How to Get Thick Rap Vocals
Okay, so here’s the situation:
You’ve got your beat mixed perfectly. Everything is sitting nice but.. now you have to work on the vocals!
Oh no! – Cause every time you do, this is when your mixes fall apart!
Well.. Look no further. I want to cover the following vocal tricks in this tutorial:
- Compression to keep all the vocal’s words audible
- Layering a second vocal recording to fill up extra frequencies
- Grouping audio into Sub Groups for easier control
- Parallel Vocal Processing with Compression for thickness – Distortion comes later in video!
I will say this again and again – You won’t get away from layering and parallel processing in audio production! It is a tool to professionally enhance your productions!
In the beginning of parallel processing, it’s mostly the routing that’s difficult! – You’ll eventually get it! 🙂
Also keep in mind about De-Essing when working with vocals!
So here’s the video for those who don’t like to read!:
And for those who like to read, let’s get started!
Compression on Vocals
Compression is a very hard tool to learn. Even with my years of experience, I still struggle on how much is enough compression. But however tricky compression is, you have to learn it to become better at mixing.
What is Compression Used For?
Compression is used to keep your audio consistent. With a vocal recording, many times there are loud words, and quiet words. This is known as a dynamic recording.
Compression is used to bring down the loud words, making them closer in volume to the quiet words in a very transparent way. (If you’ve dialed in transparent settings).
Your result? – Making most of your vocal’s words audible in your mix.
Want an easy tutorial on compression? – Click to Learn About Compression
Before Processing.. Take a Minute to Think,
Before getting into my vocal processing, I usually like to mix my beat first, so that I have a nice foundation to work off of, then add my vocals on top.
A good rule of thumb is to first adjust the vocal’s volume to where it’s sitting nice before any processing – So do that!
Adjust your vocal’s volume to where you think it sits best, and take a few moments to listen for what you’d like to fix, or enhance! Are all the words clear? Are the vocals fighting with another instrument?
After you’ve adjusted your vocal to that nice volume, listen closely for the words that are too quiet. This is where you’ll want to bring your compressor’s threshold to make your vocal’s words a consistent volume!
Okay, so you’ve EQ’d and compressed.. but your vocal recording still sounds thin, and your ears cringe at certain parts of the recording. Plus, some words still aren’t sticking out!
What do you do next? I suggest layering vocals.
Layer Rap Vocals to Get a Fuller Vocal!
From being an artist, I know how hard it is to achieve that perfect take. A take that does not need doubling, or further processing! (Except minor EQ + compression).
Doubling audio tracks is a widely used technique, but if you’re new, welcome to layering – Here’s what you do.
Take your favorite out of the 10+ takes you’ve recorded 😉 , and if you haven’t deleted those other vocal takes yet, find your second favorite, or.. record again.
Simply layer this second vocal just underneath the primary vocal – You should instantly notice your vocals sounding fuller. You will also notice it will start to hide some of the things you don’t like with your primary vocal.
Even with your favorite take, there is still probably a spot in the recording you’re not super happy with. With this second layer, it may cover up that weak spot, which you feel.
While listening, you will hear that some of the words are out of place. You will want to chop up the second layer, and align it. I sometimes chop my main vocal as well, cause the second take sounds better in certain spots.
But this second vocal layer has it’s pros and cons!:
- Good – The differences between the takes are what help fill up frequencies and make a thicker vocal. It can also help to hide things you don’t like with the primary vocal!
- Bad – It’s a tedious task to cut and align the vocal so they sound natural. Also, you may experience clicks and pops if you don’t fade-in/out the cut alignments.
- Bad – It also takes up more space on your hard drive, and makes your project more labor intensive. If you don’t have a powerful computer, you can really feel an extra vocal on each verse/chorus!
Doubling the vocal with a second take alone should help tremendously to thicken your vocals. But as mentioned, it is a tedious task.
But, you’ve compared your track to other recordings.. and your track still sounds bland. Well, this is where sub groups, and parallel processing can help!
Grouping Vocals into a Sub Group
While mixing, you want to keep things simple.
To do this, I would recommend you categorize your tracks into sub groups.
I like to create a separate sub group for each of my verses. Verse 1, Verse 2, Chorus and so on. This allows for flexible routing and total control.
Continuing on the simple route, subgroups allow for easy volume control/organization and mixing. By throwing an EQ or compressor on a sub group with a couple different tracks, you are EQing and compressing all the sounds in that sub group, blending them together! This saves CPU power, keeps things simple and easy, and allows you to do advanced techniques and push sounds quietly into the background!
Creating a Sub Group:
If you don’t know how to create a sub group, check out this tutorial.
Once you create this sub group, your on your way for easy and organized mixing!
In FL Studio, it’s very simple. It literally takes one click!
Vocal Parallel Processing
In addition to layering your vocal with another recording for thickness, a popular technique is parallel processing.
Parallel Processing is a tool to expand your creativity, and allows you, as this post title says, to make a thicker/fuller audio track.
On many YouTube videos, you will see lots of talk about parallel compression on drums. But that’s not the only place where you can use this technique!
I very often use this on my main instrument lead, and add cool effects like delay and reverb on the parallel/wet channel! – I will then blend to taste!
So what’s the difference between Parallel Processing, Parallel Compression and New York Compression?
My thoughts on it is this:
- Parallel Processing – When you route your audio in parallel, but don’t squash it super hard with a compressor like you do with parallel compression. This allows you to EQ, or add cool effects and push them into the background without effecting your original dry signal.
- Parallel Compression – Parallel compression is the exact same thing as Parallel Processing, but you compress the track very hard and bring the volume gently underneath – This creates a thicker sounding track, or vocal in our case.
- New York Compression? – New York compression is the same thing as Parallel Compression – Just a term used interchangeably.
To create a thicker vocal, route your vocal’s original audio to a separate mixer track. This is now in parallel which you can compress or distort hard, without effecting the original signal!
Try adding reverb on this parallel channel, turning the dry to 0, and the wet to 100%, and see how you can have control behind your sound!
When dealing with distortion, I keep the volume of this track quiet, as you don’t want to hear the effect, just enhance, and make your vocal thicker/fuller. But if I were creating a cool effect with delay/reverb, well, I would want this to be heard, but just gently in the background – so adjust your volume to taste.
For vocals, they usually benefit from a boost in the high frequencies with a high shelf. 1-2dB and it’s noticeable!
But have you ever noticed that when you do this, the ESS sibilence comes out even more, so you tend not to boost here?
Trick – Since we’re processing in parallel, you can be extra generous! — Boost that high shelf on the parallel channel by like 10dB, and throw a De-Esser on that parallel track to compensate for the harsh sibilance you may get.
Gently blend in the parallel signal, and what do you get? A nice airy and audible vocal, while your original vocal hasn’t even been touched! (Just enhanced!).
This will make your tracks close to the professionals!
Making a Thicker Vocal – Recap
So that’s it! – You should now have a thicker sounding vocal!
To recap those steps:
- Depending on your genre of music, you can get away with a lot of compression on vocals. Try around – 3-8dB of gain reduction and then A/B test to see if you’re making a difference
- Layer a second vocal recording to fill in extra frequencies
- Group these into a Sub-Buss for easy volume management, or EQ/compress here accordingly!
- Process the vocals in Parallel – I’d recommend compressing them quite hard, and bringing them up just underneath. You may be able to get away with a distortion plugin as well – Remember, just enough so it enhances your track, but not noticeably audible (unless you want that effect!)
Other Vocal Tips
A cool trick to get a wider vocal is you can take 3 recordings.
Keep your favorite centered, pan one left, and the other right. You’ll be amazed at how wide it sounds!
If you don’t have 3 recordings laying around, you can use your same recording, duplicate it, and nudge it to the left/right as Graham from TheRecordingRevolution says in his tutorial.
The 3 recording trick is very powerful in choruses. I did it in this tutorial here.
Tips to Learn Compression
When learning compression, a visual compressor is always nice, but I do feel there is a down-fall to using visual VSTs all the time. I feel I start to use my eyes and think, “Oh no! – It’s 6dB of gain reduction!”, but in reality, it sounds great in the mix!
So take time out to read what each section on a compressor does – Threshold, Ratio, Attack, and Release.
The hardest part of compression is learning about the attack and release times.
I sometimes use the compressor Density MKII by Variety of Sounds. It allows me to push my mixes a bit harder with compression, and I don’t get that “mixing with my eyes” feeling as much.
I hope that shows you How to Get a Thicker Rap Vocal.
Please let me know if you have any questions on creating thicker vocals!