A few little tips taken from my upcoming guide:
‘Big’ Lead Synths – People often ask how to get ‘bigger’ synths. The fundamental of getting your synths to sound ‘big’ is layering. This is particularly popular in trance or progressive house. When it comes to layering a good technique is to make sure each layer occupies its own space, a good idea is to high pass all your layers to 150Hz barring ONE layer, which takes care of the sub frequencies. This sub layer can be low pass filtered anywhere between 150Hz and 300Hz. Layering is cool but you don’t want to be adding to many layers, unless they have specific space within the spectrum because it can quickly become too crowded. Once you have your layers in place with all relevant EQing, a good technique is to send these to a buss and apply some compression. As I stated earlier my buss compression is usually done with ‘The Glue’ by Cytomic. As an extra little tip here is what I do when I want to get my synths to sound bigger: Set up a reverb send, with a bright and wide reverb, my weapon of choice is the Lexicon Hall reverb. Keep the pre-delay quite short but make sure the ‘wet’ knob is between 90 – 100%. I then send this bright and wide reverb to different synth layers, and experiment with how much I send. For example some layers will be ‘wetter’ than others. Make sure you add that EQ in after the reverb and high pass up to around 300Hz so no low frequencies are being affected, and of course do not send this to your sub layers. You want to process each layer separately, and then compress them all as ‘one’. You can also apply some final EQ to the whole group or even put other tools like harmonic exciters to good use on the synth buss. You should also take into account that to keep your synth lines interesting you may need to experiment with automation. I find that some sounds get louder and slightly distorted when automating, especially with filter cut-off automations. To counter this you can apply a limiter to different layers or even to your synth buss in order to prevent any clipping.
Layering Pianos: I once got asked about the piano sound I was using in one of my productions that went something like ‘how do you layer your pianos?’, Well the answer was in fact these ‘pianos’ were not layered, it was in fact one ‘piano’ layer with other instruments also layered. See you can get great results from layering different piano sounds, but in this particular instance I took a different approach, I layered up a sub layer, which was just a simple sine wave and then a pad sound. I find when it comes to pianos, rather than layering different instances of piano sounds, it is better to search for slightly different instruments which complement the main piano sound you are using. What I did was get a pad sound that fit well with my piano and then adjusted my ADSR envelopes so the attack was pretty similar to my piano and the decay and release times were also quite fast. I then applied some EQing to this pad layer so it blended with the piano better, sent the piano, pad and sub line to a buss and applied some compression. I guess the main focus of this is too ‘think outside the box’. Maybe your piano doesn’t need various piano layers but it simply needs layers which compliment that main piano.
Don’t boost everything: When trying to create synth and lead lines too many people make the mistake of making everything ‘big’. The fact is if everything is up then nothing is up. You want your layers to create depth by making sure that not all sounds are really present in the mix. You should have a main sound, which is then accompanied by sounds that compliment it and run these at different volumes. Try creating depth rather than a full wall of sound. Creating space is essential not only for synths but your whole track in general, making space and piecing things together so that the fit nicely together is essential. Remember it is the relationship between sounds that makes the track work, not pushing all sounds up together