Josepe - Setting The Mood: Reflection
Josepe is a fellow student at SAE who I’ve seen around campus and have had a few good chats to about hip-hop and as it turns out he’s actually a really good emcee. I agreed to help him track his vocals as someone had pulled out on him at the last minute, but once I started working with him I fell in love with the track and kind of embedded myself into the project. The instrumental was quite melodic, it had a big sexy chorus line with female vocals, reminiscent of the Eminem/ Rihanna collabs and the verses were quite emotional. He knew exactly how he wanted to lay down his vocals. We recorded 4 bars at a time, dropping back in with him repeating the last line as he dropped into the next 4 bars. The track had 2 verses at 32 bars each, so twice the standard 16 bar verse. which allowed for a breakdown at the end of each verse and a build up into the chorus. I have been a big fan of hip-hop since high school so I understand how tight the syllables need to be on the beat and I counted along to everything making sure it was all tight. I gave him honest and encouraging feedback as we went. We both had a ruthless approach to tracking "it’s either perfect or we do it again". If he didn’t like something he didn’t want to keep it, he had the confidence to do it again and do it better.
Once we got the main vocal track down we decided the performance stood really well on its own and we didn’t need to fully double track it, we just wanted to layer the keywords and do some adlibs. We did a layer of keywords with more intensity than the main vocal with the intention of sitting it further back in the mix. Then we tried to lay some adlibs down, but his verses were pretty complex and the adlibs didn’t add anything so we didn’t keep them. I had a little idea though, when he said something about needing to feel the release I asked him to breath in like he was having a puff on a joint and it worked really well. There was a line about smoking in the second verse so we did the same thing there. Just a subtle little thing that really added something to the track.
Since Josepe was an audio student just at the start of this course I thought I’d show him a few things about how I would mix the song, I set up the routing and buses to record out a bounce. We started by mixing the vocals. We put big crossfades at equal power on all the parts where he overlaps his vocals from the drop-ins. This was a technique he said he really likes to use because it sounds like a single layer but you get a blend on the end of each line and then reinforce it with the layering. This worked really well if both phrases were perfect, but if one was a bit off we just needed to slide the fade over and allow it to catch the side of the phrase that was in time (we only had to do this in 2-3 places). I didn’t EQ his voice because his diction was really good, we used a U87 on his vocals which brings up a lot of the highs and made his words really clear and easy to understand. I used the 1176 compressor to position his vocals in the mix and it really helped them sit evenly so that not as many phrases got buried. I then showed him how to set up routing for reverb and delay which I mainly wanted to use on the backing vocals. We picked a reverb that suited the track and that he really liked and sent a lot of the backups to it and just a tiny bit of the lead vocals to position his main vocals upfront and the backup vocals further back, I also sent the backup vocals to a 20/40 delay, panned hard left and right to give some them some fullness and width.
After we were happy with this we went to work on mastering the whole track. I felt that the kick needed to stick out a bit more and so did the piano parts, So I found the fundamental of the kick which in this case was about 80Hz and boosted it ever so slightly on the mids and I put a high shelf at 10kHz on the sides to add a bit of width to the track and make the piano stick out a bit more, this worked a treat, the track didn’t have huge stereo width so I used a stereo imager and booster the mid highs a bit and the high’s even a bit more. Now we were cooking with propane and the whole mix sounded really glossy like something you’d hear on the radio. Josepe was really happy with the sound we’d achieved and so was I but I went home and listened to it alongside a whole bunch of other Aussie hip-hop artists in a similar style and thought to myself what do these tracks have that ours doesn’t? And the thing that really hit me was the way they pulled the instrumental back in the verse. I also felt that the outro was a bit long and a bit repetitive and it needed another element to really finish it off, so the next day I hit the studio again to make this track comparable to the more successful artists in the industry.
This is a similar style to Josepe's track but the instrumental stays pretty consistent throughout the track. (Kerser - Never Change 2013)
This track on the other hand feels like the chorus is bigger than the verse and this is what I really wanted to achieve. (Eminem - Love The Way You Lie feat Rhianna 2011).
Kerser's latest track has a crisp, clean production. The beat dips down and then comes back hard as his performance changes. I used this as a reference for the overall tone of the track since it was Australian, underground and brand new. (Kerser - Wait a Minute 2018)
When I came in I started using automation to duck the verse down I started by dropping the volume 2 Db, but that wasn't’ enough and I knew in my head I wanted to also duck the EQ I created an EQ that really suited the verse and then automated it to slide off when the chorus came in, with a little help from my lecturer Stephane who also suggested bringing the panning in a bit in the verse. Both these things achieved what I was looking for better than volume although a sneaky little boost as the first drum hit into the chorus made the song sound huge.
Once I was happy with the dynamics of the track I got a guitar (a Fender Telecaster) and laid down a little bit of a solo at the end of the song, I kept it melodic and simple. I plugged it straight into the Manley compressor, bypassed the compressor and just used the EQ to get a nice tone and then I used an amp simulator to dial in a tone that suited the song. A little bit rocky, but not too much. I also ran the guitar through the 20-40 delay to fatten it up a bit.
At the end of the session, Josepe rocked up to check out what I’d done. I didn’t tell them about the guitar part so when it came up it was a surprise and it totally blew his mind. He said it really needed something extra at the end and he loved what I’d done. We double checked everything made a few minor tweaks and bounced it out ready to shoot his music video the next night. I opened insight and checked the lufs and we were right on point for youtube at an average of -13 lufs with a loudness range of -9.
The very next night we set out to record a music video for the track which we did along the river at night with the city lights behind him. It was a very simple idea of just filming him walking down the street and rapping into the camera. We did this for a number of reasons, songs on youtube with videos get a lot more views even if the video is simple, the shoots of bridges, trains, and the city fits the vibe and aesthetics of hip-hop and once we are out of this uni Jamey and I aim to offer package deals; To record an artists music and make them an accompanying video. Since this is how we plan to make our living in the future, I thought I'd draw up a hypothetical budget for what this would have cost if we were all getting paid what we were worth.
This project taught me that I could definitely get into some freelance hip-hop work when I finish uni and that you can make dope shit really quickly if you know what you’re doing and are confident enough to implement it. I have a few more similar projects in the works in the very near future so stay tuned.
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