Recording vocals can be quite a challenge for beginner rappers. There are so many things involved in order to get a good vocal track that it may be daunting even for seasoned artists: performance, quality of the equipment, recording environment, the list goes on.
However, by following some simple guidelines, any self-recording artist or producer can create confidence in no time to record excellent hip hop vocals, at home or in the studio.
In this article, we’ve compiled a few simple tips on how to record rap vocals, to help you in the process of achieving a professional sound. Follow along for more information.
Table of Contents
- What Do I Need to Record Rap Vocals?
- Tips on How to Record Rap Vocals
- How to Record Rap Vocals – Step by Step
- Bonus: Tips for Mixing Rap Vocals
- Frequently Asked Questions
Tip: if you’re just getting started in rapping, make sure to check How to Rap for some useful insight on the subject.
What Do I Need to Record Rap Vocals?
First, let’s clear all the equipment you will need in order to record great hip hop vocals by yourself.
The most obvious one is, of course, the microphone. After your own performance, it is the element that will impact the quality of the recording the most. There are basically two types of microphones in the market: dynamic and condenser.
A dynamic microphone is a type that is most used for live settings and places with lots of background noise. It is less sensitive, but on the other hand, it picks a lot less unwanted noises.
A condenser microphone is a type that you usually find in most studios for vocal recording. The mic has a lot of sensitivity and can pick up even the slightest sound details. However, these mics will require a soundproofed and sound-treated room to work their best.
The choice between the two types comes down to your budget and your applications. If you’re recording in your bedroom and you don’t want to spend extra money treating the room, a dynamic mic will work very well.
But, if you already have a home studio, owning a condenser microphone or even both types for different applications will be a great addition to your setup.
We must also note that your microphone should be of high quality. If you’re looking to invest in a mic, we recommend you take a look at Best Recording Microphones – Part 1: Vocal Mics to learn more about the different options.
The second one on the list is the audio interface. An interface is a device with XLR type inputs that will allow you to connect your microphone to your computer in a professional way. There are a lot of options on the market.
If you’re only recording vocals, any high-quality audio interface with at least one XLR input will do. Regarding compatibility, the wide majority of these devices will connect to your computer via USB cable.
We have compiled a guide of the best audio interfaces in the market today. Head to Best Audio Interface to learn more about the subject.
Digital Audio Workstation (Recording Software)
The last essential tool to record rap vocals is the digital audio workstation (DAW). These are the heart of any recording studio, and they will run on your computer to help you capture your vocals and allow you to work on the production side of your track.
Some of the best DAWs in the market nowadays are Logic Pro, Ableton Live, FL Studio, and Pro Tools. These are all paid options, but there are a few free versions such as Pro Tools FIRST and Ableton Live Lite that will do if you’re a beginner.
There are a few extra tools that don’t necessarily take part in your signal chain when recording vocals but will be necessary for improved signal quality and convenience such as:
- Pop Filter (especially with condenser microphones)
- Microphone stand
- High-quality cables
- Headphones for monitoring
With that being said, let’s head over to our techniques and tricks on how to get the best recording out of your rap vocal performance.
Tips on How to Record Rap Vocals
Choose a Quiet Environment
Any great recording starts with the environment. It can’t be too noisy or have too many sound reflections, and we know that is a problem for a lot of beginners and aspiring rappers since most are recording in their bedroom/homes.
If you don’t have a soundproofed and sound-treated room to record in or you’re on a budget, we advise you to choose a dynamic microphone. Dynamic mics will pick up much less background noise than their condenser counterparts.
Even if you choose this type of mic, having a quiet room to record in can help you focus more and deliver a better performance. We prepared a guide on How to Soundproof a Wall – 15 Actionable Ways that may be useful especially if you’re on a budget.
Warm-Up Before Singing
Many singers and rappers underestimate the importance of warming up your vocal cords before the performance. Our vocal cords are muscles, and muscles need to be warmed up before any intense exercise.
Even a simple 5-minute warm-up will have a great impact on your performance and give your voice a much better tone. This video, for example, is a fast exercise that you can do right before you record rap vocals:
Be Aware Of The Mic/Vocalist Positioning
When setting up to record, you got to pay attention to the position of the mic relative to the rapper. The recommended guideline is to have the singer standing at least 15cm from the microphone/pop filter.
Of course, you can experiment and be creative with different positioning. For example, singing slightly off-axis into the mic can reduce the unwanted sound of plosives and sibilance, especially if you don’t have a dedicated pop filter.
Another important point to talk about is the proximity effect. The closer you are to the mic, the more low-frequencies the signal will have. This is true, especially for dynamic mics. Keep that in mind when positioning since finding the sweet spot can avoid common mix problems further down the process.
Choose Your Vocal Effects Wisely
Many singers and rappers like to hear their voice with effects such as compression and reverb while they record. It is totally fine to do so and can even be beneficial, so try experimenting a little bit with the vocal effects in your DAW software to see what you like.
Keep in mind though that the vocal effects you insert on your recording channel should come post-pan, that is, they shouldn’t be printed into your audio. Your audio should remain dry for further mixdown purposes.
Keep Every Recording
Don’t go deleting all the tracks you think don’t fit into the song. These recordings could serve as great overdubs in the production/editing process, so make sure to save all of them.
Most DAW software has a take function that will automatically keep your previous recordings saved even if you record over them in the arrangement view, so you don’t need to stress about it while performing.
Have a Good Foundation
When we record rap vocals, we may often get caught in layering our voice again and again to achieve a great sound. It is a common and totally valid practice to do so. But, we advise you to get a great lead vocal line to act as a solid foundation for the overdubs to come. Focus on one track at a time.
How to Record Rap Vocals – Step by Step
Let’s sum up the basic process on how to record rap vocals:
- Pick a good room to record in – the quieter the better.
- Take some time to set the gain properly – either sing or have the rapper do some lines while you do so. If the signal is too loud it will clip. A great rule of thumb is to stay around -18dB to -12dB.
- You can monitor yourself with sound effects like compression and reverb, but be aware to record the audio file itself dry.
- Try different positionings both for the rapper and for the microphone.
- Record and save different takes for further editing and overdubs.
- Don’t get too caught in the mix or editing process yet, try to get the best takes first.
- Most importantly, be creative and have fun through the process.
Bonus: Tips for Mixing Rap Vocals
Usually, the next step after recording and post-production is mixing your track. We’re aware that nowadays many rappers and producers mix their own songs due to budget and convenience, so we’ve decided to lay down a few techniques to help you ace the process.
Learn to Use the Equipment and Tools You Have
It may be tempting to go and buy a $100 plugin that promises to make your vocals 100x better. While these tools may help a lot during the process, they’re not necessarily a must. Most recording software nowadays comes with excellent stock plugins and we recommend that you learn to use them in-depth before investing in new tools.
There are a lot of free options on the internet too. We recommend the website Plugins4Free. They have one of the largest databases for free audio plugins on the internet.
Don’t Overdo Reverb and Delay
Most rap vocals are fast-paced so if you overdo the reverb and delay they may sound a little messy. Try experimenting with a short plate reverb or a slapback delay if you don’t know where to start. Keep in mind that each song is different and there are no strict rules in music though.
Gain Ride Your Vocals
One of the secrets for getting a steady vocal performance is to gain ride your vocal tracks. It can be done through automation inside your DAW: bring the softest parts up and the loudest parts down to get more evenness.
There are even a few third-party plugins that can do this automatically such as the Waves Vocal Rider, the HoRNet AutoGain, and the W.A. Production OUTLAW. These tools can save you a lot of time in the process.
Pay Special Attention to Compression
Getting your compression spot-on is what separates the amateurs from the pros. It can be a daunting task at first to compress your vocals correctly, but the key is to always compare your mix to reference tracks and listen carefully and actively.
Here is a great video from the YouTube channel In The Mix consisting of a step-by-step tutorial for using compression:
Use Mixing References
This is probably one of the biggest tips when it comes to the mixdown process. Grab a few songs that you like the vibe or that you would like your track to sound like mix-wise and put them side to side with your music.
Pay attention to how the vocals flow along with the beat and how the sounds are distributed around the frequency spectrum. Chances are your mix will sound a lot better once you use references.
Always remember though to gain-match both tracks, that is, use your ears to make sure that both your song and your reference are at the same volume so that you have a more neutral judgment.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Level Should Rap Vocals Be Recorded At?
While that is a decision that will vary depending on the singer and the rapper, a great rule of thumb is to have it peaking at around -18dB to -12dB. Make sure the signal is not clipping.
What is the Difference Between Dynamic and Condenser Microphones and What is the Best to Record Rap Vocals?
Both will provide excellent results given that they’re being used correctly. Dynamic mics are usually used in live settings and are less sensitive than condenser ones. The latter also requires a properly soundproofed and sound-treated space to work correctly.
Do I Need a Pop Filter to Record Rap Vocals?
If you’re recording with a dynamic microphone, most of them already have a built-in pop filter. That’s not the cause with condensers though: the majority will need an external pop filter to block sibilance.
In this article, we briefed all the equipment you will need to record rap and hip hop vocals, as well as give you some useful tips to keep in mind during the process. Ultimately, recording great rap vocals comes down to applying the right techniques while being creative through the process – If it sounds great, that’s what matters the most.
Remember that good vocal recordings start with the rapper, so we recommend that you train your voice and practice the song you’re recording to the max before stepping into the studio. Make sure to check out our already mentioned How to Rap and How to Rap Fast posts if you need some help during the process.We hope you’ve liked and found useful our guide on recording rap and hip hop vocals. If you need any further assistance, please make sure to check our other articles or contact us!