Ad-libs are one of the tools on which you can be more creative. Especially generally like hip hop, you can twist them to give more character to the song.
Depending on their role in the song's economy, there are various ways these can be mixed. In general, adlibs' goal is to contrast the lead vocal and add movement and style to an artist's flow. However, these must not cover the leading voice's role; therefore, it is fair to say in general that these will always be placed behind the main one.
First, you have to do some editing on them. There is no need to be as precise as for the main voice. You have to do some comping between the various takes, and then you have to control the gain and the timing.
Before applying any creative approach to these, you need to make sure they are adequately mixed. Take the chain we used on the main, copy it, and then freeze and print it. I recommend applying a higher level of compression on the ad-libs.
There is often no time to do volume automation, and since these fall further behind in the mix, we can afford to crush them properly. Usually, they are composed of very percussive verses or sounds, so destroying them can only help since it is straightforward to lose control.
Once these sound like the main and have reasonable control, it will be time to place them in the mix below the main vox.
There are several ways to achieve this effect:
- Lower the volume
- Add a light filter on the lows and highs
- More presence of reverbs and delays
- Do not position them centrally in the mix using pan
- Make them less mono using effects such as phaser and chorus
If you apply all these parameters properly, you will notice that your ad-libs will settle in your mix between the main and the beat, taking on the role of glue.
Now let's move on to the more creative part.
The first parameter to experiment with is the type of reverb. It is not necessary to place them in the same environment as the main one.
For example, in Smokepurpp's "Do Not Disturb," (from 0:55) the adlibs of Lil Yachty and Offset have been treated with much larger and longer reverb than the one of the main voice, creating a contrast that makes variety in the mix.
On the contrary, in Slay3r by Playboi Carti (00:10), the doubles are placed in the same environment as the main one, instead of creating a more cohesive environment and giving the dirty ones a different effect than in the previous example.
Another parameter to experiment with is the position in the stereo panorama. In Asap Mob's RAF (01:12), the doubles in Quavo's verse are treated interestingly. In the first section, they are very open, probably thanks to chorus or stereo imager. Advancing in verse, they are instead positioned to the right and then instead end up with a classic central position.
Also, in Bausa's Bundesland (00:36), you can find an interesting effect by changing the stereo panorama. When the verse enters, the first "Ya" is followed by a second one. This is lower in volume and has a lot of ping pong delay and chorus, creating a very open and outstretched effect that contrasts with the rest of the voice, giving us a feeling of release, pushing with more force to enter this section.
A classic way of mixing adlibs is to overuse the low pass and high pass filters to voice a "radio" style tone. This type of technique is used, for example, in Smokepurpp's Audi (00:06).
An even more extreme way to achieve a similar but more distorted effect is to run our adlibs through an amplifier or other distortion type, as can be heard in UFO361's Der Pate (00:21).
In conclusion, we can say that the ad-libs must always be positioned between the leading voice and the beat and that they can be a very precious means to enrich our song's arrangement and character. For example, suppose you are working on a track with a lot of distorted electric guitars. In that case, it can be interesting to work your ad-libs with distortions; if instead, you are working on a very dry track with few variations, drowning your ad-libs in a great reverb can create a beautiful effect.
This article has been brought to you by Edoardo Del Torre.