Professional Hip Hop production and mixing tips: Vocal editing #1
Episode #1 of the Professional Hip Hop mixing tips: Vocal Editing and clean-up tips – Preparation to mix.
Recordings, in particular the home ones, are always full of noises and unwanted characteristics. You need to clean vocal recordings and de-noise them before applying any other processor/plugin. This is a crucial step, half of the work for a great final result.
EDITING: Vocal editing in hip hop vocal production is fundamental and is the first crucial step for a great final result, take your time with this task. Get rid of all unwanted parts of the audio that will ruin and make your song non-professional sounding. Clicks, room noises, foot noises, jewellery noises, paper noises, shape pops of letters using fade-ins and always apply a short fade out on all the resulting edited clips, to avoid clicks (in particular in DAW like Pro Tools where this has to be always done manually). There are “snap to zero point” options in almost any DAW to avoid this task, but a fade in/out is always a good practice to have perfect clips.
The most important noises to attenuate and reduce in vocal recordings are:
1) Low end pops: P, T, D and B letters can be problems for many reasons (placement, wrong mic, distance, no pop-shield or a badly placed one…). They can show up as low frequency pops hard to get rid of. Placing a filter at 100-120 hz can be useful and do the trick, but it will make vocals thin. So you have to manually shape them with fade ins, and combine them with dynamic or automated equalizers/high pass filters that act ONLY ON THOSE LITTLE POPS moments, not on the entire vocal recording. This way you will avoid that issue without making vocals thin, without the depth of the low end. Not mandatory of course, there are plenty of professional hip hop hits mixes where low end has been totally filtered, and that’s just a matter of style/taste.
Another tip for those unwanted noises is to shape them manually with fade-ins so they are less prominent. But there are cases when they are great to make vocals stand out if the instrumental is strong/full enough to mask them properly. Use your ears.
2) Breathes: loud breathes becomes louder once compressed. Just cut the audio portion where they are and manually decrease their volume directly on clip, or delete them. Again, this is exclusively a matter of taste and all depends by the song and the moment in each song.
3) Clicks: sometimes you hear clicks from tongue. Zoom the track to find it in detail and shape it to reduce or remove them. Using fade-in/out, gain reduction on clip, dedicated plugins. Clicks are awful.
4) Vocal alignment: layered vocals needs to be layered nicely. If you record a 2 layers chorus for example, and the result sounds messy even if you pan them 100% left and right, this means it wasn’t performed in a decent sync, so you have to zoom in and make those layers appear (and most of all, sound) the same, aligning each word to the one you feel that is better performed, or adjust the better one before alone to sound in sync perfectly with the instrumental, and then edit the second one. If you have more layers, same thing.
There are professional mixing plugins that will help you perform this task very well: I use IZOTOPE RX tools, for me the best companions for home recordings issues and a very professional audio restoration tool in general. Those tools advanced technology will adapt to each audio material and can get rid of unwanted noises in a very efficient way, such as room reverbs, resonations, hums, clicks in the middle of words, and similar issues you can’t at manually in a easy way. Have a try with their demo and you’ll see how quick and powerful they are.
The best tool I use in this suite is the De-Reverb function, able to reduce the room reverb of recordings performed in a not properly treated room, or not treated at all. This is extremely helpful, because we are not mixing classical, opera where you need a lot of room. In Hip Hop mixing, you will need very dry vocals, that sounds right in your face, so you have to aim for a very low room reverb in your recording.