth.

The quickest way to add a higher octave synth layer is to duplicate our main synth and pitch it up an octave.

Duplicating and pitching up a synth sounds okay when layered, but not amazing.

The best way to add a higher octave layer is to use a sound with a different timbre. Remember, one of the keys to layering is choosing sounds with complimentary timbres, rather than similar timbres.

Pro Tip:

A shortcut to finding a good synth to use is simply manipulating a copy of the main synth through adding effects such as saturation or distortion, or changing oscillator parameters. This way, you don’t have to choose a sound from scratch and you know how similar your synth really is.

Using a different synth or sound altogether also works.

In the example track, we chose to layer in a different synth with similar processing to the original main synth. We again added some subtle saturation as well as side-chain compression.


High Synth Side-Chain Compression

The purpose of this layer is to subtly fill in the higher frequency range, adding onto our main synth.

It’s important to note that we added a high-pass filter to the low-mids out to make room for our main synth, as we want to make sure that they are cleanly separated into different frequency bands.

As for the midi, we simply transposed our main chord midi up one octave.

Solo’d:

With Group:

Layer 3: Saw Bass

As you’ll hear, a lot of the power of the overall layering stack comes from this saw-based bass synth. This bulk of the saw bass synth sits in the 100-200hz range,.


BS Buzzer, a patch from our Serum Future Bass Pack.

To start with this synth we added a high-pass filter to remove some of the highs to make room for the main synths.

We also added some saturation to give the synth a bit more grit, and used a high-pass filter to make room for the sub bass.

Finally, we added some side-chain compression.

As for the midi, we grabbed the bass notes from our initial chord progression.


Bass Midi

Solo’d:

With Group:

Note– It is important to make sure that the envelope/ADSR of the saw bass is the same as the rest of the synths in your layering stack.

Layer 4: Sub Bass

The bottom layer to our future bass sandwich is the sub bass.

The reason we cut out the lows of the previous three synths was so that the sub bass could cut through the mix.

Having a clear and defined low end is extremely important, especially in club-driven genres. Thus, the only thing we want in the synth stack under 100hz is our sub bass.

Note– the midi for the sub bass is the same as the saw bass.

Solo’d:

Setting up return tracks

To add some depth to the sound, we set up a return track with Valhalla Room. To isolate our frequency range on the return track, we only sent the higher frequency synths to the return, i.e., the main synth, the main support, and the high synth.


Return reverb settings

Then to help tuck the reverb into the mix a little bit better, we did some post-eqing on the send. While reverb helps to make a song sound “bigger” it takes away the clarity and can muddy up the mix. As you can see below, we hi-passed around 150 hz, and reduced


Reverb return track

Results

Solo’d:

With Group (Final Sound):

This isn’t the only way to approach layering, but it is a very strong (and easy to use) method. There are successful producers that use both less and more layers to accomplish the task

Start with the framework we outlined, and over time you’ll learn how to tweak it to figure out what style of layering works best for you.

Resources

For more tips and tricks on how to use layering in your music, we compiled a list of a few articles so you don’t have to go searching for them:

  1. 12 Sound Layering Tips and Tricks by Music Radar
  2. 7 Easy Ways to Get Bigger Sound by Landr
  3. Techniques to Get a Bigger and Fuller Mix by TalkinMusic
  4. Layering Synths Production Tips by Mode Audio
  5. Guide to Layers, Ranges, and Textures by Nyonyxx

 

 


This article was written by one of our top sound designers, who has several chart topping sample packs on platforms like Beatport Sounds.

We hope you learned a thing or two from this article. If you have any questions about the techniques you read here, feel free to comment or email us your questions.

To download a free sample pack of 10 Future Bass leads for Serum, including the leads we used in this tutorial, click the link below:

Download my free Future Bass leads.

Cheers!