Tips for Mixing Rap Vocals

[Take your hip-hop beats and rap vocal mixes to the next level]

If I had to pick the most frequent question I get asked on a regular basis it would have to be “how do I mix rap vocals?” Or some variation thereof. At least once a week if not more.

I mix a new rap vocal four or five times a week — much more if you count different rappers on the same song. I have developed an approach — sort of a formula to create a formula. In truth, we know that all songs, vocals, captures, and performances are different. There can never be one formula to mix all vocals effectively, and there are many approaches to conceptualizing a vocal treatment. Mine is just one of many.

The Concept

It all starts with the concept. I say this time and time again, and it only gets more true as I say it: in order to mix anything, you need an end game. There has to be some kind of idea of where the vocal is going to go before you start getting it there. That idea can and probably will change along the way, but there has to be some direction or else why do anything at all.

The big problem most people have with mixing rap vocals is that they think of the word “vocals” without considering the word “rap.” Rap is supremely general — there are big differences between 1994 NY style rap vocals and 2010 LA style rap vocals.

Even within that you have A Tribe Called Quest – “1nce Again” vs. LL Cool J – “Loungin’”. Both are laid back smoother rap songs, but the mixing is totally different (compare below).

Loungin by LL Cool J on Grooveshark

Loungin’ is a quintessential Bad Boy style sound, mixed by Rich Travali. You can hear the similarities between that and 112, Total, Mariah Carey and later Biggie tracks.

1nce Again by A Tribe Called Quest on Grooveshark

1nce Again is a prime example of a Bob Power mix — a sound which pretty much dominated early NY rap.

I bring up this distinction because I hope you’ll compare the two. Notice how in Loungin’ the vocals are up in the mix — level with the snare — and have a “shiny” and smooth top end, great clarity and a really open yet detailed upper midrange.

Meanwhile in 1nce again, the vocals are just under the snare and have an extremely forward and aggressive mid-range, a grittier rolled off top end, and a steep hi-pass filter on the low end. The shape of the vocal is also different — the compression is much easier on Loungin, and again, very aggressive on 1nce Again (particularly Phife’s voice).

Let’s take a more modern track, say Nicki Minaj’s “Massive Attack.”

Massive Attack by Nicki Minaj on Grooveshark

Here you have super clear presence and treble in the vocals, the vocals are up in the mix, and there isn’t as much lower midrange as say “Loungin.”

Each of the 3 examples does something very specific:

  • “1nce Again” is edgy and aggressive sounding — quintessential to the early NY sound, and rap’s image at the time.
  • “Loungin’” is very intimate and smooth — it’s almost like an R&B song sonically.
  • “Massive Attack” has the vocals clear as crystal, but leaves plenty of room for the low range drums to dominate the mix — which is good for clubs.

The point is, the what and why are just as important as the how when it comes to mixing vocals. Who is the artist’s audience, what is the artist’s style, where is the song being played, and what can you as the engineer do to encapsulate that?

So you’ve determined what you want… but how do you get there?

The Cleanup

Before mixing, many rap vocals need a little cleaning. There are many common issues. One of the most common is the vocals were recorded in an unideal location, such as a closet (I get that one all the time) or a bathroom. I know it sounds weird but the myth has gone around that recording in a closet or a bathroom is a good idea. Generally speaking, it’s not. The other common issue: the vocals were recorded too hot. Again, a myth has seemed to perpetuate that it’s a good idea to record the signal as loudly as possibly. This is totally untrue, particularly in the age of 24-bit audio.

Cleaning up is a little rough at times because the scope of what you can do is limited. For audio that came in too hot — i.e., is clipping — distortion removal software such as iZotope’s Rx De-Clipper is ideal. Also, that distortion will create frequency center resonances, which can be eased off with an EQ.

For vocals tracked in a reverberant space, subtle gating, and careful EQ can suppress the room sound — or you can use software like SPL De-Verb. The other option is to mix the track in a way that makes the reverb appear deliberate.

For vocals tracked in closets or corners, the issue will be comb filtering. One trick for easing off comb filtering is if there are doubles of the vocal, pitch shift them up or down a slight amount. This will change the frequency bands that are being filtered, so that when layered with the main vocal, the same bands will not be missing all across the board. The backups will “fill in” the missing bands. The comb filtering will still be there, but it won’t be as readily apparent.

Processing

Now you have the vocals clean (or maybe they came in clean to begin with). It’s time to decide what to do with them. Now, I can’t write how you should or should not process your vocals, but I can give you some things to consider and think about.

Balance

Figuring out the relationship between the vocals and other instruments in the same frequency range is extremely important. Quintessentially, Hip-Hop is all about the relationship between the vocals and the drums. The number one contestant with the voice is the snare. Finding a way to make both the vocals and the snare prominent without stepping on each other will make the rest of the mix fall nicely into place.

In “1nce Again,” you’ll notice that the snare is a little louder than the vocals, and seems to be concentrated into the brighter area of the frequency spectrum, while the vocals are just an inch down, and living more in the mid range. This was a conscious decision made in the mix. But mixes like Loungin’ have the vocals on par with the snare. And Massive Attack has the vocals up — but it’s not really a snare, it’s a percussive instrument holding down the 2 and 4 that lives primarily in the lower-mid region.

“Air”

Hip-Hop vocals generally do not have much in the way of reverb.

There are three reason for this primarily: 1) Rap vocals tend to move faster and hold more of a rhythmic function than sung vocals — long reverb tails can blur the rhythm and articulation. 2) The idea of Hip-Hop is to be “up front and in your face,” whereas reverb tends to sink things back in the stereo field. 3) Everyone else is mixing their vocals that way. Not a good reason, but kind of true.

However, vocals usually do benefit from sense of 3-D sculpting, or “air.” A sense of space around the vocals that make them more lively and vivid. Very short, wide, quiet reverb can really do the trick here.

Another good thing to try is using delay (echo), and pushing the delay way in the background, with a lot of high-end rolled off. This creates the sense of a very deep three dimensional space, which by contrast makes the vocal seem even more forward.

Lastly, if you are in a good tracking situation, carefully bringing out the natural space of the tracking room can be a good way to get super dry vocals with a sense of air around them. Compression with a very slow attack, and relatively quick release, and a boost to the super-treble range can often bring out the natural air.

Shape & Consistency

A little compression is often nice on vocals, just to sit them into a mix and add a little tone. On a sparse mix, a little dab’ll do ya. The most common mistake people make when processing vocals for Hip-Hop is over-compressing. High levels of compression is really only beneficial to a mix when there is a lot of stuff fighting for sonic space. When you read about rapper’s vocals going through four compressors and really getting squeezed it’s probably because there are tons of things already going on in the mix, and the compression is necessary for the vocals to cut through. Or because it’s a stylistic choice to really crunch the vocals.

Filtering

What’s going on around the voice is just as important to the vocals as the vocals themselves. Carefully picking what to get rid of to help the vocals along is very important. For example, most engineers hi-pass filter almost everything except the kick and bass. That clears up room for the low information. But often the importance of low-pass filtering is overlooked. Synths, even bass synths, can have a lot of high-end information that is just not necessary to the mix and leave the “air” range around the vocals feeling choked. A couple of well placed low-passes could very well bring your vocals to life.

Also, back to the subject of hi-passing, unless you are doing the heavy handed Bob Power thing, you really don’t need to be hard hi-passing your vocals at 120hz. The human voice, male and female, has chest resonance that goes down to 80 Hz (and even under sometimes). Try a gentle hi-pass at around 70 or 80 Hz to start with if you’re clearing up the vocals. Or maybe don’t hi-pass at all…

Presence

Deciding where the vocal lives frequency wise is important. Mid sounding, “telephonic” vocals can be cool at times, low mid “warm” sounding vocals certainly have their place. Commonly, the practice is to hype the natural presence of the vocals by getting rid of the “throat” tones and proximity build up which generally live around the 250-600hz range (but don’t mix by numbers, listen listen listen). This in turn exaggerates the chest sound, and the head sound — particularly the sounds that form at the front of the mouth, tongue, and teeth — these are the tones that we use to pronounce our words and generally live in the upper midrange (2k-5k, no numbers, listen listen listen).

In Mixing Rap Vocals – Part 2  we discuss EQ techniques for getting the sound you want.

For more about EQ, check out: Equalization: Hear Me Out

For more about space and air, check out: The Importance of Space in a Mix: Part I-III

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss engineers from his private facility in Philadelphia, PA. Credits include Snoop Dogg, Gorilla Zoe, Arrested Development, Dizzee Rascal, Gift of Gab, J-Son and many others. Get in touch at Weiss-Sound.com.
  • Heavy_Flow

    I dig the clear and concise style of this article. On a lot of mixing tutorials you just watch the guy mix it and the final product is good, but these comparisons really help you generate a wider picture of what’s going on, and what choices are made along the way to achieve the result needed.

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  • http://KickDrumSamples.com G. Ometrik

    Mathew, excellent write-up. An engineering buddy of mine always tells me to boost the really high freqs to add clarity ,and cut through the mix. Any thoughts on this?

  • http://www.weiss-sound.com Matthew Weiss

    @Heavy Flow

    Thanks for the kind words! Glad you find this article helpful.

    @G. Ometrik

    First, G. Ometrik is a really cool name. Ok, second – I certainly have thoughts on this. I caution against using the word “always” – because you’ll inevitably find a situation where boosting the highs makes the vocal worse.

    I would say that boosting the highs is not a one stop solution for improving clarity and getting vocals to cut. Leaving proper space for the vocals in the mix is absolutely paramount for making the vocals cut. If the mix is dense, heavier compression may be necessary for getting the vocals through. Lastly, the way you boost the high end is of significant importance. In the digital world, high end boosting can cause signal degradation called aliasing that will blur your sound. Thoughtful cuts to the lower mid range and compensating with a volume boost may be a better way to get your high end to come through better. Also, “clarity” tends to live in the lower treble and upper mid range – so boosting the highs might really just be a clever way of softly boosting that range, if the slope on the high shelf is gradual enough.

    Also, high end can come with a cost. A little “air” is always a nice thing – but sibilance and the perceived thinning of the low midrange are unattractive.

    In other words – a simple high boost can be part of the equation, but isn’t really the full picture.

    • http://beatmakertips.com G. Ometrik

      Very cool, Mathew. Thanks.

      I’ve been producing for a long time, and have always felt a tremendous amount of respect for you sound guys. I’m fortunate enough to have a friend of mine who’s been mixing for 10 + years, so obviously he gets all of my mix work. I’ve often find that it’s more of an art than a hard science. Secretly, I’d love to be able to have that sort of confidence behind the console, but always seem a bit more relaxed when I let a craftsman handle that portion of the production.

      Thanks again for the reply, and putting together this post.

      Peace.

  • Tommy Ca$h

    This was exactly what I needed. I have read books and articles one after another but to have specific audio samples AND a definition of the procedures involved is priceless. I am far from a newbie (even further from an expert) and this is by far the best article on mixing rap vocals I have ever read. THANK YOU for taking the time to write this.

    • http://www.weiss-sound.com Matthew Weiss

      You’re welcome! There will be more articles to come, so check back.

  • http://www.reverbnation.com/dzoneentertainment ZERO aka DRE KIDD

    Hi math
    thanks for your article i can find my way into basic mix
    i know i am far from being a pro but i just want to learn. i am using samplitude 11 for my home recording
    you have any idea if this program is kool and can you suggest a better programs for me? certainly not pro tools cuz i can not afford that for the moment
    an will you be interested in taking me as a student?

    • http://www.weiss-sound.com Matthew Weiss

      I haven’t used Samplitude for mixing, but if you can get vocals in there, then essentially you can use it to mix. Generally I prefer a program where I can modify individual moments in a vocal performance. Aside from Pro Tools, there’s Logic, Cubase, Sonar, Digital Performer, Nuendo, but you can also mix in Acid, Fruity Loops, or Garage Band. Whatever is in your price range, it’s more about what you do with it and how well you learn the program.

      As for taking you on as a student, I am truly flattered. I currently have an assistant – she’s a blessing. So that position is filled. However, if you attend a High School or a College, or a Vocational School with a Music department, I can be booked for classes and seminars.

  • K Panda

    Wow, I seriously just bled all the ink out of my pen onto a piece of paper titled “notes”. In retrospect, I should have just hit print. Anyhow, I am planning to use each and every step you recommended, even if it’s not for me, just to try it out, so thank you. I am currently using Cubase 6, and I am very confused but dedicated. I honestly record and hit buttons, so I could not tell you what i use, or how i use it, but I can tell you; I’m not satisfied.

    Do you have a general setting you start with, or recommend, when using a compressor? I usually use the pre sets, built into the plug ins already installed, but I have no idea what they are doing in all honesty. My other question is, how can I make myself sound fuller? A little back round so you understand better: I am recording primarily ontop of a instrumental already rendered into one track, usually an mp3 for competitions. I use a Rode NT1A mic, into a oktane preamp, and directly into cubase via usb interface. I apply a compressor to an fx channel, and bus both my main track, and my dub track through it with the bus volume at 0db. From there, I add one more fx tack, a slight reverb, and bus all channels through it trying to get the “it belongs there” sound. I recently becan to use the eq, which i also use a pre set, called “presence” which seems to make me brighter. All in all, that would be it in a nut shell. I know I may be skipping huge steps, or doing things backwards… any input would help, thank you for your time.

    • http://www.weiss-sound.com Matthew Weiss

      Hey K,

      First, I am glad that you are taking notes and trying things for yourself. Experimentation leads to better methods! And, not every technique fits everyone’s aesthetics. If you know you are not satisfied with the sound you are getting that means that somewhere in the your mind’s ear you have an idea of what you want it to sound like – though it may be a bit hazy. Chase that sound.

      The NT1A mic and oktane preamp, while not bad mics by any stretch, are not the best in the world – so you are going to be a bit limited right from the gate – but with proper approach you should be able to get a decent sound. Mixing to a 2-track instrumental is a challenge, as you cannot effect the individual elements in order to make room for the vocals, so again you are a bit limited.

      Take the compressor off the master bus, and put a limiter on there, with the threshold set all the way to the top at 0db. You really just want it to catch any peaks that might result from adding vocals to an already limited 2-track.

      Instead of putting reverb on everything – just put a little on the vocals, and try to find a reverb that seems to match tonally and rhythmically to the sound of the instrumental. This will give you a bit of that “it belongs there” without smudging and loss of punch.

      Compression settings on vocals – that’s a whole bag-o-worms. It can help to have the compressor doing continuous gain reduction that sort of follows the rhythm of the vocal. Medium attack, medium release, moderate threshold, 3:1 ratio. But that’s total ball park. You’re going to have to experiment to get the right sound.

  • K Panda

    Wow again, I appreciate the timely response. I addded the limiter to the master out, moving the compressor to just the vocals. As for the tracks themselves, I have one, hosting the competition instrumental, one holding the main vocal, and one hosting the “dubs” or “adlibs”. When I read your response, i had the feeling 2 tracking vocals was a bad idea and maybe i should have more?

    As for the compressor, I will continue to play with the settings untill I know what it’s doing.

    The reverb, I added it to just the vocals, to see if it’d compliment the instrumental any, and to be completely honest, i might have placed the mix in too low… so it didnt make a whole lot of difference, shame on I. Ill keep trying to find the right balance.

    I forgot to mention, I am using KRK rock it 5s to monitor and Shure SRH840 headphones. Since I am not involved in the instrumental making, do you see it better to mix with the KRKs or the SHUREs?

    Again, thank you so much for your input. The base I’m stationed at has more frogs than people, and a zombie following in music production.

    • http://www.weiss-sound.com Matthew Weiss

      With mixing you want to get as much individual control over elements as possible. I wouldn’t want to have to process the vocals all in a summed track, because the adlibs will probably sound best processed differently than the main vocal track. How many adlibs you do is up to your personal taste as an artist. I generally feel less is more, but for trap stuff or down south stuff I’ll hear 4, 5, 6, stacks of vocals. So it depends what you like and want.

      For reverb, listen closely to the snare in your instrumental track – that will give away an audible reverb to match. Finding the right level is important, I usually don’t like the reverb on the vocals up too much – just a subtle hint. It should be more about making it “feel” like a part of the track.

      With monitoring – I would say use both. Do most of your mixing on the KRKs, but switch to the Shure headphones. Your mix should sound decent on both.

      Frogs tend to make for pretty poor comrades in my experience, but zombies are usually worse. Try not to let either bite you.

      If you’re still having trouble, shoot me an mp3 of your track, matt@weiss-sound.com and I’ll give it a listen. See if I can give you any specifics.

  • Tanch

    Matthew what books, DVD’s or any other form of tutorial material would you recommend for a beginner like myself ? I am very eager to learn how to mix my own music down and master it to an extent using affordable equipment and plug-ins. Please any products you could recommend or anything you think would help me learn would be greatly appreciated.

    • http://www.weiss-sound.com Matthew Weiss

      Hi Tanch,

      First, keep reading the articles on here. There’s a lot of good ones. So http://www.TheProAudioFiles.com , keep that site on deck. I like Gearslutz.com and Futureproducers.com as a source of shared info. Also, check out “Pensados Place” – it’s a web series hosted by one of the best mixing engineers in the world – Dave Pensado. I’ve been tossing around the idea of doing some more in depth writings as well so be on the look out for that stuff.

      Product wise, I’ll say this – there’s a lot of stuff out there, and 90% of it is good. Any DAW can be used as a mixing platform. When I started, you pretty much used Pro Tools, or Digital Performer. Now, there’s Logic, Cubase, Nuendo, Sonar, Fruity Loops, Garage Band, Acid, Reaper – and they’re all good. I’d say go for Reaper – it’s 40$ and the functionality is incredible. The learning curve on all these programs can be a little rough at first, but eventually you learn it and you get good. Plugin wise, start with the stock plugins – see how far that stuff can get you. You’ll figure out what you really need on the way. And if you have any questions, I’m always available as a resource, here, or at http://www.weiss-sound.com , my email being matt@weiss-sound.com .

  • Tommy Ca$h

    Would you have any recording/mixing sugestions for me being a strictly hardware person? I have a pretty good albeit pretty cheap set up. I have a roland fantom keyboard-kurzwiel k2000 rackmount both midi’d to roland mv8000 sampler/drum macnine/sequencer {my baby} which is the centerpiece of my studio, it has 128 tracks of midi and 8 audio which i use for vocals. I sequence, mix and master to the mv8000. It has amp and mic modeling, various mastering tool kits and seperate eq and effects on each frack. I use a Blue baby bottle mic thru a Beringer tube preamp and then to a Beringer composer pro compresser to the Beringer 12 ch mixer . I hear alot of Beringer bashing but i’ve never had a problem or my ears haven’t matured enough to cause me to want/need more, plus im broke. Kurzwiel and Fantom left and right audio outs are patched to the stereo channels of the mixer. The mixers main outs are sent to the MV’s audio in. I use the Fantom and the Kurwiel for sounds and do most of my sampling with the mv unless i want to add effects. If thats the case I sample on the Fantom and make the sample a patch which now lets me treat the sample as midi. Everything else is done with the MV. The Fantom and the K2000 offer additional outs that I do not use at this time{fantom -4 total k2000 – 8 total} What i want to know is – 1. Is that the best routing configuration? – 2. How would adding a patcbay aide me. – 3. How would u mix/master with the setup that i have. – 4 What additional gear if any would u suggest that i incorporate to achieve the best sound possible? Sorry this was so long but I wanted to be as detailed as possible. Oh yeah I monitor with Rockit 8 powered monitors. Thank you in advance as I know I ‘ve requested alot

    • http://www.weiss-sound.com Matthew Weiss

      1. Routing – I believe the MV8000 has an RBus I/O point. It looks like a blue monitor connector. I believe you can use that as additional input points, which would allow you to skip the need for a mixer or a patchbay given your setup. Double check the manual about that.

      I would skip the mixer. 2 line in from the Fantom, 2 line in from the Kurz, Bottle mic —-> Behringer Tube —–> line in on the MV8000. I would skip the compressor and mixer all together. The reason Behringer gets bashed is because most of their stuff doesn’t usually sound that good or it breaks easily. But regardless of that, the simplest signal path is often the best. I would use the compressor as an external processing unit, and probably sell the mixer.

      2. I don’t think you have quite the amount of equipment necessary for a patchbay.

      3. I would mix and master the same way I would mix or master in any other setup – with my ears. The platform makes little difference. Again, I would try to be minimal. Use the best sounds you can from the get go – the better they sound to begin with, the easier the mix. I would mix primarily on your KRKs, but I would switch to headphones just as another reference point to help get a mix that translates.

      4. I would master what you have at your finger tips now. I would look into acoustic treatment, but outside of that you have everything you need to make a track. Ultimately it’s going to come down to your creativity and your skill – no matter what equipment you do or don’t have.

      If you need anything else, feel free to ask.

  • Tommy Ca$h

    First of all you are the man! Thank you so much for the timely response. I’m not at home so I will have to check that RBus solution later.
    I should have mentioned my recording/listening space is in a large basement (roughly 20 x 40 with 7 ft ceilings} It has been treated with 2 roominator kits with priority given to the front and rear walls and the ceiling directly over the listening position. I have also added a few homemade treatments of my own such as 4 – 3x3x1′ basstraps made from discarded couch cushins and the ever popular fast food drink holder wall treatment in a 8 ft strip across the ceiling front to back. This is placed over 1 inch of styrofoam. The treatment is also on the side walls in a 4ft strip around the remainder of the roominator treatment.
    As far as using the compressor as an external processor – please explain.
    You recomended discarding the mixer but since I sample from different sources (CD Tape MP3 and Live) on both the MV and the Fantom wouldnt it be easier/better to have all those sources on seperate mixer channels and use the tape outs of the mixer to the audio ins of the Fantom or the MV? I’m not being a smart a$$ I’m sincerly seeking your input. That was actually the reason I asked about the patchbay because I get tired of hooking/unhooking sources to and from the Fantom and MV.
    I hope I’m not working your nerves but I’m usually the guy my circle of friends go to for info ( kind of like the one eyed man in the land of the blind ) so its good to have MY questions answered by someone with more knowledge and experience than myself.

  • Dustin

    this was thoroughly helpful… thanks a lot man

  • http://www.youtube.com/officialbigstat Bigstat

    Great Article. Thank you Matt.
    Ive been mixing tracks for years and this article made everything make sense.

    -Stat

  • Deez

    Matthew first off this article was very informative and helpful. I was wondering though if it was possible to email you my raw vocal and you give me an idea of what your first step would be when mixing it.

    • http://www.weiss-sound.com Matt

      Without even hearing it, I could tell you my first step. Figure out what you want it to sound like – decide a context for the vocal. Do you want it up front? Do you want something else up front? Start prescribe different thinks you want your vocals to do and convey – aggression? intimacy? excitement?

      Then start figuring out how to do it.

  • JMP Productions

    wow such a great article. first thing ive printed in a while and intended to use!
    just got krk rpg 6s today, neumann tlm 102, m- audio box, and logic. just learing to do my own engineering on my tracks but this helped a lot! im on my way to school in two weeks so if i have any questions you seem like your the perfect guy to help, and give it no BS.

    thanks again man!

  • http://reverbnation.com/lyricalkill Epicthought

    Hey matt sure you have heard it a million times great article, i’m new to home recording i’ve always been the mc now learning the listening game. I have a dbx preamp i feel the settings are ok have been checking articles all over for adequate settings because i work alone very hard to hear and change you know. Any setting suggestions? I also have it paired with the c214 what are your thoughts on that combo as far as quality. And everyone is using their own made beats im using non instrument tracks strictly left an right wav mp3s already made what are you suggestions to mix vocals an the beat? Sorry for the book lol lastly i usually do main track a double and adlibs how do you go about beefing up the volume without clipping?

    • http://www.weiss-sound.com Matthew Weiss

      Wowzers – lot of questions there! Ok, here we go.

      Dbx preamp – I’m guessing it’s the 286A? I’m not a huge fan, but I would say, skip the compressor and just control your own dynamics through delivery. The finer points of compressing vocals I would address in the mix. If your voice isn’t “essy”, I’d skip the de-esser. Maybe a *touch* from the enhancer would sound good – but go really light on it. Those things give immediate gratification, but ultimately screw up the sound when pushed. My qualm with things like the 286A is that they give you way more than what you need. Inline processing during the tracking phase is really best for people who are very experienced, not people who are buying their first preamp.

      C214 – I’ve never used this mic.

      What the heck is a non instrument track strictly left right wav mp3? Is it an instrumental or not? Is it a wav or an mp3?

      Mixing vocals to a 2-tracked beat. It totally depends on what the track and the vocal sounds like. But the first thing I would do is turn the track down about 10db. Get your vocal to stand nice and clear, then re-limit everything up 9db at the end. Need to use a limiter though, you can’t just regain the overall volume.

      Beefing up vocals – that could be a book unto itself. A lot of times I skip the doubles. For slower raps a doubled track can be good, but for anything fast it usually blurs the main vocal too much. One cool trick for adding body, is copying the main take onto a separate track and running it through some heavy distortion. Then filter the distorted version with a lo-pass around 2khz, and a hi-pass around 200hz. Blend that track in with the clean vocal take at 15db quieter than the main. Specifically for volume, it’s all about compressing the signal to where it thickens up heavily, and eq’ing the “presence” up. Just gotta make sure you don’t overdo it on either of those points.

    • Uouin

      Matthew said:
      “Mixing vocals to a 2-tracked beat. It totally depends on what the track and the vocal sounds like. But the first thing I would do is turn the track down about 10db. Get your vocal to stand nice and clear, then re-limit everything up 9db at the end. Need to use a limiter though, you can’t just regain the overall volume.”

      Could you expound more on relimiting at the end? What type of limiter do you suggest for this? Such as a Maxim limiter w/ pro tools? Won’t putting this on the master track cause compression/distortion of the sound?

      Thanks!

  • http://reverbnation.com/lyricalkill Epicthought

    Ok i’ll try for the track part i was saying i have basically industry instrumentals is it better to put the beat on a mono track where its seperated as left to right but center panned? Or should I put it on a stereo track where it gets pan equally automatically? And i’ve read panning threads as well I do the doubling trick you talked about i like that way better for making the vocals louder thanks for confirming. Panning itself is a whole project though do you leave any tracks center pan or pan the main and copied. I’ve experimented with copying the main 3 times one left panned the other right an the last center came out ok any thoughts on it? Finally lol the dbx yes its a 268a an it is a lot for my first time lol. Ok so basically your saying use it as for as least modification as possible?

    • http://www.weiss-sound.com Matthew Weiss

      Put the beat on a stereo track.

      Creating three tracks and panning one hard left, one center, and one hard right, is the same as turning up the volume (essentially). The key to copying the tracks in order to provide thickness is to modify the copy in some way. This is called “parallel processing”. Essentially, you are building an effect into the main “dry” version, and blending in the “wet signal”.

      For slower raps, if TWO doubles are provided, I will pan them apart, and blend them in subtly to make the main vocal feel wide. I often pan adlibs apart as well.

      Use the 268a as a preamp. Experiment with the other stages – certainly – you might find something giving you a cool or unique sound, or something that suits your ear. However, generally speaking, the key to good tracking is the quality of the signal path, and the gain staging. Try to find a “sweet spot” on your gain control on the preamp. That control isn’t just volume, it also effects the tone and quality of the signal as well.

  • http://reverbnation.com/lyricalkill Epicthought

    ok thank you I will work on that if you get anytime i have songs on reverbnation.com/lyricalkill the top ones are the newest if you can check one let me know how it sounds to a pro ear thanks.

  • dman

    I record with a boss br 1180..and I’m wondering exactly what I can do with it? I purchased it without a owners manual. I’ve had the thing for years now. And though the quality is great, I just know it could be so much better. Would pro tools or anything like that be better?

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  • Matthew Paz

    Another solid article I read them in reverse but both mixing rap vocals articles are amazing! Us Hip Hop guys don’t get as much love as the rock fellas! at least in the engineering world haha

  • Aeionli Trai

    This is probably one of the more insightful, well-written FAQs on mixing rap vocals that I’ve come across. Excellent job, sir.

  • Anthony L

    I really appreciate the help first of all. I don’t know anything hardly about mixing. I’m using Ableton Live 8. I have a Blue encore 100 microphone, it’s a dynamic mic. With a TC Electronic Twin interface. My question. How do I go about smoothing out the volume qualitys of my hip hop vocals? I’ve heavily compressed them which sits fine for me style wise and is something I want, but the volume in my vocals are inconsistant. Is this just poor rapping skill? What should I do? Thanks.

    • Anthony L

      Also in LIve there are settings for vocal EQ in the Key of A, C , E. Is it wrong to maybe find settings and set them in the key of D?

    • http://www.weiss-sound.com Matt Weiss

      Sorry for the slow reply.

      Hit it on two fronts – first, try to really control your own dynamics on a performance level. That’s not to say you have poor rapping skills, but stylistically if you want an even performance the best way is to hunker down and practice it that way.

      Secondly, compression doesn’t necessarily even things out in a predictable way. How you set it makes all the difference. If you just want to generally even out the performance, set your compressor so that you are do a little bit of compression most of the time, with a slow attack, and medium release. Light ratio. This will gently even out the overall level without overworking the compressor.

  • http://www.xanfx.com RL7

    Great article,thanks….

    • http://www.weiss-sound.com Matt Weiss

      Thanks for commenting!

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  • kc flame

    this piece is extremely helpful im a begginer and i would appreciate more guidance if possible im low budget very low but i make some good stuff

    • http://www.weiss-sound.com Matt Weiss

      The best piece of guidance I can give you is try to get things sounding as “mixed” by really mastering your own vocal tone and performance. I think people have gotten a little too reliant on the mix. A great performance feels like it belongs in the track, feels full and tonally balanced, and generally oversteps the limitations of the equipment you are using.

      In other words, take the time to perform it until it sounds right. Then do minimal stuff in the mix just to sand the edges.

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  • Jon

    Hi Matthew,

    I wouldn’t consider myself a beginner but starting to get more into understanding the science of the sound, if you want to call it that.
    Just a suggestion, as your article is one of the more detailed out there, if you could include screenshots of frequency curves, or plugin settings it would help 10 fold.

    As an ex: “Another good thing to try is using delay (echo) – and pushing the delay way in the background, with a lot of high end rolled off of it.”

    Kind of know what you mean “high end rolled off of it” but screenshot would be sweet. Regardless of platform I think we’d get the jyst. I use Cubase but easy enough to draw parallels between others.

    Thanks for considering,
    Jon

    • http://weiss-sound.com Matt Weiss

      Hello Jon!

      I’ve certainly considered using screen shots in my posts, however, I usually decide against it. My issue with using screen shots is that it doesn’t tell enough of the story. With something like EQ you have to consider that the end result is what really matters. So I could boost a million decibels into a frequency, and it might seem excessive – but if that’s what the sound needed it’s not excessive at all. In fact, not doing making that boost would be the equivalent of taking a perfectly good sound and cutting a million decibels out! If that makes sense….

      So without context a screen shot is really not helpful. In fact, it’s really YOUR subjectivity and aesthetic that defines your sound. In terms of a delay, I may start my low-pass filter as low as 2kHz, maybe lower if I choose to. Or I might not low-pass at all! I’m making a choice based on a) what’s there and (b) what I want to evoke. Only you can really decide if a voice sounds too bouncy, not bouncy enough, too bright, too dark, needs a flanger whatever. I’m hoping to aim you at aesthetic possibilities and things that I’ve found effective for my own process in hopes that you will find your own approach!

  • eli

    Hey Matthew,
    First of all, thanks for the tips!
    I have a question about the compression: you said you use a very slow attack, but my logic says it should be a fast one, because the performer will probably speak fast, and until the compression starts working it won’t be relavant anymore (correct me if i’m wrong about it).
    Thanks again. :)

    • Kid Charlemagne

      Definitely use a fast attack and medium release on rap vocals. Not sure what he’s talking about

    • Matthew Weiss

      If you are not sure what I am talking about I ask that you read “Mixing Rap Vocals Part 3 – Compression”.

      Eli – my apologies on the late reply! What I actually said was that for controlling general dynamics: “if you aren’t automating, a light ratio, slow attack, slow release, and just catching the louder moments with the threshold is a good way to even things out.” This is only one functional way of using a compressor on rap vocals. I also said that for micro dynamic control “Generally a fast attack and release, and a light ratio does the job.” It’s a bit of a heavy article – it’s long, and dense. So essentially, you are right for how you are applying logic, and just mistaken on the specifics of what I wrote.

  • Young Shaa

    Very deep explanations, clear and informative. Thank you Matthew. :)

    • Matthew Weiss

      You dig!

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  • Jason Anthony DiBartolo

    Great Clear article. I appreciate the time you put into that. Helping me quite a bit

    • Matthew Weiss

      Great!

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  • Emaan Kazemi

    I got ton of rap songs, if anyone wants practice mixing, i can send a song over to you. Email if your intererested . EmaanKazemi@gmail.com

    • Matthew Weiss

      Very cool of you Emaan. I hope people who are trying to learn hop on board and shoot you an email!

    • mohanad

      me

    • mohanad

      i can’t get to your email
      please add me on facebook
      mohanadsmart@yahoo.com
      i realy need to learn mixing
      it’s gonna be amazing to my new rap songs

    • mohanad

      thanks emen

  • mohanad

    i want help
    in learning mixing and mastering anybody can help ?

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  • Jacob Grant

    I literally just started mixing my first rap two days ago and this article cleared up a lot of the myths and lies I’ve been seeing everywhere else—such as using reverb, which I hate.

    Even for an extremely green-horned novice like me this article was very informative and well written. Thanks!

  • http://www.producerspot.com/ Producer SPOT

    very nice

  • Romello

    I’m wondering if there are any experienced people willing to mix my songs for me regularly.

    • Freddie Crookz

      Romello I’ll mix 2 of them for you as I’m practicing my mixing. I’m pretty good with it so far as I’ve purchase the tutorials from this site including some from Ken Lewis another engineer that’s help me understand mixing a lot. Prep your session, if you don’t know how then here’s a vid to get you started > http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8rye_U6jGs0

      Just send the session over to 1fred1me@gmail.com

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