Isolating vocals from a song used to be impossible without the original stems. Nowadays, there are plenty of tricks for separating vocals and instrumental tracks. You can use techniques that are both free or available for a price.
You can isolate vocals from a song in Ableton using different approaches. We will look into one approach using only one of Ableton’s stock plugins (Utility), two paid plugins from iZotope and Hit’n’Mix, and three free options for isolating tracks: Audacity, Splitter.ai, and Vocalremover.org.
Each option can be used with Ableton or any other DAW (except using Utility because it’s only available in Ableton). You can use these approaches for many reasons, including creating remixes, sampling individual stems, and making backing tracks.
1. Isolating Vocals Using Ableton’s Stock Plugins
Let’s start with an approach for which you’ll need Ableton’s stock plugin Utility. This plugin can be used for different processes, including increasing or decreasing a track’s gain, flipping from mono to stereo and vice versa, and flipping the polarity (or phase) of a signal.
If you have access to the instrumental version of the track you want to isolate the vocals from, you can use it to “remove” the music from the original, leaving you with just the vocal parts. Getting this version isn’t always easy, but some artists release instrumental tracks of their music online. You can also research on Google and Reddit to see if other fans have instrumental takes.
If you can get your hands on the instrumental, then isolating the vocals will be simple. You can follow these steps:
- Import the original and instrumental mixes into Ableton on separate tracks.
- Add Utility to one of the tracks. It doesn’t matter which. Just make sure Utility is only activated on one of them.
- Flip the polarity (sometimes referred to as phase) using the ⌀L and ⌀R symbols. Click on both of them, so they appear in yellow.
Now that you have flipped the polarity, the waveforms will be inverted between the original and instrumental mixes. This means they will cancel each other out because they are polar opposites. However, the vocals will be intact because they aren’t present in both tracks.
So, now that you’ve removed the music, you can render the track and be left with only the vocals. You can then import this new track into Ableton to start using the sung parts in remixes or for samples.
You can use other stock plugins to enhance the vocal and make it sound as good as possible. For example, you can use EQ Eight to filter out any leftover low-end or clicks. If the isolated vocal has a roomy sound that you don’t want, try Drum Buss and manipulate the Transients knob.
Issues can arise in this process if the formats of the tracks are different. For example, using these steps can be less effective if you have a WAV file of the original mix but an mp3 of the instrumental. However, you can still try it out and see how the vocals sound after being isolated.
2. Isolating Vocals in Ableton Using Paid Plugins
There are several plugins that you can buy to use within Ableton that are great at isolating vocals. They can study the track, find the vocals, and remove them from the rest of the song. Here are two examples:
- iZotope RX 7
- Hit’n’Mix RipX
iZotope RX 7 (Replaced by RX 10)
iZotope makes fantastic plugins for analyzing waveforms, removing noise and clicks, and isolating certain song parts. By following these steps, you can isolate the vocals in a mix that can then be imported into Ableton and used for other purposes.
- Import the track into RX 7.
- Select Music Rebalance from the tools on the right side of the GUI.
- You’ll see faders for Voice, Bass, Percussion, and Other. Turn up the gain on Voice from -Inf. to 0.
- Edit the Sensitivity. Different levels will give you varied results. You can try a few different amounts and then compare them using the Compare button.
- Select the best result and click Render.
- Export the new file from the RX 7.
- Import the new file with isolated vocals into Ableton.
The RX 7 plugin is a paid option, but it is created by iZotope, so you can be sure that it can give you great results. You don’t need the instrumental track, just the full mix. And you can use it for plenty of other purposes.
Another paid option is RipX by Hit’n’Mix. When you buy this software, you get access to DeepRemix, DeepCreate, and, most importantly, DeepAudio. If you enjoy remixing and DJing, all three can be useful tools.
Let’s focus on DeepAudio. It can be used to isolate different parts of a song, including the vocals.
- Import track into RipX.
- In the bottom right-hand corner, solo (S) the vocals.
- If you want to change the pitch of the vocals, you can, using the piano roll.
- Export the vocals, then import them into Ableton.
Using RipX is a very simple process. You can quickly get great-sounding vocals, and you even have the advantage of being able to edit them to better fit your remixes.
3. Isolating Vocals in Ableton Using Free Software
With the advances in AI, there is now more software for isolating parts of a song than ever before. There are plenty of free programs, some of which you can download and others online. Here they are:
Audacity can be used for many processes, including removing vocals from a track. Once again, you’ll need to start by importing the full mix into Audacity or using the program as Ableton’s sample editor. The next steps are as follows:
- Highlight the section you want the vocals from.
- Click on Effect in the top toolbar.
- Select Special, then Vocal Reduction and Isolation.
- Set Action to Isolate Vocals.
- Edit the high and low cuts for optimal results.
- Set the Strength.
- You can preview the track. Once you’re happy with it, select OK.
If you’ve imported the track into Audacity, you can export it, then import it into Ableton. However, if you use Audacity as Ableton’s sample editor, when you select Export, keep the same name as the original and it will automatically replace the full mix.
Splitter.ai is a free website that uses artificial intelligence to analyze tracks and isolate the stems. Once you import your track, you can choose between separating it into two stems (vocals and instrumental) or five (vocals, bass, drums, piano, and other). Here is the full process:
- Import the song.
- Once it’s finished uploading, click Upload History.
- Select We Download for the track you want. This will take you to WeTransfer so you can download the stems.
- Click Download. You’ll receive a .zip file.
- Unzip the file and import the stems into Ableton.
All the stems might be useful if you’re working on a full remix. On the other hand, if you only want the vocals, you can delete the rest of the files.
Here’s an extra tip. If the instrumental stems come back in better quality than the vocals, you can try using Utility to flip the polarity, as explained in the first section. Utility is a stock plugin in Ableton, so your costs will still be zero.
This website is free and uses community servers, so uploading the full mix can take a while. However, it can give good results without you needing to bust your budget. All you need is a good internet connection.
Another great AI option on a free website is Vocalremover.org. It gives you a few tools, the first of which is vocal isolation. Here’s how it works:
- Import your track.
- Once it has been analyzed, you can edit the gain of the Vocals and Music using the faders.
- When you find a good level, download the vocals.
- You can then import them into Ableton.
It’s a very simple process that you can use for free. Depending on your needs, you can keep both the isolated instrumental and vocals.
As with Splitter.ai, you can keep the instrumental if the quality is superior to that of the vocal and then use the Utility trick.
We’ve seen plenty of options for isolating vocals from a mix by using different tools. If you have Ableton, you can use stock plugins and external software to get the best results. If you have the instrumental, you can flip the polarity using Utility to isolate the vocals.
If you’re on a strict budget, why not try free AI software? For example, Vocalremover.org and Splitter.ai can remove vocals with simple controls. Or you can use Audacity alongside Ableton or as its sample editor.
To achieve deeper isolation, paid plugins can be the best choice. iZotope has different software for removing vocals, including the RX 7. And Hit’n’Mix’s RipX is another great option that allows you to edit the vocal line on top of isolating it.
No matter which one you choose, you can use Ableton’s stock plugins like Utility, EQ Eight, and Drum Buss for further processing. This DAW can be a powerful tool, whether by itself or when teamed up with another software.
Irish-Portuguese writer and musician. Experience in producing, recording, and mixing, as well as writing reviews and how-tos on plugins, gear, and software.