My latest project - The Writer's Block by Manny Festo.
Myself and the artist have never met - we were connected through a mutual friend who recommended me and handed me the files....
This is how it was mixed.
The First Play
I wasn't given a reference to this mix or any indication of how anyone wanted it to sound - simply handed the RAW stems and told to go.
Upon first playing the song there was a lot going on. The main verses had been layered twice though-out, there were two sets of adlibs and a massive chorus with those classic hip-hop stabs. For the sound of the record the project was substantial.
With Hip-Hop I always start with the main vocals. With this track in particular and the sound of the chorus I felt as though the track took on a semi-old school feel. Small plate reverb with a ping-pong delay scattered around. My initial thoughts were to make the vocal thin and very classic 90's budget studio but this changed to wanting thick wide vocals during the early stages of the mix due to the nature of the vocal and the chorus.
The main vocal comes in quite strong and made me jump the first time I heard it. To prepare the listener for this I added a reverse reverb to the very start of the first verse to bring it in.
My vocal EQ was simple. Manny has a great delivery across the record with a strong male rap vocal voice. This pushed me towards bringing out the lower end of his voice at 150Hz and to balance it out a little pushing him at 3.5kHz to retain 'clarity' and the presence of the vocal and a little boost at 12kHz for some 'sparkle'.
Following the EQ I compressed his vocal fairly hard pushing the threshold down a little lower than I usually would to really squash the frequencies I'd just bought out with the EQ.
I applied the same EQ with a high freq pass to his layers of the main verse and eased off the compression ratio ever so slightly as not to overwhelm the listener when all 3 layers are bought in and out frequently though the record.
The chorus is split into two parts. Repetition of "The writers block" including the whispers... and the stabs.
"The Writer's Block"
For this part of the chorus I panned the 9 stems out from left to right only covering half of the stereo field. The predominant vocals were spread to 50% left and 50% right. 4 of these stems were the whispers you can hear in the background. 2 are panned ever so slightly to the left and right to wrap around a main chorus vocal panned center and another two are panned 50% left and right.
I then applied a chorus effect to the main chorus vocals but not the whispers to glue those together leaving the whispers to roam free across the mix.
The initial chorus is restricted to the first 50% of the stereo field which gave me the room to push the stabs hard left and hard right with one in the middle to ensure thickness in the vocal. There's no more than a little bit of compression added to these vocals leaving them as raw as I'd initially planned for the main vocal to be. They're pulled to the back of the mix with a slight level decrease and boost in reverb. They sit just on top of the whispers but behind the main chorus vocal.
I chose to keep the chorus playing at the end even as the beat to provide a much smoother transition into the second American Splendor sample and to add a bit of a conversation type connection between the artist and the quote which I felt Manny most likely connected with.
To add the finishing touches to the record I added a high pass filter to the intro and outro of the beat where the American Splendor sample is playing. I've also created a classic hip hop slow-down effect with the instrumental at 1:37 to bring out a lyric I liked and add a bit of flare to the second verse.
There's also a slight plate reverb (90:10) over the entire track to gel it all together. I also chose to do this also to add an atmosphere to the entire record which I felt it needed to bring the sound to life as if it was all recorded live in the same room (kind of...).
Was the process above easy to understand and is there anywhere I should go into more detail?
Would you have done it differently? If so, I'd love to hear how below...