You are here

Studio One: Using Layers

PreSonus Studio One Tips & Techniques By Robin Vincent
Published August 2021

Clicking the up arrow on a Layer elevates it to the top of the pile, making it audible.Clicking the up arrow on a Layer elevates it to the top of the pile, making it audible.

Using Layers in Studio One.

Layers are all about the wonderful world of managing multiple takes. We usually associate these with vocals, where we can use the best bits of various takes to construct, or 'comp', the best of all possible vocal lines. You can, of course, do this with any kind of audio track, and it’s not just vocalists who need to do things several times. It’s also not just about doing takes until it’s ‘right’ — it’s about giving yourself different flavours to choose from.

Let’s start with an audio track primed for recording vocals. If you didn’t know anything about Layers, then if you wanted to record another take you would probably duplicate the current track and then record into that alongside the original, and then use Mute to switch between them or do a bit of track surgery to stitch together the bits you want. Layers make this a whole lot easier.

Layer Cake

Loop recording in Studio One lets you record multiple takes into a single audio event. You can then select which take you want to be active within that event. That’s slightly different to Layers, where you are intending to use different parts of various takes to construct a comped version. Layers are far more versatile and are probably the best choice in every situation. You can automate the generation of Layers for every take by enabling ‘Takes to Layers’ in the Record Mode panel, but we’re going to do this manually so that it’s easier to grasp exactly what’s going on. The usage of ‘Take’ and ‘Layer’ can get a bit confused but it’s not very important. All you really need to know is that you record your takes into Layers — what you call them after that is up to you.

Layers are brilliantly versatile and feel seamlessly integrated into the Studio One workflow.

Open the Inspector of your original audio track and you’ll find an entry called Layers. From the pull‑down menu select ‘Add new Layer’. It gives you the option to call the new Layer something, but the default is usually fine. Hit enter and DON’T PANIC! Your inspired first take has disconcertingly vanished from the track, but don’t worry, it’s not gone anywhere. There’s a tiny little button in the bottom‑left of the track in the colour band that looks like those three‑line ‘hamburger’ buttons you get on websites to indicate a menu. This is the ‘Expand Layers’ button and will show you your first take and any future takes, as a slightly ghostly version under the main track.

By the way, you can also add new Layers by right‑clicking the track header and selecting it from the Layers menu. In fact, a Layers section is available in the track block underneath input selection and group routing, so you have multiple ways of accessing this feature.

As you add Layers you can select which one is active in the track by selecting it from the Layers drop‑down menu, either on the track or in the Inspector. You can only have one Layer active at a time, which is why the Layers beneath the track are slightly greyed out. But this being Studio One, there’s never just a single way to do anything. Each Layer track has an up arrow on it which, if clicked, elevates that Layer to be the current active Layer, and makes it appear on the track.

You can now play back your project and select which take (or Layer) you want to listen to. However, this is also where we can get into ‘comping’. Comping is the process of combining various audio takes into a single ‘uber‑take’ that contains all the best bits.


Pulling the bits you want into a combination track is very easy. If you were doing this the old‑fashioned way, then you might create a new track and copy/paste sections of the takes you’ve recorded to multiple tracks into it. We’re going to do something similar here but in a much more efficient and smooth way. Let’s go through the process. 

First, create a new Layer that’s going to act as the destination for our comp. Hover your mouse over the Layers and you’ll see the mouse pointer changes into what we’ll call a selection tool. This is different to the Range selection tool that you would normally use on tracks; this tool is specific to Layers. If you click and drag to select part of a take on a Layer you’ll see that it automatically appears in the empty active comp Layer — no copy/paste required. Select all the parts you want from your multiple Layers and you have your perfect take. You don’t have to start with an empty Layer, there’s nothing to stop you starting with an existing take and comping other bits into it.

Studio One automatically adds crossfades to two Layer selections that butt up against one another.Studio One automatically adds crossfades to two Layer selections that butt up against one another.

You can only have part of one Layer playing at a time, so as you select parts of different Layers, Studio One will put the latest selection over the top of anything that’s already there. It’s not possible to have overlaps. Studio One adds a fade to each selection to avoid any clicks and pops, and will automatically crossfade between two take selections that butt up to one another. You’ll also notice the mouse pointer change when you hover over the edge of a selection. This lets you adjust the size of the selection or, if it’s the boundary between two selections then you can move the point at which they switch. 

Each Layer has a solo button which temporarily activates that Layer so you can listen to it. It’s a good way of auditioning the Layers before you make your selections into the main track. You can also use the Listen Tool, which you can engage by holding the Alt/Option key. Then just click on the Layer where you want to hear it and it will play.

Selections can be deleted by clicking on them and pressing the Backspace key. This only removes the selection from the comp track and does no harm to your take on the Layer. Don’t forget to un‑solo the Layers to hear the completed comp.

Mixing Comps

Once you have your comp track you might want to see it as a single audio event rather than a rainbow of different Layers. You could select all the audio clips within the track (Ctrl/Cmd+A) and hit Ctrl+Cmd+B to bounce them all to a single audio file. However, that loses all of the comp selections and takes away your ability to make further adjustments. It’s perhaps to duplicate the comp Layer (because this is just another Layer after all) and do the bounce command on the duplicate. This leaves the comp Layer untouched and available for further editing.

Each Layer runs through the channel settings, routings and effects of the parent track, but there may be instances where you want to process the Layers differently or use them more generally within your project. For that you can use the option to ‘Unpack Layer to Track’. You can do this with an individual Layer by right‑clicking on it and selecting Unpack Layer to Track from the menu, or by holding Alt/Option and dragging the Layer to a new track. If you have more than one Layer selected you can unpack them all at the same time.

A completed ‘comp’, using elements from three different takes.A completed ‘comp’, using elements from three different takes.

Multitrack Comping

Through the cunning use of Grouping you can also comp multiple tracks at once. You might be looking at a song in a larger context than an individual vocal track, and perhaps want the verse from the first take and the chorus from the second across a whole band of instruments. To do this, select your tracks and hit Ctrl/Cmd+G to put them into an Edit Group. Now as you do comp selections on one track, it will make the same selections on the Layers in the other tracks. Be aware that grouping will also tie together their faders, so you might want to disable the Group once you’ve finished comping.

Layers are brilliantly versatile and feel seamlessly integrated into the Studio One workflow. I can’t think of a reason why you’d record multiple takes without having them in Layers, but there’s always someone who wants to work differently and you are of course very welcome to do so!

Buy Related Tutorial Videos