Working on a high energy rap session is fun, but to record and mix out the vocals can sometimes be a little tricky.
So, I hear you asking, how do we get our rap vocals sounding right every time?
Have no fear we have three great tips to get you started. We'll be looking at how to sweeten and control aggressive rap vocals right from the record to the mix stages. Included in this blog is a handy video at the end
#Tip ONE - The microphone
While condenser microphones are usually the go to for a vocal session, for rap vocals try a dynamic microphone. Condenser microphones definitely capture the small nuances and details of a performance, and are really sensitive; but when dealing with aggressive rap vocals, a dynamic microphone is a good choice as it mellows the harshness in the vocals typically found in rap, rock punk and metal genres, and handles the consistent dynamic pounding (the sensitive condenser microphones don’t like) without distorting.
Using a dynamic microphone on the main vocals will result in a nice smooth and more controlled result. This will give you more options in the mix stage to add in that extra saturation or effect if necessary!
Another really cool technique when recording is to use both a condenser and dynamic microphone for the vocal session. But, hey, that’s for another blog!.
#Tip TWO - The Compressor
Compressors are used to manage the dynamic range of a signal. There are many different types, and not all compressors provide the same results.
I suggest that you look at the online Quick Dial Compression Series which is all about compressors at www.rapponline.net for more detailed explanation on how these devices work and how you can use them in your sessions to get great results!
Back to it!
A quick tip: You’re looking for a compressor that will allow you a really fast attack time to quickly deal with transients and avoid that ‘pumping’ effect. A compressor that will tame dynamics without being evident compression is taking pace. We call that being transparent.
Be careful not to squash the life out of your vocals. If you find the vocals lack presence, then rather increase the attack time to allow some of that transient material to go through; and this will bring back a bit of edginess.
Use the compressor to control your dynamics first and then dial in the extra sonic character you’re looking for!
#Tip THREE - Vocals
Main (lead) vocals
Rappers generally like their vocals dry and free of noticeable reverb; the reason for this is that reverb reduces intelligibility, which makes it difficult to understand what a rapper is saying when they're rapping quickly.
Look, sometimes it is necessary to have reverb on the rappers vocals, so have a look at using pre-delay to separate the reverb tail from the vocal to keep the vocals nice and present in the mix. See if you can use a pre-delay time that is in sync with your session tempo. This will make the reverb sound a bit more musical.
An old school vintage technique to keep sounds upfront and still give them space is slap back delay. It works really well on guitars, vocals and drums. Typical of slap back is a single echo (repeat), and very fast or short delay times usually between 40-120ms.
Slap back delay can be quite difficult to hear, especially when a short delay time is used, and the feedback signal is mixed at a low level. When you A/B (compare) the effect, on a solo part the difference is quite obvious, but in the context of a complete dense mix with lots of other parts, the delay result is often something you ‘feel ‘more than you hear.
Once you’ve set your slap back delay, you can get really creative by adding filters and modulation as well.
Your objective with main rap vocals is all about control. You want to highlight the edginess of the vocal and add depth, character and space, without losing the intelligibility and upfront focus.
Doubles and Ad-Libs
Doubles and ad-libs are scattered throughout most rap songs, and this is where you can be nice and creative with effects, as they don’t have to be clear and upfront. You can use delay, chorus, flanging, reverb and distortion.
Use the effects on the double vocals and ad libs to add contrast and interest to the various parts of the song.
You need to be thoughtful in how you approach the record and mix stages for a rap session, or you could land up with a bit of a nightmare to mix out.
The aim is to manage and control the energy and keep the energy of the performance , so to sum it all up:
1. Use a dynamic microphone (or a combo of condenser & dynamic-new blog on that coming soon).
2. Use a fast reacting compressor that has character (check out the Quick Dial Compression Series)
3. Keep lead vocals dry and upfront (or use the slap back delay technique). Apply different effects to the doubles and ad libs in the track to keep things fresh and interesting.