How to Remove Vocals from Songs for Karaoke
Tired of the boring old tracks you’ve been spinning in your karaoke machine for years? Then you’ve got two options: shell out the big bucks to buy some more karaoke CDs, or make your own karaoke tracks by removing the vocals from your favorite songs. Aside from being free, the latter option is far more attractive, since it allows you to create karaoke versions of songs from independent and obscure artists, which rarely get picked up on the karaoke radars.
The way the pros make karaoke versions is either by buying instrumental-only tracks direct from the studio, or by re-creating the songs with a session band (making it essentially a cover, sans vocals). I’m guessing you have neither of these resources, so let’s try this instead.
Here’s a quick crash course on audio mixing. When producers mix albums, they usually pan certain instruments slightly to the left or right stereo channels. In some cases, they’ll pan instruments all the way to the left or right. You can really hear this in Beatles recordings, where the effect is perhaps overdone (try listening to Taxman from Revolver with one broken speaker and you’ll see what I mean). Meanwhile, the center channel is devoted to vocals.
There’s something else you should know about sound as well. Sound, as you remember from science class, comes in the form of waves. When two waves overlap in the same channel, then funky stuff happens. In the real world, two waves that fit neatly together create harmony, while sloppily overlapping waves create dissonance. In recordings, when you lay two identical waves on top of each other, then the sound becomes twice as loud. But what if you were to lay two opposite waves on top of each other? You guessed it—they’d cancel out and you’d get silence.
We can use this to our advantage when it comes to removing vocals from songs. What we need to do is get two vocal tracks, invert one, and then mix them together. Here’s how to do it:
Download Audacity. It’s an open source audio editor that works on any platform—Linux, Windows or Mac OS.
Get it here: http://audacity.sourceforge.net/
Load a high quality song into Audacity. You can do this by dragging and dropping a song from iTunes into Audacity.
On the left-hand side, click the name of the track you just added. This will open a drop-down menu. Choose “Split Stereo Track.” This will create two separate tracks in Audacity.
Select one of the tracks. Make sure you are only selecting one. Double-click it and it will darken.
Click the Effects menu and choose Invert.
Click the name of the track on the left again and choose “Mono.” Do this for both tracks.”
Play back the track and see how it sounds. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a recognizable backing track but with no vocals, or barely audible vocals.
Of course, this works better on some songs than others. You also run the risk of eliminating other tracks. For example, the Black Keys song “Tighten Up” puts the bass line in the center channel, so when you do this trick, you lose the bass guitar, too. Also, if there are lots of effects on the vocals, there may be some residual reverb or other traces of the main vocal track. Backing vocals sometimes survive this trick as well, which may actually be beneficial for karaoke.