Welcome to your rap vocal mixing learning journey!
You'll get the most out of this guide if your desire to learn how to mix rap vocals is exceeded only by your willingness to execute and test concepts.
This guide is designed to describe all major aspects of vocal mixing on a rap track.
These include mastering vocal EQ, using panning to make the vocals sound wider or bigger, dynamic EQ techniques, compressing to impress, and how to choose the best plugins for rap vocals.
The audio engineering world is complex and ever-changing, but you can easily understand the basics, and even a small amount of engineering knowledge can make a big difference.
Combine this information with some practice, and you are well on your way to becoming a savvy mixing engineer.
How to Mix Rap Vocals
The key to mastering the art of vocal mixing is to fully understand your tools. Once you understand your tools, you're able to reach any destination much faster.
This is what separates the pros from the beginners.
Your goal as a mixing engineer is to take the vocal to a certain destination. This could be brightness, thickness, punch, clarity, smoothness, presence, etc.
For you to reach a particular result, you need to master your tools.
In this tutorial, you'll learn how to use various audio engineering tools to achieve any desired result to help your vocals sit perfectly in a rap track all the time.
After implementing all these techniques, you should be able to mix rap vocals with confidence, without any guesswork or relying on hope.
The Art of Panning Vocals
Panning is mostly something that you should think about during recording.
If you didn't record the artist, then the number of vocal tracks should usually determine which parts are the main voice and which are for support.
Listening to the instrumentation and making panning decisions should also give you some ideas of where to place certain parts of the vocal.
There are also some general guidelines that you can follow to reduce guesswork.
For instance, the lead is always kept in the center so that it translates well on different sound devices. The supporting vocals (adlibs, backings, etc.) are the ones that are panned to get a wide and big-sounding vocal mix.
Get the complete guide about panning vocals in my previous post.
How to Equalize Vocals
Vocal EQ is much easier to understand if you divide it into two different stages. One stage will be for fixing any problems such as mud, harshness, nasal, boom, etc. This is also known as surgical EQ.
This step usually comes before any compression or saturation.
After compression and saturation, you can add the second EQ to enhance what's missing in the voice and help it cut through all the instrumentation.
This is the stage where you get to play around with analog emulation EQ plugins to add some warmth and extra harmonics to the voice. Hence, it's called tonal EQ.
Learn more about all of that in my full vocal EQ tutorial (cheat sheet included).
Balancing With Dynamic EQ
Dynamic EQ on a rap vocal can be very important to keep a consistent vocal tone because rappers often record while moving back and forth (sometimes even sideways).
The rapper's movements on the mic tend to create frequency buildups or dropouts only in certain parts of the song. A dynamic EQ can help you fix all those problems automatically.
Most importantly, you'll be able to keep the energy of the rapper consistent throughout the entire song.
Check out my post titled "how to use dynamic EQ on vocals" to learn more.
Compress to Impress
Compression is a very crucial tool when mixing vocals because it helps you get a good balance by controlling the dynamics.
Consider it an automated volume control with tone-shaping capabilities.
To master compression, you need to think about the four different ways of applying it. These are smoothness, punch, envelope shaping, and adding character.
Those are the most common uses of compression.
Visit my previous blog post, "rap vocal compression settings," for a thorough how-to.
Saturation on Vocals
Saturation is another tool that you can use to make your rap vocals pop in a mix. Saturation can be used for various reasons, such as reducing transients, adding warmth, increasing presence, and more.
So, before choosing your favorite plugin, it’s important to consider why you’re applying saturation.
This makes it even easier to select the correct type in order to get the best results for your vocals.
Visit my "saturation on vocals" blog post for more information.
Best Plugins For Rap Vocals
It's crucial to understand that plugins are not built equally or for the same reasons.
Some work well on rap, while others will just ruin a great vocal performance because they're designed for a different purpose.
So, you need to be careful when selecting your plugins.
You can also do a search to find out what some of the industry's leading engineers are using to get some ideas.
Here's my list of the best compressors for rap vocals.
Mixing rap vocals can be tricky, but with the right techniques and tools, it is definitely achievable.
The key is to pay attention to the details, such as EQ, compression, and reverb, and to make sure that the vocals sit well in the mix with the rest of the instruments.
Remember to always use your ears and trust your instincts, and don't be afraid to experiment and try new things.
With practice and dedication, you will soon be able to create polished and professional-sounding rap vocals that will stand out in any mix.