The Gradur Sessions. The Art Of Recording French Rap.
On August 25th, the young and talented Millenium Barclay / Universal Music France signed rapper ‘Gradur’ arrived at Studio 11 to begin work on his new 13 song untitled mix tape. According to his manager, their reasons for choosing Studio 11 were quite simple. They wanted that “grimey” chicago drill/rap/trap sound and heard that we were the best place in Chicago at delivering. We also assisted them with meet greets, video locations, city tours, and other specialized amenities.
We were excited to meet and begin working with him, as our research discovered that he was on the verge of becoming the next big rap star out of France. His sound is very similar to some of the big name Chicago trap/drill rappers of the moment, but in our opinion, was a little more eclectic and artsy because of the beats Gradur and his management decided to use.
The vocal recording sessions occurred over a 7 day period of time primarily in Studio 11’s B room, although the A room was used occasionally for listening sessions with other producers such as C-Sick and Johnny May Cash (Young Chop’s brother).
Going in, we knew that the sessions should be fairly simple. Gradur would be rapping and singing over instrumental 2-tracks, which is a fairly common process used when recording rap based music in the studio today. In the B room, we decided to stick with the microphone we had already set up, the Audio Technica AT 4060. Gradur had a bigger, chestier sound, and we found the AT 4060 did a great job at preserving the detail and aggressive character of his voice. The AT 4060 signal was then routed into our Manley Voxbox for amplification into Pro Tools. Some additional equalization and compression was added to his voice on the Voxbox to add additional clarity and depth.
Since Gradur enjoyed a big sound to his voice, it was decided that doubling all verses and tripling all hooks would be the best way to produce his raps. Two “in out or embellishment” tracks were also added for each verse to help add additional expression to key words and phrases. These tracks were then panned 50% left and right. An occasional “adlib or atmosphere” track was added to the verses as well, but was not used in every song. The occasional in out track was added to the hooks as well, though we found not every song needed one.
The hardest thing going in our sessions with Gradur, was our English/French language barrier. Our engineer Kris was not too fluent with the French language as Gradur wasn’t with the English language. Some simple hand signs and gestures were invented to help speed along the lines of communication during the sessions, and by the end of the week, communication was no longer an issue.
Once all recording was done for a song, the vocals were then mixed in with its corresponding instrumental using plugins like the Sony Oxford GML EQ and Waves REQ for equalization. For all dynamic processing, (compression, de-essing, expansion) we used the Waves RAxe, RCompressor, RDeesser, RVox. For effects like chorus and reverb we used Digidesign’s Short Delay and Reverb One, Waves Metaflanger, and the Sonnox Oxford Reverb. For special effects like delay, distortion and filtering, we used the Digidesign Delay, DFi and EQ series as well as the Waves Metaflanger, Multi-tap and H Delay. We used Antares Autotune for all auto tuning. Additional post production tricks were then added such as beat cutting, stutter edits, record stops, and instrumental manipulation. Each final mix was then routed into the Waves C4 multiband compressor/expander to glue the instrumental and vocals together a little better, and then routed into the Waves L3 for maximization to match current industry standard RMS models.
On the final day of recording the last few bounces were made and files transferred. We all said our goodbyes. Hand shakes, bad jokes, and smiles filled the room and photos were taken. We all knew that this would not be the last time working with each other as over the course of 7 days, good friendships and business relationships were definitely made.
Overall, the Gradur recording sessions went extremely well. Gradur and his management originally planned to record only 9 songs, but because of our effectiveness at keeping recording sessions moving along quickly and productively, they were able to actually record 13 songs. This of course, is how we like to do things here at Studio 11. Keep it fun, keep it productive, keep it professional, and most importantly, keep it simple.