To the casual listener, hip hop albums like Watch The Throne or The Dreamer, The Believer might sound like simple musical constructions. However, this simplicity is often deceptive especially on the music production side of the house. Great care is taken by many hip hop beat makers to craft instrumentals that are sonically appealing and inspire recording artists to write great songs.
Last month we reviewed some simple steps to follow when mixing hip hop beats, discussing techniques such as Eq’ing and compression. This time around you can expect more helpful hints to assist you in your beat-making endeavors.
1. Pan Your Instruments
Panning is a excellent mixing technique used to create space within the stereo mix of your hip hop instrumental. Panning instruments such as hi hats, cymbals, and toms to the right or left can give your beats character and make them stand out from amateur producers.
Keep in mind that you don’t always have to pan hard right or hard left. Sometimes slight panning is all that is necessary to create the right amount of space in your stereo mix.
If you’re unsure of how to pan instruments in your rap beats, study some of your favorite rap songs and listen critically. Notice the panning techniques used by professional audio engineers and incorporate them into your mix.
2. Understand Mono Versus Stereo Sounds
No matter whether you use a Roland Fantom or a midi keyboard like the Korg K49, you should be aware of how sounds are recorded into your mix. Every instrument in your rap beat does not have to be recorded in stereo. Drum sounds like 808’s and kick drums typically can be recorded in mono. Synthesized instruments such as pads or live piano can be recorded in stereo so that the listener can experience the “full” sound.
Generally speaking, if a sound is coming from a single source point (e.g., a snare drum, kick drum, bass guitar, etc.) it can be recorded into your beat in mono. The opposite would be true if your sound is coming from multiple sources.
Keep in mind that there is no definitive rule to place something in stereo or mono. A producer determines whether a sound should be in mono or stereo based off what they want to soncially execute.
3. Vocal Space
One of the most important aspects of mixing rap beats is making sure you create space for the recording artist’s vocals. Many upcoming producers make the mistake of mixing their instrumentals without keeping this in mind.
Vocals are instruments and have a certain frequency range that they fit well in. Amateur producers often “over crowd” their beats with low frequencies leaving no room for vocals. You might have experience this listening to a dirty south rap beat where it had too much bass or the 808s were too loud.
You want your vocals to sit slightly “on top” of your hip hop track. When mixing, listen to your track as a whole (if possible with vocals included), this will allow you to hear the full spectrum of sound and allocate space for vocals appropriately.
If you plan on submitting your music to major artists and launching a successful music career, create space for the vocals.