How to Mix Vocals Like J. Cole: Mix Rap & Hip-Hop Vocals From Your Bedroom (Any DAW) | Kia Orion | Skillshare

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How to Mix Vocals Like J. Cole: Mix Rap & Hip-Hop Vocals From Your Bedroom (Any DAW)

teacher avatar Kia Orion, Artist & Music Producer

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

6 Lessons (26m)
    • 1. Course Intro

    • 2. J. Cole Vocals Overview

    • 3. EQing The Vocal

    • 4. Compression + De Essing

    • 5. Controlling The Vocal

    • 6. Effects + Final Tips

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About This Class

Want to learn how to mix your own vocals in that modern rap & hip-hop style like J. Cole?

You’re in the right place. 

Who is this course for?

This class is designed for artists, producers, and engineers who are starting out and want to get professional sounding records from their bedroom.

As an artist one of the best skills I ever learned was how to mix. You have COMPLETE control over how your music sounds out and it’s an incredible service if you’re looking for a full-time or part-time hustle. 


By The End Of This Course

You’ll have a better understanding of how to mix your own vocals and the steps you need to take in order to achieve the sound you want. 

I want to be clear. This isn’t about shortcuts. This isn’t about secrets. This is about learning the fundamentals, applying them to your own work, and taking your career into your own hands. These are tried and true methods I have learned through countless tutorials and recording sessions over the years that I wish someone had taught me at the beginning. 

I also want to make the statement that there is no right way or wrong way to this. This is simply my way. If you want to hone your sound take your future into your own hands and craft what sounds good to YOU.


What If I Only Have Stock Plug-ins?

Great question, you.

All the strategies and techniques I teach can be done in your native DAW with all stock plug-ins. 

I’m using 3rd party plug-ins from Waves but all the ideas and concepts are universal, your native plug-ins will work just fine. 

That said, if you only have Stock plug-ins and want to take courses specifically on those DAWs you can take my other courses here:

Mixing vocals in Logic Pro X


Mixing Vocals In Ableton Live With Only Stock Plug-ins


Do you have any free resources for beginners?

Absolutely. You can download my mixing cheat sheet here.


Where can I download your template?

You can download this J. Cole template directly from my website.

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Kia Orion

Artist & Music Producer


Ay! I'm Kia. 

I'm an artist and educator who believes life wouldn't be the same without music.

Or tacos.

I realized that I was equally as passionate about teaching music as I was making it.

In 2016 I founded Beat School, an online platform and series of educational programs to help aspiring artists and producers learn how to make beats, accelerate their growth, and stay inspired. 

I'm originally from New York but these days you'll find me traveling around the world writing songs or playing beats on a rooftop somewhere.

I appreciate you stopping by, and if you'd like to get in touch you can DM me or shoot me an email at [email protected] 

Life is too short not to do what you lov... See full profile

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1. Course Intro: Good, boy key, Orion, the man who is obsessed with making a note music in teaching you how to make your own. And in today's video, I'm going to teach you how to make a vocals like this. Well, I said it said and done much normally in the aim and that'll make the shots if you wanted. That's why they exist. If that sounds dope to stick around in it, we're going to show you exactly how to do it. All the knobs and switches that you have to tweak in order to make it happen. But if you want to get the template, you can check it out in the description below. I'll have that posted up so that way you can just buy it. You don't want to worry about it in your throat and make your vocal sound doubt without further ado. Let's jump into the computer and I'll show you exactly what it takes to make this sound. See you there. 2. J. Cole Vocals Overview: What's going on? Well, welcome back to another tutorial with your boy. I want to show you how to make a J Cole type vocals in this track. This is going to be remodeled after J Cole's song closer, but because of copyright, I can't play it. So you're going to have to take my word for it or excuse me, close off of his new album, the off-season. So this is how we're given it up. I kinda remade a beat somewhat similar, and this is what the vocal sound like with the template enabled. Self-bind data myself. What I say to myself, brains put that weight on myself. Wait a minute. This is what it sounds like without the template came to my cell phone data myself is a mindset shift. What I say to myself with the template, came to myself, find data myself. It's a mindset shift. What I say to myself, it's no strength. So if that sounds good, pretty much this is what it looks like when it's enabled a bunch of different things that I've automated to these different macros. But I'm going to walk you through it step-by-step. What each of these is in, what every single one of these does. So that way you can use it to control your own voice. So again, that sounds good. Check it out in the description below and let's jump into it. 3. EQing The Vocal: I, so the first thing that we're going to do with this template that I want to walk you through is the EQ. So this is going to be an EQ is a very general EQ. This is the REQ six that I'm using from waves, and all of these are in the waves gold bundle. So if you look at this EQ knob actually springs on here so you can see what's going on. If you look at the CQ knob, as I push this up, it changes because I cut out a lot of the low end down here. And then it'll, this is kind of a place where there's a lot of kind of boxy sounds, boxy vocals, at least in my vocals. And I tend to see this at least a lot and male vocals around in this area. There's kind of a pain point and then you're gonna get a little bit of boost in the eyes as well. So that's what this EQ is doing. But what I also recommend is, you know, so, so put this on, you know, don't, don't go too crazy. This is what it sounds like with it came to my cell phone data myself, mindset shift, what I say to myself, it's no strings, no rings, put that weight on myself. You see him, you lose almost a little bit too much yellow one there named Marcel find J to myself, it's a mindset shift. What I say to myself, it's no strings, no ranked. So really going to help you clear your vocal there. But this is where the magic happens is on this next piece of the channel. And as you can tell, on every single one of these macros, when it's off, I went all the way down, I have it. So that's actually turned off. And then there you go. And then when you turn it on, it enables it. This next one it says face, this is going to be your SSL channel EQ. So here's the thing. This is the one I put the macro here on your can. I make this window smaller? And I'm trying to see all my joints. All I've done here is Automate for this one, for the face is the threshold. Because this is going to be kind of how upfront and present the vocalist. And in the J Cole's on when I listened to it, his vocals had a lot of compression and they had they have some other effects and things like that. But it was there. They're wrapped vocals so they're very heavily compressed. So as you can tell here with this threshold knob, what you're looking for is your, when you, when you enable this face macro, you're going to see these lights light up and you're going to see how much gain reduction you're kind of getting on this SSL channel. But at the same time, when you enable this SSL channel, you're getting this EQ. And these EQs, you're going to want to EQ a little bit for your own voice. So I'll show you kind of what that looks like. But this is dequeued for my voice. So just a heads up. The way that I like to EQ my vocals is I take out, I like to take out a lot of the low end when I'm enqueuing and then I'll bring that back in with the compression. So if you listen to the vocal without this enabled and enable this a big difference. So this is without it came to myself, find J to myself. This is with it came to myself, I and j to myself. So you hear a lot of that kind of a basic boxy frequencies were taken out. And so what I did was this is when I'm enqueuing a vocal, I'll do these pieces without the beat, which is why I'm doing it without the beat here. And so I'm going to, I'm going to boost this all the way. So watch your ears and you'll kind of see these frequencies that I've removed from this SSL channel came to my cell phone data myself as a mindset, that boxy sound, I don't dig that. So that's what I'll do is I'll boost these all the way and then I'll find that that sound that I don't that I don't like somewhere in there. And then I'll remove it came to myself, I and j to myself. Mindset shift what I say to myself, same here, this is pretty much doing. This is your Q, this is doing the exact same thing as this EQ. It just looks a little bit different. This is again, this is your q is pretty much how how wide or not that band is. If that doesn't make a lot of sense, don't worry about it too much. We'll figure that out. But that's why I've kind of left these. You can't do too much damage if you don't know what you're doing. But I would recommend jumping in here and experimenting, you know, boosting these volumes up and seeing what you don't like to hear in your own voice came to us so fine data myself. So here I'm just taken up more boxy frequencies again, came to myself, I and j to myself, it's a mindset shift and why she hears this is a frequency I hate is a pain frequency around like three K came to myself, find J to myself. It's a mindset shift. What I say to myself, it's no strings, no rings, put that, Not about that. So that's pretty much the EQ piece of this. Another thing, just a few things going on here, as I've a fast attack enabled in. So that'll come with the template as well. You can turn them off, you don't want it, but the ratio for the compression is about four to one, not a ton, but also it's, you're getting some compression here. What you want to know is you want to shoot for this three light to be lit up, and possibly the six, but you don't want to be pushing into ten here. We're just kind of catching the peaks. With this vocal came to myself, I and j to myself, it's a mindset shift. What I say to myself, it's no strings, no rings, put that weight on myself. You see him buckle up? Yeah. Put that weight a mob bell and push it so you can see how this three lightest triggering. That's cool. We can always come back to this. So that's the first part is we want to kinda get the EQ and a little bit of compression now that our vocal at sounding a lot thinner, right? It's like we've taken out a lot of the lows. And since we boosted some in the highs because it's our Q6, the S's are really starting to bother me. So the next piece that we add is the DSR. So that's what we're gonna jump into next. 4. Compression + De Essing: Okay, So again, what the main point of the way that this is built out is the same way that I EQ vocals. I start with control first. I want to make it sound good first, and then we can start to add the fun stuff later on. That's just my approach. This the way that I learn. Take out all the other crap and then we can add, we can, we can get into the fun stuff later. So the next piece when it comes to control for me now that we had a little bit of compression, we've added a little bit of boost in the highs with the EQ, we wanna, we wanna take out some of those Ss, those harsh S frequencies. So when you put, when you turn on this dressing, now, if you notice it, it's enabling too different pieces of the ds. Or I like to have one here in the middle of the chain that's doing some work, but I also like to have one doing some light work at the end of my chain after all of the effects and things going on. So when you turn this on, boom, both of your dx's are being enabled and I'll show you, but what I'm doing here and what automated. So I've actually reversed these in. If you look at the edits, if you look behind the scenes, what I've done with these DSs and it actually reversed the, the knobs. So it doesn't make any sense, don't worry about it, but pretty much as you're turning this up, you're getting more depressing in compression with both. This first one, this waves the S are as well as the sibling snob. If you look at them, as you turn this up, you're getting more depressing. And dressing is pretty much just compression, but it's very specific. And I've also limited this ds or siblings, this one on the end of the chain. So that way, even if you boost this all the way, this isn't going to kick in super-duper hard. And I've left some customization for us. I'm going to talk about here in a minute. Anyways, what you want to look for in this, the answer is, you don't want it to sound like you have a Lisp, but you also want to make sure that, you know, it's, it's windows. Listen to the J Cole Vogel, it, it's very controlled in a lot of radicals are Drake's vocals goes through them. That S is they are popping out too crazy. So if you watch, you're going to see this kind of, this is really going to kind of latch onto those Ss and those t's as it's playing, came to my cell phone data myself, it's a mindset shift. What I say to myself, it's no strings, no rings, put that weight on myself. You see him buckle up? Yeah. Put that weight a mob bell and push in place now, a real stakes now, my whole life. So when I went here is almost I felt was it was almost too much. And so it is doubt it back a little bit. Came to my cell phone data myself, mindset shift, sudden a little list B. But for me, I'd rather go have it a little bit more or less being controlled than having it be to Beidi in like painful to listen to. So that's what's going on with your dressing. And again, you can come back, peers whatever command. If it's, if you want to do more or less. At the end after you've done everything, I'll talked about this a bit later too. You can mess with this knob. This is pretty much the same as this knob here. For it is, it's it's the threshold knob for this one is this big joint. And so as you can tell as I as I move this up and down, it'll like clamp more or less on the vocal. But what this is telling you, this range is it's telling you or you're telling it how much you wanted to compress. So if you're like pushing this pretty hard at the end of your chain and it's still not doing what you want. It you can like, you can bring this down a little bit and it'll clamp on it more. Or if you're sounding super List B, I left this here customized for you so you can bring it up and it'll have a little bit of a less effect. But for me, I found like someone like the 12 range tenser work came to my cell phone data myself, it's a mindset shift. What I say to myself, it's no strange. You can see it's not, I'm not doing a ton here. It's, it's small movements. So we're going to continue on with the dressing and compression stage. This is an R Vox. And this, again, this is going to be enabled when you turn it on. And what I've done here is I've automated the compression in the game together so that they, the more you compress, the more it's going to bring the gain down. So just be aware of that. What I shoot for is, um, I've already done a little bit of compression here. I know I'm gonna be doing some more compression there. So again, I'm kind of wanting this to bring the vocal out, really start to bring you some more control. But not anything super crazy. I'm not crankiness all the way. I'm probably shooting for maybe like a good rule of thumb is when you see it kind of doing this gain reduction here, less than this negative six, but maybe somewhere in that area came to myself, find J to myself, it's a mindset shift. What I say to myself, it's no strings, no rings, put that weight on myself. You see him buckle up? Yeah. Put that weight a mob bell and push in place now, but a real stakes now, my whole life for this shit, I'm not the cage now, hopped out the matrix, still got the a site, the house it cause that I've been in, as you're going listen whatever song that you want to sound like. So when I was building this template out, was listening at the same time did the J Cole song back and forth. So I'd play this like I played a vocal and say, okay, this is something too. You don't want to do this whole thing in a vacuum. So I start to place with the beat. And the vocals really quiet right now because we're taking everything out in the next step will boost it to be able to hear it better, so don't sweat it. But that's what I recommend is well for you is to start to like just a B, go back and forth, listen to whatever the songs that you're shooting for. If it's a J cool song, whatever, and really listen to the vocal and say OK, and dial it in. Am I getting closer each step? Think about listening to what he's doing and then dialing your, your own template into that. So came to my cell phone data myself, it's a mindset shift. What I say to myself, That sounds good to me. And so we've done that bit of compression. And then the next piece is we're gonna do a little bit more compression in terms of bringing up the volumes and getting it to kinda like glue with the beat, which might call it glue. And then also controlling it a little bit more because as we build it, as we kind of build this vocal and we're adding compression, certain things kinda start to stick out that there are no Bueno. So let's jump into that. 5. Controlling The Vocal: Hi, so this piece is when we're going to really start to bring some of our volume back. So hopefully it isn't gain staging at the beginning of your tracks. So that way your volumes were already kind of in the ballpark that you wanted. But now that we've done these cutting, these different pieces of EQ, if we started to lose kind of the real volume of the vocal. And so this is where this bad boy comes in, at least for me, I like to bring back some of the volume in this kind of last piece of compression with the glue. The reason why I call it glue is because this isn't a compressor. Yes, it's compressor, but I don't have it in this compression stage because I'm not actually doing a ton of compressing here. I'm doing this more as like a light bit of compression to get it to kind of glue with the beat. So what does all that mean? That means as you push this knob up, as you can tell, there are two things happening. The threshold is coming down in the attack is being pushed up. But this will stay. You can adjust this to how you want the ratio of compression here. For me, I don't like to have this last bit of compression because my last piece, I'd like to do a ton of compression in this part. Anyways, this is where the attack, this is going to be how fast the compression kind of latches onto the vocal. And so I'm shooting for just a little bit of compression here. And the threshold is kind of telling it when to trigger, which you'll see came to myself, find J to myself. It's a mindset shift. What I say to myself, it's no strings, no rings, put that weight on myself. You see him buckle up? Yeah. Put that weight a mob bell and push and push it so that this point to, or you want to play it back with a beat. And we're going to want to boost our gain. This is when I bring back the volume. This is when we bring back the volume, at least for me in my track if I've certainly cut stuff out. So check it out. Myself. It's a mindset shift. What I say to myself, it's no strings, no brains put that weight on myself. Yeah, but thou Wait, I'm up to office in place now that a real estates now my whole life for this shit, I'm not the case. M topped out and make sure it's still got the ace, have the house ID cards that are never came down. That means I'm keeping and still believe in almost took him out. I'm grateful I'm still breathing in into the I'm sorry, I am leaving. If I listen to the world, I think I'm here for a reason, here for a minute. So what I'm listening for is kind of how loud the vocal is to the beat. And again, AB it with your reference track, whatever it is that you're listening to in the song close. But the J Cole joint, It's it sounds like it's loud and it's upfront and he's got this kinda cool soil sample going on. But what I'm realizing and this would also built into the template for you to add or not his vocal, my vocal right now it's sounding a little bit to kind of sharp is maybe a bad word. But I've added the C4, which is you can tell is doing only more controlling. So now, now that we've boosted the volume up, there were more frequencies I didn't like. And so that's what this S4 is in here. This C4s in here for you. This is not to a macro, this is for you. If you don't know much about a C4, figure it out because this is a really powerful tool, Watson tutorials on it. This will be unique for your voice. You can turn on or off. It's, it's nothing super crazy. But if AB back and forth, you'll, you'll realize how much it just kinda just controls. I find this is a real problem area for a lot of DIY recordings because this is where a lot of your room noise is going to be. This like low rumble that just like you don't really need. And so I'm just kind of taming these more now that I've boosted things. So check it out. Myself, find data myself. What I say. So put that weight on myself without weight of a real estates now, my whole life for this shit, I'm not the cage now hopped out the matrix. It just feels like it kind of evens the vocal out a little bit more with it engaged. And so as well when you're doing this volume stuff, when you're adding this, makes sure playing the beat because your vocals again don't exist in a vacuum. It's how they are going to gel in mesh with the beat while it's playing, because that's really the only thing that matters. Self-bind data myself. What I say to myself. Without way. That sounded good, it's coming along. Next we get into the fun part. We're going to do the effects. 6. Effects + Final Tips: All right, so now we're going to jump into the effects piece, this parallel split, the parallel split. I don't have engaged to any of these macro, so you're just going to have to turn it off and on what is going on here. So a couple of different things and actually a lot of different things. When I was listening to the J Cole joint there, he had actually a decent amount of reverb, his vocal sound a pretty wide and there was a little bit of delay. So that's kind of what I've added here. I've also added two things that you can add if you want to get fancy, but they aren't to a macro. So what is going on? Parallels, but we're going to turn it on. We're also going to just take it one piece at a time. The first one is this delay. Actually, the first one is technically this eighth delay, which you can turn on and adjust if you want. But for the song that I was shooting for, I ended up, I put it in there and a toy around with that. Couldn't get it to fit that. Actually, this is not what I want. What I wanted was a fourth delay, forth delay. If you don't know what a parallel split is, pretty much in studio rack. This means you have your dry signal, which you can affect directly. And then you have a parallel split, meaning it's coming along parallel. And this one you can effect, you can add a bunch of different things and effects to, and then you can kind of blend this one into your main dry vocal without it affecting your dry vocal. That sounds confusing. Look up parallel. Parallel compression is a great one and just kind of look up parallel processing in general, but take my word for it. What we're doing is when we have this one engage is parallel split. The knobs that you really want to focus on are these knobs, these little dry wet naps. And as you can tell these red ones, I have mapped the macros. So this delay knob, if you watch Whoo As you push it up and down, this is the dry wet signal. So as I play this and this part, you definitely want to play along with your beat because this might sound great soloed came to my cell phone data myself. It's a mindset shift. What I say to myself, it's no strings, no rings, put that weight on myself. I'm like, Okay, yeah, that sounds great. And then you bring your butt back and you've lost all of the effects. So play this one back with your effects, excuse me, with Ruby. And I also recommend having it being kind of exaggerated and then bringing it back to where you want. Because otherwise you're just going to stay in here for a long time and trying to figure out like, Wait, can I hear it yet? Can I not go overboard, bring it back. What I say to myself? Wait on myself. Now that you're a real estate, said I'm not the case. Cool. That sounds good to me. Again, this is modeled after the coal song. So I was kinda had that in mind. This next Reverb, I don't have mapped to macro. This is a plate verb. A plate verb. Very subtle. This is, a plate verb is pretty much puts a vocal in a room. Drake uses these a lot. Denise J calls on a ladder rap songs. It just helps your vocals almost feel like they're more in a space. So I'm going to be a back and forth without the base, you can actually see what's going on. Came to myself, find J to myself. It's a mindset shift. What I say to myself, it's no strings, no rings, put that weight on myself. You see him buckle up? Yeah. Put that weight a mob bell. I'm just kinda helps it puts it in a little bit more of a space. So that sounds good to me. This next piece is the long reverb, which I have Mac do a macro here. J Cole in this song actually has a decent amount of reverb who dropped the beat out at certain points. You can hear the reverb specifically. And depending on how vocals I feel like are moving towards a more Dr. Bob. But these are, these actually add a bit, a bit of reverb. So this is a same thing. This is a verb, but it's a different type. This is a hallway and preset. But you can come in here and mess with the effects if you want to, to get it to be longer or not. But the only thing that you're affecting with this knob is the dry wet part. So this is, again, you're going to play back with a beat and dialing to taste myself, find data myself. What I say to myself, it's no strings, no grains. Put that weight on myself. Yeah, put that weight among us in place. Now, a real estate said I'm not the case now popped out to make sure it's still got the ace had the house it cause that outfile, it never came down. And then last but not least, we got this dabbler, simple waves, W2. I took the direct line out because we're just using this for parallel processing. And again, if you look at the macro here, all you're doing is the dry wet. And this is something that again, you want it to be like felt and occurred. Like you want it to just kinda beef up the vocal but not to be super apparent. Myself, I do to myself, you don't want to sound like you're in a metallic tube. I myself find data myself. What I say to myself, it's no strings, no brains put that weight on myself. Yeah, but that weight of hops. Now. That sounds good, that sounds good. And then this last piece if you want, it, is a Meta flanger to really add some more width to the book if you want. But when I listen back to the coal joint, it didn't. I felt like I got the sound I10 with this dabbler. So this is in here. If you want it. Some people like to go get their vocal sound the super wide if you want to use it, you don't change the effects or anything like here. The default preset, you just would affect this knob if you wanted even a wider sounding vocals. I myself find zeta myself. It's no strings, no rings, put that weight on myself. Real estate snap. Just didn't need it. Just a piece that I put in there for you. But again, these are the three or excuse me, these are the four that are not going to get a get you 90 percent of the way of what you want. So yeah, that is the J Cole template. In a nutshell. Hopefully you learned a thing or two about mixing. Don't forget. If you want to check it out. It's in the description below, but if you want to build it yourself, That's kind of how I would go about doing it. Makes sure that you EQ your vocals first. Take out all the crappy stuff you want it, you want to control them with a little bit of compression. In SSL channel or whatever compressor you're using. Maybe three to six native db ds, it makes your kitchen peaks. You get it to sound good with your regular compressor control. Any other control pieces you need to do? You make it sound good with the effects, and then make sure that there are no S is spoken out at the end of the chain. So that's how we do it with J. Cole. Appreciate you tuning in as always, check you in the next one. If you want to have another template made for an artist that you want, write it in the comments below, and I'll try to make these for you guys as the artists developing in albums dropout. So thanks again, checking on the next one piece.