How to remove music from a background and keep the vocals

Written by jason parnell
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How to remove music from a background and keep the vocals
Extract vocals from any song. (Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images)

When a song is mixed down for commercial release, all the individual tracks are combined into a single track. It is impossible to remove individual instruments or sounds. But with clever use of audio editing software, you can extract vocals from a recording if you have an instrumental version of the same song. By inverting the instrumental track and layering it with the original, every sound the two tracks share become muted through a process called phase cancellation, leaving only the vocal track. The science behind the process is complicated, but it can be accomplished without an understanding of acoustical engineering.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Audio recording
  • Instrumental version of the same audio recording
  • Audacity software

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  1. 1

    Open Audacity, which is available for free at Select File > Open and navigate to the original version of the song from which you wish to extract vocals. Select Project > Import Audio and navigate to the instrumental of the same song.

  2. 2

    Select the entire instrumental by placing your cursor at the end of the timeline, left-clicking, and dragging the cursor to the start of the timeline.

  3. 3

    Invert the selected instrumental track by selecting Effect > Invert from the menu.

  4. 4

    Combine the tracks by selecting File > Export as WAV from the software menu. Select "OK" when Audacity warns that the tracks will be mixed down into two stereo channels after exporting. Name the new file and select where you wish to save it.

  5. 5

    Test the new file by loading it in any media player.

Tips and warnings

  • Many artists release instrumental versions of their songs as part of CD singles.
  • Hip-hop and pop artists occasionally release instrumental versions of entire albums.
  • You may want to process the extracted vocal file further as the result will necessarily be at low volume and missing some harmonic ranges.
  • Do not use a karaoke version of a song for the instrumental track unless it has been released by the original artist. Use only high-quality WAV files. MP3s contain artefacts resulting from compression that will compromise the process.

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