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Mixing Rap Vocals to a Pre-Mixed Instrumental (Part 3: Vocals)

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Mixing Rap Vocals to a Pre-Mixed Instrumental (Part 3: Vocals)
Mixing Rap Vocals to a Pre-Mixed Instrumental (Part 3: Vocals) - youtube Video
So, welcome to part 3 of mixing a vocal to an already mixed 2-track instrumental.

The question here is now, once we have the beat in consideration, do we have to do anything differently to our vocal treatment in order to get it to work with the 2-track instrumental?

Well, yes and no. The reason why the first two videos focus on opening up the beat is because the more we’re able to open up the dynamic of the beat, the less we have to start making other types of compromises towards the vocal, and I think it’s important to not over stress the vocal and make the vocals sound weird, obviously.

So, let’s give this a listen.

[instrumental + rap vocals]

So, here’s what I did with this vocal.

First of all, the vocal was tracked in with compression. It wasn’t tracked in with the heaviest compression, but it was tracked in with some compression.

Here’s how it sounds.

[hip-hop instrumental + rap vocals]

Obviously, it’s way low for the track, but what I did was I started off with some distortion to add a little bit of presence to the overall sound, and to create a subtle compression curve.
So now, that’s two stages of compression, right?

[song, distortion on vocals]

Some basic EQ just to open up the vocal.

[song, EQ on vocals]

And a little bit more EQ just to sort of bring it to life and make it pop.


[song, second EQ on vocals]

Now we’re getting somewhere.

Now, the vocal is just a little bit loose, so I’m going to add more compression. A little bit of compression.

[instrumental + rap, compressor on vocals]

I’m only doing about 3dB of gain reduction on that meter. I don’t know how much it actually is in terms of actual reduction, but it’s only registering three on the meter. So it’s not a huge amount of compression, but notice that this is my third compression stage that is going into this vocal.

Lastly, I’m using a limiter. I love the Oxford Limiter for this. This is definitely my favorite of – you know, there’s a whole bunch of limiters out there, but for this particular application, this one is hands down the best.

[beat + rap vocals, limiter on vocals]

What I like about the limiter is that I can do 2-3 dB of gain reduction on it, and it will stay fairly transparent, so I can get a lot more apparent volume out of the limiter than what I could maybe do with compression. The limiter is always the last thing for the vocal for me, and you think about it this way.

The beat has been heavily compressed. It’s hit a limiter really hard, which means it’s really dense. In order to get a vocal to sit and compete with that, it also needs to be pretty dense, most of the time.

Then, this little enhancement thing here can be nice too. It sort of skews the frequency field a little bit to kind of favor a louder presence, so that’s one of the reasons I like this limiter a lot. It does it a little bit even if the enhance is on 0%.

Now, because I was able to open up the beat so much, I don’t feel that I actually used any more compression that what I might use just on the vocal in and of itself.

[rap vocal play]

It’s maybe a little more heavily compressed than what I would normally go for. You hear some of the breaths and huskiness come off the end of his vocals. So it’s a little heavy, but because the compression is done in gentle serial stages, three stages of lighter compression, it’s not as noticeable, and the limiter at the end also makes it fairly transparent and gets the vocal up.


Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is the recordist and mixer for multi-platinum artist Akon, and boasts a Grammy nomination for Jazz & Spellemann Award for Best Rock album. Matthew has mixed for a host of star musicians including Akon, SisQo, Ozuna, Sonny Digital, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development and 9th Wonder. Get in touch:

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