Extending the Dynamic Range of Rap Vocals

A very cool technique demonstrating how to extend the dynamic range of rap vocals.


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One of the biggest problems facing producers today is that of poorly processed audio stems. When a producer receives all the audio stems (audio recordings) for the mix project the basic assumption is that the stems will all be processed and rendered properly. But sadly that is not the case. Quite often I will receive rap vocal stems that have been compressed to oblivion and all I am seeing is a square wave waveform.

It seems to be common practice for bedroom producers to aggressively compress rap vocals hoping to achieve loudness. But all this does is to narrow the dynamic range so much that the rap vocal becomes sterile and boring. Dynamic range reigns supreme and particularly in the digital realm where we are faced with finite values.

Upward expansion

BUT all is not lost. I will show you the three step process I use to restore some level of dynamic range for rap vocals whilst maintaining loudness. The first two processes are corrective and entail de essing for sibilance and performing corrective eq to remove redundant frequencies and boxiness. The final process is the magic maker. It is Upward Expansion.

An upward expander increases the gain of the audio signal above the threshold thus increasing the dynamic range.

It saddens me that so many are missing out on the really powerful features that a compressor can offer. Some multimode compressors will house all the 4 modes of compression: Downward Compression, Upward Compression, Downward Expansion and Upward Expansion. The first two deal with narrowing the dynamic range and the last two deal with extending it.

In this video I run through each process taking care to explain why I use a certain process, what settings I use and why. Corrective processes come first with emphasis on how to use a de esser and equaliser to tame sibilance and clean up nasty frequencies. Finally, I explore the workings of upward expansion and how best to use it giving you the best settings to use to process rap vocals.

Plugins used in this video:

FabFilter Pro DS

FabFilter Pro Q3

FabFilter Pro MB

Topics covered in this video are:

  • Dynamic Range
  • Upward Expansion
  • Compression
  • Threshold and Range
  • Working with Peak Transients
  • Average Gains
  • Tips and Tricks