First things first there isn’t a mic specific for recording rap vocals. If you listen to all types of rap songs you’ll notice rappers use different mics in their recordings. In the 80’s they used dynamic mics which gave the vocals a more boxy sound. In the 90’s when condenser mics gained popularity, many rappers switched to them as it gave their rap vocals a much cleaner sound.
The first thing you should ask yourself in choosing a mic is what style am I going for? If you listen to other types of music, in particular rock, you’ll notice that the vocal sound from one artist to the next is very different. And guess what that’s the point! Even in rap, the vocal chain Kanye uses is much different than the vocal chain Lil Wayne uses.
If you’re just starting out and looking for a reasonably priced mic, I suggest first getting a condenser mic. These mics will give you that super clear quality. However, you have to make sure you have 3 things in order so that you get the best rap vocals:
(1) Your mic stand must have a pop filter, otherwise those annoying “pfff” sounds will be in your recording. You don’t have to be too picky when buying one, most any will do just fine. You can get one for under $20.
(2) Your room must be treated. When I say “treated” I mean it must have some kind of acoustic panels (or something) to absorb your room’s reverb otherwise your mic is going to pick it up and your vocals will have a ton of echo. It is possible to fix this a little in mixing, but your vocals wont sound ideal and your engineer will hate you. Here’s a pic of really fancy treated room, yours doesn’t have to look anything as nice as this.
(3) You need a high quality pre-amp. The best investment you’ll make in your vocal chain is a pre-amp and since you’ll need one to power your condenser mic you might as well get a good one. Don’t even bother buying anything for less than $300. My favorite budget preamps for rap vocals are the Really Nice Preamp (yes that’s its actual name) and the Focusrite Platinum Voice Master. Another popular option is the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, which I’ve seen a lot of my clients using. There are of course others, and now with USB mics you don’t even need a preamp, unless you’re going for that professional sound (I strongly recommend you get one).
Getting these 3 things right in your vocal chain will put on the right path toward getting the vocals you’ve been dreaming of. However, a decent vocal chain is only one part of the process, you’re going to need a good audio engineer to mix your vocals.
Which microphone do you recommend?
The brand/model of microphone you get depends on what sounds best with your voice and what you can afford. Tyler the Creator and Lil B started using $100 USB condenser mics. That’s fine too as long as you get a clean sound any decent audio engineer will be able to work with it.
If you want a dry Lil Wayne or Drake style vocal the Rode NT1A is a good budget microphone. But again it really depends on your voice and recording technique.
Here’s a list of budget microphones I find work personally well with rap:
(1) Rode NT1A
(2) AKG C214
This is the most expensive out of the bunch and from my experience provides great vocals for rappers that either yell into the mic or just generally have loud voices. You can usually find them priced between $260 and $313.
(3) Audio-Technica AT4040
This mic is great for getting clear vocals and comes with a low frequency filter, which is nice because you don’t have to really worry about eq’ing too much. You can pick one up at Amazon or find one at Ebay
(4) Apex 440
This is the cheapest mic out of the bunch and costs about $100. It is also is a usb mic which is good as you don’t need a preamp as it plugs directly into your computer. Nice thing about this mic is that it has low frequency roll off filter which when turned on will help clean up boxy vocals – the kind of vocals you’ll get when recording in less than ideal rooms. You can buy one for as cheap as $80.
Keep in mind these are not the only budget mics suitable for recording rap vocals, there are tons of mics you can use. My approach to acquiring equipment over the years has been to buy things that are within my budget and if I find I use it a lot or am not getting the sound I want out of it, I’ll buy something more expensive. There’s no point buying an expensive mic if you’re going to give up rap within a few months. On the other hand, if you’re a life long artist, you might as well invest in more expensive gear as it will save you a lot of pain in the long run. You have to think of it as an investment in your future.
Rap Recording Technique
Before we wrap this up, I feel a quick word about recording technique is warranted. All of the top rappers have spent years developing their voice to record and they may not even be aware of it. It is something that comes with practice and like all music, comes from training your ears and training your voice. If you’ve ever had the chance to see Jay-Z live, you’ll know what I’m talking about, the average person could not get up on stage and have vocals as clear and compressed as Jay-Z does, heck most rappers sound very muffled and underwhelming live. I personally believe about 50% of the sound you desire is based on the rapper’s delivery while the other 50% comes from their vocal chain and vocal mixing. Just something to keep in mind, if you’re frustrated about the quality of your rap vocals.