This article will discuss how you can mix hip-hop and rap vocals in FL Studio to get professional-sounding results.
Hip-hop and rap vocals are a fundamental element of the hip-hop genre, originating in African American and Latinx communities in the Bronx, New York, in the 1970s. Hip-hop vocals typically involve a rhythmic and rhyming spoken or chanted delivery, often accompanied by beats or instrumental tracks.
Rap vocals are a specific type of hip-hop vocal style characterized by rhythmic and rhyming verses, often delivered quickly. Rap vocals can tell stories, express emotions, and comment on social and political issues. Many rap artists also incorporate singing or melodic elements into their vocal performances.
Hip-hop and rap vocals often use wordplay, metaphors, and other lyrical techniques to create complex and meaningful lyrics. Modern hip-hop has a lot of emphasis on melody, and it often involves jazzy and R&B-style melodic vocals.
Many hip-hop and rap artists use their music to address social and political issues, such as racism, poverty, inequality, personal experiences, and emotions. Hip-hop and rap vocals are vital to hip-hop and have significantly impacted music and culture worldwide. Now let’s get into the main topic of discussion.
How to mix Hip-hop & Rap Vocals in FL Studio like a pro
Mixing hip-hop and rap vocals in FL Studio can be challenging, but you can achieve a professional-sounding mix with the right techniques and tools. That involves using an equalizer, compressor, saturator, multi-band compressor, De-esser, reverb, delay, and stereo imager in different orders and styles.
Given below is the plugin chain I use on my rap vocals. It involves mostly third-party plugins, but you can achieve similar results with stock plugins.
Here are some tips on how to mix hip-hop and rap vocals in FL Studio like a pro:
- Start with a clean recording
A high-quality vocal recording is essential for achieving a professional mix. Ensure your recording is free from background noise, distortion, or other unwanted sounds. You can use noise reduction and de-using plugins to clean up your recordings.
To track clean vocals in FL Studio, ensure you’re recording in a quiet space, and the room is acoustically treated. If the room is not treated, ensure sufficient furniture or cushioning to make the space more natural and absorb or evenly bounce reflections.
Set the mic’s gain so that the vocals are recorded between the -18 and -12 dB peaks. Also, ensure that headphones aren’t bleeding much into the mic. Keep the headphone level optimal and not too loud while recording vocals.
Lastly, if you have a noisy room/environment, use a noise suppressor, like the Waves NS-1, while recording. That should help. You can move up its slider to control the amount of background noise you wish to suppress.
- Tune vocals (optional)
Note that this section has to be used only if you use melodic vocals, which is usually true in melodic rap, R&B, trap, etc.
Autotune plugins can assist producers and artists in achieving the unique sound that is commonly linked with trap music. Antares Autotune, Waves Tune, and Melodyne are among the most effective autotune plugins. Antares Autotune, music producers and artists favor offers sophisticated features and the ability to correct pitch in real-time.
Another widely respected autotune plugin is Waves Tune, which provides a range of advanced features, such as the ability to produce harmonies and alter vibrato.
Next, set the speed and note transition controls/knobs. When you do that, the plugin will detect whenever the input goes out of the key and change the pitch to bring it back into the song’s key.
Next, Melodyne is a more advanced and expensive option, offering advanced pitch and time manipulation capabilities that allow users to fine-tune individual notes and phrases.
To work with Melodyne, open the plugin and transfer your vocal waveform into it by clicking “Transfer.” Next, click on the space bar, and the audio data of vocals will be copied into the plugin.
Next, select the key of your song. To do that, right-click on the root note and select the scale. For example, if the key is C Major, right-click on any C you see on the left side of the plugin’s interface and select the scale.
Next, select the algorithm. For editing vocals, you need to select the Melodic algorithm.
The final step is to pitch-correct your vocals. Go to Edit > Quantization Macros and select “Correct Pitch.” Next, set the Pitch Drift and Pitch Center values per your taste and requirements, select “Snap to the scale,” and click OK. Alternatively, you can flex your vocals by selecting “Quantize Time” in Quantization Macros.
Alternatively, you can use FL Studio’s Newtone to do the same.
Lastly, if you want a simpler and cost-free solution for tuning vocals, you can also go for FL Studio’s Pitcher.
In Pitcher, you can select the root note and the scale of your song where the plugin corrects your vocal’s pitch. Further, you can select how fast or slow you want the plugin to correct the vocal’s pitch. In addition, you can also select the format of the vocals, gender as male or female, and adjust the extent of tuning by using the Fine Tune knob.
- Use EQ to shape the sound.
EQ is one of the most important tools for mixing vocals. Use EQ to cut out unwanted frequencies, boost the desired frequencies, and shape the overall sound of the vocals. You can use high-pass filters to remove low-frequency rumble and low-pass filters to remove high-frequency hiss. Experiment with different EQ settings to find the right balance.
- Compressors and other dynamic processors
Compression is another essential tool for mixing vocals. I generally use 2-4 compressors on vocals. As you can see in the image below, I have used four compressors (with one disabled) and one multi-band compressor on the rap vocals.
The first compressor controls the transients and snappy parts that jump out, as rap vocals can have many of them. For that, set the threshold at just below the level you have gain-staged them. For example, for vocals gain staged at -16 dB, a threshold of -19 to -21 dB should be fine. Next, use a small ratio of 2:1 or 3:1, fast attack, and fast release. After checking the gain reduction, apply the equivalent makeup.
You can set the attack, release, threshold, and ratio using the following knobs in your Fab Filter’s Pro-C2 compressor.
The next compressor is to level the dynamics in vocals and even out the performance. Use a compressor with a 4:1 ratio, fast to medium attack (10-50 ms), and medium release. Set the threshold so vocals can even out, and finally, set the makeup gain.
You may use a third compressor to smash the vocals and make them stand out. That involves using a fast attack, slow-release compressor with a high ratio (6:1).
You may also use a de-esser to control the S’s in the vocals and a multi-band compressor to control the dynamics of the individual frequency ranges.
You can use the Fruity compressor and Maximum in FL Studio for multi-band compression and de-pressing. The final nail in the coffin is usually the multi-band compressor. As you can see in the image below, I have used Maximus (FL Studio’s stock plugin), as it allows you to process the dynamic range of your low, mid, high, and master separately.
- Add reverb and delay.
Reverb and delay are important for adding depth and dimension to the vocals. Use a reverb plugin to create a sense of space, and adjust the decay time and pre-delay settings to achieve the desired effect. Use a delay plugin to create echoes or to add rhythmic interest to the vocals.
Reverb is a type of effect that simulates the sound of a space, such as a room or a concert hall. Adding reverb to a rap vocal can create a sense of space and depth, making the vocal sound like it was recorded in a larger or more reflective environment. Reverb can also blend the vocal with the instrumental track by adding a similar sense of space to both elements.
Different reverb types exist, such as plate, hall, room, and spring. Each type has its characteristics, such as decay time, density, and frequency response. To use a reverb on a rap vocal, you can choose a reverb type that matches the style and mood of the song and adjust the reverb settings to achieve the desired effect. For example, you can use a longer decay time for a more ambient and spacious sound or a shorter one for a tighter and more focused sound.
You can use third-party plugins like ValhallaVintageVerb or Wave’s H-Reverb, which have high-quality and versatile sounds and flexible interfaces.
Alternatively, you can use FL Studio’s Fruity Convolver, a versatile Impulse Response-based convolution reverb plugin. As a reverb plugin, Fruity Convolver can apply various impulse responses to simulate the sound of different acoustic spaces. It allows for precise control over the reverb characteristics, such as decay time, pre-delay, and early reflections.
Additionally, it can be used creatively to apply other types of effects, such as distortion, filtering, and modulation, to the audio signal. The plugin supports various file formats, including WAV, FLAC, and MP3, for loading custom impulse responses.
You can select the space by browsing its presets and then adjust it to your liking by tweaking its parameters like dry, wet, delay, self-convolve, etc.
On the other hand, Delay is a type of effect that repeats the sound of the vocal after a certain amount of time. Adding delay to a rap vocal can create a sense of rhythm, movement, and interest, making the vocal sound more dynamic and engaging. Delay can also create a call-and-response effect, where the vocal is repeated with slightly different timing or pitch.
There are different delay types, such as tape, digital, and analog. Each type has its characteristics, such as feedback, modulation, and filtering. To use delay on a rap vocal, you can choose a delay with less feedback. For example, you can use a shorter delay time for a tighter and more rhythmic sound or a longer delay time for a more spaced-out and atmospheric sound.
The Fruity Delay-3 is a great Delay plugin with a transparent sound and a tweakable interface that gives you complete control.
Delay and reverb are powerful tools for mixing rap and hip-hop vocals. By using these effects creatively and selectively, you can add depth, space, and movement to the vocal, enhancing the song’s overall impact and emotion.
- Use automation to create movement.
Automation is a powerful tool for creating movement and interest in the vocals. Use automation to control the reverb or delay level, create fades or volume swells, and add other effects such as pitch shifting or distortion.
To create automation in FL Studio, open the sampler window for the track you want to automate or the plugin whose parameter you want to automate. Next, right-click on the parameter you want to automate and select “Create automation clip.” For example, suppose you want to automate the volume/gain of the track. Right-click on volume and select create automation clip. Further, tweak the automation curve/line as per your need.
For third-party plugins, you cannot directly automate the parameters. You need to tweak that parameter slightly and then go to Tools>Last Tweaked> Create Automation Clip.
- Stereo Imaging
Stereo imaging is an important aspect of mixing rap vocals, and it refers to the placement of sounds in the stereo field, which is the space between the left and right channels of a stereo mix. Here are some tips on optimizing the stereo imaging of rap vocals in FL Studio.
Panning is one of the most basic ways to control stereo imaging. Panning allows you to place sounds in different locations in the stereo field. For example, you can pan the lead vocal to the center of the mix and pan ad-libs or backing vocals to the sides. Doing so can create a sense of space and depth, making the mix more interesting and dynamic.
Next, when panning sounds to opposite sides of the stereo field, it is important to avoid phase cancellation. Phase cancellation occurs when two sounds out of phase (i.e., inverted in polarity) are mixed, resulting in a cancellation or reduction of volume.
You can reverse the polarity by opening the sampler’s waveform/track/sample and selecting “Reverse Polarity” under Precomputed effects.
To avoid phase cancellation, ensure consistency between the left and right channels. You can check the phase of a sound by using a phase meter or by flipping the phase of one channel and listening for any changes in the sound.
Further, stereo widening plugins can make sounds appear wider in the stereo field. These plugins add phase differences between the left and right channels, creating a wider or more spacious sound. However, be careful not to overdo it, as excessive stereo widening can create a washed-out or unnatural sound.
For example, Stereo Shaper is a built-in stereo imaging plugin that allows you to adjust the stereo width and panning of sounds. It has stereo separation, delay, phase inversion, and mono compatibility features. Stereo Shaper can be used to create a wide and spacious stereo image or to narrow the stereo image for a more focused and centered sound.
The Fruity Stereo Shaper plugin, as shown in the image below, has red sliders for adjusting Delay (speaker icon) and Phase (arrow icon) in the right channel,. The yellow sliders are for adjusting them in the left channel. As a general guideline, adjust the delay and phase slightly to contrast left and right channels and introduce some stereo width. However, be mindful about not overdoing it, as that may lead to phase issues and issues with mono compatibility.
Lastly, you can use third-party plugins like Ozone Imager for more detailed stereo imaging. The plugin allows you to adjust the stereo imaging of four different bands/frequency ranges separately. In addition, it also gives you a visualizer for stereo imaging of the bands.
- Harmonic Effects
Harmonics are the overtones and partials that occur naturally in a sound. Adding harmonics to a rap vocal can create a more complex and interesting sound. This can be especially useful for rap vocals that sound too flat or one-dimensional. For example, you can use a harmonic exciter plugin to add harmonics to a rap vocal or a harmonizer plugin to create thick and rich harmonies.
Saturation and distortion, two techniques for adding harmonics to your vocals, are techniques commonly used in music production to add warmth, character, and edge to vocals. They are specifically used to add an interesting character to your sound and make the vocals more exciting. Here are some tips on how to use saturation and distortion on vocals:
Firstly, when using saturation and distortion on vocals, it’s important to use modest amounts to avoid making them sound too harsh or abrasive. A little saturation or distortion can add warmth and character to a vocal without overpowering it.
Next, tape emulation plugins are designed to simulate the sound of analog tape recording. They can add warmth, depth, and subtle distortion to a vocal, making it more natural and vintage. Some popular tape emulation plugins for vocals include Waves J37 Tape and Slate Digital Virtual Tape Machines.
For example, the Vintage Aural Exciter by Waves (shown in the image below) adds a great high-end shein required in rap vocals to stand out and gives them a unique airy texture.
Further, you can also use tube emulation plugins designed to simulate the sound of analog tube amplifiers. They can add warmth, depth, and harmonic distortion to a vocal, making it sound more gritty and edgy. Some popular tube emulation plugins for vocals include Universal Audio 610-B Tube Preamp & EQ and Softube Tube-Tech CL 1B Compressor.
Next, use distortion creatively. Distortion doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. It can be used creatively to create interesting and unique vocal effects. For example, you can use a bit crusher plugin to create a lo-fi effect on a vocal or a distortion plugin to create a distorted vocal effect that sounds like it’s coming through a megaphone or walkie-talkie.
FL Studio offers a range of powerful saturation and distortion plugins that can add warmth, character, and edge to your vocal tracks. Some popular plugins include Fruity Waveshaper, a versatile plugin that can shape the waveform of a sound using preset or custom shapes and can be used for subtle saturation or extreme distortion. Some other great plugins in FL Studio are Fruity Blood Overdrive, Distructor, Fast Distortion, etc.
Destructor allows you to have all distortion/saturation algorithms available in FL Studio, which you can tweak and customize to your liking.
Lastly, use parallel processing. When using saturation and distortion on vocals, it’s often a good idea to use parallel processing. This involves duplicating the vocal track, adding the saturation or distortion effect to the duplicated track, and then blending the two tracks. This allows you to add warmth and character to the vocals without overpowering them.
You can do parallel processing using a separate insert for distortion and loading of your plugins. You can route your vocal track to that insert and adjust its mix.
- Mix the vocals with the instrumental track.
Finally, it is important to mix the vocals with the instrumental track. Use panning, EQ, compression, and other effects to balance the vocals and the instrumental track. Use reference tracks to compare your mix with other professional mixes and ensure that your mix sounds great on various playback systems.
In conclusion, hip-hop and rap vocals are essential to hip-hop and have significantly impacted music and culture worldwide. Mixing hip-hop and rap vocals in FL Studio requires techniques and tools such as EQ, compressors, de-users, reverb, delay, and stereo imagers.
To achieve a professional mix, it is crucial to start with a clean recording and use these tools to shape the sound, level the dynamics, and add depth and dimension to the vocals. I also recommend using their party plugins, as stock plugins can only get you limited results.
To achieve the sound you hear in your head or your reference mix, you may need plugins that emulate the character you want, which may not be available in FL Studio. I hope the article was of help. Thank you for reading.
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Shaurya Bhatia, is an Indian Music Producer, Composer, Rapper & Performer, who goes by the stage name MC SNUB, and is also 1/2 of the Indian pop music duo, called “babyface”. A certified Audio Engineer & Music Producer, and a practicing musician & rapper for more than 6 years, Shaurya has worked on projects of various genres and has also been a teaching faculty at Spin Gurus DJ Academy.