Today, we have Paul “Willie Green” Womack with us, and he is going to share 5 hip-hip vocal mixing tricks to get your raps right and your vocals sounding professional!
We have also just released a brand new course with Willie, so make sure you check that out too, so you can learn even more amazing tips and tricks from him! Click here to get Producing, Editing, and Mixing R&B with Willie Green!
1. The Pan Pot is Your Friend
When it comes to getting your dubs and your ad libs to ring out of your mix, the pan pot is your friend. Instead of masking those background vocals right behind your lead like that, you can use the pan and just nudge them a little bit, even just two or three degrees to the left or to the right and they’re going to peek out and have their own space in your mix. Now all of a sudden, instead of being hidden behind that lead, they’ve got their own space to breathe and they’re going to ring out that much more.
2. Saturation on Your Vocal
A little bit of tube saturation on your vocal can give it a nice, full, warm sound and give a little weight and importance to it. If you’ve got a really harsh, shrill sounding vocal and you want to ease or smooth that out, a little tape saturation will start to smooth out some of those rough edges. I don’t mean completely trash it out, but just enough to smooth it, and that will also add that weight and keep your vocal hanging right there. Now if you need to go further, if you want a special effect vocal, go ahead and trash that thing!
3. Delay Instead of Reverb
Reverb, stylistically, is not really used that often on rap vocals. Although that is starting to change a little bit with the melodic stuff that people are doing. But as far as on a straight ahead rap, you don’t often hear a lot of reverb on it, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need space around out vocal. We don’t live in an anechoic chamber, every room that you’re in has some kind of reverb in it and so it feels unnatural to have a completely dry vocal in that way. So what I like to do, instead of putting a lot of reverb that doesn’t really fit in a record, is take a little bit of a slap delay – a 16th note or shorter, and I’ll send my vocal to that, and I’ll blend it low. There’s not a lot of feedback where its ringing out forever, but just enough to imply some space so the listener feels like the vocal is living somewhere and not just this dry thing hanging out there. That will also help move your vocal forward a little bit because now there is some kind of reference point to where it exists within the mix.
4. Most Important Thing in Your Record is Your Vocal
If there is a vocal in your record, the most important thing in that record is your vocal. You may have your drums knocking, your bass is rumbling, maybe you found the greatest sample of all time, but if those things are covering up your vocal, so they can’t hear the raps, you need to make some concessions. Maybe you need to clear out a little bit in the mids to let the body and the fullness of that vocal sit there, or maybe if they’re not getting your clarity and intelligibility, maybe you need to notch out in the upper mids where these things are competing.
There are a lot of EQs nowadays that have frequency analyzers that will show you not just what’s happening on that track, but you can send a sidechain from another track so you can compare and see what’s happening. So you can have the frequency of your sample, and overlay the frequency response of that vocal and see where they’re clashing and then you can just notch out where you need to and let that vocal shine like it needs to do.
5. Be Thoughtful With Your Compression
You don’t have to compress everything in your mix just to compress everything, and you don’t have to squash the heck out of your vocals because somebody like me told you to on the Internet. Make sure you use your ears, and you want to compress and keep a consistent vocal and you want to be able to hold that right up front where you want it, but when it is oversquashed, you’re taking the life out of it.
So first, look at that wet/dry knob, or if you’re working in parallel, how much you’re bringing up that parallel compression, and you want to be able to hold that vocal very consistently right up front, but also keep some dynamics because that’s the forgotten part about flow. It’s not just rhythm, it’s also how you dip in and out of those words.
Also, keep a good eye on your attack and release times. So, your attack time on your compressor, that to me is almost like the focus knob. That’s when you catch it in the right way, it’s for that vocal just sitting right in front of you like you want it to, but without choking it up. With the release knob, that is going to give you your clarity. If you’ve got too long of a release time, and that compressor is never letting back off, that’s where you start to lose the high end in your vocal. If you shorten the release time, the vocal will open back up for you because the compressor is working and is letting off when it needs to. Rap vocals move a lot faster than sung vocals, so you’re probably going to be looking at shorter release times to keep that clarity, while also controlling your rhymes and putting them right where you need to put them.
Don’t forget to check out Producing, Editing, and Mixing R&B with Willie Green!
Watch the video below to learn more about these amazing mixing tricks for hip-hop vocals!