Despite what people might think, getting a rap/hip hop track sounding good isnt just as easy as getting a good rapper, putting a mic up and hitting record. I’ll assume you’ve recorded the tracks clean. When I say clean I mean, nothings clipping. You don’t need a million dollar mic and a vintage preamp, just get some good clean tracks. When recording you don’t need to record into the computer very loud. These days with 24bit recording the noise floor is so low. Record those vocals soft, leave plenty of headroom. There is no benifit to recording loud, if anything it only hurts the sound of the recording and makes it more likely you’re gonna clip the converters and get unwanted distortion. So please, im beggin you, just get a nice clean vocal take.
Now lets get into the meat of this. I always put my vocals through some sort of saturation as my first plugin. In this case im using the URS Saturation plugin with a setting that emulates a Neve preamp. I feel this just rounds out the vocal a little bit. Takes just a touch of the digital edge off. With saturation plugins theres usually a ton of great presets you can try for whatever vocal sound you’re going for. To Learn about saturation plugins read my Saturation 101 article.
My Next plugin is the SSL G Channel strip. I love this damn thing. The G and E channel strips are my bread and butter plugins and at this point I don’t know If I could mix without them. If you can only have one set of plugins I highly recommend the Waves SSL Bundle. If I had to I could mix soley with these. Well in this case im using the G Channel as my Gate and my EQ. No compression is going on in this plugin. This track was a male vocalist. I always like to clean out a ton of the low end garbage, with male vocalists, and female vocalists I’ll do even more. I have my hi pass filter set to chop off anything under about 80hz. I sometimes have this set much higher. At times I might get all the way up to 160hz. I also have about a 2.5-3db dip for anything under 250hz. To be honest these are pretty tame settings for me. You’d be surprised how much low end you can get rid of in moder production. Everything these days is very bright and in your face and that low end just takes up unnecassary space. It muddies up the vocal, so I like to take a lot of that out. Now for Male vocalists in Rap, Hip hop, pop, R&B I have some go to frequencies I usually find work well. My rock frequencies are a bit different but i’ll go into that in a different article. Now I’ll sometimes tweak these go to frequencies but my starting points are usually 1khz-2.5khz, 5khz-6khz and 10khz-12khz. For females I usually don’t touch the 1khz-2.5khz and I’ll use 6.5khz and 12khz as my starting points. My reasoning for these frequencies are, 1khz-2.5khz gives a good midrange bump where the clarity lies. Those frequencies are the “telephone” frequencies and really help push the vocal up front. I also find these frequencies help the vocals sit where they’re supposed to while also giving them a bit of that “better then real” sound. The 5khz-6khz range helps open the vocal up a bit. Giving it some nice crispness while the 10khz-12khz area gives it some air and makes the vocal shine. In this track you can see I pretty much stayed with those frequencies. I moved the 5khz to 5.5khz just to get a touch more bite outta the high mids, but really its not that much of a difference. Other then that I used little bumps at 2.5khz and 12khz to open up the vocal and get this thing crisp and sparkling. The final thing im using on the SSL channel is the Gate. In my opinon these Gates are the best Gates money can buy. This is basically just cleaning up any mouth noise and unwanted garbage in between the vocal lines that I don’t want there. I usually set my gates pretty tight. I want them to open and close pretty quickly in order to really tighten up the feel of the vocal and not allow too much breathing or mouth noise. This helps alot especially if you end up using a lot of compression because compression is gonna really bring out those breaths, sometimes you may want that, but in this track I want very little breathing to be audible.
In this case im using just the regular stock Digi de-esser taking off a bit of the esss’s for this one. I usually move the frequency around any where from 4khz to 8khz in order to find where the ssss sound is really popping out.
Ive been really loving this CLA-76 plugin. To me its the best sounding compressor plugin. I’ll sometimes use 2 compressors on vocals but lately ive only been using 2 for the gritty rock stuff. I usually just take this compression setting and use the input to dial in how much I want. Depending on the track, I’ll have it taking off anywhere from 5db to 15db. I think on this track I had the needle taking off about 4-5db most of the time and hitting up to about 12db on the peaks. Don’t be afraid to really compressor the hell out of vocals. You want them to sit in one spot. A compressor hitting the vocal hard will also really help push the vocal in your face. Its gonna bring out the nuance in the performance. I can’t stress enough, DONT BE AFRAID TO COMPRESS THE VOCAL HARD!
For those who arent familiar with a split harmonizer effect you can check out my Split Harmonizer Article that gives you the basics about it. My main harmonizer effect plugin is the Waves Doubler. This is a great plugin, and its very easy to setup a basic harmonizer effect. This is also my goto setting anytime im using a split harmonizer. The harmoinzer is giving this vocal a little stereo spread while also giving it a really polished modern sound. I set this at about -18db on the Aux, just enough where you can feel it but its not really very noticable.
-Tight Room Reverb-
Next up is my tight reverb sound. For Rap/Hip Hop sometimes dry is best. Or maybe dry with a touch of harmonizer. In this song there was a bit of breathing room in the beat so I decided to use 2 reverbs. For the first reverb I used one of my favorite reverbs the Waves Renaissance Reverb. I used the stock preset “bathroom guest”. Usually when using a tight reverb i’ll experiment with a few different options. I try to find the room that sounds natural. This tight reverb is just used to give the listener the feeling that the vocalist is in some sort of room. I don’t want this reverb to be very noticable just blend in and give the slight perception of space. Keep in mind a lot of times I don’t even need to use this reverb or any reverb for that matter in Rap/Hip Hop. Some Rap and Hip Hop calls for straight dry vocals but thats for you to decide and your taste. I felt I wouldn’t be doing this article justice if I didn’t show the types of Reverbs I use when its called for.
For my longer Reverb once again I went with the Waves Renaissance Reverb (why mess with a good thing) but this time I used one of my own custom presets. This Reverb gives a feeling of a slightly bigger space. Once again usually with Rap vocals I might not need this but the beat had some breathing room as I like to call it so a bigger reverb helped sit the vocal in nicely. It also gave it a little bit of the feeling of being in a smokey jazz club or something… Maybe thats just me.
Well there you have it. This is one of my pretty standard Rap, Hip Hop vocal chains. Of course things change a bit depending on the song but this should give you a good starting point for your mix.
To learn more about about any of the plugins used in this article or to buy at a discounted rate check out the links below.