Tutorials / 29 September 2020

5 tips for producing top notch hip hop vocals on BandLab

Taking your hip hop vocals to the next level isn’t difficult, nor should it be expensive. Especially when BandLab’s web Mix Editor has the tools you need to polish your vocal tracks, create exciting FX and emphasize phrases. Your vocal tracks will stand out and cut through the mix.

BandLab makes it easy to collaborate with rappers and singers all over the world, from your mobile device or desktop. And with these techniques you’ll be able to make their vocals sound more enticing than ever.

We show you five ways to use BandLab’s audio editing and real-time FX features to give you that extra vocal fire. 

Read more: How to make a lo-fi hip hop beat on BandLab

1. Pitched-down Voice

A simple but effective way to add emphasis to the end of a phrase is to pitch it down an octave. To do this, select the audio clip you want to effect, then locate the start of the words you want to pitch down in the waveform display and drag the playhead over it. 

If you’re having trouble positioning the playhead accurately, you can turn off Snap to Grid or adjust the Grid Size in the View menu. 

Next, press the S key (or select Edit > Slice at Playhead) to slice the audio. 

Then, double-click the audio to bring up the Editor, and click the minus button to set the Pitch Shift value down to -12. This pitches the last part of the phrase down an octave and is a very obvious effect, so make sure you use it on parts of a vocal you really want to stand out.

Pitched-down Voice

2. Thicker Vocals

If you want a vocal track to fill up more of the mix, you can double it with a pitch-shifted copy of itself. To do this right-click the vocal track and select Duplicate Track. This will give you an identical copy of the vocal track. 

Double-click the audio on the new vocal track to bring up the Editor, and set the Pitch Shift parameter to -3. Now when you play the vocal back you’ll hear the pitched-down copy gives the vocal an interesting, synthetic quality. 

You can control how strong this effect is using the volume control on the pitched-down track. A setting of -7dB makes the effect slightly less obvious, but still audible.

Hip hop vocal processing - Thicker vocals

3. Chopped and Screwed Vocals

Pioneered by Houston’s late, great DJ Screw, “chopped and screwed” mixing is a technique that uses slowed down, offset duplicates of tracks to create a twisted, trippy take on hip hop vocals.

We can replicate this effect in BandLab by first pitching down a vocal track. Here we’re going to go for a Pitch Shift of -5 semitones. We then duplicate the track, and move the audio clip on the duplicate track a 1/4 note (one beat) to the right. 

This new offset track works like the second turntable in a chopped and screwed mix. Rather than using a crossfader to swatch between the playing track, we can simply delete sections of audio so that only one of our ‘turntables’ is playing at once. 

In this example we repeat the word ‘walk’ by deleting the audio after it on the first track, leaving in the offset version on the second track so it can be heard.

Hip hop vocal processing - Chopped and Screwed Vocals

4. Reverse Reverb Effect

A classic way to introduce vocals in an intriguing manner is to use a reverse reverb effect. To do this, begin by reverse the audio clip you want to perform the effect on. Then move the playhead to the start of the last syllable of the newly-reversed vocal, and press S to slice the audio. 

Delete the audio before the last syllable, then bring up the Effects panel and add the Reverb > Space Maker effect. Turn up the Mix and Width parameters to maximum, giving you just the ‘wet’ reverb with none of the ‘dry’ original signal. 

Next, select File > Download > Mixdown As, and export the project as a 24-bit wav file for maximum fidelity. When the process is complete, mute the original track and drag the freshly created audio track into the project. 

Right click on the new audio clip and select Reverse Region. This will reverse the echo tail and turn it into a build up. 

Place the original audio on a new track at the end of the effect, and position the effect so that it segues smoothly into the dry vocal. There will be some overlap, you can make this sound more natural by double-clicking on the effect to bring up the Editor, and using the icon at the bottom right hand corner of the audio clip to adjust its length. You can also use the fade handle to put a short fade at the end of the clip, which helps it sound smoother and more natural. 

Hip hop vocal processing - Reverse Reverb Effect

5. Telephone Voice

We can simulate the sound of a lo-fi telephone speaker using a little distortion and filtering. First we add the Distortion > Buzz Face Effect, and turn its Fuzz level up to 6.6 to make the vocal audibly distorted, but still intelligible. 

Next add Tone > Multi Filter, and set the filter’s mode to Highpass. Set its Frequency to about 700Hz to cut out the low end of the signal, giving us that thin, telephone-like quality.

The top end of the audio is still quite clean-sounding, so let’s add another Multi Filter effect. This time we’ll leave it in Lowpass mode and set the Frequency knob to about 4kHz. This takes out some of the highs and gives the vocal a more lo-fi feel.

Hip hop vocal processing - telephone voice


Watch this space for more tips, tricks and tutorials for hip hop vocals on BandLab.

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Inspired to make your next hip hop track with these tips? Make sure you don’t miss out on Tracklanta 2020: Virtual Remix, one of our biggest contests that could see you win a mentorship session with industry experts, plus $500 cash. Enter now.

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