One of the secrets to getting a good sounding rap vocal is applying compression and lots of it! In this tutorial I will teach you how to adjust your compressor to make the best sounding rap vocals. It wont matter what compressor you are using, the general princples will remain the same. Only thing that will be different is your results because you’re obviously using a different: mic, pre amp, compressor, and vocal.
Recording a Rap Vocal
The first step to getting a good sounding vocal is to ensure you have a good vocal chain. This means getting a good microphone, decent preamp and audio interface as well as a whole bunch of stuff you can learn about here.
Assuming you have all that, the next step is the actual vocal recording. What I like to do with rap vocals is to use a little compression during tracking. What do I mean by a little compression? I usually set the compressor on my preamp to a ratio of 2:1, with a threshold of – 20, a release of 0.3 and a makeup gain of 2. If you don’t have a pre amp that allows you to set the compressor, you can always get an external compressor (highly recommended) or not use one at all. In fact, if you have no idea what you’re doing it is probably best you record with no compression as if you plan on sending your songs of to be mixed and mastered later, the audio engineer will have a little more quality control.
However, for rap purposes, I always find it nicer to record with a small amount of compression as it helps getting a nice even vocal. What does a “nice even vocal” even mean Andre? Go listen to a rap recording from an amateur rapper, the newer they are to home recording the more likely they’ll have vocals that just don’t sound even. Their vocals will have a lot of spikes, which occur when the rapper says certain words louder than others (which naturally occur even when we speak). What compression helps to do is even this out so that the loud parts are contained within a certain volume range. Inversely, the quiet parts of the vocal are also made louder so that they are audible. The result is a “nice even sounding vocal”.
Applying Compression During Mixing
Now the real fun part begins! Here you’ll usually apply a vst compressor or plugin using a DAW such as Pro Tools, Logic, Cubase, or even FL Studio. This is where you’ll want to apply a bit more compression. How much though bro? I hate to say this but it really depends on your mix. If your rapping to a trap beat which typically is bass heavy than you’re going to need a lot of compression for your vocals to cut through the mix. I would suggest using a ratio of 6:1 or 7:1 depending on the vocal performance and vocal tone. You will want a release of about 160 ms and threshold of -15 to – 20. Your make-up gain will largely depend on your beat as that will make the vocals louder or quieter. As with all mixing, you’ll really have to use your ears to find the right levels.
How Do I Know if I’ve Applied Too Much Compression?
In order to mix effectively, you really want to have trained your ears to hear compression. You’ll know you’ve applied too much when it sounds like a cartoonish baseball commentator from the 1940’s. That’s the best way I can put it (sorry). If you have no idea what that sounds like, it sounds kind of like this.
Pro tip: Always mix vocals with the beat and not with the beat muted. You want to hear how the vocals sound with the beat and want to adjust it accordingly!
Is That All?
Nope. You’re going to want to ad eq, reverb, delay, saturation and a whole bunch of plugins to make the vocals sound “right”. It all depends on the what you’re aiming for. What you’re vision is. Getting the compression sounding right is the first step.