Today we will be taking an in-depth look at hip-hop sessions and the elements involved in a successful vocal tracking session. The key to vocal sessions is ensuring that all the details are already taken care of before the session starts in order to allow the session to run as smoothly as possible, both for the artist and the engineer. This is especially crucial for hip-hop production because often, the artist will be freestyling and must not be disturbed while they are “at the moment.” Today we will address several aspects of this process, including creating multiple vocal tracks to capture the moment, picking the right microphone for the job, comparing mp3s vs. track-outs, and clearing samples.
Create several vocal tracks. The best way to set up a session for hip-hop production is to create several vocal tracks, making sure both the inputs and outputs are all properly routed in order to switch back and forth between tracks quickly. This facilitates alternate takes, overdubs, and vocal comping and removes any unnecessary breaks in the session that could stop the flow of creativity.
Pick the right mic for the job. The key to hip-hop sessions is establishing a solid vocal chain that can handle the sound pressure level necessary for dynamic vocals. The Shure SM7B and SM57 are both great mics for hip-hop vocals because they can both handle high SPLs. However, if the artist is singing as well, you can use a Neumann U87 or any other multitude of premium vocal mics you prefer. In either case, ensure you have a clean mic preamp that allows the vocals to pass through uncolored and a compressor to control the transients.
MP3 files vs. track-outs. It is not uncommon for an artist to bring in their track on MP3 for a vocal session and layer the vocals on top. Although this can be convenient, it is always better to work with the entire track in separate stems whenever possible, as this allows for space to be carved out in the track for the vocals. Otherwise, the vocals will not sit right on the track, and you will have to adjust accordingly with unnecessary EQ.
Clearing Samples. Finally, whenever you are working with a hip-hop track, you always want to ensure you get any samples used in the track cleared to avoid copyright issues. Oftentimes clips of old songs will be edited, pitched up or down, and re-used with new drums and other elements in order to create a new track for the artist. However, whenever sampling is involved, you must make sure you go through the proper steps of clearing all samples for legal reasons; otherwise, you can be liable for a lawsuit by the original artist.
Hip Hop sessions are all about capturing the moment, and the more pre-production you can have done beforehand, the more successful you will be in capturing the artist’s creative vision. Be sure to follow us @iamjambot and @_signaturesound to keep up with everything we’re doing over at the studio, and be sure to check back every Monday for our new blog articles! Seeya next week!