Where Are All These Isolated Vocal Tracks Coming From?

On last week’s episode of Geeks&Beats, co-host Michael Hainsworth and I wondered aloud on what was behind the avalanche of isolated vocal tracks appearing on YouTube and Soundcloud.  Who was releasing them? And how did they gain access to the master tapes?  An email from audio tech Emi sheds some light on the matter.

While you are right, in that the master tracks are sometimes imported into digital multitrack sessions (i.e. The Sums and Queen), engineers that have copies of the masters and tools to convert them are often wary of leaking isolated tracks. Respect for the artists, legal issues and the time it takes to do so are often the reason behind hesitation. However, many of these digitized masters are out there waiting to be grabbed!
It’s the music based video games that have surged in popularity to thank for this. When you play Rock Band, each note on screen represents a segment of an isolated music track that was painstakingly marked by a programmer so that when a note is missed, the music stops on that instrument while the rest continue. These tracks are typically delivered to the game developers by the publishers of the original songs. A knowledgable individual can then rip these isolated tracks from the games and release them as they see fit.
Alternatively, one can create an isolated vocal track if an instrumental of the song is released. You know how inverse audio waves cancel each other out? Using digital audio editors, you can invert the waveform, then add the inverted bed to the original track to cancel out the instrumentals, leaving you with isolated vocals. Many engineers use this technique to clean up vocals for a mix.

Interesting, no?  Here’s the kind of thing Emi is talking about.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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