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.
It's absolutely crucial to ensure that your vocal recordings are properly edited and prepared before mixing.
I'm talking about covering tasks such as exporting, tuning, editing, comping, removing silence, clicks, pops, fixing timing, fixing loud breaths, and gain staging.
Neglecting these tasks can lead to disastrous results.
These can affect the final mix's overall quality and cohesiveness, leading to unwanted artifacts, timing issues, and other inconsistencies that can harm the final product.
It is imperative to take time and care to prepare your vocals, ensuring that they are of the highest possible quality and ready to be integrated seamlessly into the final mix.
Visit my previous post to learn more about "vocal preparation."
The Art of Panning
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 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.
Ah, the magical powers of reverb on vocals.
Not only does it add depth and dimension, but it can transport your listeners to a whole new dimension.
Just think of it as a sonic spaceship taking your vocals on a journey through time and space.
With the right amount of reverb, you can create a sense of intimacy or power, depending on what you're going for.
Think of it like seasoning your favorite dish - just a pinch can take it to the next level, but too much can ruin it.
So go forth and experiment with the vast array of reverb options out there, and discover the perfect space for your vocals to shine.
Here's my ultimate guide about how to use reverb on vocals.
Mixing vocal harmonies requires careful consideration of factors such as arrangement, tuning, timing, and level balancing.
Each harmony part must be treated as an individual element, and their respective levels and tonalities must be balanced to create a cohesive and harmonious blend.
Poorly mixed vocal harmonies can result in dissonance, poor tonal balance, and an overall lack of cohesion, leading to a lackluster final product.
Expert knowledge of vocal mixing techniques and a finely tuned ear are essential to achieving.
Check out my post "mixing vocal harmonies" to learn more.
Thicken it Up
Achieving thick-sounding vocals requires careful manipulation of various parameters, such as EQ, compression, and saturation, to enhance their body and presence in the mix.
Thin-sounding vocals can result in a weak, unbalanced mix, as they lack the necessary weight and impact to cut through the instrumentation.
A thorough understanding of vocal processing techniques and a critical ear are crucial to achieving thick, full-sounding vocals that can elevate a mix's overall quality and impact.
Learn more on my previous post "make vocals thick and warm in a mix."
Mixing Vocals on a Mastered Beat
Mixing a vocal on an already mastered track can be challenging, requiring careful consideration of multiple factors to ensure that it fits seamlessly with the existing mix without compromising its integrity.
This process involves fine-tuning the vocal's levels, EQ, compression, reverb, and delay to match the pre-existing mix.
In-depth knowledge of mixing techniques and a keen ear for detail are essential to achieving a cohesive and professional final result.
On a previous blog post called mixing vocals on an already mastered instrumental I go more deeply into the process, providing valuable insights and strategies..
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.
Making beginner mixing mistakes can have serious consequences, such as negatively affecting the mix's balance, clarity, and overall quality.
Skipping essential steps like editing and gain staging can result in poorly recorded and unbalanced tracks.
Things such as overcompression, overuse of EQ, reverb, or delay can lead to distortion, loss of dynamics, and a lack of definition.
Relying too heavily on presets or templates can also result in generic, uninspired mixes that lack individuality and character.
It's essential to develop a solid understanding of mixing principles and techniques to avoid these pitfalls and achieve a professional-quality mix.
Here’s a list of the most common vocal mixing mistakes you need to avoid.
Big & Wide
Making vocals sound wide in a mix requires the careful application of stereo widening techniques such as panning, doubling, and stereo effects like chorus or delay.
This creates a spacious, immersive soundstage that enhances the vocal's presence and impact in the mix.
However, getting it wrong can lead to phasing issues, a loss of focus, and a muddy or unfocused mix.
A keen ear for detail and a thorough understanding of stereo mixing techniques are crucial to achieving a wide and immersive vocal sound that elevates the final product's overall quality.
Learn more about this topic on my post called make vocals sound wide in a mix.
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.