How to Mix Rap Vocals with Leslie Brathwaite (Pharrell Williams)


In this video, Grammy-winning mixer Leslie Brathwaite (Beyoncé) takes you inside his session of Lil Uzi Vert & Pharrell Williams’ “Neon Guts,”. Leslie shares his processing techniques for creating the most killer hip-hop vocals.


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[Music] my name is Leslie Braithwaite I’m a mix engineer some of the people I’ve worked with over the years include Outkast cardi B Beyonce jay-z course Pharrell certainly worked with little woozy bird I’ve mixed pretty much most of his records most of his hits had the opportunity to mix EXO tour life and money longer and a few other of his big hits in the case of neon guts Pharrell produced it in LA when he is talking to me about what he’s looking for from a track he often uses colors and textures as a way to describe it neon guts kind of self-explanatory you know you want it to kind of feel organic feel bright feel fluid and kind of like neon so in this particular session I’ll go through a little bit of my workflow and how I kind of approach things and my thought process as to what plugins I use how I approach the music in the sound and what I’m trying to accomplish so I will start off and just play it [Music]

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[Music] [Music] so each individual vocal track a question I get a lot is is it cheating to use the waves tune on every track I think what happens is people confuse the function of plugins like this and it’s not cheating it’s trying to achieve a certain sound in this particular song they are going for a slightly futuristic robotic kind of sound on the vocals but not too heavy it’s not you know it’s not going super robotic it’s just enough to kind of give it a little bit of flavor of futuristic and you want it on every vocal and it’s it’s it’s about consistency the other question I get is well why would you use something called the waves tune or something that’s used for tuning on tracks that don’t even

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have specifically singing on them and we’ll explore that right now and a lot of it is the texture a lot of it it even though when you’re talking you still have some melodic quality to your to what you’re saying and the waves tune can kind of throw some of those notes around to give it that same feel of futuristic slightly robotic you never stayed in kahlúa a pleasure now on my shoulder you can hear some of the melodic quality when he says out of my shooter and and and it kind of it does the same thing with the note transition in his words to where you never stayed in Kahlua I push it now on my shoulder flooding my channe in it so it still has the effect it still overall encompasses the effect of that futuristic slightly robotic sound I has a texture and a tone to it and it works and it’s one of those things where you’re trying to create

0:03:00.9 –>
consistency over all of the tracks and that’s why I use them you know almost every vocal track in the song yeah you never stayed in Kahlua I push to narrow my shoulder flooding my chanting it goes I don’t want that girl she Modi yeah you never stayed in Kahlua I push it now on my shooter flooding my chanting it grouchy I don’t want that girl she Modi it’s always helpful to know the key of the song or the key that you’re trying to achieve the tuning in in this particular song is B minor you know I select right here B natural minor and then you kind of get to play with some of the parameters like the speed at which you wanted to kind of interact the note transition determines how smooth it’s gonna jump between notes the lower numbers represent a more robotic type feel I like the fact that has the keyboard laid out so I can kind of see and pick which notes I want to come in or out subtract I’m getting to see the tuning working in real time here so these are

0:04:00.2 –>
Pharrell’s vocals right here and I got a colorful alright like I got beyond that that’s the first plug-in I would put on the actual audio to kind of achieve that sound as I have like all of Pharrell’s rules or all of ossie worst vocals in it in this particular case feeding my aux track the same space and elements that you hear and feel from Pharrell is kind of the same space and elements you want to feel in here from little woozy bird so first thing I do I take a subtractive approach I like to remove what I don’t like first on in this case I’ll listen for s’s and anything that’s too poignant I’ll remove those SS I’ll use it yesterday kind of just make sure we’re keeping tabs on anything a little too you know beyond that it may sound a little muddy at first but I kind of know where those s’s are gonna get poignant or where they kind of contend to jump up a lot and I got a colorful or uh like a got neon guts so that lasts s on guts neon guts I just want to make sure I got

0:05:02.2 –>
the dsr kind of engaged it’s not really doing much at this particular stage sometimes what you’ll find as an engineer as a professional is we tend to do things that feel comfortable that just kind of sit in our minds as the comfortable thing to do it’s like an athlete where they have a set of things that they do before they play they might wear yellow shoe strings or they might tap the heels three times before they go out on the court it’s kind of the same thing with engineers sometimes we mix it sometimes where I just want to know the DSO is on there I know it’s what I want to know it’s doing something very slightly sometimes it’s not a whole lot it just makes me feel better and as I do other things in the chain it then serves a function at least in my brain to kind of even things out so from there the re6 a little light roll-off again you can see on the low end and I got a colorful

0:06:00. –>
all right like a god neon that’s kind of clears up the bottom a little bit to kind of take away some of that low-end muddiness that contend to translate to nasally muddiness depends on the voice and then you know just kind of pinching some frequencies in here just to clear up and give him a little bit more clarity so a lot of times what you’ll see this is a field point this is what I felt right here at this point that sounded good I am NOT one of those minds that gets into a whole lot of frequencies and points and numbers and you know in this song I rolled off 60 Hertz here and 50 Hertz here and that’s kind of not how my mind operates when I use plugins and that’s why I like a lot of the visual eq’s cuz I just go in and I just start moving and if it feels right I leave it alone sometimes I’ll throw a plug-in on and just engage in the plug-in feels right and you don’t have to do too much movement from a default position it just depends this particularly EQ the recording engineer

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Mike Larson had on that particular aux track a lot of times I like to honor where they have things to kind of incorporate how they were hearing it and not go too far from what they had and then we come here our compression my goal is not to always make things sound too linear and too compressed I like a little bit of dynamics I like to feel a little bit of movement in the vocals and the audio that I’m working with you’re not gonna hear much of a difference as I a be and I got a colorful or uh like a got beyond that’s a little bit of compression that you can kind of hear bringing in you know the vocal again and I got a colorful or uh like a got new young but my next plug-in after the compressor is the SSL a channel sometimes those choices are just a function of familiarity sometimes you just choose the e-channel plug-in because that’s the console that you came up on so for me it’s the natural choice so this is bypass and then all engage it

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and I got a colorful that’s where I really do a lot of the heavy lifting of the shape of the sound is with that EQ and you can tell right away the difference of just rolling off so much of that low-end I kind of went a little drastic because I wanted to push out some more of the clarity up top I probably start pulling down wherever the default is I’ll just pull it down and feel like okay I might need to work my way up the frequency chain to kind of get to the frequency that I want to roll off more so and I got a colorful or like I got new young dots and I got a colorful or uh like I got neon Gus and I got a colorful and why I probably stopped here right in that range I know as I hear it that’s what I’m looking for that much low man coming off is what I’m looking for as far as the sound that I need to get in line with the track more

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so for this particular song that was more of a thought process of where I know Pharrell needs to meet Susie because Susie has such a thin vibe on his voice and I kind of want them to be in the same general space and so this was more a function of trying to make sure that Pharrell gels with Uzis better so it doesn’t sound like such a drastic difference a lot of times without what I’ll do around 3k is just cut a little bit just some of that edginess off of the high mid frequencies of the vocal you know and then up in the higher range frequencies I’ll tend to boost a little bit of some of the higher end frequencies just to give it a little sheen on the top um that’s usually universal moves these aren’t specific to any one vocal you can see this is Pharrell’s EQ I’ll slide this over a little bit and I’ll bring up Aziz right here and as you can see they are exactly the same you can tell with

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Pharrell’s we rolled off a little more down here whereas with Uzis I didn’t roll off as much and these slight differences make you know kind of help blend them together and bring them together as far as just trying to make sure that Pharrell and Uzi feel like they’re in the same zone same vibe type of thing this particular session when they sent it over they had the chris lord-alge ii plugin on here they kind of figured out what kind of bite and what kind of room and they wanted to do a little push and all the settings that they have on this particular plugin is the sound that they kind of came up with and I’ll just implement that and what I’m doing I kind of keep it in there make sure I’m grooming with that this is the chris lord-alge you plug in your seeing on Pharrell socks and then this is the one on Lois Evert socks and if you see they’re exactly the same and so that just kind of tends to keep both of them in the same space helps to gel them

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together as a cohesive unit on the song if you have two artists on a song you typically don’t want Pharrell to have a whole different type of sound and delays and reverbs and then little easy to have something that sounds totally different you want them to kind of feel like they’re in the same space participating on the same song this is not me being lazy this is just a part of that thought process of keeping it sounding cohesive and it just makes it a little more palatable uncomfortable for an engineer like me to lock in and say oh I need a little more bite or a little more push I think the CLA plugin is extremely intuitive in a sense of just even the terminologies from you go from chamber too tight to large that describes the size of the EQ that’s the terms that we use as engineers and coming up in this industry those were the terms are used I use tight and large and chamber I didn’t use specific numbers and all that kind

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of stuff so this is intuitive and it’s a good tool got love for you haters ain’t you tired of enslavement come with us the first parameter I plugged in represents the low end the lower frequencies in his voice it doesn’t make a huge huge difference but it does have a slight effect paper cuz you should own what you label treble that’s the bite you can have it either at bite you can have it at top you can have it like ridiculous but let’s move on to the compression I got love for you haters ain’t you tired of enslavement come with us make some paper so you can see as I move through the different parameters of compression you can hear the compression jumping in and then next one would be the reverb and you’ll hear even though it’s very low it’s a pretty large chamber I got love for you haters ain’t you tired of enslavement come with us make some paper cuz you should own what you label and then the very last one was the delay and

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they had it on quarter and then you can hear the slight delay in the back ain’t you tired of enslavement come with us make some paper cuz you should own what you label a nice toolbox of just some cool little tricks and trinkets that it’s great to add on there so next plugging in the chain is going to be our 76 what about classic compressors this particular compressor is doing the heavy lifting as far as this vocal is concerned you can definitely hear and feel the shape of the compression it really adds to the sound of the compression ain’t you tired of enslavement come with us make some paper cuz you should own what you label and to the untrained or average ear that just simply sounds like a volume jump but it also it compresses it brings it in your face it adds some characteristics to the

0:14:00.8 –>
signal at that point once everything jumps up the compression works on the high end frequencies a certain way and you hear them now I want to come back and attack it with a de-esser from a standpoint of just toning down some of those brittle brittle asses that tend to jump in it’s gonna be same frequency range and then this kind of helps control some of the crazy asses that may jump out and sound a little too harsh or a little too crazy for you haters ain’t you tired of enslavement in this case it’s working a little come with us make some paper little drastically because I didn’t want Pharrell to sound too kind of a almost sounds like a very thin e-type nd shiny thing that sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t and in this particular song I wanted to kind of steer more away from that I got love for you haters ain’t you tired of enslavement come with us make some paper and how that translates to the average

0:15:01.8 –>
artist a lot of times the artists say you’ll mix a song and one of the first comments you’ll hear as a mixer is especially from the hip-hop pop world or hip-hop driven world is man I sound too clean and so a de-esser is a good way to dirty up a vocal because it brings a lot of that top-end sheen off it kills some of those bright SS which translates to some people’s minds as clarity but the average like I said the average rapper producer that’s hip-hop driven will then say muddy me up a little bit I want to sound grimy I want to sound dirty that’s a very efficient way of accomplishing that yeah you never stayed in Kahlua I push it now on my shoulder and then this is with it on yeah you never stayed in Kahlua I push it now on my shoulder and then to sum up the vocal chain a lot of times I will then come back and throw

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the our compressor on just to tame things down a little bit little like compression a lot of times especially the compressor I put on the overall end of the chain you probably won’t even hear it working my theory on compression is if you can hear it really well you’re probably compressing a little too much I got love for you haters I got love for you haters it’s just really just taming down just the way he jumps in on the eye it just kind of tames things just a little bit it’s not doing a whole heap of compression it’s not squashing it’s just taming some of those things that may tend to jump out just a touch fuzzy the same thing it’s just we can play a little bit here yeah you never stayed in Kahlua I push it now on my shoulder and then with it in yeah you never stayed in Kahlua I push it now on my shoulders so it’s all about just keeping that vibe of how thin or how thick each person’s vocal is to kind of keep them in the same general space so they don’t sound

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too far off from each other a lot of times with overdubs ad-lib tracks it’s about the function of how they fit into the recording for some records they are just meant to hang in the back just be an accent just sound like some crowd noise just kind of come in these particular overdub tracks for Lewbert on the audio I used the wave tunic just kind of stay in line what he was doing in the sound that he has Laura it kind of gives it that that little feel same key same no transition numbers the same speed as far as the retune speed and a lot of times what I’ll do is those tracks then would have some type of slight delay it’s like reverb on them to give them a feel to throw things around on these particular tracks I’m using the H delay I’ll move that a little bit to the side I’m also using the R verb to kind of give it a little space I’m also using the s1

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imager and the s-1 imager just kind of helps place things in the in the stereo realm and the steerer spectrum just kind of widens things up a little bit widens up these effects the reverbs and delays to type to kind of spread things out and not keep everything in the same space without lives and overdubs to try to maintain their presence but not drawing away from the main vocal I think really to be honest with you is just a function of volume and levels and a lot of times we can tend to get too in our heads in the mix about what we’re doing and we don’t revert to the more basic things which is it’s just levels and volumes and so like you hear right here with Ozzy where you have the main vocal statical low I push it now on my shoulder flood it so even the wise and the yes and all the little things are coming in the background so that they don’t overpower the vocal I think it’s just really a function of your levels that you keep them in in this particular song I didn’t bust the ad-libs into a separate set of

0:19:01.5 –>
auxes I used the same arcs that loses lead is bust to is the same ox ox to ad-libs abuzz – I didn’t separate how I EQ them the arcs is when you bust them to different offices that’s usually a function of warning to EQ them differently from the leads I wanted to keep that feel the exact same so it’s just a tool of efficiency if you know you’re not gonna do any different ad-libs or different accuse I just use the exact same arcs this aux right here with all these plugins where you have the de-esser the ruq our compressor you have the ssl you have the CL a76 the DSR and the compressor again this aux is encompassing the sound that I wanted to achieve for the leads and for the ad-libs and the backgrounds and so I just left them under the same wall so as I play yeah you never stayed in Kahlua I push it now on my shoulders flooding my chanting it grouchy I don’t want that

0:20:01.8 –>
gushy moody I’m basically saying I’m cooler get dr discounts from my cougar back in the 6th grade I got the bad grades I was in love with my soda see musically lows you trap her man it happens a couple times in a song where Suzy kind of just does this whole dark thing he goes in I’ll play a little piece of it so you know what I’m talking about it is this thing right here as you can see we have our trusty friend this is like my favorite delay of all time I love this delay for a whole lot of reasons a cause it’s a delay it works it just does what it says and it’s a simple tool you figure out do you want a quarter note delay do you want quarter triplet eighth delay you know it’s very intuitive very straightforward you see your bpm you know how much your feedback is going to be here and the other thing I like about HD lights who is as you play with it and you can automate this as you play with

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the different parameters and you play your sound you get all these quirky like effects like so that’s always fun like I said it’s beautiful piece of gear another cool thing about this delay unit which is great which is always useful is it has filters and so you can like do high pass you can do low pass and a lot of times with the delayed signal you wanna you can some you want to sometimes affect the frequency of the delayed signal so you can hear it better so it can punch through better so right there I can roll off and now the delayed signal is very thin very high nd there

0:22:02.4 –>
are times when you can have too much delay in a song where it’s just overpowering there’s times when it’s just there for a subtle effect to take up space sometimes it’s just there’s a field thing to take up a little of the background space and a lot of the gaps in a song and sometimes it’s meant to be heard excessively and a lot like in this particular section was he wanted it to be very like you know overbearing so he didn’t want it he didn’t want it filtered out and as a background piece he wanted it as a part of the actual sound where the delay was heavy and just real dominant in that space I have a very minimalistic approach to EQ and plugins and mixing I don’t just slap a whole bunch of plugins on everything I take the material for what it is figure out what’s needed I have a very subtractive approach to how I mix kind of like when you’re cleaning up a room you when you’re going to clean up a room the first thing you want to do you don’t want to start you know shining off surfaces and spraying

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cleaner on everything you want to get rid of the trash first remove the stuff you don’t like and that’s how our approach I make sense I come in and I take away two things I don’t like first and then I start putting plugins on here plugins on there and it’s just trying to use the natural balance of what’s there and then using the plugins to just enhance you know accentuate bring out certain things that kind of thing you figure out what balance and blend work for you and you just go with so high stars does and I got a colorful or uh like a kind beyond does [Music]

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