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Tips for Mixing Rap Vocal Doubles/Ad-Libs

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Hip-Hop Mix Tips: Mixing Rap Vocal Doubles/Ad-Libs
Hip-Hop Mix Tips: Mixing Rap Vocal Doubles/Ad-Libs - youtube Video
Hey guys. Matthew Weiss here.

Today we’re talking about rap ad-lib vocals. Now, when a rap ad-lib is in the mix, you have to make a determination – if that ad-lib is meant to be felt or heard. In this particular case and tutorial I will be showing you what to do when you want the ad-lib to be heard. Now, what that means is that the ad-lib is going to up and present in the mix.

The goal is to be able to have the ad-lib up but not distracting from the lead vocal. So here’s the plan of attack. We are going to remove anything that would get in the way of hearing the lead vocal, anything that would pull the ear away from the lead vocal, and then we’re going to set the level of where we want it.

In order to make this work, you have to have the lead vocal basically treated or completely treated the way you want it to sound, because what we’re going to do is we are going to mix the ad-lib vocal against- the lead vocal. That’s our barometer, that’s what’s going to determine if we’re doing it right. So I’m going to play this for you without the ad-libs in. You’re just going to hear the treated lead vocal and the untreated track in the background. Oh, also the rapper is a really awesome rapper named Jean Grae. She signed Talib Kweli’s label, Blacksmith. Really cool so check her out.

[rap vocal]

Let’s bring in the ad-lib vocal and what I’m going to do is I’ll start bringing it up until it starts to step all over the lead vocal.


That’s pretty in the way. So I’m going to grab an EQ, I’m going to grab a ten-band EQ and I’m going to go town and remove everything I don’t like. Remember, it’s a backup vocal. You’re not going to hear it in solo, it doesn’t need to shine, it doesn’t need to stand on it’s own. It needs to get the heck out of the way. So here we go.


Next thing I’m going to do, and by the way, that was kind of half- assed, like the actual curve that I ended up going with was this one which is similar, but I’m just going to copy and paste that over. I just wanted to run through it to give you the idea. Okay. The next step I’m going to do is, anytime the vocal jumps, that’s going to tell my ear, “Listen to that.” A sudden noise. So if she leans too much into one of her words, that’s going to pull my ear away from the lead vocals. So I’m going to use some compression.

My compression thought process is very different. Normally when I’m compressing vocals I’m thinking either I just want to sublty control things or I want to use compression to thicken up the entire sound and move the sound forward. In this case we don’t want the sound to move forward. We want it to stay in the background and we want to heavily control the peaks. So that’s our mentality. When you think about it and when you put in the mentality of what you want to happen you can start to dissect what needs to happen.

I want to heavily control the peaks. That means I need a fast attack. I don’t the sustain of the vocal to come forward relative to the attack, so I need a slower release. Okay. Cool. So using that as my barometer I can figure it out. What I’ve done is I’m not using the highest ratio. I don’t want it to sound like the vocal is stressed. I want it to be still natural-sounding, but I’m setting the threshold pretty low. So here’s what that sounds like. Listen to the word “rap”


[rap vocal]

A lot more controlled. Now, you may have also noticed though that the vocal became muddier. Well, you’ve got to keep an ear out for that kind of stuff. Here’s the before and after in solo mode.

[rap vocals]

There’s a little extra bit of woofy-tubbiness that shows up, so as a result, as a reaction, keeping my ears open and being aware of what’s going on, I’m doing a little bit more EQ after the compression.

[mixing rap vocal]

Other things that need to be addressed, any ess-iness at all, we can get that out of the way. The ear is going to hear plenty of “s” because it’s already in the vocals. So I’m going to de-ess the crud out of this. I actually ended up using two de-essers. It’s going to sound weird in solo mode.


But no lack of ess when it’s actually in the mix. All right. I’m panning it off. I’ve got two of these things that sort of play off each other so I’m thinking hard-left hard-right. I’m going to create a nice movement across the stereo field. That’s what I’m going with and then I’m just going to find a volume I like.

Let’s listen to it down.


All right, guys. That is how you mix rap ad-libs. Did I mention I was tired? That is how you mix rap ad-lib vocals to a lead vocal.


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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