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The Complete Guide to Recording and Mixing Rap Vocals

February 19, 2023 | Anton Berner

Rapper performing on stage

Even though rapping and singing usually fall under the same category of music production, namely vocals, there are some differences in how to work with the two. In this post, we'll focus on how to best record and mix your raps, and how to treat them differently than regular singing vocals. Let's explore how you can get the right outcome while avoiding pitfalls you may have otherwise encountered.

Mic Selection and Positioning

These are some of the most important details for how to record rap vocals. You can't expect to get professional results if you use a low-quality microphone. There's nothing worse than having your vocals overpowered by the beat.

However, this doesn't mean you need to spend as much money as possible. There's a point of diminishing returns regarding your microphone budget. While it might be tempting to allocate a large amount of money toward your mic, you can likely get by with something in the middle of the price range. Check out our guide to picking the best microphone here. To save extra cash, you can look for used equipment. Microphone type also plays a role. Condenser microphones are generally better for singing, while dynamic microphones are best for rapping. Don't forget to use a pop filter when recording. For those unaware, the letters "P" and "B" are accompanied by puffs of air when we speak. When these are recorded, it causes an unpleasant spike in the audio.

A pop filter will prevent this from happening. These are cheap and easy to adjust, so there's no reason not to use one. You should place your pop filter approximately six inches in front of the mic.

Read more: 7 Steps To Set Up A Music Recording Studio at Home This will naturally prevent you from getting too close while recording. You'll also need to keep your recording as "dry" as possible. To clarify, vocal recordings tend to sound much worse when there's a natural reverb. You can record in a closet or throw a heavy blanket over yourself to dampen the reflections.

Perform, Don't Just Record

The last thing you want is for your vocals to fall flat on your recording. A key part of high-quality rap songs is the emotion behind the words. When recording your vocals, pretend you're performing to an audience. Ensure you thoroughly warm up your voice before recording, as well. This is also a great time to assess your lyricism and delivery. After recording, listen to the track a few times to determine if it meets your standards. It's worth noting that many people tend to dislike their voice in the early stages of their rap career. Do your best to push past this and continue honing your craft.

Use Comps

One of the best things about recording is that you don't need to perform an entire song flawlessly from start to finish. Some artists record only a few words at a time until they're satisfied with their delivery. Using vocal comps is the process of using the best segments of each take and splicing them together.

For example, let's assume you need to record a verse that's 30 seconds long. You're having trouble toward the second half of the verse when the tempo of your delivery picks up. Rather than attempt to record the entire verse, you can record each bar separately.

You can also record multiple iterations of each line and then choose your favorite. Afterward, you'll edit these together to get the final result.

Record Doubles and Ad-Libs

Most rap songs would be fairly boring without the use of doubles and ad-libs. As the name implies, the term "doubles" refers to recording a vocal layer of a line you've already recorded. You then place these lines together for additional impact. Many people choose to use doubles at the end of a bar or to help emphasize a punchline. Ad-libs are used to add extra character and depth to the track. Some famous examples are Travis Scott's "It's Lit" and "On God" by 21 Savage which can be heard in the background throughout their songs.

Ad-libs could be virtually anything, and most people choose to improvise them. You can record ad-libs by listening to your finished vocals and recording live on a second track.

Use EQ and Compression Effectively

Carefully using compression and EQ can help you shape your sound. In most rap songs, the vocals must be dynamically consistent and forward in the mix. This is where compression steps in. Use a high compression ratio and slightly adjust the attack and release times. This will help you fine-tune your vocals and achieve the sound you're looking for. When it comes to EQ, it's best to cut your vocals up to 90-100 Hz so you can remove the muddiness of the recording. You should also avoid using too much reverb, delay, and chorus effects. If you choose to incorporate them, do so sparingly. Otherwise, you could detract from your overall performance.

Get Ideas Down Fast

If you have an idea, it's best to record it as soon as possible. There are few things more frustrating than forgetting a vocal melody you had in your head by the time you have the opportunity to record. A great way to ensure you always document your ideas is through the use of a cloud-based digital audio workstation like Soundtrap. (DAW). You can start, edit, and access projects from anywhere as long as you have an internet connection. As a last resort, you can record a voice memo on your phone and then re-record it at a later time. Ideally, though, you'll get ideas into your DAW as soon as possible.

How to Mix Rap Vocals body

One of the most common mistakes people make with rap mixing is assuming you should mix rap vocals like singing vocals. While this can produce unique results, it often won't achieve the outcome you're going for. Listed below are some of the most notable techniques to keep in mind.

Pre-Processing Cleanup

You'll have a much easier time working with your vocals if you clean them up before you begin processing. Even something as simple as a computer fan in the background can detract from your recording's quality. Fortunately, Soundtrap offers a Vocal Cleanup effect that can help you quickly remove unwanted noise in your vocal recording.

Reductive and Additive EQ

Most people are familiar with the equalization process, but not everyone understands how to use reductive and additive EQ together. Reductive EQ involves removing unwanted frequencies from a recording.

Additive EQ Emphasizes the frequencies you want to make more prominent. You want to use reductive EQ first and then additive EQ later in your processing chain. When using additive EQ, do so minimally. For example, you might only need to raise the upper end of your vocals by a few decibels. If you abuse additive EQ, your vocals could sit poorly in the mix.

Parallel Processing

This term might sound complicated at first, but it's easier to understand than most people anticipate. Parallel processing involves blending a dry signal with a wet signal. To clarify, you've likely used a compressior with a dry/wet knob in the past. When you turn this knob, you "blend" the effect and obtain greater control over the sound it produces. Distortion and compression are the best effects to use parallel processing with.

Use Delay and Reverb Sparingly

As previously mentioned, you should avoid saturating your vocals with delay and reverb. These effects are better suited for singing since there's more space between words.

However, a bit of reverb and delay can add extra dimension and give your vocals a fuller sound. A key tip to remember is to keep your reverb tail short. Anything over 500 ms is too much. You should also use tempo sync to delay so your delay effect doesn't sound offbeat. It's best to mix your delay underneath the vocal so it's not too prominent. When using delay and reverb, you'll get the biggest impact when you can barely hear them.

Never Stop Learning

Even professional mixing engineers are constantly refining their skills. It's in your best interest to learn as often as you can. You can achieve this through reading books, online articles, and watching video tutorials.

As long as you choose reputable resources, you'll have no problem improving your mixing proficiency. A great way to practice is to open old projects and see if you can mix your vocals better than you initially did. Chances are you impress yourself and recognize the mistakes you made in the past.

Record and Mix Appropriately

To get the best results, you'll need to record and mix your rap vocals the right way. While there's plenty of room to get creative, you can't overlook the fundamentals. The tips in this guide will help ensure you get started on the right track and bring your ambitions to life.

Soundtrap is a cloud-based digital audio workstation made by expert producers and songwriters. We strive to help each of our users unlock their creative potential and take their skills to the next level. You'll learn more about the benefits we offer when you sign up today.

About the author

Anton Berner is a music producer, audio engineer, and songwriter from Stockholm, Sweden. He's produced hip-hop & rap music since the early 2000s and his expertise is in vocal mixing and sample-based beat production. Anton is also the SEO & Content Manager @ Soundtrap and manages the blog and newsroom.

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