The Most Overlooked Parameter When Layering Sounds

When layering sounds, there’s one parameter most producers forget…

We’ve all been there

You have a sound and you think I like it, but it’s not big enough, or it’s not fat enough.

You pull out another synth and layer that with the first synth.

Before we continue, I want to quickly address what layering isn’t.

Layering shouldn’t be seen as some sort of shortcut or magic bullet. The same as we don’t fix something in the mix, we don’t fix poor synthesis with layering.

In other words, you don’t put a piece of shit between two pieces of bread and expect someone to eat it. It’s still a shit sandwich.

With that in mind, in this article I want to cover what is perhaps one of the most important, yet most overlooked parameters when layering two or more sounds together.

The amplitude envelope

The amplitude envelope. It’s so simple, yet so easy to miss. I mean, you want your sounds to have the same amplitude envelope so they start and stop at the same time and gel together better, right?


Take for example a sound consisting of 2 layers. If both amplitude envelopes are set exactly the same, both sounds will start at the same time, and stop at the same time.

Sometimes this will work just fine, but for the majority of the time it will lack movement and dynamics, and it can be a bit boring.

Layer 1 amplitude envelope

Layer 1

Layer 2 amplitude envelope

Layer 2

Both layers playing together

Using different amplitude envelope settings for each layer means that the sounds will start and stop at different times. The sound as a whole will become more dynamic and interesting to listen to.

For example, you could have layer 1 with an immediate attack and a short release.

 Layer 1 amplitude envelope

Layer 1

For layer 2 you could have a medium attack and a medium to long release.

Layer 2 amplitude envelope

Layer 2

With the amplitude envelopes set up like this, as soon as you press a key you will hear layer 1.

Layer 2 will fade in as you hold the key, adding interest and movement to the sound.

When you release the key, layer 1 will disappear quickly, while layer 2 will take longer to disappear, so you hear more of layer 2 in the release stage, again adding interest and movement to your sound.

Both layers together

This simple change can make the world of difference to your sound and add real interest, depth and dynamics.

It’s important to make these adjustments to the second layer’s amplitude envelope by ear, without referencing the first layer’s amplitude envelope. This way you will end up with a more natural sound, rather than just moving the second amp envelope to be different for the sake of being different.

Synthesis in Sound Design

If you want to know more about layering, synthesis and sound design, or if you are struggling with synthesis and sound design, our Synthesis & Sound Design Course

“This is a must-have tutorial especially for people starting out. The layering sessions were an eye opener, especially what you can achieve with a little processing and effects.“

– the dark knight

Spanning 3 modules and 12 hours of video tutorials, you get the entire picture from start to finish. We don’t just walk you through the fundamentals of synthesis and expect you to create great sounds. We go in-depth on techniques that are currently in use by professional producers and artists, and there is a lot more to it than mixing a couple of oscillators together.

Synthesis in Sound Design covers:

  • The theory and fundamentals of using analog and wavetable synthesis
  • Practical synthesis application
  • The layering and processing that is required to produce the professional results you expect to hear on records today

“The sound design tutorial is the absolute best tutorial DMP has released to date.

The information is presented in a very easy to follow and logical way, such that it can be immediately applied to what you are working on.

After watching this tutorial, I can now make those big trance leads I’ve been trying to do for the past 5 years.

Thank you so much DMP!!!!”

– Aron Brookes

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