Mixing Rap Vocals to a Pre-Mixed Instrumental (Part 2: The Beat)

Transcript:

Hey, folks. Matthew Weiss here — www.weiss-sound.com, www.theproaudiofiles.com.

We’re going to be continuing on the practice of mixing vocals to a 2-track instrumental beat.

So, last time in the first part, when we were discussing this, I had a beat that was overall, fairly well mixed. All I really needed to do was subtly open it up.

But what happens when you have a beat that’s a little more problematic?

Let’s listen to this one.

[hip-hop beat plays]

Here, it’s really, really heavily compressed. The kick is very flat, the synth has been compressed to the point where it’s louder than the snare. The snare has almost no punch.

So while this beat is not bad by any stretch, it’s not audibly distorted or horrendously disproportionate, it’s still kind of problematic in the fact that it’s all very flat.

So, to illustrate why this is a problem, let me give you two scenarios.

We could either have the beat lying flat as is with the vocals in.

[hip-hop instrumental]

In which case, the vocal is way on top of the beat.
Or, we could turn the beat up…

[song plays]

Which feels a little bit better overall, but now the vocal feels like it’s sort of being masked by that synth sound.

So the best way to do this would be to open it up dynamically. Another way of thinking about this is if you have a perfectly flat table, the only thing you can do is sit something on top of it.

If, however, you have some kind of a curved structure, you can sit something inside of it. And that’s what we’re trying to do.

So okay. How do we do this?

Well, first of all, let’s see if we can expand our transient stuff. Our kick and our snare.

Let’s start with our kick. That one feels like we could probably grab it. The way we’re going to do it is by using this FabFilter Pro-G in upward expansion mode. What that means is that as a signal gets loud and passes the threshold, this is going to make it even louder. So it’s the opposite of a compressor. Compressor, it gets over the threshold, a compressor pulls it down. Here, we get over the threshold, we’re pushing it up.

So here, let’s check this out.

[hip-hop beat plays]

You can see in that graph that there was basically no transients that we can grab. You can hear it, too. It sounds very flat. But, let’s try this.

We have this little side chain here. What that means is we can feed the detector circuit only what we want it to hear. In this case, because we want the kick to be triggering things, we can actually filter the whole signal down.

[hip-hop instrumental, filtered]

Now, you can see that there are little transient moments.

So, what we can do – and this is my pre-setting here – is we set our side-chain to hear everything that’s under 300 in this particular case. We set the threshold low enough to grab the peaks, and then we set a very fast attack, and a fairly fast release.

What ends up happening is now the kick, which is breaching the threshold, gets pushed up a little bit more.

[beat plays, expanded kick]

So, we’ve made the kick jump out of the track.

Alright, cool. That’s one step in the right direction.

Well, what about the snare? Unfortunately, the synth is so loud relative to the snare, that I actually wasn’t able to grab it, which means I needed to do something that might surprise you.

I went through my drum library, and I found a similar snare to the one in the mix.

[snare sample plays]

And I lined it up with the snare that was already in there, and got this.

[beat plays]

Now, we have dynamics! Yup. That’s how sometimes you got to do it.

Alright, so then what else? Well, frequency wise, I felt like the track was basically proportionate. There was something that was annoying me in the upper-mid range that I wanted to take out, about 1.5k, and I felt that it could use a little life in the top, top end.

So here’s a quick before and after on that.

[isntrumental plays, before and after Pro-Q2]

And you’ll notice when I do that, the hat suddenly has a sense of dynamic as well, and the entire spectrum spreads out a little bit, because the hat, which is on the right side, suddenly starts popping to life.

And then lastly, overall, I just felt like it could use a little more side, so I used the Waves Center again to just kind of build the side around.

Alright. So, here I am going to do a before and after.

[song plays, before and after]

And just for kicks, I’m going to show you the before and after if I had simply turned the beat up as opposed to doing all that other stuff.

[song plays, before and after volume boost]

Now, it actually kind of sounds like the whole record was mixed together, which is kind of cool.

We’ve got dynamics, we’ve got front-to-back imaging, we’ve got side-to-side width, and we’ve got a much better sounding record overall.

Alright, guys. Until next time!

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is a Grammy nominated and Spellemann Award winning audio engineer from Philadelphia. Matthew has mixed songs for Snoop, Sonny Digital, Gorilla Zoe, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development, 9th Wonder, !llmind & more. Get in touch: Weiss-Sound.com.
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  • LOL

    Hey Matt! I’ll soon be working with hip-hop vocals recorded to a pre-mixed 2-track, and have a quick question. I’m working with solely the standard run-of-the-mill Protools package plugins. Would it be possible to achieve the gated expansion that you created with the FabFilter expander by side-chaining an EQ to the Dyn3 expander/gate?

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