Working in the box undeniably allows for huge capabilities when it comes to recording rap or hip-hop. The quality of readily-available drum machine emulators and synth patches means that the foundations of a textural and animated rap record are basically at your finger tips.
The process of splicing and sampling has never been easier, and the deluge of sonic resources that the internet provides has expanded the creative boundaries of rap and hip-hop almost endlessly. There’s still one elements though that recording at home doesn’t quite knock on the head, and that’s vocals.
It’s by no means indicative of a producer’s prowess, or lack thereof, when bedroom recordings of vocals don’t reach the mark of other track elements. There are actually a huge number of elements at play here that don’t quite affect other idiosyncrasies in a mix. It’s no surprise then to see artists taking to a professional rap studio to record vocals almost universally. There’s a couple of reasons why this is.
The rap studio influence is the concept that, while bedrooms provide a great environment for production, a studio space for recording vocals is unparalleled.
When it comes to delivering a powerful, focused rap vocal, vibe is everything. The spectrum of vocal execution in music is absolutely gigantic. But in hip-hop, the voice is the absolute centrepiece – the crux of expression. Without melody to carry emotions, it’s all down to enunciation, phrasing and emotional weight. All these factors have different levels of value, depending on the rapper: lack of enunciation is a form of expression, as is machine-gun phasing. Allowing your own character to flourish is extremely important.
For an artist to perfect these idiosyncrasies, environment plays a huge part. The bedroom is no doubt a choice place for experimentation with soundscapes, lyrics and ideas. But the sphere that a studio provides for developing character really can’t be beaten. Nothing makes you feel like you’re truly in your own world than an isolated vocal booth. Something happens when every nuance of the outside world is cut off. This is where untainted expression can flourish. You can create your own vibe, your own character and identity, without interference from the outside world.
Freedom of a Studio Space
When it comes to recording rap vocals, the freedom that a studio space allows can open doors to new ideas and creative processes that might be hindered by working alone in a bedroom. Hitting that point where flow is spot on can take ages – sometimes upwards of twenty takes. Many artists use the rap studio as an environment to build on existing vocal ideas. With a producer or engineer at the helm, the artist can work freely without being hindered by getting lost in their DAW.
These kinds of stop-start distractions, which are more likely to interrupt a session at home, can be hugely damaging to the creative workflow and kill ideas as they sprout. Studio spaces are like blank canvases, a fresh space to explore new vocal ideas on the fly, especially when the groundwork has been done at home. Getting a clean vocal recording in bedroom can be half the battle. Unless you have a soundproof room, even with a makeshift vocal booth, chances are that external sounds sources may completely ruin a take. And once that golden moment has passed, you may not be able to get it back.
Directions When You Need Them
The role of a producer or engineer in recording hip-hop vocals can often be fairly minimal. Nonetheless, their anonymity can actually be a pretty useful tool. A good engineer or producer (or both) will make an artist feel as comfortable and unencumbered as possible. With a good headphone mix, a vibey recording space and all the time in the world, an artist can expand and execute ideas as they please.
That being said, even the most seasoned rappers need guidance and encouragement. Being alone in bedroom with 20 vocal takes and only your own opinion to work from can be absolutely maddening. All it takes is a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ from someone who knows the song and the mix for everything to make sense, and only then can you move forward.
A Choice of Weapons
Having a huge array of microphones to choose from can be almost as disorienting as having just one to work with. A good studio will have a few excellent vocal mics in their inventory, and good producer will find the most appropriate for the character of your voice and personality of the record.
With rap vocals though, typical vocal mic selections may not always be right for the project. Large diaphragm condensers may be suitable for more melodic vocalists who are using a deal of dynamic variation in their delivery. A rap verse demands a mic that can stand up to a bit of punishment, but can also deliver crystal clear and hard-edged sound. High quality dynamics like the ElectroVoice RE20 or the Shure SM7B are a rapper’s best friend in this situation and well worth auditioning.