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Specific advice on mixing rap vocals
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nars
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#1
1st September 2011
Old 1st September 2011
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Specific advice on mixing rap vocals

I've become fairly good at mixing down the instrumentals but it's difficult for me to get the rap vocal to "sit" on or assimilate into the track well. The vocals end up sounding too sharp or like it's a live recording, which is not a desirable sonic quality for myself. I want the vocal to stand out but still sound like it's mixed well into the song. My problem usually falls into the compression and EQ part of mixing (the most important part). I'm not exactly sure how much more precise I can be regarding this inquiry but hopefully I'm getting my point across. Can anyone share any advice or "secrets"? Or if more detail is needed, please ask me to elaborate. Thank you!
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1st September 2011
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nars View Post
I've become fairly good at mixing down the instrumentals but it's difficult for me to get the rap vocal to "sit" on or assimilate into the track well. The vocals end up sounding too sharp or like it's a live recording, which is not a desirable sonic quality for myself. I want the vocal to stand out but still sound like it's mixed well into the song. My problem usually falls into the compression and EQ part of mixing (the most important part). I'm not exactly sure how much more precise I can be regarding this inquiry but hopefully I'm getting my point across. Can anyone share any advice or "secrets"? Or if more detail is needed, please ask me to elaborate. Thank you!
load an audio example, it will be easier to establish what's the problem

peace
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1st September 2011
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Having a consistently tracked performance will help for a start.

But purely in the mixing realm, I think it's very much about compression, eq, and rides.

In some cases I find that different sections or even words or phrases can need slightly different settings.. This can be done either with automation, or splitting problematic parts onto different tracks.

The one compressor, hardware or software that I think would solve more than half of your problems...

drumroll......

1176.

and don't be too shy with it. Fastest release, hitting quite hard at 4 to 1 is a great sound.
All butons in can be very effective, too. In line or in parallel.

also, R-compressor and C4 .. as well as Waves de-esser or C1-sc.

Keep it dry or dry-ish.
Hope this helps.
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1st September 2011
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I know exactly what you are talking about without listening. I don't know if you are making the beats or not. If you are, it's often hard to "give up" some frequencies you worked so hard to sound right, to give the vocal some space. For me, I often have an easier time mixing songs that I did not create the instrumental to. I have a hunch these are your own instrumentals.

I am not where I want to be but getting better. The best thing I have found is really get the vocal sounding how you want. From a beat maker's perspective, we often get to heavy with EQ in particular. That's where I am thinking you are getting your "sharp" sound. The "live" sound is because you don't want to make changes to the instrumental to let it sit.

For me, I found I have to mix the instrumental around the vocal and just try to forget what I wanted my beat to sound like. So, as said, I have to get the vocal where I want to sound. I may go back but I have to start there. Then, I go to my snare. I usually find I put it quite a bit louder than my original version of the beat. I then get the kick and hi hats where I want compared to the snare. As I add the melody, I find that it ends up lower in the mix. Then I mute the vocals, see how it sounds. It will sound different from my beat, maybe a bit less appealing, but if it sounds off balance, I find that.


Again, I am assuming you are a beat maker and that makes things harder (IMO), at least at first. Or, maybe you arn't but you sound like you have the same issues, I, and other beat makers have because we mix our beats for the best listenablity on their own. You just have to forget about the beat sounding the way you want it, at first, and just make things fit. Over time, you find a better balance.
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1st September 2011
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sounds like the vox aren't compressed enough, from your initial post
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1st September 2011
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nars View Post
I've become fairly good at mixing down the instrumentals but it's difficult for me to get the rap vocal to "sit" on or assimilate into the track well. The vocals end up sounding too sharp or like it's a live recording, which is not a desirable sonic quality for myself. I want the vocal to stand out but still sound like it's mixed well into the song. My problem usually falls into the compression and EQ part of mixing (the most important part). I'm not exactly sure how much more precise I can be regarding this inquiry but hopefully I'm getting my point across. Can anyone share any advice or "secrets"? Or if more detail is needed, please ask me to elaborate. Thank you!
Question. When you say "I've become fairly good at mixing down the instrumentals" , do you mean a 2 track, like what goes on a mixtape, i.e., a rapper rapping over someone else's beat? If so, I suggest you star with the vocals 1st. High pass filter 1st. How much depends on the vocals, but as much as you can get away with. Then notch out some undesired frequencies, increase CAREFULLY the frequencies u like. Then do the opposite for the track. This will go a long way in getting them to sit well before even touching the compressor or reverb. For more info, invest in a copy of Mixing With Your Mind by Michael Paul Stavrou , and pay special attention to the compressor section. Either that or check your messages.
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2nd September 2011
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Grated you have a decent room, mic and pre amp, I tend to start with getting the best possible vocal delivery from the artist. Once I get all the right takes edited, cleaned and tuned I start with the lead vocal. I will notch out any harsh frequencies in the voice first. Followed by that, I will low cut the vocal and eq a little in the top end to add air to the voice. Then compress, de-ess etc. Then depending on the type of vocal I’m after, I will decide whether to use reverb or delay (delay for a dryer mix, reverb for a wet mix) You might want to also ride the vocal levels on words that sound too quiet or loud.
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nars
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2nd September 2011
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Thanks y'all, all of your guys' advice helped a lot.

And yes, I do make my own instrumentals and you're right; I don't wanna sacrifice how banging and loud they sound. So you really think I have to adjust the volume on my instrumentals? No other way around it? I'll try some and I'll try to post a vocal track on here.
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2nd September 2011
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Specific advice on mixing rap vocals

+1 Talintsiawd. Most of what I would say...

My .02 to add:

Use an enveloper to reduce room noise. Many home recordings suffer from sub par rooms. Something like spl deverb can do wonders BEFORE any other processing.

And IF you can still access the individual tracks of the beat try this:

Drop all faders. Bring up just the kick, keep it low enough that you still have tons of headroom with it's fader on your daw's mixer. Now turn up your monitors/speakers to where it is loud and proud. (do NOT use any part of your daw for
THIS volume increase). Now, back to the daw, bring up the vox to where they sound good in relation to the kick. Then snare in relation to the kick and vox. Then upper register tracks (ie pads and violins) then hats, then finally any bass/or sub synths.

This works.

It's not the only method... But if you can get vox, kick, snare to sit right the rest will fall into place. Promise.

One of the biggest tricks is remembering that an instramental has it's own lead sounds, but once a rapper is added he/she should now be the lead. Meaning some elements of an otherwise perfect arrangement need to take a step back.
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2nd September 2011
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I got over this issue when it finally sank in that the vocal performance is the most important part of the track...it needs to be the closest to your face...theres some great info here to help you get there.
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2nd September 2011
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nars View Post
I've become fairly good at mixing down the instrumentals but it's difficult for me to get the rap vocal to "sit" on or assimilate into the track well.
This may sound snarky, but I honestly don't mean it to, so please don't take it the wrong way:

Maybe you're not as good at mixing the instrumentals as you think. Unless the song is going to remain an instrumental, the mix ain't right if the vocals aren't sitting well. Especially with pop music, the vocal IS the song. It IS the mix.

It'd be like saying, "I'm pretty good at mixing hip hop, except for I can't get the bottom end right".

If you're not getting it right, the mix isn't on-point. You gotta leave space for the vocal.

Again, no disrespect. Just something to consider. Best of luck to you
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nars
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2nd September 2011
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Haha I think you all are right about me probably effing up the instrumental mix.
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2nd September 2011
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Well, what you're about to have to learn is the actual mixing process (no offense intended). Sculpting your beats to the point where they sound awesome is a part of the creative composing process, but it is not the same as mixing a song. Attempting to mix a song by first "mixing" the instrumental as an enclosed entity and then "mixing" the vocals to sit on top of that instrumental is going to make the vocals... well... sit on top of the instrumental.

What goes on in the mixing process is, amongst a thousand other things, each element being prioritized within the space that is the song. For most hip-hop, the drums, the bass and the vocal are the foundation of the track. Some tracks also have a lead/signature sound (often a synth or a sample) that will require lots of space in the mix. The foundation of the song has to have synergy so that each key element makes room for one another, providing a solid backbone to build the rest on.

When a backbone is obtained, make sure that none of the elements you add to it will conflict with it. Use volume levels, EQ's, compressors, delays and reverbs to make the elements sit in their appropriate places in the mix. I personally find that automated volume levels and EQ's are the most potent tools in this process, but don't think I've done a mix without compressors or delays either.

As for getting the vocals to sound nice, of course there's the whole getting-it-right-at-the-source thing... clearly, nothing you do in the mix will affect the vocal as much as what the vocalist does when recording and how you record him or her. With that said, there are lots of great tools for manipulating vocals, some of which you mention yourself (EQ, compression). Seeing as there are so many tools as ones disposal, I find it very effective during the mix session to really listen to the vocal and being able to articulate what I would like to do with it before I reach for any plug-ins. I'll say stuff to myself like "it's a little boxy", "the ess'es needs work", "signal is too dynamic" etc. and THEN I'll make a decision about which tool I will reach for to get the desired effect. EQ and dynamics (compression/limiting, gating/expanding and volume riding) should get you a long way towards your best possible vocal sound.

Best of luck with it!!
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2nd September 2011
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By no means do I consider myself a mixing expert but the long story short is that like most people have said... have a good QUALITY recording/takes to start with. Then clean up and get the vocal sounding on point by itself, followed by MAKING room for it in the mix. If not it will sound like it's sitting on top of, instead of sitting in the mix. Others have posted ways of making room for the vocals.
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Specific advice on mixing rap vocals

+100 for volume automation
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3rd September 2011
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nars View Post
Haha I think you all are right about me probably effing up the instrumental mix.
If you have the instrumental stems you should be mixing them with the vocals. Not doing one then doing the other.
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3rd September 2011
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gav G View Post
The one compressor, hardware or software that I think would solve more than half of your problems...

drumroll......

1176.

and don't be too shy with it. Fastest release, hitting quite hard at 4 to 1 is a great sound.
All butons in can be very effective, too. In line or in parallel.

also, R-compressor and C4 .. as well as Waves de-esser or C1-sc.

Keep it dry or dry-ish.
Hope this helps.
Hell yeah, we use an 1176 at our studio and it is exactly what you need for hip-hop vocals.
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6th September 2011
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The best overheard but later absorbed and used advice about mixing to me was:
MIX AT DECENT OR LOW LEVEL most of the time.
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