Why are some backing tracks NOT in their original keys?

A young lady called Clair emailed me with a good question about keys…

Myself and my sister have been purchasing mini-discs from your company for a while now. We are more than happy with the discs and the service is second to none. Although we are very happy with alot of our purchases so far, i have a query. We recently purchased a Queen track (I want to break free) and we were really disappointed when we heard it. It wasn’t the quality or indeed the actual music…it was the key! This has also happened with 2 other tracks that we purchased (Bon Jovi-Living on a prayer and Phil Collins-Easy Lover). I completely understand that as a customer it is my responsibility to check what key the backing track is in BEFORE i purchase it, but i think we made the mistake in thinking that they would be in the original key! I also understand that for some tracks, male performers may need a lower key on certain songs. But why is the original key not always an option? Please dont think this is a complaint because, as i said, i have nothing but praise for your company (in fact, we regularly get asked where we get our backing tracks from)! I hope you can shed some light on this question for me.
Thank you!

Hi Claire

Thanks for your email and I’m glad you’re enjoying singing with our tracks!

Yes, hopefully I can answer that question for you…

If a song in our catalogue is NOT available in the original key, then it is because there is no demand for that song in its original key.

You mention the song “I want to break free” and this is actually a typical example of this.

“I want to break free” was recorded by Queen (sung by Freddie Mercury of course) about 25 years ago, and in those 25 years that I have been working as a professional musician I have never yet accompanied a male singer out there who sings this song in the original key. The original key is way too high for a male singer with a standard male vocal range. That’s why in our catalogue we have it in the key of Bb (which is the most comfortable key for a male singer to sing this song in).

We have “male key” listed after the song title to show that it is in a male key so there shouldn’t have been any confusion.

The Bon Jovi song and Phil Collins song are exactly the same – no male singer with a standard male vocal range can reach those songs in their original keys, so that’s why they are in lower keys (and marked accordingly as “male key”).

As you can imagine, our studio is always busy and we constantly produce a large number of tracks so we don’t record songs in keys that we know won’t sell. That’s why there are many songs in our catalogue which are NOT in the original key (and that’s why we sell so many backing tracks – all our tracks are in good keys that all male and female singers with standard vocal ranges can sing, not original keys that are too high for them etc).

There shouldn’t be any confusion either because we list the key of absolutely every song in our catalogue AND we give a guide to what type of singer that key will suit (ie a male singer or a female singer etc) AND we give a 30 second sample of the song so you can singalong to it as an added guide.

Where it says (orig key) next to a song, the song is in its original key.

Where it says (male key) then its in a key to suit a male singer with a standard male vocal range.

Where it says (female key) then its in a key to suit a female singer with a standard female vocal range.

Sometimes you’ll see (high female key) or (low female key) or (low male key) or (high male key) next to a song title. This indicates that although the key is for a male or female singer, it is suited to a male or female with a particularly high voice or low voice.

The little purple speaker icon next to each song title in the catalogue is the audio clip.

Unfortunately there’s not much more we can do than we’re already doing regarding giving information about the keys of the songs in our catalogue. We give more information about the key and guides to the key than any other company out there.

For those singers who know their keys they can see the exact key listed. For those singers who don’t know their key a guide is given (ie male key, female key, original key). And for those singers who are still unsure, they can singalong to the sound clip to further help them.

Quite a lot of backing track companies out there only produce tracks in the original keys so they end up with thousands of songs in their catalogue that are of no use to anyone and no-one buys. As it happens I’ve never quite understood why they waste their time doing this!

Even the original artists themselves will often sing their own songs in a lower key when they perform live at a concert.

This is because when an artist originally recorded his song, he will have recorded it at a time when his voice was at it’s very, very best (artists often spend months in the studio recording an album so they can sing a song hundreds of times till they get the best “take” and that’s what ends up on the final recording).

But when the artists goes on tour he has to sing that song every night, so the original key is very often too high for him. He will often drop it down a semi-tone or two for the live concerts.

If many original artists can’t even sing their own songs in the original keys, then you can easily see why no-one else is likely to be able to do it either! That’s why we sell so many backing tracks in male and female keys and that’s why there’s very often no demand for a song to be in its original key.

As a general rule of thumb, if for any reason you need a backing track to be in the original key then don’t buy it if you see it listed in our catalogue with “male key” or “female key” next to its title.

If you know the key you want (even if it is the original and you don’t see it in the catalogue) then contact us and let us know because we have a backing track editing service and can change the key and supply songs in any key you want…

I also wrote an article a while back about finding your key which you may find interesting.

Hope this helps!