Vocal Removal

The most frequently asked question I get from singers who use backing tracks is: “Can you remove vocals from a song while leaving the backing music intact”?

Usually this question is posed by singers who have a particular song they’d love to sing but can’t find a backing track for that song anywhere. The answer I have always given is simple: “no, you cannot successfully remove vocals from a stereo mix.”

This may be about to change though.

While there are a number of processes out there right now which claim to remove vocals from a song, if you’ve ever tried any of them you will have discovered the results are often far from satisfactory. The reason results vary so greatly from song to song is because the deeper the main vocal is mixed in with the rest of the music, the more difficult it is to separate it from that music. There are ALWAYS traces of the original vocal left no matter what type of vocal removal process you put the song through.

Anyone who tries to claim otherwise is being less than truthful with you.

There is some good news now however. Technology is constantly changing and vocal removal processes are moving forward albeit at a bit of a snails pace.

If you’re reading this page right now, then you’re probably looking to have the vocal removed from a song that you can’t find a backing track for. You may even have tried using a few of the many hundreds of karaoke type vocal removers that are out there and you’ve probably discovered – like many singers before you – that the results are less than satisfying.

This is because they all use a “centre-cancel” process which attempts to work by taking out whatever is in the “centre” of the stereo mix. Now, most times the vocal will indeed be in the centre of the mix, but not always. Another problem with the “centre-cancel” vocal removal process is that it tends to take out EVERYTHING that’s in the centre of the mix, so it ends up taking out many of the important instruments too.

To add insult to injury, even after all this, there’s still usually a fair bit of audible vocals left on the track. In short, they just don’t work well at all.

I have recently been working with some newer types of technology which do not use the “centre-cancel” idea to remove vocals. Instead, they use a more complex software which runs a series of algorithms through the song to better identify the vocal and isolate it more accurately. The idea is that it then removes the vocal with far more accuracy than any of the old “centre-cancel” type systems.

The process is a bit complex and time-consuming and for the moment it’s very much a work-in-progress project. I’m still finding that varying degrees of original vocal are still there and audible to my ears, but it’s definitely getting better. Needless to say, I’m currently achieving some great results and some bad results (and just about everything in between)!

In one example, I removed a vocal from a song which, to my ears, didn’t work out so well. I felt there were so many vocal traces left on the track that I deemed it to be unusable. However when the singer who I did it for used it as a backing track at a “live” gig, his live vocal completely covered any slight traces of the original vocals which were there and it sounded great!

In a nut-shell, the results I’m currently achieving with vocal removal are far better than the old fashioned “centre-cancel” processes of yester-year but I’ve still got some work to do on it all. The technology still has a bit of a way to go before it will prove to be successful on every song you throw at it but it’s all heading in the right direction.

I’ll keep you posted on the blog here if I have any further break-throughs…