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Q: When layering tracks, how many layers are just right, and how many would be too much?

An Audio Masterclass student asks about thickening sounds by layering multiple recordings of the same voice or instrument.

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Question from an Audio Masterclass student: “When layering tracks, how many layers are just right, and how many would be too much?”

Layering is a very popular technique for thickening vocals and instrumental sounds. To put it simply, you record a vocal once, then you record exactly the same vocal again on a different track, and then perhaps again, and again...

For singing, usually two layers are quite enough, but for rap you could increase this to four or perhaps even more. For singing, usually the layers need to be very nearly identical. In rap, the layers are occasionally allowed to differ, for accents and to add interest.

Instruments can be layered too. An electric guitar playing a melody one note at a time can sound good layered. To sound great, the second layer should be recorded with the recorder running at a slightly different speed. A 4 to 8% difference is enough. If your recorder doesn't have variable speed, then you can't do this.

When electric guitars playing chords are layered, usually it is best for two guitars to play different inversions of the chords, using different tone qualities. This way, the layers can be identified individually in the mix.Layering is great fun to experiment with. If you want the most fun possible... try it with drums!

By David Mellor Thursday November 30, 2006
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