How To Mix Vocals In A Hip-Hop Song (Live Demo)

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Hey, it’s Jason here from Behind The Speakers, and before we dive in, make sure you grab my free vocal mixing cheat sheet by clicking the link above or in the description below.

Now in just a second, I’m going to play a clip from a live mixing session that I recently hosted. Inside this clip you’ll watch me apply compression, de-essing and delay to a vocal to make it sound more polished and professional. Let’s take a look. Let’s see here. Let’s go to the vocal. That’s what I was doing.

♪ It’s 2am, I’m infinite. ♪

♪ Wondering if I can make this last before it finishes ♪


♪ These front porches haven’t taken down their Christmas shit, from last year ♪


♪ They want more from life, if it exists ♪


♪ I guess we’re all looking forward to us shining ♪


♪ A couple holidays from now we’ll all be fine when ♪


♪ We finally get a chance to walk along horizons ♪


♪ Or we’re bored of trying, organized, and 45 and tired ♪


♪ We were shopping mall pilgrims, outlaws at yard sales ♪

You ever get that spinning wheel of death and you’re like “oh no is this thing going to crash?”.

So, I’m glad it worked. OK. So, we have this Oxford Compressor here. I like this plugin. Again, you don’t need to use the tools that I use. I just want to be clear about this. This is just a normal compressor, guys. So, you can use any plug in you have, even the stock one. So, I’m going to set this up with a 4:1 ratio, a little bit more aggressive than I typically go on vocals, and a fast release time.

And basically what that’s going to tell the compressor to do is to let go very quickly once it’s compressed, so when it hears something that’s too loud it’s going to turn it down and then it’s going to release or let go of the sound very quickly and the effect that that has is that it actually brings up a lot of the low level detail in the performance: the tail ends of the phrases, the words, the quieter parts of the vocal, the breaths. And it actually makes the vocal sound like it’s more urgent. It makes the vocal sound like they’re singing more aggressively. So, you’ll see this in a second. So, we’re doing this not just to control the level, we’re trying to get some character out of this. And with that fast release time, we’re actually going to make the vocalist sound like they’re just singing a little bit more aggressively.

♪ It’s 2am, I’m infinite. ♪

♪ Wondering if I can make this last before it finishes ♪


♪ These front porches haven’t taken down their Christmas shit, from last year ♪


♪ They want more from life, if it exists ♪


♪ I guess we’re all looking forward to us shining ♪


♪ A couple holidays from now we’ll all be fine when ♪

♪ It’s 2am, I’m infinite. ♪

♪ Wondering if I can make this last before it finishes ♪


♪ These front porches haven’t taken down their Christmas shit, from last year ♪


♪ They want more from life, if it exists ♪


♪ I guess we’re all looking forward to us shining ♪

♪ It’s 2am, I’m infinite. ♪

♪ Wondering if I can make this last before it finishes ♪


♪ These front porches haven’t taken down their Christmas shit, from last year ♪


♪ They want more from life, if it exists ♪


♪ I guess we’re all looking forward to us shining ♪


♪ A couple holidays from now we’ll all be fine when ♪


♪ We finally get a chance to walk along horizons ♪


♪ Or we’re bored of trying…. ♪

That’s little bit too much compression.

But we’re getting there.

♪ It’s 2am, I’m infinite. ♪

♪ Wondering if I can make this last before it finishes ♪


♪ It’s 2am, I’m infinite. ♪

♪ Wondering if I can make this last before it finishes ♪

Notice that, with the compression, the vocalist sounds like they’re more aggressive. Dylan sounds like he’s kind of spitting out the words more. That’s what I’m looking for here. So, take a listen. Before and after again.

♪ It’s 2am, I’m infinite. ♪

♪ Wondering if I can make this last before it finishes ♪

♪ It’s 2am, I’m infinite. ♪

♪ Wondering if I can make this last before it finishes ♪

That sounds good to me. One thing that I am starting to hear is a lot of those esses. So, I’m going to add a de-esser on this track and see if we can pull those back a little bit.

♪ It’s 2am, I’m infinite. ♪

Dylan is one of the artists that I’ve worked with who has such a like fine tuned hearing when it comes to the esses on his tracks. So when I send a mix off to him and sometimes I get notes back that are like “at 132, can you turn up that ess a little bit?”.

So I always have to be very careful when I’m de-essing Dylan’s vocals.

♪ It’s 2am, I’m infinite. ♪

♪ Wondering if I can make this last before it finishes ♪

♪ These front porches haven’t taken down their Christmas shit, from last year ♪

♪ They want more from life, if it exists ♪

♪ I guess we’re all looking forward to us shining ♪

♪ A couple holidays from now we’ll all be fine when ♪

♪ We finally get a chance to walk along horizons ♪

♪ Or we’re bored of trying, organized, and 45 and tired ♪

♪ We were shopping mall pilgrims, outlaws at yard sales ♪

♪ We wrote our names in ash and cigarettes on guardrails ♪

Hey, Preston, we might be using some Waves plugins, I’m not sure yet. I’m not going to use them if I don’t need to, but I’ll try. Now that you’ve mentioned, I’ll try to use some Waves plugins moving forward.

♪ It’s 2am, I’m infinite. ♪

♪ Wondering if I can make this last before it finishes ♪

OK. Let’s get some effects going on this vocal. I’m going to try a delay. I kind of want to give this like a little bit of a retro vibe. It’s kind of got that like lo fi thing going on. So, let’s see if we can add kind of like a slap back delay, like a vintage kind of sounding delay. We’ll see if we can make that work.

So, Hugh says “when using a reverb or delay on the aux, what’s your theory on when to add send level to the aux?”.

So, it depends on what plugins you’re using. Certain plugins are sensitive to the amount of level that you’re feeding into them. Like if you have a compressor on an aux (maybe you’re doing like parallel compression, for example), the level that you send into that plugin is going to affect how the compressor reacts. So, if you turn up the level going into that compressor, it’s going to compress more and it’s going to change the sound of that compression. So, if you already are happy with the sound of that compression, you don’t really want to mess with the level going into that plugin. Instead, a better choice would just be to turn down the aux track fader, if you’re trying to change the level, whereas other plugins, like reverb, aren’t really sensitive to how much level they’re being set. So, it’s kind of the same thing to turn it up or down on the aux track versus doing it with the send, if that makes sense. So, it really depends on what specific plug in you’re working with.

♪ It’s 2am, I’m infinite. ♪

♪ Wondering if I can make this last before it finishes ♪

That snare’s sounding a lot better now. OK. So, we have this set up and I’m going to bus out 17- 18 on the vocal.

♪ It’s 2am, I’m infinite. ♪

Obviously, that doesn’t sound good. But we’ll get there. I’m going to do a mono delay. I just want it kind of down the center.

♪ It’s 2am, I’m infinite. ♪

So, the cool thing about this plugin, EchoBoy, is it has this style setting here so you can actually change the character of the delay; if you don’t have a delay plugin like this, you can add plugins after it. You can add some distortion or some saturation or things like that. But this has it all built in, which is kind of cool, so I’m just going to play around with this and see if I can get some kind of like a grimy delay.

♪ It’s 2am, I’m infinite. ♪

Wooo, that’s so cool! I like that! That sounds really good. Now let’s get the timing right.

♪ It’s 2am, I’m infinite. ♪

♪ Wondering if I can make this last before it finishes ♪

♪ These front porches haven’t taken down their Christmas shit, from last year ♪

♪ They want more from life, if it exists ♪

♪ I guess we’re all looking forward to us shining ♪

♪ A couple holidays from now we’ll all be fine when ♪

♪ We finally get a chance to walk along horizons ♪

♪ Or we’re bored of trying, organized, and 45 and tired ♪

Obviously this is way louder than I’m actually going to put it in the mix, but I turn it up so that I can hear it while I’m adjusting the settings and noticed guys I’m not soloing things, so I’m listening to these moves in context with the whole mix and that’s really important because, as soon as you solo this, you have no idea how this delay is relating to everything else.

So, you want to try to avoid the solo button whenever possible in the mixing process and that’s one of the reasons why I like cleaning tracks up before I start mixing. So that once we start mixing, we’re not using the solo button anymore and we can listen to all of the moves that we’re making in context. That’s the key to making better decisions.

♪ It’s 2am, I’m infinite. ♪

♪ Wondering if I can make this last before it finishes ♪

♪ These front porches haven’t taken down their Christmas shit, from last year ♪

♪ They want more from life, if it exists ♪

♪ I guess we’re all looking forward to us shining ♪

♪ A couple holidays from now we’ll all be fine when ♪

OK let’s turn this down and see how it’s sitting.

♪ It’s 2am, I’m infinite. ♪

♪ Wondering if I can make this last before it finishes ♪

♪ These front porches haven’t taken down their Christmas shit, from last year ♪

♪ They want more from life, if it exists ♪

♪ I guess we’re all looking forward to us shining ♪

♪ A couple holidays from now we’ll all be fine when ♪

♪ We finally get a chance to…♪

So, when I’m adding effects, usually what I’m doing is I turn it up to the point where I hear it and then I back it off a little bit.

♪ It’s 2am, I’m infinite. ♪

♪ Wondering if I can make this last before it finishes ♪

♪ These front porches haven’t taken down their Christmas shit, from last year ♪

So this is without it.

♪ It’s 2am, I’m infinite. ♪

This is with it.

♪ It’s 2am, I’m infinite. ♪

♪ Wondering if I can make this last before it finishes ♪

I don’t know if I love it. I’m going to leave it there for now. I might come back to it and change it.

♪ It’s 2am, I’m infinite. ♪

♪ Wondering if I can make this last before it finishes ♪

♪ These front porches haven’t taken down their Christmas shit ♪

It gets too loud right now.

♪ It’s 2am, I’m infinite. ♪

♪ Wondering if I can make this last before it finishes ♪

Maybe a longer delay will work better.

♪ It’s 2am, I’m infinite. ♪

♪ Wondering if I can make this last before it finishes ♪

♪ These front porches haven’t taken down their Christmas shit, from last year ♪

♪ They want more from life, if it exists ♪

That’s a great comment, Skinny. Yeah. So really, we’re trying to glue the vocal to the rest of the tracks and reverb or delay will help us do that. It’ll kind of bring him back so I’m not really liking that longer delay.

♪ It’s 2am, I’m infinite. ♪

♪ Wondering if I can make this last before it finishes ♪

♪ These front porches haven’t taken down their Christmas shit, from last year ♪

We’re going to keep that as it is for now and we’ll come back to it.

So, I hope you found that clip helpful. And if you want to dive deeper, I recommend you download my free “vocal mixing cheat sheet” which contains tips and tricks that will help make your vocals sound more professional. Click the link above or in the description below to download this free cheat sheet right now. Before you go, leave a comment below this video and let me know what’s your go-to plugin chain on vocals. I’d love to hear from you, so leave your answer in the comments section below. Thanks so much for watching. And for more mixing videos like this one, check out my channel right here on YouTube or go to BehindTheSpeakers.com

About Tiki Horea

Starting off as a drummer and continuing as an engineer, I've been involved in the music industry all of my professional career. I fell in love with mixing and mastering other artists' music. Every musician should get goosebumps when they listen back to the finished mixes. This is what gets me up in the morning.