How to Get Warmer, Thicker Rap Vocals

This is a response to a student question, from Akeem Custis, about how to get rap vocals to sound thicker, warmer and better in general.

First, your mic and preamp are very important. Some mics are warmer and fatter than others. The same goes for preamps. I have gotten some great results with the EV RE-20, which is a dynamic mic. Mic placement is pretty important on rap vocals too. You want to use a cardioid mic to boost up the lows a little with the proximity effect. Make sure that you have at minimum one really good pop filter. I often use two pop filters: one foam “windscreen” on the mic itself and a metal Stedman pop filter as well. Sometimes I use one pop filter in front of the other or different types. Turn the mic slightly so that the mic isn’t pointed directly at the artist’s mouth. This is called an “off-axis” mic placement and also helps with plosives.

Since I don’t know what you’re recording with, I would suggest first compressing the vocal heavily. With the attack and release in auto, use a 6:1 ratio to reduce gain up to 15 dB, then boost the vocal as far as you can without peaking. If you put a boost of 2-5 dB at around 150 Hz that can also fatten up a track, especially in the male vocal range. If it starts to sound muddy, then just back off on the peak filter. Your bandwidth should be between 100 Hz and 200Hz or about 1 octave.

When you add additional vocal tracks of doubling, you can also create phase problems and end up with a thinner sounding vocal than if you hadn’t added the additional tracks. One way to handle this is to pan the additional tracks so that they’re not all sitting on top of each other. This will tend to sound much bigger than tracks all panned center. Usually on rap vocal tracks, the hooks use doubled voices (or tripled or more) panned out. This creates a bigger vocal production to set the hooks out from the verses. Most of the time, the verses aren’t panned out so heavily and there are many fewer vocal doubles.

I have had really good luck with doing doubles, but using different tones of voice to avoid phase problems. For instance, have the MC record the first take of the track in the tone they would use live. Now do a whisper double. This one won’t interfere with the frequencies in the first take very much. Now do a hard aggressive double. Listen to these 3 takes together in mono to see how you’re doing. Mix the different voices up or down as appropriate.

If you have already recorded the tracks, then you can try using a doubler with the additional voices panned out. This will probably cause some of the phase problems that I already mentioned.

Good Luck Mixing!

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