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AN ULTIMATE GUIDE HOW TO REC, MIX & MASTER AND RELEASE YOUR FIRST HIP-HOP/RAP ALBUM. PART III γ: MIXING YOUR VOCALS
Before I start
Pls read and focus on comments left by dfox_ and ThatZBear, they added very valuable information in prev part of the guide. Guys, really, tnx for these contributions.
Aight, so first of all, yesterday I understood that “&” symbol and Reddit are not exactly ok with each other. When I correct my mistakes via Reddit ios app, “&” symbol turns into smth like, “&: &”. I have no1 idea why, so from that moment im gonna use “n/and” instead of “&”. However, this strange bug reminds me about telling in details how to compensate lack of pre-amp. As my dear friend Antigoni from Greece tells, “Everything happens for a reason”. Again, big tnx to JesusWasABoneThug for reminding me about the issue of mixing vocals with not exactly well mixed instrumental, if not him I prolly would not get into the issue. That’s why its dope to contribute. U know whats the official motto of French Republic? “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”. Dem know their shit. And dem have damn good hip-hop. Check “Mwaka Moon” by Kalash. Check “Reseaux” by Niska, or even better, its remix featuring Quavo & Ste…. No no no XD, its remix featuring Quavo n Stefflon Don. By the way, its cool that I remembered about Stefflon Don, because “16 Shots” by Stefflon Don, its one the best mixed n mastered tracks in the industry speaking about loudness, versatility, quality and vibe.
Anyways, last time in Part 3.2, I explained how to prepare your instrumental to vocals insert. Consequently, this time we will get into adding vocals to your project/multitrack; also I will try to cover fixing broken instrumental; btw, we would appreciate help for this topic. Then, I will cover mastering aspects we need (remember, we are mixing INTO mastering chain from the start): mastering chain with more precise explanation, tweaking your multitrack/project and creation of final master-files (some technical details like quantizing, dithering, inter-sample peaks etc).
Remember, in prev part we used auxiliary channels 1 and 3. Now, add your fav reverb with high-pass 500hz and low-pass 10k hz to Aux 4 and brutally tweaked compressor to Aux 5. Moreover, let me share smth with u I used in “invisible bitch people” track. To your Aux 2, add saturator with heavy settings, like Maximus with destruction preset, Sausage with fatness and color around 75 % or Fruity Blood Overdarive with x100 mode on. After this insert, put a reverb with wide settings!!! Now lower the volume of this Aux 2 to like -36 dB, cuz it gon too fckn loud. Ill tell u what we gon do with this soon.
’Cause we all just wanna be big rockstars; Nickelback, “Rockstar”
Peak: -12 db on its individual channel
RMS target on master channel: -13-17. -15 RMS is ok average. Based on wide selection of tracks analysis.
First, again, I used dynamic microphone for the whole album, I will add details when there are differences if u r using condenser, now…
Me tryna achieve dat crispy sound “itunes sound”, checking thousands of different fancy and non-fancy saturators, w/o Drake mic, neve 1073 pre-amp and whatever
AND I SUCCEEDED!!! Ive promised to tell u about compensating lack of preamp and lack of these expensive “crispy” mics. Pls listen to my vocals in “Coke n Gym” track. It’s the same dynamic mic. Have u ever heard that kind of toppy n bit crispy vocals from a dynamic mic? What ive accidentally discovered, and never found on web… I guess, speaking about conspiracies xd, if some1 who already knew dat or tried to rat it, or expensive studio owners, or mixing & mastering gurus, or just any other industry stakeholders who would not be pleased knowing that now you don’t need to pay em money and u can do the shit by yourself, they might be mad. Well, I guess the universe will help us and this info would be available. Btw, maybe im just over paranoid?
FRUITY BLOOD OVERDRIVE
So basically we just need COLOR knob there on full, and a lil post-gain decrease to compensate a bit:
Your Game (γ) Changer
I wonder, if this shit gon go viral and be called “Fruity Blood Overdrive Trick” XD
So, I checked shitload of saturators with different tweaking, watched every youtube video about vocals saturation how to get that crispy vocals, and nothing but Fruity Blood Overdrive gave me the result. Some dudes, omg, propose making like +12!!! dB shelf boost around 8k hz. Some1 propose two boosts one on 8k one on 15k. I imagine noise floor.
Although, some folks route vocals to another channel, there they saturate it, heavily, put high-pass at 6-12k and increase the volume of this aux till they hear sparks. Dudes. Occam’s Razor. One action to reach your sufficient result instead of 2, 3, whatever.
So, we place saturator in the start of vocals chain.
Loudness: Peak dB n RMS
One myth and stereotype, “compressor changes tonal balance”. If its just a digital one, without any analog simulation, it wont. Its just a way to automate volume.
When u record your voice u see this kind of wave form:
your vocals in graphic representtion
U got some of these huge peaks, like 1-10 times a track. First we need to get rid of em.
So, your red line it’s the max vocal level u wanna maintain through the track. When u rap all right, generally u will maintain volume consistency naturally. But still. I propose this red line (compressor threshold) to start on top of your first word in a verse/chorus, like dat:
cutting biggest peaks
The line there is blue, not green, but u got an idea.
The first wave dat was compressed, by like 6-8 db it was loud “Yaau” before the first verse in “K4” track. Compressor threshold was set on top of word “Tons”, actually first word of the verse. Attack 0, ratio 12:1 (almost limiting), release: any, or 60000/bpm.
Now, make vocal channel hit -12 dB
Now lets proceed to our main compressor.
If u have Waves Rvox just lower Gain slider until u hit target RMS on master channel: -13-15 RMS maximum, -15-17 average. Now your vocals Peak dB probably hits more louder than -12 dB on its channel. Lover vocal channel slider so its gonna hit -12 dB. Now, RMS is lower. Compensate: lower gain slider in Rvox a bit more. Repeat this cycle several times. The thing is, u need your vocals hit -12 Peak dB on its individual chanel AND hit prev mentioned RMS on master at the same time.
If u don’t have Rvocs. Take your compressor, attack 5, release 60000/BPM/12, ratio 8:1, lower threshold until u hit 6 dB GR (gain reduction). Check RMS. Its all right u r done with compressing. If not, add another compressor. Attack 10, release 60000/BPM/8, ratio 4:1, lower threshold until u hit 3 dB GR. Check RMS. All right? No? Tweak both compressors threshold until u hit target RMS, don’t forget adjusting channel slider to hit -12 dB.
If u use condenser mic, probably u wont be in need of much compression. Aim, for 6 dB maximum, so u wont start hearing your room.
Leave it for now, if u record properly u might wont need it, but we will come back there.
50% in solo mode, 50% in the track context
High-pass with high slope, like 24 at least, till 130 hz, don go further, or u can loose your voice’ body. High-shelf boost at 8k hz, not more than 6 dB. Since we used Fruity Blood Overdrive trick, or recorded vocals with nice gear, u wont be in need of doin +25 dB high shelf. Remember about noise floor. Now, we have 2 areas of interest. 500hz – boxiness, 4k hz – sharp sounds. U might need to cut there, and not in a super narrow way, but not more than 3 dB, since u r loosing your voice’s overall power. Its important to do these cuts in context of the track. Some` could suggest cutting around 2k to kill nasal sounds. First, it’s a matter of recording, second, u gonna loose voice’s power a lot, don’t do this or be really careful. Speaking bout frequency sweep to get rid of resonances, do it only if necessary, in track context again in order not to loose vocal’s overall power.
My EQ shape
Im cutting around 500hz cuz of not ideal room we had for recording, and cutting around 4k since Shure 55SH II picks these frequencies too much. Its really good for rock vocals tho.
Again, before, u used de-esser, put a limiter after all these processing, adjust it to max 1.5 GR, since uve made boost at 8k, sibilance could arise. So try to limit this sibilance instead of using de-esser first. If necessary, put maximus after compression and before EQ, and set it up as de-esser. U can find a tutorial in internet. If u have FabFilter PRO-DS, dude u r lucky. Use this one, however, dont go over 6 dB here. Be careful. So adjust vocals to hit peak -12 dB on its channel, check RMS gain and adjust compressors. Repeat. U r done. Bravo. Ahh, wait. Effects. Don’t listen strange people who told u not to use reverb on vocals in hip-hop, dem r from 2005, and not the smartest ones. They could say tho, “Use delay!!”. Lol, it’s 2 different effects that sound different, even if u tweak delay to mimic reverb. If u wanna hear reverb, so use reverb. Same with delay. For example, I love reverb, love this live-vibe. And people like it, because dem heads aint damaged with pointless stereotypes.
So, route your vocals gradually to Aux 4 until u start hearing reverb, then just back off a bit. BUT, if u want like real cool reverb sound, make is loud as u want. But, put and EQ after reverb in Aux 4, and cut some freqs there until these guys play together in a good manner. Moreover, remember about Aux 3, with saturator and reverb after. Route your vocals there gradually, and u will hear a fckn crowd singing/rapping with you in your track. Check “invisible bitch people”.
Now, if u r doin smth really bass heavy or with lot of competing instruments within mid-freqs range, like “Redneck” by Lamb of God or “Kream” by Iggy Azalea, route your vocals to Aux 5, solo your vocal channel and Aux 5, make your Aux 5 volume really low and start to increase it until your vocal and its heavily compressed copy will hit peak 0 dB together on master. Now adjust Aux 5 in context. That’s called New York/NY/Parallel compression. Voila. Moreover, put an EQ Aux 5 after compressosaturator in order to adjust high frequencies if get rid of unpleasant noise if its appears.
Speaking about ad-libs and background vocals, u can be really creative there too. Panning, effects, etc. U can be much more heavy-handed there. 2 more advices. Don’t be “Johny Come Lately” there, think about these parts before recording too, unless u want it to be a complete improvisation. U can also record it every time with your smartphone and make a telephone effect, just like I did it “K4” track. That’s the second advice.
If U HAVE A SHITTY-MIXED BEAT
This concerns stuff ur downloading from youtube, ancient but big dope beats, and some shitty-mixed beats u r buying on BeatPort/TrackTrain, etc. Note, I love TrakTrain, very creative folk lives there, some` of them tho dunno how to mix, but cmon, no1 knows from start. Btw, if u find a beat u love but its not-mixed properly, just DM the beatmaker, talk about it and figure out how to fix it. Show him dat guide xD. If u don’t know how to mix, there is a chance u don’t know that u don’t know how to mix. So, every new producer would appreciate your review. I love BeatPort too btw.
Anyways, what I suggest before take your EQ n just try to cut some room in your beat, u can do following .First, expander. Its like a compressor but vice versa, it makes peaks louder. Its very unprecise instrument, but can be used if u know how to do it. Check it on inet. Moreover Fruity Limiter in FL can work as upward compressor.
Second, take your shitty beat. Make 2 copies. Name Original One “lowend”, and low-pass until 1k. Name the first copy “mid”, high-pass till 1k, low-pass till 8k. Name the second copy “highend”, high-pass it till 8k. Turn off, mid and highend, turn on lowend and vocals, make em play together around -6-9 RMS on master channel. Turn on highend and adjust by taste, same with mid. Apply the info from part 3.2 there. EQ these 3 separate parts if necessary.
Reddit warriors, I have to split this part into 2 parts, cuz its already really long, im writing mastering part rn, expect it soon
Oh wait here is it
Get in on the fun of a super nerdy pro audio mix station upgrade. Come one, come all! Please give me your graciously appreciated opinions and advice. Newer to Studio Setups? Join in and learn from the conversation. (Warning: Long Post. Have a seat.)
I have a fun one for everyone on this post and would really love some input. I need advice from engineers that have experience with higher end components while I put somewhat of a “capstone” on my home studio setup.
I’d like to start by explaining my current setup before giving you some insight into what I’m after with my next investment. I mostly use this setup to record bands, my own music and mix client’s projects that come in remotely through the internet.
TLDR: I’m upgrading my prosumer home studio to a top of the line pro audio mix station. Jump to Approach 1, 2 & 3 below to see what I’m struggling with settling on.
My Current Tracking Setup
- A consumer rate 24 channel setup made up of Focusrite Saffire line interfaces (Liquid Saffire 56, Saffire PRO 40 + Octopre. This is an 8x8x8 input setup connected by firewire to the computer through ADAT chains between interfaces. This is my ADC setup. 2. I own lots of dynamic and condenser microphones for these inputs, over 30 to be exact. Everything from shure 57s to neumann condensers. I even have a few Slate Digital virtual mics now an ML-1 and an ML-2. 3. I have collected some higher end 500 series preamps, eqs and compressors through out the years. Shadow Hills Mono Gamma modules, LaChapell Tube Pres and EQs, Buzz Audio Essence Opto Compression (Single Channel). 4. I have some rack gear collected as well. Twin VCA compressor systems, Blue Robbie, A VMS-One, Telefunken retrofitted tube preamps. 5. I have a semi-treated living room that I use to bed track bands in when we need the 24 channel setup, while I use a DIY self made tracking booth out of PVC and Heavy Acoustic blankets when doing overdubs. 6. I have a korg USB keyboard I use when programming virtual instruments for MIDI instruments during production.
- I own a pair of genelec 6010’s and the 5040 sub…. Buuuut I haven’t been using them lately because I don’t really have a properly treated control room to place them in. So, instead, for the time being:
- I currently use a beyerdynamic DT PRO 990 going through waves NX technology (Abbey Roads Studio 3) when making mic placement decisions during tracking. I have a very simple 6 headphone distribution system for the artists who are tracking.
My Current Mixing Setup
- While I own pro tools, studio one, cubase and reaper….. I still almost exclusively use Cubase for mixdowns and tracking at home unless I know the project is going out for export, or coming in for import (in which case I use pro tools)
- My current mix setup is almost entirely ITB. I use slate digital everything bundle, fabfilter pro bundle, soundtoys bundle, valhalla, softube and waves.
- While most of my outboard gear is used during the tracking phase, I do use 2 of the lachapell eqs, the buzz audio essence opto compressor and twin vca compressors as mono channel hardware inserts when mixing from time to time.
- Again, while I own a pair of genelec 6010s and 5040 sub that I love, I haven’t been using them lately because I don’t have a properly treated control room right now. So, instead:
- I’ve been mixing through the beyerdynamic DT PRO 990s and the waves NX Abbey Road Studio 3 plugin. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with this setup. I was somewhat forced into this position when moving around during COVID-19 and renting a new place. To my complete surprise, I’ve actually been having incredibly accurate monitoring results using it.
- My DAC setup is simply the Focusrite LS56 headphone output while doing these mixdowns in a virtual environment. (other than a couple of the line level outputs to the 500/rack gear I mentioned as hardware inserts before returning to some of the inputs of the Focusrite LS56).
Where I'm heading
As I said, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well I’ve been getting on with the virtual mixing environment. It’s kind of got me thinking in a new perspective than I had in the past. My only main gripe with moving to this virtual mixing setup is that my computer now hits the dreaded cpu/ram spike sooner than it used to. Before the virtual control room, I would never cap out… but I must admit that I have to commit to at least 1 stem print or track freeze per mix before I finalize things.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve really enjoyed this system and turn out recordings and mixes that I’m really satisfied with. Like, 90% satisfied with. Paying clients are satisfied and happy with what we turnout in general as well. However, I feel that I’ve personally hit a wall with this setup and won’t be able to achieve the final 10% I’m after (and as we all know, that final 10% of satisfaction is the toughest bit to get square on. heh)
I’m planning to buy a new house once the pandemic settles down a little bit. I sold my condo and am sitting on a good chunk of cash waiting for the housing market to finally pop before picking up a new mortgage. I plan to setup a fully dedicated live tracking room, whisper room iso booth and control room when I do. For now, I’m going to concentrate on trying to raise the weak links in my gear chain so I’m truly ready to concentrate on nothing but acoustics when I get setup at the new house.
So, with all that in mind, I’m thinking of stepping up my ADC/DAC for an undeniably top notch pro audio studio setup as a main priority. I’m also considering finding a way to take the load off of my CPU a bit now that the virtual mixing environment is gobbling up my resources. (I could accomplish this by either buying a couple more pieces of stereo outboard gear for my 2buss master fader, or I could go another route by snagging some more DSP powered plugins ITB).
I have about $5,000ish to spend and am planning to strategically place my purchases around Black Friday to get the most bang for my buck.
So, I present to you the 3 different approaches I have finally settled on. I’m going to have to make a decision as to which one of these approaches to move forward with. Anyone with any experience with these pieces of gear or the mindsets I am suggesting… please please please reply and let me know what you’re thinking. I’m also inviting newer engineers with less gear to get in on the conversation so we can all learn a bit from the process. Feel free to ask any questions, there is absolutely no ego or chest pumping here. I want everyone to benefit and grow in a productive way through this post.
Approach 1 (Fully, Completely: Top of the Line Conversion)
It really kills me, knowing that while I have some great outboard preamps, EQ/Compression… At the end of the day, it’s passing through some consumer rate focusrite preamps and ADC. Same thing on the monitoring side. Everything I do ITB passes through this consumer rate DAC for my virtual monitoring software/headphones. So,
- I could purchase a 2 channel top of the line ADC unit from Burl (“B2 Bomber”) or Dangerous Music (“Convert-AD+”). Sure, it would only be 2 channels, but that’s all I ever need for overdubs anyways. I could stick to the consumer rate 24 channel system for recording bedtracks and start building the pro quality tracks after the fact by way of overdubs with the pro audio pres/eqs/comps through the Burl/Dangerous ADC as well as ITB with virtual instruments, triggers and emulations I already own.
- I could also purchase a Dangerous Music DAC (“Source”) as my DAC to monitor my virtual mix environment with. Perhaps I could even combine the pro ADC/DAC at the end of my mixes as a final “clipping limiter” loopback when people want a mix pushed to ridiculous levels as we finalize the project.
- I could upgrade my virtual mix environment to the Slate Digital VXS to have more virtual environments.
- I would purchase a very very very simple Presonus faderport for tactile automation rides/transport control. (Realistically, this is all I would do with a controller anyways)
Approach 2 (Pro Conversion and 2Buss Hardware)
Again, I can’t stand knowing my outboard Preamps/EQ/Compression are always passing through some consumer rate focusrite preamps and ADC. I can’t stand knowing my monitoring passes through consumer rate DAC while my CPU is spiking near the final quarter of my mix. Approach 1 doesn’t approach my encroaching CPU issue at all. So,
- I could purchase an Apogee Symphony Desktop interface. This is just a 2 channel interface, but I’ve been told the ADC/DAC are top of the line from their own symphony I/O line. In this way, I could build up my overdubs after bedtracking prosumer style again. However, I would also get some more plugins that would be DSP powered through the unit AND I would save some money for step 2 below. I’ve also been thinking of going with the Wes _Calypso as it would give me an 8 channel ADC/DAC converter. It has no DSP power though, and I have no idea the quality of these converters at the end of the day.
- I could then buy some 2Buss Hardware to relieve my master fader plugin count as well. (Major gobbler of CPU). I’m thinking of a pultec style EQ, Limiter and/or 2buss compressor from either Warm Audio, Wes, IGS, Lindell, Elysia, Shadow Hills, Serpent, TK audio or Tegeler. I’m not sure how possible it would be to hit the Apogee or Wes ADC to get a loud final product like with the Burl/Dangerous Music setup, but I would have some nice outboard to work with at the end. I’m somewhat considering a Elysia 500 Karacter to get some saturation options here.
- I’d still purchase the Slate Digital VXS.
- I’d still buy the Faderport.
Approach 3 (Set Control to Lighten the CPU)
While it’s more of an inconvenience, I still would prefer to not have to freeze or print tracks at all during the mix stage in the interest of keeping things moving quickly.
- I could purchase an Apollo x4 which would give me 4 sharc cards to work with. This would significantly decrease my CPU load with my plugin bundles. The only thing I’m somewhat apprehensive about is that I’m not entirely sure how good the ADC/DAC is compared to Burl/Dangerous/Apogee options. I’d really love to put my conversion issues to rest with this upgrade. That being said, if any pro engineers can vouch for the Apollo x4 conversion… I may consider it.
- This means I would have a bit of money left over. I could use that one of two ways. I could buy another Slate Digital ML-1 and ML-2 microphone, upgrading my virtual mic setup to stereo in both cases for tracking. Alternatively I could use it to buy a single piece of outboard gear for the 2buss. Kind of considering the Teleger Creme here.
- I’d still roll with the Slate Digital VSX
- I’d still roll with the Faderport.
Ok, ok, ok. long winded. I know. But there it is. I’d say you are sufficiently exposed to where my mind is going with this upgrade. I’m kind of feeling like this is thee most stressful and anxious upgrade I’ve ever made to my system. I’ve got another month and a half to sort it out. Please help me guys. I really want some feedback from experienced users while we help expose newer engineers to what they might be experiencing in their future upgrades. Thanks so much for reading that whole wall of text. Let me know your thoughts.
TLDR: I’m upgrading my prosumer home studio to a top of the line pro audio mix station. Jump to Approach 1, 2 & 3 below to see what I’m struggling with settling on.