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How to Record Rap Vocals

How to Record rap vocals

Anyone can learn how to record rap vocals in a home studio with great results.

But don't buy into the hype of needing super expensive gear. If you focus on learning how to record rap vocals, then you can get really nice sounding vocals for cheap, and it does not require crazy skills or a fortune. 

In fact, you can get amazing sounds with your audio interface, a mic around $100, and a couple of plugins applied with care. Seriously - here's a clip recorded with that $100 MXL 990 mic

This guide will cover the following

Now that sounds pretty damn good for a $100 dollar mic, right? So this guide will teach you how to get that sound. 

In fact, here's how I basically used a cheap ass mic to record an entire hip hop EP which got a publishing deal that earned us a nice chunk of change.

If you want to skip around, it includes the following sections:

Best Mic for Recording Hip Hop Vocals

You can record great rap vocals with a cheap mic. I've had great results with the MXL 990, so if you're on a budget, I'd say it's the best mic for recording rap hip hop vocals. I like it because it has a wonderful presence that allows vocals to cut through the mix with minimal eq. If you can afford a pre-amp (like the warm audio TB 12 mic pre amp), it will really make the vocals sound warm and alive. 

 To record great rap vocals, you need to make sure you have a mic stand and pop filter and an XLR cable. This package includes everything you need.

Do not skip this step.

You will struggle endlessly learning how to record rap vocals if you don't have a pop filter and a mic stand to get the mic in to position.

Tips for recording rap vocals: The secret to recording good hip hop vocals all comes down to having a well positioned microphone to get good results! And a pop filter is a must to get minimize certain plosive sounds.

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If you don't already have an audio interface, you'll need one like the Focusrite Scarlett to get your microphone signal into your computer (please don't by a USB microphone - you will literally outgrow it in a minute and then have wasted all your money on it). 

You'll also need some recording software, if you don't already have any.

Most professionals call recording software a DAW (digital audio workstation).  If you've already got one, you're golden. If you've got a Mac, you can get started with Garageband.

And if you're on a PC, I'd recommend starting with Reason Essentials by Propllerhead Software. It's under a $100, it's powerful, and it lets you upgrade to my favorite DAW, Reason, when you're read.

If you have the budget for it, I'd recommend a warm audio Tone Beast mic pre amp, but this isn't that necessary.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-Nggj72hIg&t=1s

You can record great rap vocals with a cheap mic. I really recommend the MXL 990. It’s under a hundred bucks, but it has a wonderful presence that allows vocals to cut through the mix with minimal eq. If you can afford a pre-amp, it will really make the vocals sound warm and alive. I recommend either of Warm Audio’s mic pre’s, depending on your budget.

 

Finally, you need to make sure you have a mic stand and pop filter.

Mic Placement (The Best Way to Record Vocals)

Recording great hip hop vocals for cheap starts with your room.  You need to spend some time figuring out where to record vocals. The deader the space, the better. So find a room that has lots of carpets and soft things. Tile and wood are bad. 

How do you determine deadness?

You can test how reflective your room is by clapping as you walk around. The more echo you hear, the worse. Try to find the spot with the least echo. Nothing will be perfect, though.  

Tips for recording rap vocals: You can test how reflective your room is by clapping as you walk around. The more echo you hear, the worse. Try to find the spot with the least echo. Nothing will be perfect, though.  

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Next, you want to figure out where the loudest ambient noises in your room are. Do you have windows next to a busy street? Aloud computer?  A refrigerator that keeps turning on.

Well, point your microphone AWAY from the loudest noise. If it’s a window, then the rapper should face the window and the microphone toward the rapper.  

The reason for this is because cardioid microphones, like the one I recommend (the MXL 990), are really good at rejecting the sounds behind it. So use this to your advantage.

Recording great hip hop vocals for cheap starts with your room. The deader the space, the better. So find a room that has lots of carpets and soft things. Tile and wood are bad.

 

You can test how reflective your room is by clapping as you walk around. The more echo you hear, the worse. Try to find the spot with the least echo. Nothing will be perfect, though.

 

Next, you want to figure out where the loudest ambient noises in your room are. Do you have windows next to a busy street? A loud computer?

 

Well, point your microphone AWAY from the loudest noise. If it’s a window, then the rapper should face the window and the microphone toward the rapper.

 

The reason for this is because the microphone I recommend (the MXL 990) is really good at rejecting the sound behind it. So use this to your advantage.

Preparing the Room

You ever wonder why every time you see pictures of a recording studio there's all of these panels and Persian rugs? It's because they're trying to further deaden the space.

So if you’ve got soft stuff like blankets, towels, sleeping bags, pillows, whatever, you can bring them into the room now and try to cover the most reflective surfaces.

Next, before the session, you’ll want to be blasting the air conditioning or heater.

Why? Because you’ll need to turn them off once you start recording (they will make to much noise if they're on while you're recording).  So be prepared - it will get hot/cold. 

Make sure you’ve got some water on hand for vocalist, or maybe some tea. And maybe some other substances if that’s your/their thing. 

Also, the vibe of the room is going to be a huge part of it, so set up some mood lighting. I use ​the Phillips Hue to get a good vibe going on. You know, to paint with lights.

If the room stinks, light a candle or some incense. Or take a shower. Come on dude.

 Also, clean up things beforehand. It shows that you’re a professional and trustworthy.

Preparing the Artist to Record Rap Vocals

If you’ve got soft stuff like blankets, towels, sleeping bags, pillows, whatever, you can bring them into the room now and try to cover the most reflective surfaces.

 

Next, before the session, you’ll want to be blasting the air conditioning or heater. Why? Because you’ll need to turn them off once you start recording.

 

Make sure you’ve got some water on hand for their voice, and maybe some other substances if that’s your/their thing.

 

Also, the vibe of the room is going to be a huge part of it, so set up some mood lighting. If the room stinks light a candle or some incense.

 

Also, clean up things beforehand. It shows that you’re a professional and trustworthy.

Before the artist sets foot in your studio to record rap vocals, you should have already talked about what you’re aiming to achieve this session. 

One song with multiple takes? Trying to push through multiple songs?

You need to figure that out in advance so you can set expectations and manage the time in the studio. It’s really helpful knowing how many takes you can do and whether you need to record doubles/harmonies and ad/libs, or whether you’re just focusing on getting the basic take.

Second, you need a copy of the lyrics so you can follow along and make sure that they’re hitting the marks. 

Third, you need to stress that the recording will only be as good as their performance, so they should be practicing and they should be sure to have the lyrics memorized. They should also have done some thinking about where they want harmonies and doubles.

Fourth, you need to know if they’re coming by with a crew or not. Sometimes more people is better, but sometimes it can really mess things up, especially if you don’t have a separate, sound-isolated space for recording vocals. All the random noises people make can ruin a take, so don’t be afraid to push back.

Fifth, when it comes to drinking, try to get them to do a few takes sober. You want to make sure you capture a passible take before things get off the rails. The same goes double for smoking. If the rapper’s throat/lungs are burned up, their flow is going to be impacted, so ask them to hold off for a while.

Sixth, once they get to the studio, everyone needs to turn off their phones (you don’t want the vibration interfering with the electronics or a phone buzzing in the middle of the take). They also need to remove their keys, coins, and any thing else that they may be carrying that could make noise when they shuffle. If you've got wooden or tile floors, they may need to take off their shoes too.

Finally, you just need to try to get in their heads and give them the encouragement they need to swing for the fences.

Before the rapper sets foot in your studio you should have already talked about what you’re aiming to achieve this session.

 

One song with multiple takes? Trying to push through multiple songs?

 

You need to figure that out in advance so you can set expectations and manage the time in the studio. It’s really helpful knowing how many takes you can do and whether you need to record doubles/harmonies and ad/libs, or whether you’re just focusing on getting the basic take.

 

Second, you need a copy of the lyrics so you can follow along and make sure that they’re hitting the marks.

 

Third, you need to stress that the recording will only be as good as their performance, so if they should be practicing and they should be sure to have the lyrics memorized. They should also have done some thinking about where they want harmonies and doubles.

 

Fourth, you need to know if they’re coming by with a crew or not. Sometimes more people is better, but sometimes it can really mess things up, especially if you don’t have a separate space for recording vocals. All the random noises people make can ruin a take, so don’t be afraid to push back.

 

Fifth, when it comes to drinking, try to get them to do a few takes sober. You want to make sure you capture a passible take before things get off the rails. The same goes double for smoking. IF the rapper’s throat/lungs are burned up, their flow is going to be impacted, so ask them to hold off for a while.

 

Sixth, once they get to the studio, everyone needs to turn off their phones (you don’t want the vibration interfering with the electronics or a phone buzzing in the middle of the take). They also need to remove their keys, coins, and any other thing they may be carrying that could make noise when they shuffle.

 

Finally, you just need to try to get in their heads and give them the encouragement they need to swing for the fences.

Recording Hip Hop Vocals Techniques

As I said before, you need to get two pieces of equipment, non-negotiable. A mic stand and a pop shield. They don’t cost more than $50,but they are absolutely essential.

This package includes everything you need. They’re affordable, reliable, and get the job done. 

If you don’t have a mic stand, you’ll pick up all sorts of extra noise from the rapper handling the microphone. If you don’t have a pop shield, then the recording will have all sorts of unwanted noise andpops in the recording.

Next, you’ll want to place the mic stand in the position you’ve determined earlier (you know, the deadest space, with the mic pointed away from the loudest noise).

To record great rap vocals, you want the microphone to be slightly higher than the rapper’s mouth, maybe 2-3”inches (this forces them to stand up tall and open up their throats to sing into the mic). Then you want to tilt the center of the microphone down toward the rapper’s mouth. By making the microphone higher, the rapper is forced to open their throat fully and breath better, creating a much better sound.

Now you want the rapper to spit a few lines into the mic, starting about one foot away, but you need to experiment with the distance. Experiment with the sound between about a foot and two and a half feet. The closer you get, the bassier the sound will be, so put some forethought into the sound you’re going for. This bassiness thing is called the proximity effect, and can be a great tool if you understand how to use it. Or it can ruin all your takes.

At the same time, the closer they get to the mic,  the more that small movements from the rapper will result in larger volume fluctuations, which will make mixing the rap vocals much more difficult.

Once you’ve found the distance that is best for each rapper (it will be different based on their voice and delivery style), you want to place the pop filter between the rapper and the mic at that distance.  

Then tell the rapper to sing directly into the pop filter.

Tips for recording rap vocals: Once you’ve found the distance that is best for each rapper, you want to place the pop filter between the rapper and the mic at that distance. Then tell the rapper to sing directly into the pop filter. #musicproduction

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This is a huge tip to recording great hip hop vocals.  

Basically, The pop filter makes it so that the rapper doesn’t have to thinking about where to put their mouth, and it will also help minimize volume fluctuations if their mouth is always in the same place. Now they can just focus on doing their thing.

This video kind of shows you how it's done. 

Although the mic is a bit lower here then recommended. 

You need to get two pieces of equipment, non-negotiable. A mic stand and a pop shield. They don’t cost more than $50, but they are absolutely essential.

 

I recommend this mic stand and this pop shield. They’re affordable, reliable, durable, and get the job done.

 

If you don’t have a mic stand, you’ll pick up all sorts of extra noise from the rapper handling the microphone. If you don’t have a pop shield, then the recording will have all sorts of unwanted noise and pops in the recording.

 

Next, you’ll want to place the mic stand in the position you’ve determined earlier. To record great rap vocals, you want the microphone to be slightly higher than the rapper’s mouth, maybe 2-3” inches. Then you want to tilt the center of the microphone down toward the rapper’s mouth. By making the microphone higher, the rapper is forced to open their throat fully and breath better, creating a much better sound.

 

Now you want the rapper to spit a few lines into the mic, starting about one foot away, but you need to experiment with the distance. Experiment with the sound between about a foot and two and a half feet. The closer you get, the bassier the sound will tend to be, so put some forethought into the town you’re going for.

 

At the same time, the closer they are to the mic, small movements from the rapper will result in larger volume fluctuations.

 

Once you’ve found the distance that is best for the rapper, you want to place the pop filter between the rapper and the mic at that distance.  Then tell the rapper to sing directly into the pop filter. This is a huge secret to recording great hip hop vocals.  The pop filter makes it so that the rapper doesn’t have to thinking about where to put their mouth, and it will also help minimize volume fluctuations if their mouth is always in the same place.

Mic Check...one two(Setting levels to record hip hop vocals)

Do not skip this step if you want to learn how to record rap vocals.  You need to take the time to get the right levels, or your track will be full of clipping. In other words, it will be ruined by the ugliest distortion.  No amount of post-production will fix it.

Generally speaking, you don’t need to worry about recording too quietly, because you can easily turn up the volume in your DAW with little distortion. 

But, if you’re recording with a preamp, there is definitely something to be said for sending a hot signal into an outboard pre-amp like the Warm Audio Tonebeast, getting some of that analog warmth, and then using the “pad” function on your audio input to reduce the volume. 

To check the levels, have the rapper say “September” repeatedly as loud as they think they'll be rapping at the loudest part. It’s a great word because it has lots of sibilant and plosive sounds.  You want to keep your levels at around 50% of a full signal. Then turn it down a tad from there. If you see any yellow light, turn it down (rapper’s tend to record louder than they mic check because they get excited).

At the same time, don't get bogged down in this. At some point the rapper is going to be chomping at the bit to start recording, and you need to harness that energy.

Do not skip this step if you want to record great rap vocals.  You need to take the time to get the right levels, or your track will be full of clipping. In other words, it will be ruined.

 

Generally speaking, you don’t need to worry about recording too quietly, because you can easily turn up the volume in most DAWs with little distortion. But, if you’re recording with a preamp, there is definitely something to be said for sending a hot signal into the pre-amp, getting some of that warmth, and then using the “pad” function on your audio input to reduce the volume.

 

To check the levels, have the rapper say “September” repeatedly. It’s a great word because it has lots of sibilant and plosive sounds.  You want to keep your levels at around 50% of a full signal. If you see any yellow light, turn it down (rapper’s tend to record louder than they mic check).

Prepare the Headphone Mix

Now it’s time to get the headphone mix going. Every DAW is going to be different, but what you need to do is get a great mix for the MC. They need to feel confident in their voice, so you may want to do a little bit of reverb or compression or EQ. 

 Ask them what they’d like more or less of, and check in with them about what they need between takes.

Stop. Collaborate. And listen.

So that's basically how to record rap vocals.

But before you start recording, take a deep breath. Make sure everything is in place and ready to record. Listen one more time for ambient sounds that might wreck the recording. Go to the bathroom. 

 Then get to it!

Getting a Great Rap Vocal Performance

Once you hit the record button, it’s time to consider yourself less of an engineer and more of a motivational coach.

You see, the key thing you need to understand about how to record rap vocals is that you can't polish a turd. So you need record good performances. Which means you need to keep the performer excited, feeling confident about what’s happening. This means that you need give them positive directions instead of negative directions.

Tips for recording rap vocals: The key thing you need to understand recording is that you can't polish a turd. So you need record good performances. Which means you need to keep the performer excited, feeling confident about what’s happening. You need give them positive directions instead of negative directions. #musicproduction

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Instead of saying: “You need to do that verse better, you were behind the beat.” Try giving them something positive and specific to focus on, saying “That was solid, but I wanna try it again with you putting more emphasis on the downbeat.”

It also doesn’t hurt to tell them that the first take doesn’t count and that you’re just trying to get levels. They’ll relax and may give their best performance. Similarly, toward the end you may want to say that you just want to get some weird stuff for filler, so they should just relax and do the weirdest version of the song they can imagine. Sometimes you get some interesting performances or weird bits you can sample.

Shoot for 4-6 takes of each song. This will give you a good chance of making sure that you get the takes you need to piece together a great song, but it will also keep the session from bogging down. Usually the first few takes are the best. 

It’s important for the artist to feel like you’removing forward, because once the spirit of inspiration leaves the session, it’s gone.

How to Mix Rap Vocals Professionally

The number one secret to getting a good sounding vocal mix is not sexy. It's time consuming. Boring. But if you want to learn how to mix rap vocals professionally, you need to be willing to sit down and edit out all the bad stuff.

After the recording is done, it’s time to get editing.  When you edit the vocals you’re going to be doing a few things: putting together the best performances, getting rid of unwanted noise, and using clip gain to get the performance to be at a consistent volume.

First, and most importantly you’re going to want to piece together the best takes. I often find that one take will be 80% there, and then you just need to drop in a line or word from the other takes.

 Sometimes, though, you need to be much more aggressive with your “comping.” You may need to edit together different verses and choruses, or in extreme examples you may even need to combine words from multiple takes to create one verse. 

Cross-fading the takes is going to be your best friend here. What I like to do is create an entirely new lane/track in my DAW and paste in the best bits. This way you don’t destroy any of the original material.

After you’ve gone ahead and assembled your compilation of the best takes into a final performance, you want to listen to the vocals in solo mode and take out any unnecessary noise. Listen for coughs, lyric sheets being shuffled, throat clearing, etc.

Equally important, you probably want to edit out any breaths. So listen to the track, and every time the rapper breaths, you want to use your DAW’s razor tool and mute it (don’t delete it). But don’t do these by rote – use your artistic sensibilities. Sometimes a breath can actually add a lot of drama or rhythm to a performance.

Finally, we want to work on the levels to ensure a nice, even performance. First look for any really loud or quiet words or passages. Use your DAW’s clip gain to lower or raise the volume of those sections. This will allow you to get better results from your compressor and volume automation in the next step. 

You also want to use this opportunity to drastically reduce the volume of any sibilance or plosives. This video will show you what I mean. But the main thing is that you’re looking for sounds like “p” or strong final consonants of words like “think.” You want to go in and make them a little less extreme. This, again, will create a more even performance, which lets you turn up the volume of the vocals relative to the instruments without clipping.

How to EQ Rap Vocals

At this point the main thing is to get a clear even sounding tone. As Rob Mayzes demonstrates in this video, you can break it down into a few steps.

At this point the main thing is to get a cleareven sounding tone. As Rob Mayzes demonstrates in this video, you can break it down into a few steps.

First, you’ll want to boost narrow EQ bands and remove a few really resonant sections. You’ll also want to use a high pass filter and remove everything below 80hz – 150hz (depending on the amount of mud and the singer).

Next, you may want to apply a de-esser to help with both the tone and the dynamics. This will remove a lot of the most sibilant sounds, which will make the vocals sound slightly less harsh, it will also allow the compressors to work easier.

Compressing Hip Hop Vocals

Next you’ll want to try adding two different compressors, if possible. An LA-2A style compressor first, which should betaking off a few decibels, followed by an 1176 style compressor with a slow attack and fast release time. These two compressors working together will get you a smoother sound then dialing in one compressor alone and having it do all the work. Just be sure to listen and make sure that you’re not strangling the dynamics of the track.

Next, you may want to add a little bit of EQ to enhance the tone of the vocals, whether it’s bringing out the body or adding a little air. The Maag style EQs are great for this. At this stage you may also want to consider adding a saturation plugin, like the free one from Softube,  to dirty up the voice ever so slightly. 

Finally, you may want to consider a short delay (10-20ms) panned hard to one side to create just a little more depth and fullness with the voice. Be careful you down drown it out, though. You want to be sure that the articulation and pronunciation are still clear.

Finally, you’ll want to automate the volume of your track to make sure that the vocals are always at the top of the mix. These are the steps you've got to take if you want to learn how to record rap vocals.

Effects on Rap Vocals

You may want to consider the occasional "creative" effect on rap vocals. Maybe a really pronounced delay for a word at the end of  a phrase. Or maybe some distortion on an aggressive passage. This is your time to shine. Just don't outshine the artist.

You might also want to try to get creative with editing. It's amazing the cool effects and transitions you can get by chopping up certain vocal phrases or by using pitch shifting. Just check out this video for some inspiration. 

Mastering Rap Vocals

It's a common misconception among people learning how to record rap vocals that you want to master individual tracks. In fact, you will never want to be mastering rap vocals in isolation. This is not how to mix rap vocals professionally.

Instead, you master the entire final song, including the vocals, all together. If you master elements in isolation, you're going to end up with a smashed recording with totally whack dynamics. I use iZotope Ozone for all of my mastering needs (but, again, never for mastering rap vocals in isolation).

If you follow these steps, you've basically learned how to record rap vocals. 

Final thoughts on How to Record Rap Vocals

So there you have it – follow these simple steps and you'll learn how to record rap vocals cheap.

Now, I'll admit, there’s no silver bullet in learning how to record rap vocals. It takes a lot of practice using the gear, a lot of skill from the performer (plus a touch of inspiration), and an experienced ear in the mixing stage. 

Nonetheless, if you keep practicing these skills, you will be able to produce professional quality mixes with really affordable gear.

 Have any questions? Just let me know in the comments!

So there you have it – the simple steps to record hip hop vocals cheap. Now, there’s no silver bullet to recording. It takes a lot of practice using the gear, a lot of skill from the performer (plus a touch of inspiration), and an experienced ear in the mixing stage.

 

Nonetheless, if you keep practicing these skills, you will be able to produce professional quality mixes with really affordable gear.

 

Have any questions? Just let me know in the comments!

At this point the main thing is to get a clear even sounding tone. As Rob Mayzes demonstrates in this video, you can break it down into a few steps.

 

First, you’ll want to boost narrow EQ bands and remove a few really resonant sections. You’ll also want to use a high pass filter and remove everything below 80hz – 150hz (depending on the amount of mud and the singer).

 

Next, you may want to apply a de-esser to help with both the tone and the dynamics. This will remove a lot of the most siliant sounds, which will make the vocals sound slightly less harsh, it will also allow the compressors to work easier.

 

Next you’ll want to try adding two different compressors, if possible. An LA-2A style compressor first, which should be taking off a few decibels, followed by an 1176 style compressor with a slow attack and fast release time. These two compressors working together will get you a smoother sound then dialing in one compressor alone and having it do all the work. Just be sure to listen and make sure that you’re not strangling the dynamics of the track.

 

Next, you may want to add a little bit of EQ to enhance the tone of the vocals, whether it’s bringing out the body or adding a little air. At this stage you may also want to consider adding a saturation plugin to dirty up the voice ever so slightly.

 

Finally, you may want to consider a short delay (10-20ms) panned hard to one side to create just a little more depth and fullness with the voice. Be careful you down drown it out, though. You want to be sure that the articulation and pronunciation are still clear.

 

Finally, you’ll want to automate the volume of your track to make sure that the vocals are always at the top of the mix.

After the recording is done, it’s time to get editing. When you edit the vocals you’re going to be doing a few things: putting together the best performances, getting rid of unwanted noise, and using clip gain to get the performance to be at a consistent volume.

 

First, and most importantly you’re going to want to piece together the best takes. I often find that one take will be 80% there, and then you just need to drop in a line or word from the other takes.

 

Sometimes, though, you need to be much more aggressive with your “comping.” You may need to edit together different verses and choruses, or in extreme examples you may even need to combine lines from multiple takes to create one verse.

 

Cross-fading the takes is going to be your best friend here. What I like to do is create an entirely new lane/track in my DAW and paste in the best bits. This way you don’t destroy any of the original material.

 

After you’ve gone ahead and assembled your compilation of the best takes into a final performance, you want to listen to the vocals in solo mode and take out any unnecessary noise. Listen for coughs, lyric sheets being shuffled, throat clearing, etc.

 

Equally important, you probably want to edit out any breaths. So listen to the track, and every time the rapper breaths, you want to use your DAW’s razor tool and mute it (don’t delete it). But don’t do these by rote – use your artistic sensibilities. Sometimes a breath can actually add a lot of drama or rhythm to a performance.

 

Finally, we want to work on the levels to ensure a nice, even performance. First look for any really loud or quiet words or passages. Use your DAW’s clip gain to lower or raise the volume of those sections. This will allow you to get better results from your compressor and volume automation in the next step.

 

You also want to use this opportunity to drastically reduce the volume of any sibilance or plosives. This video will show you what I mean. But the main thing is that you’re looking for sounds like “p” or strong final consonants of words like “think.” You want to go in and make them a little less extreme. This, again, will create a more even performance, which lets you turn up the volume of the vocals relative to the instruments without clipping.

Once you hit the record button, it’s time to consider yourself less of an engineer and more of a motivational speaker.

 

You need to keep the performer excited, feeling confident about what’s happening. This means that you need give them positive directions instead of negative directions.

 

Instead of saying: “You need to do that verse better, you were behind the beat.” Try giving them something positive and specific to focus on, saying “That was solid, but I wanna try it again with you putting more emphasis on the downbeat.”

 

It also doesn’t hurt to tell them that the first take doesn’t count and that you’re just trying to get levels. They’ll relax and may give their best performance. Similarly, toward the end you may want to say that you just want to get some weird stuff, so they should just relax and do the weirdest version of the song they can imagine. Sometimes you get some interesting performances or weird bits you can sample.

 

Shoot for 4-6 takes of each song. This will give you a good chance of making sure that you get the takes you need to piece together a great song, but it will also keep the session from bogging down.

 

It’s important for the artist to feel like you’re moving forward, because once the spirit of inspiration leaves the session, it’s gone.

Before you start recording, take a deep breath. Make sure everything is in place and ready to record. Listen one more time for ambient sounds. That might wreck the recording. Go to the bathroom.

 

Then get to it!

Now it’s time to get the headphone mix going. Every DAW is going to be different, but what you need to do is get a great mix. They need to feel confident in their voice, so you may want to do a little bit of reverb or compression or EQ.

 

Ask them what they’d like more or less of, and don’t hesitate to ask them what they need between takes.
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How to Release an Album Online (Beginner’s Guide)

How to Release an Album Online (The Complete Beginner's Guide to Your First Record Release)

How to release an album

For years I had no idea how to release an album online, so I let the songs clog up my hard drive. After lots of research (and frustration), I finally put it all together. Here's how.

Note: Many thanks to the incredible Ari Herstand for laying much of this out in his book, How to Make it in the New Music Business. It’s full of brilliant information on all aspects of being a musician these days.

This guide on how to release an album applies a lot of the lessons from that book, as well as my own experiences.

I've tried to make it a practical, FUN case study about how I released my first album for my synthwave project, “Portents.” (you can stream it while reading this very lengthy article - it's great instrumental background music!)

Stay organized - download the free timeline.

As I’ll relate below, I had a deadline I wanted to hit for release and didn’t plan well for just how long things would take. Moreover, I didn’t build in enough extra time. This guide for how to release album is going to cover everything from how to release an album on iTunes to how much does it cost to put out an album.

So download the worksheet, give yourself realistic expectations for deadlines, and build in extra time.

Also, some of these links are affiliate links (which means if you click on them, I get a commission). Regardless these are my honest, unbiased opinions and are really the services I used.

Preparing to publish your first album

Once you’ve recorded your album, it’s important to master it. Mastering involves making sure that all the songs have a nice tonal balance, are loud, and they’re in the right format. So whether that means .Wav or .mp3, mastering is when you convert it. It's also where you get it to a commercial volume level.

If you’ve got a production studio at home, you may want to consider mastering the tracks yourself. However, if you produced your own tracks, you probably shouldn’t master them as well. That’s because you’re so used to the tracks that you might not be able to hear them with fresh ears. Plus the idiosyncrasies of your ears, your monitors, and your room will already be baked into the final mix, so you don’t want to double down on it.

Initially I self-mastered the tracks using iZotope Ozone, but I just didn’t hit the mark (for many of the reasons described above). 

Instead, you can have a friend master your tracks. Or you could hire a pro from a site like AirGigs.com. Alternately, you can use an online automated service. After experimenting with a review copy, I ended up choosing eMastered. The quality was perfect for this album (especially the eq curves and the amount of compression) and the turn-around time was instant. Because I wanted to get the album out by October 1st, online mastering ended up being a no brainer.

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Art for Your First Album Release 

You can’t release an album without art. In fact, these days I’d argue that the album art may even be more important than the underlying music at first capturing the listener's’ attention.

Now, I don’t have much of an eye for design, so initially I went to Fiverr and hired someone to produce the album art. While I’ve had great experiences with Fiverr in the past, the particular artist I hired missed the deadline and would not commit to meeting a subsequent. Bummer!

Like I said I was under a tight deadline and timing mattered (which is why you should download the album timeline).

So I then went to Pond 5 and purchased some royalty free art for less than $5. From there, I went to Canva, a free online graphic design site where I literally do everything, and started with one of their album templates. After about a half hour of tinkering, I ended up with some album art that I really enjoyed (below) and that fit the vibe of the album. This was probably the best way to do album art on the cheap for your first record release.

Dark Film Was My First Record Release

What do you think?

How to release an album: Copyright 

Copyrighting an album is way easier than you’d think (at least for a US copyright for your record release)! Now, when I was first researching how to release an album, I had no idea where to start with this. 

Go to Copyright.gov and register the album. It costs $55, and you have to upload all of your songs. In fact, you could use the opportunity to copyright all of your songs as part of an unreleased compilation album. Note that this only works if you own the composition rights and the sound recording rights to do this.

How to Make Money Selling Music

It’s important to recognize that there is a difference between registering your copyright with the government, and registering your song with Performing Rights Organizations (PROS) like BMI & ASCAP. And how they're different from digital rights administrators like CD Baby Pro, Song Trust ($10 off through my link), and Sound Exchange.

This stuff is VERY confusing, and I’d encourage you to do a lot more independent research.  If you really want to dig into all the registrations you need to earn all the money possible from your music, please check out Ari's book, How to Make it in the New Music Business. I’m just trying to provide a very basic guide of what you need to do for your record release.

 And if you find this confusing and don’t want to deal with it, you should just publish your music through CD Baby Pro (this is not an affiliate link (not that that would influence my suggestions)).

They will register your songs with all the relevant societies around the world and make sure that you get the mechanical royalties for sales + streams as the owner of the recording and the performance royalties as the songwriter. It’s fast, easy, and costs like an extra $20.

However, if you’re like me, and you’ve had to figure this out all back asswards.  I have a bunch of different accounts scattered all over, so it just makes more sense to do it the long way, which I’ll explain.

Registering with a PRO

First, you need to create an account with a PRO - BMI or ASCAP in the US (it doesn’t really matter which - but you must pick ONLY one). The PROs will collect the portion of the revenue stream that belongs to you as the songwriter/composer for public performances within the US.

Second, you’ll want to register with Song Trust ($10 off through my link). Song Trust will end up being the tool you use to register your publishing royalties from around the world, and they will collect for a broader range of plays within the US. You can also have them collect royalties for Youtube performances (unlike PROs). A lifetime membership costs something like $100.

How to Release an Album on iTunes & Spotify

How to Release an Album on iTunes & Spotify

How to Release an Album on iTunes & Spotify

After all my research, I concluded that there are  two really great choices for how to release an album on iTunes, Spotify, etc.  The first is CD Baby, and the second is DistroKid.

Both are reputable, have great software, professional and easy to work with. The big difference is the pricing model they use. Ari put together this amazing, in depth report for free.

CD Baby charges a one time fee per album or single. As of October 2017, they were charging $29 per album. Distrokid, in contrast, charges $19.99 per year for unlimited albums, released under one name.

Depending on what your plans are, both provide great options.

I ended up choosing CD Baby to distribute my album for the following reasons. First, I like the idea of paying a one time fee and having my music out there forever. Second, I plan on releasing multiple albums under different names (i.e. doing a lo-fi hip hop album, an indie rock album, a bosa nova album, etc).

For me, DistroKid’s unlimited albums per year just wouldn’t work. That's because even though I have a lot of music I want to distribute, I’d end up paying way more to do it under multiple names (which costs extra). 

But if I was a fairly prolific musician writing in one genre, I think I would have gone with DistroKid instead.

Online Promotion: Building a Web Presence

These days, it goes without saying that you need to be everywhere online. Here's the major things you should prepare - consider it your releasing an album checklist. Or at least a starting point.

You might think that having a website has nothing to do with how to release an album, but you're probably living in 1992.

These days, having a website is a must. It’s the only platform you can trust to never change the rules and to never force you to pay extra to interact with your fans. It’s a steady light in the darkness.  

On your website you’ll want to include at least one photo, your bio, links to your music, any upcoming shows, and, most importantly, a way to sign up for your mailing list so you can directly talk to your fans.

If you’re not particularly tech savvy, I’d recommend setting up a website with Wix. It’s super easy, looks great, and is affordable. Again, this is probably the best option if you’re just releasing music as a single artist on a semi-regular basis.

If you’re more tech savvy, then you can build a site from scratch, which might ultimately be more affordable. I already had the tech knowhow, the domain hosting, and the software licenses I need to launch a band site.

So for me it was better to just register a new domain for the record release and host it on my existing account.

I use Bluehost for all of my internet hosting and domain registration needs. Right now they have special where it only costs $3.95 a month. Then I used Thrive Themes to build a responsive website designed to capture user email addresses.

Engage Fans

You then need an email host to manage your growing list of subscribers. The two big players are Aweber and Mail Chimp.  But I use Drip.com 'cause it's easy.

Let me tell you, ask any “internet marketer” or band or anyone - having an email list is really where it’s at. The list allows you to announce new releases, tour dates, and share silly anecdotes with your fans for free. Other marketing tools (like Facebook) cost WAY WAY more per interaction.

Now that you’ve got your website up and running, at a minimum you’ll also need a Facebook page. You’ll want to include most of the same info on your Facebook page as your website. But you’ll also need to commit to making a couple of posts every week to keep people engaged.

You’ll also want to create a Youtube channel (did you know that Youtube is one of the biggest music discovery sites around?) so that you can eventually upload your music videos.

Instagram is really hot right now, and is a great way to communicate with fans, if you’ve got visually compelling content. Twitter can be great for interacting with folks, but I find it hard to gain much traction without being on it constantly. Still, you should create an account.

EP Release Strategy: Publicity

Now you’re going to need to get some press! You need to have an EP Release Strategy to get publicity. I didn't.  So next you want to submit your music to blogs and Spotify playlists. If there’s already blogs that you follow in your genre, then those are great places to start.

But if not, there’s plenty of ways to find new opportunities. Go to Hype Machine and check out which blogs are bumping music similar to yours. Then visit the blog and send the editors a quick email laying out what you’re about and why you think your music would be a good fit, and include a streamable link to your song (DON’T ATTACH FILES). Dropbox.com or Box.com are the best - Soundcloud can be unreliable (and may not be in business by the time you read this.)

You should also check out SubmitHub, a service where you can search for blogs that match your genre, and submit your songs (for a fee you’ll get more attention). Because Spotify pulls information from blogs to a certain extent, this is really helpful tool for kickstarting some buzz for your record release.

Wondering how to get your songs included in playlists? Here's some tips from a friend on submitting to playlists, which is now an essential skill you need to know as part of how to release an album, from Gerry.

Ok here is the lowdown for contacting the playlist curators(always drives me batty when people say contact the curators but don’t tell you even where to start…..so this is where you start)
now keep in mind if you wanna triple and quadruple your efforts,you could always hire an intern or assistant on fiverr for cheap,to hunt down the profiles for the curators.
That is another option of course.

Step one:  Cruise on to spotify and do a search for the genre,moods,feelings, artists names etc you want.
Ignore the official playlists.

Make a list of all the user-generated playlists that your songs would fit on Spotify.

Step two: Click on the user the person that created the playlist.
What your looking for is the the persons name(not a screen name,90 percent of the time a user links up there facebook profile with there spotify account.)

Click on their profile,and look at the photo

Step three: Now search the name on Facebook. 90 percent of the time the photo will be the same as the facebook profile because they are linked up.

Step4:(message template)

Next once you find the person you send them a message.
“Hi”insert name”
Really enjoyed your music for”insert playlist name” its how I discovered”insert name of artist and relevant into from the playlist”.
I have this new song that came out that I think would really fit well on this playlist.

Here it is”insert spotify link”.
Id be honored to be included on it.

Thanks have an awesome day.”

The method works awesome.
Ive seen 6 different plug companys doing the exact same thing.

Additional bonus ideas and outside the box stuff:

You can also go deeper on your research and look on linkedin,Google,look for there emails etc.

Facebook is the easiest way to do this.

You can use the same approach with twitter as well.

Now if you are uber crafty and savy with this working Deezer with this method works amazing,with the linked in info,twitter etc you can actually find their office address ,you could actually reach out with postcards etc
Maybe a cute little merch sticker etc.

With deezer most of the stuff international so sending out the postcards etc is a unique way to really get in touch with the curators.
(same idea ive seen used from the 303 infinity guys back in the day……he used to send out tons of flyers etc its pretty awesome)

Running ads on Deezzer format:
Next off.
You can use Feature fm ads to get onto playlists on deezer.
Its fairly in expensive.
Feature.fm

Lastly keep in mind any user-created playlist on most of these services usually have curators on facebook,so you can search it out on tidal as well.

By doing this,you ll be able to create long term connections and relationships with spotify curators etc.

On Spotify and Youtube, search for playlists that include songs in a style similar to yours. Then try to track down the curators and send them a link to your tracks. You can also try using Soundplate to submit directly to Spotify blogs.

How to Advertise Your Record Release

Facebook advertising is becoming huge, and as a musician you desperately need to learn how to use it. My band relies on it heavily to promote our shows, but it’s also a great way to target potential new fans for your music.

I’d start out by watching a few Youtube tutorials (I recommend Miles Beckler’s channel unequivocally). Once you’ve mastered the fundamentals from, I’ll tell you how to apply them as a musician.

You’ll need to start out by figuring out what your goal is. Are you trying to get people to like your Facebook page? Do you want to drive traffic to your website so you can convert people into newsletter subscribers? Do you want people to watch a music video?

Once you’ve got that figured out, you’ll need to set your budget. Facebook requires a minimum budget of $1 per day. To see meaningful results, you should probably be spending $5.

From there, you need to find your audience.

This is where it gets cool.

If you sound like another famous artist, then you can (and should) directly target their fans, by showing your ads only to people who have that artist as an interest.

When you design your ad, you’ll need a nice image or video, and some text that says something like: “Fans of XXXX are loving the new album by YYYY. Find out why.”

How to Make Cheap  Music Videos 

Did you know that Youtube is the second largest search engine?

These days, everyone should have a music video up on Youtube. Having music videos ready is a super important step in learning how to release an album. You can do something really simple in iMovie or Cyberlink, where you just put the music behind a static image of your album art (like this).

Or you can hire someone on Fiverr to make a lyric music video for you.

​​​​Or, if you’re feeling creative and adventurous, you can make a music video on your own by downloading free clips on sites like Pexels and buying stock video on sites like Pond 5. I went down this route for some of my music videos (like this) and was really happy with the results.

Conclusion

So there you have it, you've learned how to release an album! Releasing your first album isn’t too daunting, you just have to go through the steps. And if you mess up - remember, it’s not the end of the world. Most of these things can be undone, and you’ll be releasing more music in the future, anyway, right?

Cheers and good luck! 

-Evan

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Best Sites for Free Samples And Free Loops

Best Sites for Free Samples & Free Loops

The only thing better than good samples are good free samples or free loops. Don’t worry. I’ve done the digging for you to find you some great sites.

Since rap exploded on to the music scene, the use of loops and samples has become ubiquitous in all genres.

Whether we’re talking about pop music, rock, hip hop, or EDM, there is always a place for samples .

For example, in rock recordings, producers often layer the sound of real drums with sampled kicks and snares. Electronic music has relied on vocal samples and percussion loops since nearly the beginning.

Of course, samples and loops can be expensive. And that’s not to say that they’re not worth it. I’ve pick up some absolutely amazing sample packs over the years that were worth every penny.

But sometimes money is tight. Or maybe you don’t feel like you need an entire sample pack, just a sound or two.

Whether you’re looking for a song starter, a banging drum loop, or some horn samples, this list of the 5 best sites for free samples and loops will get you making music in no time. Some of these sites are a little on the obscure side, but if it sounds good, it is good.

Some of the links below may be affiliate links.

The 6 Best Sites for Free Samples & Free Loops

  1. Loop Cloud – Loop Cloud, by Loop Masters, is the ultimate tool for musicians making sample-based music. It keeps track of ALL of the samples on your computer, lets you sort by instrument, style, key, bpm, and more. And it comes with 1GB of free samples, plus 150 free samples a week!
  2. Loopmasters.com – Loop Masters sells some of the best sample packs out there, with a huge variety of styles. The quality is professional grade and you can find just about anything. If you sign up for its mailing list, you get 500 mb of free samples. Plus, many of the Loop Masters sample packs allow you to download free demo versions with about 15-30 samples and loops.
  3. Sample Magic – Sample Magic also makes incredibly good sample packs (I’m in love with the samples and loops in the Sunset Sessions!). If you click on the “store” tab on top of the page, you’ll see a link to “free downloads.” There you can find about a half dozen high quality free packs.
  4. Converse Rubber Tracks – Converse, the shoe company, has created an absolutely amazing royalty free sample library. Which is weird. But let’s not look this gift horse in the mouth. As of June 2016, it had nearly 40,000 free samples, made by some of the best producers in the business. Free samples by the likes of RJD2, Com Truise, and the Gospel Choir All Stars. There are samples in dozens of genres. The only real downside is that samples are very well organized, and it can take a while to find what you need.
  5. Producer Loops – Producer Loops has one of the biggest collections of free samples & loops available. And the library of these free loops is really easy to navigate. But… there’s a catch (there’s always a catch). You can get 2 free sample packs for each sample pack that you purchase. Still, it’s a pretty solid value.
  6. Hip Hop Makers – Hip Hop Makers offers a lot of great samples and loops for free download in the hip hop genre. It also offers a great community for producers looking to get into the hip hop music production game, including a section on how to sell beats!
Bonus Free Samples & Free Loops

Bonus Free Samples & Free Loops for Reason 8+ Users (Image by Carnagenyc)

Bonus Free Samples & Free Loops for Reason 8+ & Propellerhead Figure users:

Update: Propellerheads stopped supporting Alihoopa, so it is now dead. RIP. With Reason 8, Propellerheads also launched a website called Alihoopa. Alihoopa is loaded full of free samples & free loops, but requires Propellerhead’s software to actually download and open. Nonetheless, this is a great resource (though I miss all the free third party samples the Props used to host on their website so many moons ago).