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Sound Design in Music: Layering Sounds

Sound Design
October 9, 2017

Recording sounds for your music can come in handy when you want to add in a personal touch. However, in my experience, one sound rarely cuts it.

This is where layering comes into play. While there are virtually an endless amount of sounds you can record for your music, I'm going to keep my project today on something very basic and practical: a clap.

First thing is first, you're going to want a microphone to record your claps. I would highly recommend using a condenser microphone, shotgun microphone, or a simple field recorder like the Zoom H1 or Zoom H4n (Research is your friend here, Tascam is also a very good brand).

Next, you're going to want to find a location to record your claps. This doesn't have to be anything special; try to avoid areas that have no carpet or furniture. Bedrooms/closets are typically the best locations when you don't have any studio access.

Project: Creating A Multilayered Clap

From this point on, I will be demonstrating how I created a multilayered clap from scratch. All of the files used will be downloadable, so anyone can try this out regardless of their ability to record their own sounds. As always, I highly encourage you to record your own sounds. Let's take a look at what the final clap will sound like.

This clap consists of eight layers from two different microphones placed in two different locations. Of course, effects were used in the final version of this clap, but below we will take a look at all of the dry sounds.

Recording At The Desk - Rode NTG2

The first four claps were recorded at my computer desk and I utilized the Rode NTG2 microphone (as you can see in the picture above). These sounds are heavy on the higher frequencies and have some slight natural reverb thanks to the poor acoustics in my bedroom. Each clap was recorded about 1 foot from the mic.

Below you will find a recording of each individual clap followed by the claps mixed in unison.

The Rode NTG2 gives off a very bright quality to the claps, and the natural reverb, luckily, doesn't seem to diminish the quality. As you can see in this example, you can get perfectly fine sounds recorded in your bedroom without any acoustic treatment. It's not ideal, but it does work for this purpose.

Recording In The Closet - Zoom H4n

The last four claps were recorded in my closet with the Zoom H4n field recorder (you can see this in the picture above along with my highly fashionable beach button-down shirt) I recorded here to eliminate most background noise as well as any natural reverb that I was getting in my room.

Check out the claps below and see if you notice any differences when compared to the claps recorded at my desk.

This location harshly affected my claps in a way that I did not expect. The claps in the closet sounded darker and more muffled, which could possibly be due to the different microphone or mic placement. However, I found it to really compliment my previous claps in the bedroom well.

Mixing all your claps into one

Believe it or not, mixing all the separate claps into one is both the hardest and most enjoyable aspect of this project.

When combining the claps, I decided to mix each group of four separately. This allowed me to, in a sense, only mix two claps at the end. The placement and volume of each clap is highly subject and experimentation is what really expands your creativity here.

In the picture below you can see the overall mix and where I placed each clap. (look for the peak in each track to determine where the actual clap is)

The biggest part to notice from this picture is the fact that the claps are not all synced together. There are about four claps (the first two in each group) that hit around the same time. The other four claps are either placed before or after the main hits.

This causes a more complex sound and gives the effect of multiple people clapping. How you place them is very much up to personal preference and with the same claps, you could come up with a completely different sound.

Here is the completed clap with some basic EQ and compression, but none of the other effects added.

Adding the final touches

Lastly, when you have everything placed where you want it, make sure and EQ out any annoyances. Recording custom sounds means that there are going to be annoying frequencies that you don't want, and someone will need to get rid of them.

Where you need to check is going to be dependent on the sounds you record, and I highly recommend learning how to effectively use EQ if you don't already. Here is an example of the EQ on one of my claps.

When it comes to EQ, less is really more; make sure and avoid adding or subtracting too much from certain areas. If you need help with EQ please refer to the articles supplied at the bottom of this article. Any other effects after EQ come down to how you want your clap to sound.

I went ahead and added a compressor for a slightly more balanced sound, as well as reverb and delay for more depth. There's an added kick drum to show one of the many ways that you can utilize this new clap sound. (please don't judge this poor kick/clap pattern... I made it for demonstration purposes only)

now go and make some music!

Thanks to anyone who stayed till the end. I hope you were able to learn something from this project that can help you with your own projects.

If you don't have access to a microphone, I recommend downloading the individual clap group tracks and trying to make your own clap sound. you can also download the final clap without effects, but what's the fun in that!

Need help with EQ?

Check out EQ Explained for a good starting point on when and how to properly use EQ.

Check out EQ For Beginners for an emphasis on overall frequency range knowledge.

A little bit about me

Marcel Negrete is a Music Composer, Producer and Sound Designer based in Austin, Texas who has been writing, producing and playing his own music for over 10 years.

Along with his college studies, Marcel has worked on an assortment of assigned and extracurricular projects that include recording and mixing bands, creating an audio documentary and composing music for short films.

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