How-To: Easily Remove the Vocals from Most Songs

2015 Shortcut: When I wrote this article Audacity didn’t have an automatic center-panned vocal canceling effect… but now it does, so rather than do the stereo-separate / invert-one-track / play-both-as-mono trick (and that’s pretty much all there is to it), you should be able to find the Vocal Remover option in the Effects menu – but it’s more fun / interesting and can give better results if you do it yourself! =D

Audacity now has a built-in center-panned vocal canceling effect.

I found this trick the other day whilst stumbling the Interwebs and thought I’d do a quick-write up w/ pictures to make it as easy as possible… For this exercise we’re going to be using a piece of free audio software called Audacity, which you can get for Linux, Windows and Mac.

The track I’m using in this example is the first 50 seconds of Ben Folds – Zak and Sara, where the voice kicks in at the 11 second mark, and the original sounds like this:

Once you’ve got a copy of Audacity for your platform of choice, fire it up and follow these simple steps to get rid of the vocals from most songs:

1.) Import Some Audio

From the menu in Audacity, choose File | Import | Audio and then select an mp3 (or any audio format Audacity understands) to work with.

Audacity - Import

2.) Duplicate The Tracks

We’re going to come back later and use the bass from this to give it a nice, full sound – but for now just duplicate your imported audio by going to Edit | Duplicate:

Audacity - Duplicate

Once you’ve duplicated the tracks, we’ll mute our copy for now by clicking on the Mute button to the left of the waveform as shown:

Audacity - Mute

3.) Separate Our Original Tracks, Convert To Mono and Invert One Of Them

This is the key part of the process: because vocal tracks on songs are commonly recorded as mono and then mixed into stereo – by separating the tracks and making them act as separate mono tracks, we can then invert one of them to have them cancel each other out! And since usually only the vocal waveform is identical (i.e. mono mixed to stereo) it’s only the vocals that magically disappear from the sound! Ha!

So, to start off we need to click on the little down-arrow to the left of our original wave form and select Split Stereo Track:

Audacity - Split Stereo Track

Once the waveform’s been split (so we can mess with both channels individually) double click in the lower of the two waveforms (the right channel) to select it all, and then from the menu choose Effect | Invert as shown:

Audacity - Invert Right Channel

Now for the last really important step – simply set both left and right channels to output as mono by clicking on the little down-arrow to the left of each waveform and selecting Mono. Don’t forget to set both of them to Mono or the magic won’t happen!

Audacity - Convert to Mono

With that done, give it a play and see what happens! With any luck, there won’t be any vocals in the track – so with my example, it now sounds like this:

You’ll notice at the end that the vocals come back (the backing singing etc.) – why? Because it wasn’t recorded as a mono source, and hence doesn’t get cancelled out by the inversion we did earlier – so this technique won’t work for all songs – only ones where the voice is recorded in mono and then mixed into stereo, which to be fair, I think it a pretty large swathe of ’em, and it’d be perfect for karaoke or something like this anyway because you’d want the backing vocals there!

If you wanted to know more about how this wave-form cancellation works, you can always look up Superposition of Waves, but I’ll leave that as an exercise for the curious =D

4.) Filter Our Original To Add Back The Bass

Update: BigFuz points out in the comments below that an easier way than using equalisation to filter our copy so that it only keeps the bass is to use a Low Pass filter and just enter a value of 200Hz or 250Hz (whichever works best for you). You won’t be able to add back both bass and treble with a single pass using this method, but you may not want or need to! To apply a low pass filter to the copy, you can just select Effects | Effects 1 to 9 | Low Pass Filter from the menu – too easy! Relatedly (and yeah, it’s a bit obvious, but I use this to keep track myself), a quick way to remember which way around low-pass/high-pass goes is to think that a low pass filter allows everything below the given frequency to pass through, so a high pass filter must allow any frequencies higher than what you provide to pass through.

The voice-cancelled audio above sounds pretty good, and the vocals are definitely gone, but in the process we’ve stripped out a lot of the lower frequency sounds (i.e. the bass). So remember when we duplicated our waveform and muted it right at the beginning? This is where it fits in…

Un-mute our duplicated (and still stereo) audio copy by clicking on the Mute button to the left of the waveform, double click on the waveform to select it all, and then from the menu choose Effect | Equalization as shown:

Audacity - Equalisation

When the equalisation window pops up, we’re going to filter it so that all sounds above 200Hz are stripped out. To do this, just click somewhere on the main part of the window and a white dot will appear, click again and another will – then click on them to drag them around until you get a shape that looks kinda like this:

Audacity - Only Keep Bass

Notice that I’ve dragged the bottom-left slider all the way down to get access to the full 120Db and not just the 30Db on the scale by default.

You might have to have a bit of a play to get it right, but all we’re really doing is saying “Leave anything with a frequency of 200Hz or less alone, but drop the volume of anything over that frequency by around 120Db” (i.e. remove it entirely!).

If you mute our top two mono tracks and play it back, you should get the filtered version of the stereo track with only the bass remaining, which for my example sounds like this:

5.) Un-mute Our Original Voice Cancelled Tracks

With the vocal-free (but a bit tinny) audio playing at the same time as our bass-only version, we get a pretty neat sound with good bass and no vocals! Result! =D

You can then just go to File | Export to save the finished vocal-free version to an mp3 or such, if you wanted to keep it.

Wrap Up

I’ve read that some people like to cut out the sections between 200Hz and 1000Hz or so (1KHz, although I’ve also seen people push it up to 6KHz) to keep the low-end and high-end sounds, but when I was playing with this I kept getting some voice creeping back into the mix. This could well have been because I was only dropping 30Db when I was messing around with it though – so go nuts and experiment if ya wanna!

The shape I used for that EQ setting was:

Audacity - Keep High and Low Only

With that all said and done, I hope you found this guide useful – I didn’t come up with the technique or anything like that, I just saw a 10 line how-to and had to mess around for half an hour to get it to work, so thought I could knock up a quick guide that shows how it’s done really clearly, and I hope you have fun with the technique!

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113 thoughts on “How-To: Easily Remove the Vocals from Most Songs”

    1. If you imported an mp3 file no matter what the bitrate. Audacity will automatically lower it. I noticed that 320 bitrate gets dropped down to 128

  1. Awesome!
    But for some reason on Mac OS X the equalization window is tiny and doesn’t offer all of the functions as the one you’re showing. I hope they change that soon…

        1. Yep, works fine with 1.3 Beta. Although the with the song I used (My Apocalypse by Arch Enemy) it cancels out the main guitar instead of the vocals – which is fine actually because I was trying to transcribe the drums. ;)

  2. I’m on a mac, and when I put both of them to mono, it’s completely silent until I mute one or change it to left/right. Where did I go wrong?

    1. Or, in another song that worked, how to get rid of the small bit of excess voice that’s still left over, unless that’s a non-mono portion. Thanks

  3. When doing this, the ideal source is uncompressed CD audio or audio that is compressed losslessly. Also, Audacity does not alter the bitrate (it shouldn’t) except on SAVE. You can set this as an option in the Export… dialog box.

  4. i have mac os x and i did everything above(tried 5 times)….and i did not work for me i used katy perry (cal. girls…then i tried teenage dream)..just lowered the sound of the vocal…you could still hear her really well…..what did i do wrong…i understand that its not pro-tools…but i should get something usable

    1. Hi Sam ,

      Are you sure you’re changing the Db scale to the full range -120Db instead of the default range of -30Db before drawing the adjustment EQ? (take a look at the left hand side vertical scale on the second picture of step 4 to see what I mean – it goes all the way to -120Db).

      1. i still hear vocal after the invert switch to mono step
        i went to pref. and set to 120db…but eq only shows 30/-30 db
        *my screen shot looks diff i have no slider to change db rate(the left side only go to the numbers on the vert,,,i even tried to make the screen biger but only the right side gets mor visible i even uninstalled and then re downloaded/reinstalled …still no change
        im running mac osx 10.4.11 (2.4 ghz intel core 2 duo)

        1. Hi Sam – I’m afraid I don’t have a Mac myself, so if that Db scale slider isn’t there on the Mac version, then that’s going to put the kosh on using this technique with Audacity.

          I had a look on the audacity forums and found a post about vocal removal which contains a bunch of links to plugins/programs that’ll do the job on Mac: Removing Vocals on Songs [Audacity Mac Forums]

          One last thing to try, if you’re not already using it, is to give the 1.3 beta version of Audacity a try:

          Hope this helps,

  5. This is awesome! I had previously tried to use Audacity but it wouldn’t work. I came across this tutorial, reinstalled Audacity, and it works!!! I’m definitely experiment more with this! I’m super excited.


  6. i dload the 1.3 bata…i have the slider on the left for 120db scale…but still hear the vocal…like i said..nutting seems to change that much after the 3rd step….perhaps the songs i choose are recorded different

    1. Well – at least you’ve got the slider, so that’s a start :)

      Could anyone who’s got this working successfully on Mac using the 1.3 beta chime in to say “Yup, it definitely works!”? I mean, it should work, it works perfectly well in Linux, I just don’t have a Mac to test it with to make 100% sure that Audacity isn’t broken on Mac…

      Thanks! =D

  7. Worked pretty well but I got a creepy left over of the voice on the two separate mono tracks.
    I used to song “Two Beds and a Coffee Machine” by Savage Garden

    1. I just tried it on the “Two Beds..” track – and yeah, that is kinda creepy/garbled…

      I guess that they’ve taken the vocal track and post-processed it (it’s certainly got a lot of reverb on it) – sorry! That’s why I had to put the title of the post as “Easily Remove the Vocals from Most Songs” =D

      On the plus side, if you google Two Beds and a Coffee Machine Karaoke there’s a stack of versions available (and don’t forget you can record the audio of a YouTube video through Audacity – although you have to enable the stereo mix option to do so on Win32 platforms).

  8. You don’t have to mess around with a manual slider for the EQ. To get the bass back, just go to “Effect…Low Pass Filter” and type in 200 or 250 Hz and it will automagically cut everything else out.

    1. Hi bigfuz – Good point, well made! Why didn’t I think of that?!? =D

      Have updated the article to include this as a quick and easy way to do the filtering!


  9. I’m using 1.3 beta on a Mac and it does work. Except the song I chose was mixed with a stereo reverb on the vocals so the you can still hear the vocals a little.

  10. i tried this on a song using the beta 1.3 version for windows 7 and it seems like there is other layers? of vocals that dont cancel out. i don’t know much about audacity but i had it split and inverted. there are still two voices just much quieter and lower quality sounding.

    1. Could be the mixing of the track – try doing what you’re doing on the Ben Folds sample I used: Zak and Sara Original Snippet

      If you can completely remove the vocals from Zak and Sara then the problem is the mixing of the track you chose, which unfortunately there isn’t much you can do about.

  11. heh! while I’m looking for a soft to remove vocal, I lost to this site, and your guide is more than I expected! Hope you share more your tips, now I can create many beats and joy; firstly, “just the girl” song by the click five.

    Happy new year!

  12. Hi i tried this and it works but only up to a point, for the record I’m using windows 7, after step 3 is done i tried playing it back and i could still hear some artifacts of the voice. I tried this with Hotel California – Eagles, World Spins Madly On – the Weepies, and a few others but the artifacts of the voice still remain. It could go unnoticed during most of the louder parts of the songs but are pretty noticable suring most of the quieter parts of the songs. I was mainly wondering if the voice is supposed to be completely gone or if what I’m hearing is normal. thanks

    1. Hi n1gh7 – try it on the Zak & Sara clip I used – if it works perfectly on that, but not on the songs you’ve tried then you’re definitely doing it right and it’s the mixing of the songs you’ve chosen which is the issue.

  13. Just a heads up if you download the audacity beta thats out now they have a button under effect that simply says remove vocals. seems to work just as well.

  14. Thanks for this great tutorial. Now I can remove some of the vocals on my favorite song and practice singing to it for our band.

  15. This is great! But I’m wondering if you know how to basically do the opposite and isolate the vocals of a song, by removing the music or something?
    I’ve fiddled with Audacity for ages, but can’t work it out…

    1. But where’s the fun in that? ;)

      Also, I don’t think that feature was available in “normal” Audacity back when I wrote this, only in the beta versions.

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  17. I’m trying to get just the music for Adele’s Rolling in the Deep, it isn’t working…. What could be going wrong??

  18. I can do this without using my computer.I have an Alesis vocal remover that does it live while I am with the push of a button and the twist of a knob.

  19. dude! how to fucking equalize the bass back? damn man, sliding the equalizer is fucking hard for me! i can’t get the right settings, can you help me please? damn the vocals are out but the bass is not there, this sucks!!!!!

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  22. I appreciate the guide. I’ve been wondering how to do this in Audacity. However, there is a much easier way to achieve the same effect. Use Wavosaur. It’s free and requires no installation (self running program). It will give you the same effect here, but with no hassle. It’s got a “remove vocals” button. However, as many people will find out using this method, it won’t work for most of their music. This is because vocal range frequencies vary a lot. I’ve found using Adobe Audition is much better because it allows you to select male voices or female voices or you can guess around at the frequency of the voice you’re trying to cancel. It works much better. But still, even Adobe Audition can’t remove the vocals from every song — especially when you hear those vocals in the surround sound.

    Nonetheless, your guide was very helpful and I appreciate the time you took to make it. But to use this method would be like reaching around my elbow to scratch my butt. lol.

  23. I tried this method with several songs (Kate Nash – Merry Happy, Mariella; Deathcab for Cutie – 405 Acoustic; Cute is What we Aim For – Curves, Newport Living, Practice Makes Perfect; Never Shout Never – Big City Dreams) and it either muffles the vocals so that you can barely hear them, or does nothing to the vocals at all. I am not sure that this method is going to work with any of the music I own.. :(

    1. Also, I almost forgot… Audacity made the version 1.3 into 2.0, so I don’t know if that makes a difference.

  24. Won’t work with me… I’m using an m4a on the Mac OS X version, version 2.0, but all it does with the vocals is quiet it a bit and make them all echo-ey…

  25. It did remove the vocals but it also removed the guitar part and the pipe bag part (lol) without them the song is a bit empty~ Anyway of fixing this?

    1. So close! Unfortunately, anything which is recorded in mono and mixed into stereo will get removed using this process – most of the time it’s just the vocals which get removed (which is exactly what we want) – but in this case it looks like the guitar and “pipe bag” (bagpipe?) are mixed as mono to stereo, so are being stripped too.

      The only way I can think of to fix it using this technique would be if there are no vocals during the guitar/pipe parts. If this is the case then you can just duplicate the original stereo track and silence it for the parts where you want the vocals removed, and leave it be for the guitar/pipe sections (which you might need to silence in the split-mono versions so that it’s not twice as loud as the rest).

      I’ll try rephrasing that…

      You’re going to have three versions of the track going at once:
      – The vocal-removed track,
      – The bass-only track, and
      – The original stereo track.

      The original stereo track should have its volume completely silenced for the entire duration EXCEPT where the guitar/pipe parts play.

      The vocal-removed track should have its volume as normal EXCEPT where the guitar/pipe parts kick in from the original track, at which point the vocal-removed version should be silenced to avoid doubling up with the original version which’ll be playing the guitar/pipe parts.

      The bass-only track can run as normal.

      Hope this makes sense!


      1. Oh wow thanks and yeah oops sorry I wasn’t in focus while writing that comment xD Thanks for the reply and the help! That is the case actually and I thought doing that so thank you for explaining further!

  26. I already tried it….but there remain a low voice vocals…………
    i even tried vocal removal before i split it up into stereo and inverted….still no used…….
    but thanks to suggestion by the way….
    maybe it’s the problem was on the song I chose…

    1. Try using the automated Vocal Remover option in the menu at: Effects > Plugins 1 to 10 > Vocal Remover (for center-panned vocals)

      I tried manually, and with the Vocal Remover and it works relatively well with the default settings. You can still here a little bit of the echo effect on the voice, but it’s not too dreadful. I guess whether it’s acceptable depends on what you want to do with the audio – if you’re singing over the top I don’t think it’d be too noticable.

  27. @r3dux – You are right, echo generates, but the echo could be diffused after using some effects of Audacity.There is an option
    Noise Reduction in Effects menu which is good enough to rectify few seconds of echo.We can repeat this process for every echo-filled
    section.I think its a good solution.

  28. Hey, I imported the track and I have only one waveform which means I can’t split into stereo. Is the problem in the song file itself? Very nice tutorial thanks!!

    1. It sounds like the track you’re importing is only mono to begin with so this technique won’t work – even if you duplicated the mono track to stereo, when you then invert one of the waveforms it would cancel out everything!

      Maybe you could try to find a stereo version of the song?


  29. Hey guys. love the article. Just thought I should mention that roland now have software called R-Mix that seems to make this process a little easier and slightly better sounding outcome. Did’nt want to be rude, just thought it might benefit some people here to know about it thats all.

    Basically R-mix uses “visual” audio manipulation. It lets you see the components of a stereo mix as color-coded clouds of energy and harmonic matter that you can manipulate as the song plays! For instance take out the vocal track easily.

    1. Well thinking about it – if the vocals are mono mixed to stereo you could remove the vocals as per normal, then take the original track, convert it to mono, and then subtract the vocal-free version from the waveform from a mono version of the original… Or you could try some plugins which use different technques like those mentioned here (VoiceTrap, KnOckOut etc):

      Best of luck w/ it!

  30. I have try for your tips. but the voice is still there. just lower the voice but not remove the voice.
    I don’t know where is the wrong way I have try. need advice..thanks

  31. Alright so I know this is so you can get rid of the vocals in any song and I tried it and honestly it worked quite well. But is there anyway to use this program to get just the vocals?

  32. Hi,
    I am a novice (read “raw beginner”) at recording (bass) covers; and was wondering if someone could tell me how to mute the bass track in, say, an Mp3 file so that I can (video and audio) record the bass again, using the file as a backing track.

    Any hints on stitching it all together would also be welcome: I am using Windows Moviemaker 7 (for video); Focusrite 2i2 interface; Audacity (to date am hopeless at using this).
    Can Audacity imprt video as well as audio?


    1. Hi Fred,

      Audacity is audio only. It’s quite possible to remove the bass from a track by running it through a high-pass filter – but this will strip out ALL bass, so the bass-drum etc. will be stripped as well.

      Another possibility is to use an mp3 player which has a EQ (such as Winamp) – you can then twiddle the EQ to minimise the bass guitar, then when you’re happy with your settings, simply play the track with the output to file rather than speakers – this will give you .wav file of the audio with the EQ settings applied. For instructions on how to do this, see:

      As for stitching it back together, it’ll vary. The simplest would just be to play the track on a hi-fi and then play your amplified bass guitar and record the video+audio of this happening. If you wanted better quality where you could adjust the relative volumes, you’d need to get a separate feed of just your bass guitar, then combine the video feed + the bass guitar feed + the backing track. If I had to do this at work I’d use Adobe Premiere, but you may be able to get away with Movie Maker – though you’d have to read the documentation as to how.

      Hope this helps.

      1. hey man can you help me out the song i chose is from Paul davis – Oriental eyes
        but i can’t set both to mono the other one is blank

        1. Hmm, perhaps your source was mono to begin with?

          Anyway, I had a go for you – unfortunately although the vocals are centre-panned, there’s echo on the vocals which isn’t, so they don’t get removed entirely – but the vocals are certainly are a lot quieter. Whether that’s good enough for you will have to be your call. You can download the ‘vocal diminished’ version I did here:

          If you could comment when you’ve got it then I can take the file down, or if I don’t hear anything back I’ll remove it after a week as I’m not in the habit of hosting copyrighted materials ;-)

    1. So that you can blend the copy back in as a bass-only version – inverting the split tracks leaves the audio sounding tinny, as explained in step 4 ;-)

    1. Perhaps the song you’re using does not have centre-panned vocals, or has some additional effects applied. Try out the technique on a different or known-to-work track (such as the one used in the article) – if it works for that, then you’re definitely doing it right!

    1. The echo effect applied to the vocals operates on the left and right channels differently, so there’s no way to remove the vocals using this centre-pan technique – sorry.

    1. Any vocal track doesn’t have centre-panned vocals, or which has non-symmetrical effects applied to the centre-panned vocals cannot be wave-cancelled using this method. Sorry – that’s physics for you! =P

    1. Hehe, not quite what you were after ;-)

      If you use the “shortcut” way of vocal removing from the effects menu (mentioned in the update at the very top of this post) as a test and you get the same result then you’ve done nothing at all wrong.

      Instead, and somewhat bizarrely, the track you’re using likely has centre-panned instruments (i.e. a mono track mixed into stereo for the music part, that is, copied to both the left and right channels) while the vocal is NOT centre-panned, leaving you with just the vocals instead of just the instruments.

      However, it may be possible to invert your accididental vocals-only version and combine it with the original version to ‘subtract’ the vocals from the original mix using the same wave-cancellation technique used to get the vocals in the first place! So instead of using mono versions of the same ‘combined’ track with one inverted, you’d use the original ‘combined’ track and an inverted version of the vocals-only waveform to get an original version with no vocals. It certainly sounds plausible to me in theory!

      Also note that for this to work effectively the vocal-only and original waveforms would have to be perfectly aligned, so don’t normalise the vocal-only version before attempting to wave-cancel with the original.

      Hope that makes sense!

  33. Even re-reading these instruction, I cannot follow them. They are to complex. Simplicity requires, simplicity and not pounding ones chest, as this seems to. Time to say goodbye to here.

    Please, stop trying to be cool and just be helpful.

    Thank you.

  34. Hi Sir,

    I am trying to remove a vocal from a song (which I will be singing for my wedding march-in), but I just cant seems to fix it. I used both audition and audacity, but doesn’t seems to do it nicely.

    Would appreciate if you could advise or help. =X

    Hope to hear from you soon.

    my email is as follows:

    1. Sorry, it’s not centre-panned vocals (i.e. it’s post processed), so you can’t invert and cancel the vocals from this recording. Your best bet would be to try to find a karaoke version or alternate arrangement of it online.

      Best of luck for the wedding!

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