Mix And Master Hip hop tracks Part 1. (NKO Daydreaming)
(Difficulty Level 2 out of 5 Stars)
In this tutorial you will learn how to mix and master a hip hop track. The song “Daydreaming” by NKO (Nikola Kolev) will be used for this tutorial. The vocals have already been mixed together really well, and we need to mix them in with the beat. The intent here is achieve balance and loudness. The beat is mostly sampled based with a nice bassline and drum group, with some record scratching.
Download the content for this tutorial before you get started here.
(Right click and select “save Target as”)
Any DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) can be used for this mix. But we will be using Ableton Live 9 for this tutorial. Open a new live set and make two audio tracks.
Insert the vocals into an audio track and do the same for the beat.
As stated before the vocals have already been mixed down together fairly evenly. We will add subtle compression to make it fit with the beat.
Listen to the whole track and make adjustments without making the Master meter go into the red (or clipping). We want the vocal mix and beat to be as loud as possible, but we also want to leave room for enhancement. Flavor will be added once we have coherence within the mix.
This is a screenshot of the levels we have set for the Beat and Vocal Mix.
For the Vocal track we will be using Izotope’s Nectar 2. We will use the Gate, EQ, Compressor, and De-esser for the vocal mix. Drag and drop Nectar 2 onto the Vocal Mix track.
The intent of the Gate is to mute breaths as needed and so we don’t hear the instrumental from the headphones during the quiet parts of the vocal. Gating can also mute breath sounds as well. (1min3secs and hook) Adjust the gate similar to the settings in the screenshot below until you don’t hear the music with the vocal track Solo’ed. A lot of Artists prefer to listen with the headphones loud and sometimes the instrumental is picked up by the microphone.
Listen to the examples below before and after Gating. Notice you can hear the instrumental with the vocal track solo’ed before the gate is applied.
The changes might seem small but really matter in the mastering phase, when the levels are boosted and we want to hear the vocals crystal clear.
Most Microphones have a built in EQ filter to filter out low frequencies below 80hz. (Even Barry White’s voice is not necessary to hear below 80 Hz). So for the EQ we’ll be using a simple high pass filter to cut the lows as a pre-caution. For this track we will start the high-pass filter around 90-100hz. Everyone’s voice is different and depending on the type of EQ used results will vary.
We will compress the vocals to tame the loud parts, and bring up the low parts together. This way the vocal level will be even. The vocals have been balanced really well already so we will use light compression. The Optical character mode in Izotope Nectar 2 suits well for vocals. Set the threshold to about -10 db. Use a medium attack and medium release. We will use a make-up gain of about 2dB. Feel free to experiment with different settings on your own; just ensure to achieve balance with the vocals.
Here are samples of before and after compression.
We can lower the loud “S” sounds in the track with the De-Esser. NKO has a lot of natural sibilance in his voice that can be tamed with the De-esser in Nectar 2. Turn on the De-esser and set the settings similar to the screenshot below. You can also “solo” the “S” sounds that you are cutting out but clicking the “Ess Only” button to preview them. You want to adjust the frequency to the loudest “S” sounds overall in the vocal mix(around 6-7Khz).
Nectar allows us to “Solo” the “ess” sounds that we will be suppressing. Adjust accordingly to take away loud “s” sounds. Adjust the threshold and frequency range to tame the “S” sounds.
This is what the “S” sounds that we will be removing sound like.We will not be using the Reverb or Delay modules, the vocals sound good without it and they seem to already have special enhancement already applied to them. So there is no need to add to it.
Multiband was not used at 100%…was used at 60ish.
Mastering a track is the process of ensuring that everything fits together, and the song will translate to a variety of different sound systems. From headphones/earbuds to high end car stereo systems and the club as well. Not only will the track be made “louder” it will have a tonal balance that sounds good by enhancing the best parts of the song. Normally you would mix the beat and vocals together before mastering. But since this track has the vocals mixed together and we do not have many plug-ins running, we can move on to mastering without mixing it down (results may vary based on your computing/listening environment).
Before you get in there and just slap on your favorite Limiter, or Maximizer. It is a good idea to think about what the track really needs. And use the right tool for the right job.
We believe that this track would benefit from a very small (subtle) bass boost and also a slight boost in the highs for that crispiness.
We will use the Precision Multiband Compressor from UAD to tighten the overall track up.
And later we will use Ozone from Izotope to add harmonics/flavour, and then maximize the track.
We can also add stereo enhancement with Ozone.
Drag and drop the Multiband Compressor to the Master track. We want to Expand the sub bass region and highs a little. And compress the mid-range to add glue. The overall Percent of MBC will be around 60-80. Adjust to your own taste, while avoiding clipping. MBC compression allows for the enhancement of specific frequency ranges in the track while not having effect on other ranges if not needed.
Multiband Compression (MBC) settings for Bass.
MBC settings for Mids.
MBC settings for Highs.
Lastly we will use OZONE to add the Harmonic Exciter and Maximizer.
Add Ozone to the Master buss after the MBC.
The harmonic exciter will enhance a range of determined frequencies, adding flavor to the track. Turn on the Harmonic Exciter Module, and select Mid/Side so we can process the side and mid channels individually. The Harmonic Exciter in Ozone allows for 4 different types of character (Warm, Retro, Tape, and Tube). And each has a different sound to them. For this example we will be using the tape type but feel free to try the other versions. For the Mid channel we will add a slight bass boost, and high frequency boost. (See screenshot below) Experiment on your own but be careful not to overdo it. For the Side channels, we will add a small boost to the highs.
A track has 3 individual parts (The Middle, Left and Right) If you think of a track this way it is easier to understand stereo imaging. The bass frequencies should not be enhanced because they are mostly in mono (middle/center). But we can enhance the tracks mid-upper mid/high frequency levels to achieve a wider stereo image.
We can widen the higher frequency range with the stereo imaging module in Ozone.
Turn on the Maximizer module. We want to boost the overall perceived loudness of the track. Set the margin to -0.2 (to avoid clips) The threshold will determine the loudness (the lower the louder), set it to around -4 to -5 db. We will use type IRC II, and turn the Inters ample detection and DC filter on. We do not need to use dither because both the vocals and beat are 16bits. It’s easy to lower the threshold and make it loud so use it responsively.
Below are the settings hat were used to enhance the overall loudness of the track with Ozone’s Maximizer.
In this tutorial you learned how to Mix And Master Hip hop track (NKO Daydreaming), using Izotope’s Nectar and Ozone. Mixing and Mastering are both an art and science that can be learned with practice and attention to detail. The techniques used in this tutorial are not written in stone and are in no way shape or form the best way in the world to mix a track. But this tutorial shows you a good way to get started with mixing and mastering a hip hop track.
Stay tuned for more mixing and master tutorials from Synthfinity Sound Design (we don’t just make sounds)
Youtube link for NKO “Daydreaming” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zjxPYW8v7d0
Tutorial by SynthFinity Sound Design.
-Content used with permission by NKO (Nikola Kolev).
Be on the lookout for more tracks from NKO.