Thickening a Rap Vocal and the Effective Path of Least Resistance

Hey, guys. Matthew Weiss here — weiss-sound.com, theproaudiofiles.com/members, and mixthru.co.

This is going to be a tutorial on how to thicken up some thin rap vocals. First of all, if rap is not really your thing, you’re still going to get something out of this, because sometimes we get vocals that need to be thickened up, regardless of the genre.

The other thing is this is actually secretly a tutorial about being effective, because what we’re going to find is that when I do this, the immediate thought is that I really haven’t done much of anything. It’s going to be a very simple process, just a little dash of EQ. That’s it.

But, we live in a paradigm of DIY mixing where the goal is to do lots of stuff, as if doing lots of stuff is what makes you an effective mixing engineer, and the moral of this story is that actually, it’s the opposite.

The less that I have to do and the more efficiently I do less processing, that’s what’s going to make me the better engineer at the end of the day.

So anyway, now let’s get into it.

[mix playback]

So the rapper is Senim Silla from Binary Star. He is, in my opinion, one of the best rappers. He has an amazing delivery, amazing pocket, brilliant lyrics, he’s a fantastic live performer, I’ve seen him three or four times.

He’s amazing. But no matter how good of a vocalist, if you match the wrong mic to the wrong voice, this is what you get. He has a very bright voice. This is obviously a very bright mic, and the two just came together, and it just really exacerbated those very, very high harmonic nasal tones, and on top of that, the mic preamp combo just doesn’t have a particularly rich harmonic capture.

So here’s what I’m thinking. The voice could use a little bit more harmonic quality — a little more harmonic content, particularly in the low range, and the voice needs less of that cutting, bright, nasal tone.

So I’m going to pick an EQ that has a harmonic curve that will help the vocal feel thicker, and then at the same time, use that EQ to attenuate the stuff that I don’t like.

So I’m using a 1073 emulation. The tone of the 1073 is one that’s a little bit darker and richer and thicker. It’s going to roll off a little top end immediately, you’re going to hear some richer harmonics show up in the low end, and you’re going to hear how we’re accomplishing a couple of different things in one move.

I’m going to bypass — I haven’t done any EQ yet — I’m just going to bypass the EQ and then bring it back on.

[mix plays, before and after 1073]

And so, that’s subtle. It’s not a huge difference. All that’s happening is a little bit of rolloff from the top end from the super treble range, and a little bit of extra harmonic content happening in the lower mids to bass range, and I’ll play it one more time again, and what I want you to listen for is listen to the textural quality of his voice, and think about the thin-ness versus thickness, and that’s really what we’re listening for. That will clue you in to the subtle difference.

Here we go.

[mix playback, before and after EQ]

So it’s subtle, but you know, it’s giving me just a little bit more, and that’s all that I need.

So now, the next thing I’m going to do is I’m going to find that really, really irritating tone. I’m going to turn on my mid-band EQ here, I’m going to start it at 1.2, and let’s see if I can make it worse.

[mix plays]

So okay, I’m going to go with 3.8. I think that’s really the — I think the actual tone is focused somewhere around 3.3 or something like that. It’s kind of in between those two settings, but I think if I attenuate from 3.8, I’m going to get the job done.

[mix playback]

Now I’m just going to do a little bit of makeup gain to make it feel equally as present in the track, because remember, that’s what we’re really talking about here, right? We want — It’s not even about whether the volume levels are matched, it’s about whether the balance of the vocal with the record feels like it’s in the right place.

[mix plays]

So already, that’s way better. And now, all we really need to do is maybe pull up a little bit of the low, low end.

[song playback]

And I think that sounds pretty good. I mean, it’s definitely not done. It’s not 100% there. It still has a little bit of room tone that needs to be negotiated and things like that, but we’re already starting from a vastly improved place, and that’s the point.

You know, if I left it like this, I don’t think that anyone would be too mad about it. Hip Hop is a little forgiving of things that don’t sound super pristinely mixed, but it’s not so forgiving of a thin sounding vocal.

So this is an example of where I just took the path of least resistance to get the job done, and was effective in doing it.

So I hope that you guys learned something, and I will catch you 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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