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How To Remove Vocals From Music Tracks Using Audacity

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Ever get a sudden, inexplicably irresistible desire for karaoke? Maybe you like the music of a song but can’t stand the lead singer? Here’s how to use remove the vocals from most music tracks in a few simple steps.

How It Works

Vocals are normally placed in the “center channel.” Stereo tracks have two channels, but not all of the instruments are balanced evenly. Sometimes the bass is pushed more towards the right channel, rhythm guitar might be found more towards the left, and so on. Usually the vocals are put dead center, so we can split the stereo track and invert one channel. This cancels out the vocals but leaves the rest in tact.  Primus often has extremely unbalanced channels. These kinds of tracks usually work well because the vocals are left evenly balanced between the two channels and that makes them easier to remove accurately. Songs with a lot of vocal effects may end up being mangled by the process, and songs with reverb may leave an echo despite vocals being gone.

On the whole, however this process works really well if you start with good quality audio. One of the most well known adages of audio editing is “garbage in equals garbage out.” If you start with CD audio and work from there, the end result will be cleaner and clearer than if you start with a compressed mp3. In HTG Explains: What Are the Differences Between All Those Audio Formats?, we went over different lossless and lossy formats, so make sure you start from a lossless audio file for best results. This isn’t to say that mp3 and the like won’t work, just that lossless audio works much better.

Removing the Center Channel

01 - import audio

Fire up Audacity and load your song of choice. I used a very special one for this project, and it’s dedicated to you wonderful readers.

The first thing we need to do is break the song’s two channels into two separate tracks. Click on the little black arrow next to the track title and go down to Split Stereo Track.

02 - split stereo track

Next, pick a channel (it doesn’t matter which) and double click to select the entire track.

03 - select one channel

Go to Effect > Invert.

04 - invert

If you hit play, you’ll notice the song sounds a little funny. The Inverted channel sounds like it’s coming from around the speaker instead of directly from it. The last thing we need to do to solidify the effect is change each track to “mono.” Click on the title of each track like when you split the tracks and choose “mono” from the menu.

05 - switch back to mono

That’s it! You can go to File > Export to save the track so you can use it for your secret karaoke parties. If you plan on saving into the mp3 format, be sure to read our guide on How To Add MP3 Support to Audacity.

Yatri Trivedi is a monk-like geek. When he's not overdosing on meditation and geek news of all kinds, he's hacking and tweaking something, often while mumbling in 4 or 5 other languages.

  • Published 03/18/11

Comments (40)

  1. Victor

    Greate HowTo – so what was the resalt? Can you link here? :)

  2. Jaxter Cloverfield

    it doesn’t work at all :(

  3. Char

    Or you could go to Effects -> Remove Vocals and automate the entire thing

  4. Chris

    Would you happen to know of a similar way to strip a track of the instrumental part and retain the vocals?

  5. Hatryst

    I’ve already tried it a couple of years ago, but the problem is, the final product sounds like its being played UNDERWATER :D
    I call it, LIQUEFIED SONG :)

    (BTW, thanks for Rickrolling us ! )

  6. Tom

    This doesn’t work at all. I’ve tried it with
    Party in the U.S.A
    Fuck you
    Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
    September
    Also there is no remove vocals effect.

  7. Char

    Get the latest beta.

  8. OhGodNo

    really, you’re an idiot. This works SOMETIMES in theory and ALWAYS will destroy the audio quality. Learn more about audio and use something better the Audacity before your start posing “how to…”

  9. Vedasara

    It is not possible! Vocals and instruments share the same frequencies so if we delete vocals we also delete some instrument frequencies.

  10. Flebby

    This effect is called phasing. When the vocals are placed directly in the centre, the inverted channel holds the exact opposite waveform of the normal channel, and therefore they cancel eachother out.

    If any other instrument is in the centre, it will also be canceled out, and any instrument that isn’t panned either hard left or hard right will be affected negatively using this technique. It may be ok for some fun, but it won’t do anywhere near a good enough job for anything serious.

  11. Bam

    Idiots…….

  12. Mark

    I like the result, but it’s still wrong.

  13. Vtzete0

    @Tom, Party in the USA… Is that on a cassette tape from 1990? LOL

  14. yomaster

    where do you download it?

  15. OhReally

    It’s not a magic bullet solution, but it works well on some songs. I use it to study guitar parts on certain songs.

  16. Ark-7

    @ Vtzete0, not sure what you mean, but Party in the USA is a terrible, terrible song by Miley Cyrus. Came out a year or so ago, was hugely popular, then disappeared nearly entirely.

  17. Maria

    ohhh we’ve been rickrolled!

  18. ProstheticHead

    @Hatryst, well spotted! :-)

  19. JLW

    did not work at all

  20. I am peter the rabbit

    Try Melodyne’s Direct Note Access. This mentioned method does not always work.

  21. vic

    melodyne is expensive and for professional purposes i think

  22. Christina

    I was wondering if there is a similar program that works for Macs. i really liked the idea of stripping audio so i can do karaoke with this but it isn’t working for my mac.

  23. David Bankson

    Tried this with “Into the Dark” by The Juliana Theory and it worked perfectly, thanks!

  24. Groff

    @christina

    Strange, Audacity should have an identical Mac version.

  25. Will

    Eh, kinda works. Depends on song.

    Thanks anyway.

  26. Mike R.

    Seriously people, it’s for karaoke. It’s not supposed to be this high-quality audio track that you can show off to all 3 of your friends. For those wondering, it’s probably called “Vocal Remover.”

    @Vtzete0, “Party in the U.S.A.” is probably the Miley Cyrus song. Still, you’d think he could pick something better.

    I think it makes a nice “patch” way of creating a karaoke version of a song that someone might not have on a karaoke dvd or cd. Just a thought.

  27. venu

    the process which u’ve said does not work at all. please learn it well and post

  28. YouIdiots

    To all of you morons posting”it doesn’t work” this will NOT work perfectly for most songs, especially with songs that include synths. The same thing can be achieved using Sony Soundforge Pro, however, the writer was using a prime example program that is free and multi-platform. There also is a thing that’s really common; it’s called USER ERROR. Idiots >.>

  29. Erez

    Is there really a need to cuss?

  30. hyde

    Just see here~ how to remove it

    http://wiki.audacityteam.org/index.php?title=Vocal_Removal

    Its have 3 ways that you can use it. I use the 2nd method and its went well :D

  31. Angus Wrightson

    This doesn’t work is there another way to do it which will actually work

  32. carlos

    this person rick rolled all of you.

  33. otr

    hey

  34. Rebecca

    I have Audacity 1.2.6 – just downloaded it today. It was interesting to find that the first half of the song definitely seemed to have less vocals – noticeably less – than the second half after inverting it. I will now try it with the Beta version. Does anyone know why this would happen?

  35. Francesco

    This doesn’t work as well as they make it sound like it will work. By removing the center channel, you’re effectively getting rid of everything that’s been panned center; usually bass, kick drum, snare, keyboards, and any effects (reverb, delays) unless they’ve been panned. In a rock song, this means you’re likely only going to be hearing the guitars, cymbals, and whatever toms they’ve panned left/right.

    There is no way to effectively do something like this. Once a track has been mixed it cannot be “un”mixed. Once you paint a painting you cannot “un”paint it.

  36. Nico

    It kinda works. It leaves weird sounding traces of the vocals. It might be a cool effect though.

  37. joseph

    oh my god…..this is not working ….its wasting my valuable time….

  38. Alex

    It’s not working at all even though I have the latest beta version of this software
    a real waste I time I say..

  39. sudarsan

    how to remove vocals completely from mp3??

  40. hoodmonkey

    The technique is called phase cancellation.

    It will work on the stereo parts of a track, however, the success will depend on “how” stereo the parts are.

    Anything that is mono and central (usually vocals, bass and some drum parts at the very least) will generally disappear.

    The technique nearly always weakens the overall sound of the track as a result of the missing parts and any backing vocals or harmonies that are not central will usually remain.

    If you’ve had poor or no results then some or all of the above is probably responsible.

    Or you’re a muppet who can’t follow simple instructions.

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