Thinking of mixing and mastering your own hip hop track?
As a professional mixing and mastering company, we often get inquiries from potential customers unsure of whether they should attempt to mix and master their own music. We love professionally finishing tracks. There is something extremely satisfying about taking a raw track, adjusting, tweaking, and polishing it until it really shines. Whether you are able to finish your track yourself, or you just want to play around with the music (it is really fun), you’ll need a bit of know-how before you begin.
We’ve put together 7 must-read-tips to get you started, mixing and mastering your hip hop track.
1. Leave the vocals out front
Remember that rap is an in your face style of performance, so you’ll want to leave the vocals out front, even if that means they end up a bit rough around the edges. If you find other samples fighting for the same frequency as the vocals, it makes sense to let the vocal stay first in line most of the time. Use EQ to soften the other instruments a bit.
2. Balance the bass
If you have put a heavy bass line into your hip hop track, as is likely, pay careful attention to the compression and EQ you apply so that the bass has energy and weight, without overtaking the entire bottom end of the track. Some tools to help you with this are a side chained or multiband compressor. Either of these will let you compress the bass differently if it happens to move into the lower mids at some point.
3. Re-mix samples as needed
If you used samples in your tracks, they will have been mixed already. They will need to be altered so that they fit into the context of your track, particularly if you have used samples from more than one source. You’ll want to use EQ and compression to ensure the samples sound like they all fit into the same song. These pre-recorded samples can affect the soundstage and texture of your track, so keep that in mind as you mix as well.
4. Hands off the reverb
Normally, hip hop vocals don’t use much reverb. If they do, it will be a very short one, so that the vocals remain up front. Instead, a short delay with repeats can add depth to the vocal sound.
5. Keep the track loud
Go easy on your limiter settings so that a good overall level is reached, without crushing the track. Hip hop is loud, so leave it that way when you master it. Keep the energy up and avoid over-smoothing the track, as it can end up sounding dull and listless.
6. Compare your track to the experts
Use commercial tracks as comparisons while mastering your own hip hop. Compare your track’s sound with theirs to get an idea of what you should be aiming for.
7. Use a wave editor to weave tracks together
When you are in the final stages of mastering, you’ll be ready to arrange your tracks into an album. Many hip hop albums still use skits and other short tracks between songs on an album. You can run your tracks together using a wave editor with an audio montage feature (Sound Forge, WaveLab…). PQ codes can be added to tell the final disc where one track changes to the next.