(The original version of this article was first published on the Mp3 Backing Trax website circa 2006 – 2012)
So, if all these cheap vocal removal machines don’t actually work, surely they wouldn’t sell them…would they?
A question I’m often asked is whether vocals can be removed from an original song, leaving just the music?
Usually this question is asked by singers who are new to the business, and it’s easy to see why they would think that this may be a good idea. After all, why spend money buying backing tracks when you already have thousands of great songs in your CD or record collection – why not just remove the vocals from them?
Why do backing track companies even exist if all you need is a machine or some software to remove vocals from recordings?
The simple answer is that backing track companies exist because vocal elimination machines and vocal removal software don’t work well.
If they did, there would be no need for backing track companies to produce backing tracks.
Now, I know that as you read this article you may well be forgiven for thinking that we are perhaps biased in some way or trying to protect our backing track business, so I’ll explain fully why vocal elimination doesn’t work well and why you should avoid using it.
There are many vocal eliminators and vocal removal machines on the market and they fall in to two categories – hardware machines and software programs. The hardware machines are standalone (in a box) devices whereas the software programs are designed to run on your computer.
However, this is the only way in which they differ because, in essence, the vocal removal techniques they use are the same.
So, let’s take a look at how they work…
Vocal removal machines first appeared many, many years ago when the designers of these original machines had a bright idea. Because most vocals on a recording usually sit at the centre of the stereo spectrum and are usually to the forefront of the audio mix (ie the vocals are usually the loudest part of a recording) then if they could devise an algorhythm that could remove the audio from the central and loudest parts of a recording, this would, in effect, eliminate the vocals from it.
Like many flawed ideas, it looked great on paper and the theory behind it was certainly enough to get venture capitalists excited and electronic giants queueing up to back their idea, but in practical use, it failed miserable – the idea simply didn’t work well…and here’s why.
You see, their removal idea made two assumptions which proved to be alarmingly incorrect. The first assumption they made was that vocals on all recordings will always be the loudest part of the recording and will always be at the centre of the stereo mix.
The second assumption was, that by removing these loudest and most central parts, the vocal would then disappear and the rest of the music would be left intact…
Years ago when recording techniques were rather more primitive than today, this may have been true. Vocals were indeed often “centred” and were usually the loudest part of a recording. But nowadays it’s quite common for vocals to be “panned” slightly to one side and, depending on the piece of music and the way it has been engineered by the producer, the vocal is very often NOT the loudest part of the song.
Assumption number two was that removing these central & loudest parts would leave the music intact – not true!
If you remove the loudest audio from the centre of a recording, not only do you remove the vocals, you remove EVERYTHING that is loud and at the centre. So if there is a saxophone, drums, bass or any other instrument sitting at the centre of the recording, your vocal removal machine will remove these too.
Anyone who has ever used a vocal removal machine will testify that it’s very commonplace for these machines to remove half the musical instruments as well as the vocals, and to add insult to injury, you can ALWAYS hear a trace of the original vocal even after it’s done – not good!
So, that should now have put you off ever buying a vocal removal machine!
But wait, there’s more…
Another reason why you should avoid buying one of these machines, especially if you are a professional singer, is that, as well as ending up with a pile of unusable backing music tracks with traces of vocals all over them and instruments missing from them, it is also ILLEGAL to use the tracks!
Yes, that’s right – copyright law protects an artists music from being modified in any way and the MCPS (Mechanical Copyright Protection Society) and PRS (Performing Rights Society) will prosecute you if you attempt to perform copyrighted material in public.
Not only do they have the power to prosecute you for copyright violation but they can also revoke the music licence of the venue you are performing in. The MCPS/PRS do regular spot checks on venues all over the country and if you happen to be singing in one of those venues that night, they will walk in and ask you to provide proof of copyright of the music you are singing.
This has happened to me personally on many occasions and has also happened to many of our customers. In each case the MCPS/PRS approached the singer and asked for copyright proof – the singer then simply showed them their MP3 Backing Trax receipts for the backing tracks they were using and the MCPS/PRS merrily went on their way, satisfied that all was well, legal and correct.
There is a whole host of other reasons why you should always use professional backing tracks. You should read through some of the other articles on this website which will help you get a better understanding of backing tracks and their uses, especially the articles on backing track licencing, editing backing tracks, and using backing tracks onstage.
In conclusion, our advice is, whatever you do, don’t waste your money on vocal removal machines and software!
I’m quite sure there will probably be some cynical person reading this article who still thinks that we are discouraging you from vocal removal machines in an effort to promote and sell you our own products.
If you are one of them, then I’m not going to even bother trying to convince you otherwise – I have a simple answer for you…go out and buy a vocal removal machine, make yourself a whole load of backing tracks out of your CD collection for free, then make lots of money singing professionally with them. I’ll give you one week…
…by then you’ll have realised (to your cost) just why none of the professionals are doing this!
In recent years technology has improved leaps and bounds and vocal removal can now be achieved where it didn’t work before. The technology still has a little way to go but todays processes can now identify and remove the vocal yielding results that were impossible when this article first appeared. More information here.