DJing With Acapellas: What’s Your Biggest Challenge?

Acapella Anonymous Vol 1

One of the early ‘unofficial’ acapella compilation records that started the DJ craze of incorporating acapellas into their sets, over 20 years ago. Today in an age where most DJs can get most music, using acapellas to help you stand out is arguably even more important.

Do you use acapellas in your digital DJing? They can be a great way to personalise your sets, to move past the “obvious”, to be more creative, to please the crowd… but they can be tricky to incorporate in your DJing too. We’re putting the finishing touches to some acapella tutorials, but I need to make sure we’ve got it all nailed. That’s why I’m asking you a special favour today. What I’d like to know is: What’s your biggest challenge when it comes to DJing with acapellas? What’s the one main thing that’s holding you back? Knowing which acapellas to use? When to use them? Where to find them? How to mix them technically? Or something else?

If I were with you now, giving you some “one to one” tuition on how to use acapellas, what’s the one thing you’d really need to know from me that would help you the most when it comes to using acapellas in your digital DJing? This is a skill every DJ should have – so if you’ve tried in the past but not quite mastered it, or if it’s something you’ve always meant to have a go at, or you’re struggling right now – doesn’t matter, your opinion is valuable.

Don’t forget to check back here later, too, to see for yourself what your fellow DJs are struggilng with – it might give you some comfort and a bit of faith to carry on along your own path. :)

Please let me know in the comments below. Your input is invaluable to us and will be much appreciated.

Comments

  1. How big of an issue is key of the acapella vs the key of the song? Should they be the same key or just two keys that will harmonize well?

    • Good question. Same key = most likely to work, related keys = also might sound good, even non-related keys can work depending on the level of instrumentation in the song etc. Golden rule is: Trust your ears :)

    • it all depends on what kind of acapella you’re using. many acapellas, or acapella loops are monotoned, and can be used in virtually any song of the same tempo and sound good. a good example would be “technologic” by daft punk (I use it alot, seems to be easy). Ive also noticed that male hip hop acapellas are typically more versatile to use with most songs no matter what key. but there are still others where key matching is rather neccessary for it to be a successful live mashup. Your best bet is to practice at home, find the versatile acapellas that work with all songs of the same tempo, and put them in a playlist. That way, when you play live, youll have nothing to worry about, and youll impress your crowd doing so.

    • Oliver R says:

      May be this helps.

      If the acapella is just ‘spoken words’ the key is not so important. If it is more like singing, it is an additional instrument and should be in key. If you pick up the microphone and address you audience you will not try to talk in key with the track just playing. If you try to sing karaoke you will notice that your brain will automatically try to adjust to the songs key, you ‘fell’ that otherwise it would sound wrong. You can also be ‘in key’ one octave higher or lower than the tracks key, all depends if you want the same tone or set a contrast.

    • Getting them to stay in time is my biggest problem

  2. My biggest challenges are finding a ‘pella that fits the mood, or at most the vibe/content/genre. It’s not a big deal and ties in to knowing your tracks through-and-through but, in terms of staying unpredictable, proper tagging and sorting would help.
    My biggest gripe is unreal beat maps and bpms… they’re off alot more than what’s reasonable :/ and track volumes and pops that surprise you are, well, not worth the surprise.

    • Thanks for sharing that – tagging and sorting is a good point, you need to be able to find” the right acapella for the job fast. When you say “unreal beat map and BPMs”, do you mean that your software can’t handle working it out for you, or that the acapellas themselves aren’t “uniform”, ie they are all over the place in terms of their wn internal BPMs/phrasing?

      • Sorry for just getting back, Phil, but yes, I’m talking about the inherent phrasings and BPM readout for the tracks.
        For instance, a track may be tagged with a 96 BPM when only the intro, or a small part of the track reads to that and the rest of the track will be notches faster or slower… :/
        It can be remedied easily, I suppose but kinda hampers a freestyle, ‘wow the crowd’ segment

    • Oliver R says:

      Well here is how I do it.

      Whenever I add a new track to my collection, first thing I do is set the volume and check for clipping (mp3gain). Second I normalize my tracks – For this purpose I have created a special loop in music maker which consitst of 16 beats, with significant tones each 4th, 8th and 16th beat. This is the typical structure of most modern music. Now I very precicely beatmatch my new track to this ‘norm-loop’, beeing carefull where to place that first upbeat. Now if your acapella sample fits this loop, you can use it in any song you prevoiusly matched with this ‘norm-loop’.

      • I will give this method a try and see if it works out as a habit.
        I have a bit of a routine also with new additions.
        Thanks for the tip! :)

  3. Heya,

    Since ‘This is a skill every DJ should have’ I tried it once: ‘Sunday Night Mixes, 2011: Part 17 – Hip-Hop MashMachine’
    - http://i.mixcloud.com/C6DRj – This is instrumentals with acapella’s of other tracks using four decks.

    Some things I noticed while making this (besides four decks being tricky, but that was a first)

    - Keys are important but not holy
    - As previously also mentioned, make sure your beat is aligned at forehand or at least you know the bpm
    - Avoid double vocals where possible it will very quickly get messy
    - And than there is the ‘Expectation factor’. Sometimes it may sound super weird to when you as listener have a different expectation with a certain tune. As DJ you might be very much used to your mix, but always remember the surprise factor might throw your listener off balance
    - Get crazy and use more decks
    - And its lots of FUN :P

    • JB, thanks for the “expectation factor” observation. I guess this is the same for any creative mix, not just using acapellas, but you’re dead right – two very familiar tunes together will certainly surprise people. Mashups particularly tend to play on that, but as a DJ using acapellas, being aware of that too is a smart move.

    • can i download this dude?

  4. i would say finding the right acapella is the toughest part. I’m an working professional with a passion for djing. So most of the time i try to find acapellas on line or try to create them using souny sound forge.but still its not as close to what i would require. But i think the real test is to beat match. So for me personally the biggest problem is finding the perfect acapellas.

  5. Mine is definitely the time it takes to beatgrid the acapella.

  6. Finding acapellas that are high quality and are the original voice is the hardest part by far. Matching them with good music is easy. I wish there was a hub that had any acapella you could want. Even if you had to pay for it.

  7. I don’t have very much experience working with acapellas, but the few times I have tried it, the toughest thing was getting that first beat of the song to match up with the acapella so it doesn’t sound like garbage from the start. I guess these were ones that had a few lyrics before the first downbeat, if that makes sense. So just timing for me.

    • I have this exact same problem, I find it near impossible to know where to line up the acapella with the first beat of the new phrase in the song playing, as it seems like vocals don’t always come in on the first beat of a new phrase.

    • There is definitely an ‘art’ to throwing in vocals that start before (or after) the downbeat. The best way I’ve found to do this is to sing the beginning of the song in your head to the measures leading up to your starting point and trust yourself to throw it in early. This is definitely something that needs to be practiced.

      Another route I have gone is to loop the beginning of the acapella, getting it lined up, then pop the line fader and drop the loop at the appropriate time.

      Good luck, as acapellas are a great way to remix things live.

      • DJ PartyPapi says:

        Yep. “Singing in mind” is what I am doing constantly to get the right starting point. Also when stuttering songs in which don’t begin at the downbeat. With long beatless intros mixed over the beat or even acapellas reworked the same way it is done quite easy in MixVibes CROSS I use. I can easily change the size of the beats (tempo!), drag them left or right over the waveform and define the downbeat somewhere in the song where I know it to be. It will multiply every 4 beats before and after. Now I can jump to the beginning and set my CUE-Point on the first downbeat before the starting of the acapella part. Or I do it like Bryan told before. I sing it in mind and start it right where it comes to the point. It takes a bit of preparing. but the effects on the audience are great. I use acapellas only like “teasers”. I don’t do live mashups. But for example in a 90s show, people go mad if it comes to some beat-only part of a faster song and the vocals of …say Corona’s “Rhythm of the night” introduces the song before making the real mix. And this gives the LJ (if you have one) the time to react on your work to set another highlight. Biggest challenge is to take the time to prepare those tracks with the correct grid and some nice CUE-Points.

  8. DJ Homei says:

    I haven’t really done a lot with Acapellas more than simply lay it over the original track so I can “solo” key phrases and words. My DJ style isn’t really mashup oriented.

    However, what keeps me from exploring this further is how its hard to set up beat grids. Usually vocal phrases don’t start exactly on the beat, so its hard to set up the bar and beatgrid structure so it an acapella would work over a different track.

    Acapella mp3s often have odd stretches of silence that may or may not work with the original track’s phrases. Usually I set cues on the vocal start, lock the BPMs, turn off sync and manually drop the acapella hitting my cue buttons.

    It’s doable, but its a lot of work to create an acapella I can rely on to mix with other tracks on the fly. I’d rather just use mashup software.

    Another issue I have is that many Acapellas actually have instrumentation. Sometimes that helps with the beatgridding issues, but I see this making the acapellas less “pure” for mixing in over other tracks.

    • With a little research you can usually find the original bpm of the track the pella is coming from.This helps quite a bit. I found traktor quite good at detecting the bpm of a pella but its not 100% reliable.

    • Been fooling around with acapellas just for fun for a while now and have also encountered the problem with beatgridding on some of them.

      One way I often find useful is taking the original song and have it in one player and have the acapella in the other player. This way you can see where the vocal on the original start and then set the beatgrid on your acapella at the same place. When it´s done, play the original song and place the acapella on top of it and listen if sounds good, you may have to adjust the grid a bit but it should be close to perfect. This works well if the acapella is “straight” and not all over the place, if that´s the case you can shop it up in different mp3 files and set the beatgrid on each separate mp3 so you can throw them in one after the other. Don´t forget to put number on them so you easily can see which goes after the other (for example “Daft Punk – One More Time #1″ etc).

      • DJ Homei says:

        Thanks for the tips, very good about music naming. I know music production, so I could probably go the Abelton route and custom edit the acapellas. But for me its a lot of work for something that I just see as some frosting to throw in once in a while for fun. It’d be nice to have it more in a “grab & go” way.

  9. Using ur hot cues in all the important places on the pella(Start of a chorus/specific line of vocals) helps to make things easier as long as the track is beatgrided well. it means you can not only just mix the pella in with the track but also dabble with a bit of live remixing and make the mix unique to urself.

  10. Finding good wav files would help, but also beat matching. Acapells are difficult to do well, so as much info as possible would help :-)

  11. I’m never sure of the BPM of the acapella, is it the same as the original track?

    What is the best way to stretch the acapella to convert it to a different BPM so that it can have the same timing and phrasing as the track that one would want to drop it ontop of or is it better to leave it alone and only use it in tracks with the same bpm?

    Key isn’t a problem, I can do that by ear and when I’m not sure just process the acapella with mixed in key :P

    • atom12v says:

      I use Fl to beatgrid not only acapellas but remixes, and some originals. It’s hard at first but once done a few time it become natural.

  12. Crooked says:

    I just made my first successful mash up. I have trouble with getting the timing and song structure itself lined up, however I think that acapellas and instrumentals are great. Something I need to work on but overall I really like the endless combinations you have to choose from. Also, Nice to see 2SHAE on here! Hope all is well back home bro.

  13. Maragel says:

    how can we and when can we shop up the accapella sample? and rythm wise what mistakes do we need to avoid.

  14. I echo what many have said, but I also struggle to add acapella’s due to software providing false BPMs

  15. Sulev YO says:

    i have tried, only with the 90s rap acapellas such as gang starr’s acapella over mobb deep’s instrumental. they went together perfectly but to be honest, it was a total luck that time. so any tips?

  16. The main problem i have is syncing the beats and the accapella together. Even if i get it right it doesn’t seem to stay in sync. And if i want an acapella before a huge drop i cant seem to time the properly to the drop. Also matchinf the acapella to the beat sometimes doesn’t work very well

  17. Andy Taylor says:

    Very good idea asking for opinions before you finish the tutorials! :-)

    Two things, the first is just practical, I do still find it tricky to work out the beat grid for the song, and especially the counting to know which beat of the bar the singing starts at. I good tip I read somewhere was to get the original song and get the beat grid correct for that first, then play the acapella over the original (it should be pretty obvious when you’ve got them in time), then, as the songs are playing, you can adjust the beat grid of the acapella to match it to the original.

    The second thing is more tricky, I think it’s really important to have a point to using an acapella, so it actually adds something to the performance. A while ago I saw a mash up on YouTube where someone had put the Gangnam Style acapella over the music from party rock anthem- if you played that out most people probably wouldn’t even notice the 2 bits of music are so similar! The element of surprise is a good reason, as long as it’s a nice surprise. A few good reasons to use an acapella might be because there’s song that you love but it doesn’t fit in with the style you’re playing, so using the acapella might be a good way to bring that song into the mix and still keeping the ‘flow’ of your set. Or maybe if you’re playing a set of brand new house music, putting a classic house acapella into that mix would be a nice surprise and you could use the crowd’s reaction to help you decide if some classics would go down well later on.

    There’s DJ called Andi Durrant who does a national radio show on Friday and Saturday nights on the Capital FM network, and his show uses a lot of acapellas and spoken word samples to great effect. He takes well known acapellas and puts them over some of the latest underground instrumental tracks. It lets him play some really underground ground music to get the interest of the dance heads, but keeps the masses happy with something familiar at the same time with the acapellas. It’s clear when you listen that he must have carefully planned what he’s going to use with what, because it’s always sounds great!

  18. I use accepella’s in my sets but very infrequently, over use is a bit self indulgent. I have found that they can work really well over a popular instrumental track. For instance I used to play Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech over Swedish House Mafia ‘One’ (the original non vocal mix). My tip would be if you want to surprise the crowd, clever use of an accapella can really work. In my xperience worrying about key clash and beat gridding is a distraction, just practice at home and if it sounds good to your ear go with it (scratching for DJs makes this point, don’t be a slave to the technology).

  19. gramonade says:

    I have a little question related to acapellas.

    What kind of EQing eliminates unnecessary sounds from the background if I’m willing to hear just the acapella from a song.
    Let’s say that I sample “all day, all night” from Loca people but wanna exclude the beat from the background as efficiently as possible. Which knobs are likely to do the trick? Does some effect help with this?

    • Unfortunately removing the music tracks and beat *entirely* is rarely possible with just EQ. This is because the vocals usually share some of the same frequencies as the music or beat. So, while lowering the bass knob, for example,would work well at cutting the kick drum out of a track with female vocals, you’d have difficulty removing the high hat because its occupies the same frequency range as the vocals. Turning the mid or treble knob down would kill the high hat AND the vocal. The same would apply to a low male singer, bass/kick drum, and bass knob.

      The way acappellas are made from tracks where there is no seperately-tracked master tape isn’t using by just frequency filters, but frequently by taking advantage of “center-mixed” vocals in the stereo image. But that’s getting beyond the scope of this thread :)

  20. Beat gridding the acapella is by far the hardest part, I have no idea how to do that successfully (especially in traktor… you can use the tap to tap out the tempo, but getting the grid in the correct phase is then still difficult.)

  21. My biggest problem is definitely getting the the bpms to match,and to find the the perfect accapella to use.Whenever i try this kind of mixing it always ends up sounding crap.So more info on how to do it the correct way would be much appreciated.

  22. I haven’t found it to hard to dj with accapellas and normally with ( regretfully) the sync button and key lock it’s pretty easy but finding the right track can be a challenge

  23. 1 finding clean pella’s –> time!
    2 warping & beatgridding –> time!
    3 song structures: when I use pella’s i like to keep the song structure of the acapella, instead of just chopping the acapella to match the beat (this is why i think the pilooski remix of beggin’ is sp great: the music respects the original song). When u use pella’s of older music with modern beats things can get ugly, especially with for example bridges in funk which often use half bars that mess up the mix.
    4 mastering: levels of the music vs the vocals. In much of the older music the vocals are turned way up. In the club you want the music to be much loudr, bit this sometimes creates weird mixes
    6 yes, the expectations… People often prefer the radio version, no matter how good your mix is.

  24. How to find fitting beats to layer acapellas on? For example, i’ve been struggling lately a lot on layering very strong raps on any beats i find.

    This for example:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ydQ-qPD324

    I just cant find it to fit with anything even though they are of same key with several tunes i’ve tried. Every time i mix that song in, i mix it through the same song, and the transition is directly copied from andy C nightlife 5 mix ;) Sometimes i just find acapellas/raps really hard to fit on to anything. Any thumbrules for this?

  25. Actually, biggest problems been in trying to create my own acapella bootlegs, least to a usable standard.
    Tried phase inversion w little to no success, even a couple of plugins created for the task, n still nothing worth writing home bout!!
    now THAT’S an idiot proof tute I’d get hell excited about :) (hint hint)

  26. The biggest problem is to match not only the tempo, but also the groove of a certain song with some extra ordinary acapellas. When you`ve giot only a speaker from the news (or similar), the tempo / groove matching is not so important. You can just play it back, like you`d do it in a phrase sampler. For singers songwriting esp. jazzy styles it`s probably better to produce something before you`d add it to your dj set. ;)

  27. Personally I would be most interested in a tut how to find/produce a good pella. I have often found me in the position of having a great idea with an accapella but I just could not get hold of the accapella or at least not in a good quality. There are plenty of tutorials out there that show some weird “tricks” to get the accapella out of a song, but I am really interested in how the professionals do it. Every other tip would be very apreciated as well though! Keep up the great work you have been doing! Cheers

    • I started out doing mashups before I started mixing so one can say that I have a different approach to this. I make a lot of my own acapellas, the best way being “phase inversion”. Simply put, I buy the original tune and the instrumental and remove everything but the vocals by inverting the instrumental and playing both tracks at the same time. Other tricks are center channel extraction and some EQing. The results are quite amazing – if you’re keen on hearing how one of mine turned out, here’s Kelis made in this way -> http://youtu.be/9jxfpcURIWU

      Here’s “my old” community, there’s quite a lot of tips and tricks in their forums -> http://www.mashstix.com.

      • Thanks for the input. I knew about the phase inversion, but that always requires an intrumental version of the track, which is quite difficult to get when it is something rather unknown. I guess by center channel extraction you mean something like EQing everything but the vocals out?

        I can not listen to the YT link. I hate german GEMA for that, but anyways, I will check out the mashtix website.

  28. Where can I get them reliably/ how can I strip the music away ?

  29. Finding good acapellas is the first challenge. It’s not like you can just call out one in your head and download them each time you want one. Getting the right tag info is the second challenge: Key & Bpm are paramount. Most of the time the info provided is just wrong. Lastly, is all the work involved to set them up to be played. If you’re using Ableton Live, warping acapellas is extremely time consuming. Some songs shift tempos, dead stop and change timing count (freaks out your metronome by the way), and other little things that can discourage you. However, nothing is like dropping that acapellas in a set, then the building up, then the beat, and freaking out your audience. It’s worth the hassle :-)

    • monkers says:

      I find clips from old British Ealing comedies or Hammer House work well. It does require a bit of over dubbing to clean them up 1st. YouTube is a good source. I guess my problem is more the fact I tend not to work out a full set list. I use probably 5 or 6 “big” current tunes and mix them with whatever looks good at the time. It keeps the music fresh and my interest up too. Agreed there is nothing like dropping a well-known sample into the middle of a powerful electro beat. I need to be able to fit acapella’s onto the main beat on the fly. I sometimes find headphones just don’t tell the truth, what sounds ok in the cans can split eardrums on the PA.

  30. Brittney says:

    The biggest problem I have is finding/purchasing (hip hop) acapellas! I don’t know where buy them also I have trouble on figuring out what beat/instrumental to mix them over (hip hop) so it flows .

  31. I haven’t mix with acapellas that much and is because what must of the people have said here, find the correct one is hard and the main challenge. Other part for me is finding exactly were to place the acapella in the mix and for how long or which part should i throw in first.

  32. For me the problem with acapellas is finding them. 99 times out of 100 i have to work with the acapellas available, as opposed to the ones i know would sound great if i could get my hands on them.

    When i have an acapella i put it into Traktor and change the beat grid bpm to match that of the original track, and then i do nothing with grid lines. If you get to know the original tracks you’ll get a feel for how the vocals line up with the beat grid, and often matching it by ear is easier in this case then creating a beatgrid.

    Where does everyone get acapellas from, is there a go to website for (commercial) house acapellas?

  33. I use them all the time. http://www.acapellas4u.co.uk is a great place to get sounds from along with mracapella.forumotion.com. Mixed in key helps with harmonies and I use serato to check/fix beatgrids when necessary. I think that when you are doing projects like this you have to remember that sometimes less is more…..meaning keep it clean and simple. Below is a link to my Soundcloud with some of the acapellas used in remixes:

    https://soundcloud.com/mr-maniacal/adele-vs-kool-g-rap-set-fire

  34. BEATGRIDing them in Traktor was a big hassle at start. It just took to long.

  35. hi, my biggest issues are key of the acapella you throw in a mix compared with the key of the track playng (this also apllys to only melody tracks thwrown into rythmic tracks)
    And also, the temo of the acapella, because some are very melodic and is very hard to know where the downbeat is and what tempo is on.
    thanks

    • Try using a multitrack sound editor and get a hold of the original tune that you’ve got an acapella from. Sync up the vocals on both tracks and then cut the acapella so that they both starts on the downbeat. The result should be an acapella that you know the bpm of that starts on the downbeat.

  36. DJ Rinzler says:

    Where do I find acapellas?!

  37. DJ Kresh says:

    Honestly, my biggest problem is finding the acapellas to begin with! I stil haven’t found one for Miami 2 Ibiza (for example), and that was a huge track!

  38. Victor_M says:

    I’ve been using acapella’s on my shows since I heard New York City based DJ Ron-G. As back then as it is now, it’s always a challenge to keep a beat and an accapella in synch especially if your working with an acapella that was recoreded with a live band that wasn’t using a metronome. I find it fun in my shows to drop a famous acapella without a beat (example MJ Rock with you)…have the crowd sing a long and right before the chorus hits drop the beat…98% of the time the place erupts.

  39. Nikoloz says:

    My problem is beatgriding in either Serato DJ or in Traktor.

  40. Yeah, like a few others here, my biggest question is WHERE to find good quality accapellas and samples. A list of websites would be great, perhaps with a compare and contrast of usability, quality of accapellas, whether or not they’re free… etc.

  41. Biggest problem is I can find acapellas for every song except the ones I want, I’ve looked everywhere for some of them, and it just doesn’t sound as good when I do throw a vocal into a song because you can’t cut everything back. Any help how to get hold of acapellas that aren’t available to the public is appreciated.

  42. DJ VERB says:

    In my opinion,pellaz dont lend themselves to beatgrids and sync…i was using them when i was spinning vinyl exclusively and the problem is still the same…..u have to ride pellaz like you do when beatmatching without sync button

  43. I love using acapellas to spice up my mix, so that even if I’m blending the same three tracks together night after night, the mix is always a little different. My main challenge is how how Serato calculates the BPM’s. I find that anything that isn’t pop/top 40/hip hop is usually wrong, especially rock. I tend to find myself bringing up the original track to compare the BPM’s, then correcting the acapella tag. Not always easy to do when making up mixes on the fly!

  44. blkone35 says:

    I really don’t use accapellas in mixes. I have used them on occasion and played the accappella track over an instrumental track.

  45. Groovemixer says:

    Actually dont use much but would like to. Where do I find them?

  46. Alexander says:

    The biggest problem with djing with acapellas, is finding the one, of a acapella that doesn’t start on the 1. And i’m too lazy too prepare tooo many cuepoints.

  47. djfiretouch says:

    My friends, what/where is the best resource to find acapellas??? Tks

  48. Maybe omment on a good plug in or other method to alter acapellas key,pitch,tonal quality, character, etc. to cleanly mix into tracks?

  49. what IS an accapella? I understand it as unaccompanied music, voice only. but dance/hip hop means something else, right?

    I guess quickly finding cue points would be crucial for me. Ideally I’m playing the next track on the fly and I might hear an association for a track that I’ve never moved around in before. warping or bpm, moving start and cue markers, or the needle, choosing the length of the loop. all sometimes while the intro is rolling along. sight reading for djs, per se

  50. mix-man says:

    I have worked with acapellas, and although is not something I do much, it can prove to be a great tool to engage a crowd when you play a well know song on top of a different beat, not to mation lots of fun.

    I have been DJing for about 30 years now so I now find it easy to keep an acapella in synch with a background beat, but I imaging keeping it in synch is the most difficult part of it all since there is no reference beat to go by and even the computer won’t help on this one. Knowing the acapella song well is probably the most important thing to keep in mind since it will help you keep it in synch as it plays along another beat. Another thing that would help is keeping the key lock on since no doubt we’ll be pushing and pulling on the pitch fader or the step tempo buttons to keep things in synch.
    Selecting the proper song to play as background is also very important. Most definitely it should be a track with no melody. I guess it would be ok If it is a track with mostly drum beats, but not something that sounds like a drum machine instead of another prerecorded track. I think the background track should be one that can easily be recognized by the crowd for wow effect. If there is a base line or lots of instrumentation, we should make sure it matches the key of the acapella song. I have heard mixes of acapellas on top of songs that have an obviously different key and it’s just sad even when it matches the tempo perfectly. And even when the key is set properly, playing over a track with a base line can prove difficult since the phrases may not match. That is when knowing the songs really come in handy as we stop the acapellas at some point in the song and let them continue when the time is right to make the phrases match.

  51. charlie rothwell says:

    The hardest thing is to find the acapella!

  52. DJ Good says:

    I would like to learn how to extract acapellas when I have an instrumental and how to best put a hip hop acapella over popular EDM music. Also how do you make good mashups? I would really like an article by DJ Earworm.

  53. Where the bloody hell do you find good acapellas???

  54. Honestly, my biggest problem is just figuring ou what works well with acapellas, whether it’s with another beat or acapella. Another problem is on how I mix scalpel las with anything, cause’ I know just matching BPM is not gonna’ cut it.

  55. Gb4dubb says:

    The biggest issue I had with acapellasmis getting the proper tempo without having to load up the full song to do it. By me being an actual singer, writer, and MC knowing when to bring the vocals in is the easiest part for me. My one real wish when it comes to DJaying that fits here is being able to get away from e sync button FULLY

  56. I feel the most challenge I have with acapellas is creating memorable, original sounding drops without just repetitive loops that get tiresome fast. The only acapella use I can enjoy is when I sit down and chop the song up in Ableton, but then that’s not really djing the pure original acapella, which is what I’d love to learn how to pull off proper.

  57. I DJ with acapellas live all the time creating the most banging mash-ups. The key to it all is knowing exactly where the first downbeat occurs on the acapella. I mastered this by superimposing the acapella with the music track in parallel in Virtual DJ. This can be done in Serato as well. Once they are aligned perfectly on top of each other I simply create a cue point on the acapella where the first downbeat is known from the music track. Once that is done I simply transfer the BPM from the music track to the acapella. Perfect!

    Most DJs shy away from acapellas because they cannot get a fix on where the beatgrid is on the track. By superimposing the acapella and the music track and marking a cue point where the first downbeat is on the acapella the problem is easily solved.

    Lately I have been DJing with Motown acapellas which is extremely difficult because as you know the songs were made with live drummers. To get a consistent beatgrid I have been running the acapella track through Ableton and creating a perfect beatgrid through their time stretching programs and saving the sample as a mp3. Once this is done I use the superimposing method to determine where the first downbeat of the sample is.

    Yes, I have been baffling DJ with my live mash-ups and it’s a trick out of the magicians bag of tricks, but hey, the crowd loves them. I could send to you a live demo video to show you the superimposing method if you would like to see it. Hit me back to let me know what you think of my methods.

  58. Challenges I’ve faced:

    1) Finding good accapellas. I have that vinyl above, but nowadays it’s a challenge to get relevant accapellas over playing old school stuff.

    2) Finding moments where they’ll work. I’m not even talking about key, but more when you have an instrumental tune and you lay an accapella on it, and thus hope the changes in the tune align with the accapella.

    3) Aligning. Good accapellas have no sounds, rhythm, anything…but it’s also a challenge to make sure you don’t trainwreck the mix.

    4) Play it or tweak it? Now with remix decks, samplers, etc…do I just play the accapella or grab a snippet and use it more as a repetitive sample?

  59. I would agree that finding consistent studio quality acapellas is the hardest part for me

  60. Dj Big Jay says:

    Many problems when u don’t have the original track as a reference: where the 1 of the acapella should be, most bpm counters will get the acapella bpm wrong. Ableton will get the acapella on a grid but warping takes a lot of time. I would place the acapella on another beat before hand & then play it at a gig. Just too tedious to work with in a live DJ setting.

  61. For me the hardest part is finding the acapellas. i have a lot of ideas for mixes but i can never find the acapella version of the song i want.
    Beatmatching it is also tricky but i’m sure that i could nail it with enough practice.

  62. My biggest problem with DJing with acappelas would have to be that its very difficult to find good clean studio accapellas, most acapellas you find online are either ripped or filtered out from other tracks.

  63. Jose Perez says:

    Mixing with acapellas can be very challenging. The key to this is knowing what beat matches the acapellas. Once you master this, the rest is a piece of cake.

  64. Look out for pre-rolls. Several Acapellas might start on the 2, 3 or 4. I like to leave something in the comments box to let me know whats going on so I can work on the fly if I’m not completely comfortable with the acapella. I’ll write something like “One bar before” or “start on 2beat chorus on 3beat.” Something to indicate when you should drop the acapella so everything lines up when its supposed to

  65. The biggest problem? I don’t know, where to get the acapella versions, that’s very easy. And I would be really happy, if you would write to your article a place, where I can get these versions.

  66. Acappelas sometimes take on a life of their and by that I mean they’re not for everyone. It has to be the right crown, the right song and the right time, for the acappela to be effective and not annoying. Sometimes I have two versions of the same track one with the acappelas already edited into it and the other one is a regular version that I have the acappelas that matches. Sometimes you need to use two different tracks depending upon the crowd other times you can play the pre-edited track for that certain crowd that is definitely ready to sing along. I would say that the biggest challenge when DJ with acappelas is just reading the crowd and deciding if and when there is a right time to drop it. If you hit it right, It will be the high point the entire night.

  67. I don’t use acappella’s because Im not confident in my ability to mix them in. I think that an online course on acappella’s would be a great resource and I’m sure many would love to take advantage of it.

  68. In my gigs, the folks just want something to groove to, therefore acapella is a ”no go” zone for me

  69. Biggest issue I’ve had with acapellas thus far is a) trying to beatmatch / pitching (since the track doesn’t have any beat information to listen for), and b) often long pauses of silence mean having to skip through a song to find the vocals I’m looking for, but I guess this issue could easily be resolved with a little pre-editing.

    Cheers, Adrian.

  70. i,m not a professional dj,but i,ve been tampering with reggae acapellas for a while now.i found out gettin the right song or beat to match an acapella is the most difficult part.having said that its fun at the same time.pls have a look and see what i mean.
    http://www.youtube.com/user/Indeoirie1?feature=guide

  71. Adrian B says:

    Yes I’ve used instrumentals but mainly when I was in cdrj Now a digital I still would consider it infact I play house afrobeat and gospel with accapella, instrumental house is very good for accapella and obviously breakbeats and hiphop samples also , I’m only leaning scratching hit would probably use them when working with some loops. Good thing about accapella is that if your confident enough or have friends in the music biz you can create your own and really push boundaries and uniqueness possibilities are endless :)

  72. My biggest problem is using acapellas from tracks that haven’t been electronically produced. Vocals from dance tracks tend to have a very consistent BPM whereas the vocals from things like rock tracks or accoustic tracks tend to have variations in tempo. I’m currently trying to learn to warp tracks manually in Ableton to overcome this problem.

  73. Sebastian says:

    Hi ! , i have never used acapellas before, i think one of the bigger issues is that i cant find acapella songs. maybe you could make a tutorial abouat how to make a acapella song or something like

    Sebastian.

  74. The hardest part for me when it comes to DJing with acapllas is relying on Traktor to give me an accurate BPM. Acapellas don’t always match the track your mixing as well so I recommend just making a mashup and getting a nice mastered track rather than risking a terrible transition in your mix.

  75. Hardest for me is to find ‘pellas that are current and known….when doing a mix it really doesn’t add much if it is something that is obscure or unheard of from years back…

  76. Greetings all, I have not tried to, but it is in my advanced list to do. For me, I would need to start with the fundamentals. As I believe with fundamentals all else is built from it.

  77. I tried loading up some acapellas a while back on my Traktor Kontrol F1. I could not get the samples to play at the same speed as the track. My ‘pellas were perfectly fine but once id load em in theyd sound lik chipmunks singing cuz Traktor thought it needed to be sped up. I couldnt for the life of my get them to play at the speed I wanted to over tracks. Was terrible!

  78. My problem is whether to start on the down beat or upbeat.

  79. Shane criddle says:

    Being new to this world, finding Acapellas is the most formidable challenge by far. Know any great sources?

  80. Whenever i use acapellas in a song i like to experiment with different beats, the vocal melody has to fall in time and even compliment the beat, and add to the overall vibe, especially in hip hop mixes that i do. Learn to use acappellas right and having some scratching skills can really set you apart from the crowd again especially in hip hop

  81. dj mike ohm says:

    awesome topic:there are so many different ways to incorporate acapellas,firstly having the correct software will make the task so much easier.being a trance dj,a fellow dj and i worked out that different genres require different approaches eg:with trance we found that we could incorporate almost any acapella providing we used a 32 beat bar as our base and played around with the pitch of the acapella until it flowed with the rhythm of the track that we wanted to incorporate it into.other genres may require 8 or 16 beat grids to find the sweet spot its all down to experimenting and good quality acapellas,hope this helps a little.

  82. The most problem, for me, is where to get them in great quality. Some suggestions?

  83. Johnson74 says:

    G’day, Long time reader first time contributor. I stumbled across vanilla ice (i know its cheesy) and deadmau5 ghost n stuff (instrumental mix) whilst playing around and its turned out to be a ripper. tweaked it a little on what phrase i dropped it in and now when i drop it people love it. Dont overdo the acapellas like you dont overdo effects. All in all the possibilities are endless. accapellas4u is a good spot to start. This is really interesting. Nice work Phil

  84. I love this topic. I’m a first time contributor, long time reader. I stumbled across a vanilla ice( ice ice baby, i know its cheesy)acapella on acapella4u and dropped it over deadmau5 ghosts n stuff instrumental purely by playing around. Once I moved the pella around a bit to start it with the right phrase on the deadmau5 track (16 bars/2phrases in) it was like an epiphany, (try it, it gets a good response). earlier i had been throwing in the right acapella at the wrong time, or over doing it like some djs go too hard on effects. I know some people reading may know this, but to me I realised that a)-the tempo’s should be the same(probably an obvious one). b)-if your playing a full legth acapella over a base track then the peaks and troughs of each track should relate and c)-people always love that old tune that everyone knows but have forgotten about played over a new (popular or not) banger or loop of another crowd favourite or cut the beats and play the acapella for a good old sing along and people will get involved and its almost personal. Use them to transition between genres.The possibilities are endless and thats what makes this all the better, you can be as creative as your imagination will allow. Great topic Phil..Im inspired. P.s

  85. The biggest problem I see new djs have is when the acapella starts on beat 2 or 3. Example: I loop the intro of “It Feels Good” by Tony Toni Tone and use an acapella of “Heard It Through The Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye. If you try and start the vocal on beat 1 of the loop, it will sound off. This is something I’ve noticed with new djs. I’m not sure if there is an answer other than a ton of practice. Maybe ya’ll have some pointers on his.

  86. the crowd i dj for never have a requirement for acapellas but maybe this is something i should try in my dj carrier for the future

  87. Generally, if I’m using a hip hop instrumental, the key of the vocals don’t matter MOST of the time. TRUST YOUR EARS. if it sounds bad, it probably isn’t a good fit. Also, make sure you listen to the finished mix in its entirety! A lot of vocals (especially pop or dance vocals) have fluctuations in volume and intensity. I use the Audacity program to make the accapela “level out” so to speak, BEFORE I make my final mix with the instrumental. If your using Ableton, you can do pretty much all of this in one program.

  88. Sidihodo says:

    I don’t use accapellas. Ore use them rarely. I use the hotcued parts. I cue the the spoken parts to use them like a drum or snare in the mix. The singing part when i use it. I use where in the song are the pads thin ore any instrumental solo without beats going on so quite no tempo needed or small adjustment of tempo. I dont do mash ups so i use them only when i need to worm or worn the crowd mainly some times cued vocal solo parts of the next song and hitting the cue like druming a word or two from the song. Yes i practice a lot.

  89. Chris Hurst says:

    I don’t know where to find them!!

  90. I use acapellas a lot. I use DVS and find that it’s the perfect medium for dropping acapellas at will.
    Scratching them as well, they make fantastic scratch weapons.

  91. My biggest problem when DJing with acapellas is the fact that they don’t sound like the actual studio version and they sound too echoed and loud over the instrumental. :(

  92. King of Snake says:

    Hi Phil, again great article!

    i think i’m a little lucky here, since my background is from composing sampled music (anyone remembers fast tracker and the like? hahaha, good old times!)
    anyways, playing around with software like Ableton or Fruity Loops or any other sequencer will help many to understand the flow of a sample/acapella on a certain beat
    i used to incorporate samplers in my set-up when dj-ing with vinyl and played samples from there, including acapellas
    nowadays, in serato, i play them from one of the decks, to match the BPM
    i still find that it needs a lot of time for preparation, the time i spend to find and ‘set-up’ the right sample can be a couple of hours
    like someone said before, if it’s a good match (acapella, timing, crowd) it’s the highlight of the evening, especially if you know the crowd and their age and/or background, just cool to see some of them jumping to ‘pump up the jam’ or ‘sweet dreams’ mixed with some more modern music
    it also works when the gig has a certain theme or on a special occasion, samples from Donna Summer -> ‘i feel love’ worked well as a tribute to her the weekend she passed away…
    Also Nu-Disco mixes well with some old samples or acapellas
    My question to you Phil would be how to use them in the samplers of, for example, serato? since i only was successful using them in CrossDJ..
    Cheers,
    KoS

  93. I’ve gotten really good at working with acapellas and I attribute this to a few things.

    1) Having the acapella’s BPM as accurate as possible and having a beatgrid placed on the downbeat. It’s best to compare the acapella to original tracks BPM. However sometimes the acapella BPM is a little different. Also for whatever reasons a lot of acapellas don’t line up exactly with beatgrids, even modern songs. This is why it helps to simply have a cue marker on the first downbeat and then cue it in time. Once you’ve cued it up then just pitch bend it whenever it falls out of time.

    2) Scratching them in also helps. I find this always gives a good sense if i’ve brought it in just a bit early or a bit late, it makes it easier to know which way to pitch bend it.

    3) Know your acapella’s. When you’re first starting out the worst thing you can do is randomly decide to throw in an acapella you’re not that familiar with. Spend sometime at home mixing the same acapella over different instrumentals. I actually keep a document with all the acapellas I know that work well with tracks.

    4) Just practice practice practice, there is no easy to do it, and you will have to learn to match these by ear. Sync often doesn’t work and it’s not worth the time warping them in Ableton so that sync does work. Trust me once you’ve practice you’ll be able to do it as easily as matching 2 full songs.

  94. dj dub c says:

    it all depends on what type of event it is, but when i was using them, i would do alot of blends with the ac’s but i had to practice well in advance to to get it right or it was a complete failure to use them, basically more or less u HAVE TO practice using them in a live environment with a few friends to “prelisten a whole event with the acapellas u r going to use” but mostly i use ac’s in mixtape blends

  95. Something that I like to do to make an acapella more compatible with a song is to go into FL studio. Drag the acapella and the song you are mixing it into to the playlist and start slicing the acapella so that you can extend the gaps between the vocals or clip them shorter. You can see how the two songs line up together and see where the vocals need to be dragged…after you are happy with the new acapella you can ‘save as new’ This really helps for when the acapella is just a few beats out. (I’m not too sure if this works with the Demo version of FL studio)

  96. i used a lot of acapellas in my latest mix… and trust me , it can be done. I think the most important part is what you hear.Even when two tracks are not in the same key, it is possible that they will sound great when you put them together! Let me tell you how i do it! first i open the files in virtualdj,and scan for bpm.
    this program can tell you most of the the time the right bpm, and the key the song is in. And than the party can begin!. an acapella is an easy song for timestretching, so most of the time i make the adjustment in bpm only for the acapella.The next step is to record both songs to your HD..
    This can also be done in Virtualdj
    when thats done i open them in adobe audition, and put them together. When everything is in the right place, i make a mixdown, and than save the file to your hd….
    This is the way i made, the black eyed peas vs Jessie J. And i called the the song … I Gotta Domino Feeling…
    In my latest mix.. “The Most wanted hitmix 2012″ i made 22 “little mashup’s ” this way. I leave a download link for you here.. so you can hear it for yourself.
    http://www.masterdj.nl/the-most-wanted-hitmix-2012.html
    and be free to comment on this mix.
    I hope i explained it a litlle bit how i do it, and sorry for my bad english… but i am from holland.
    Greetings Rudie

    • Thanks Rudie. Of course, you’re describing making mashups (ie pre-prepared) rather than on-the-fly acapella mixes, but it’s all useful stuff – thanks for sharing!

  97. DJ Homei says:

    Looks like a lot of people are complaining that acapellas are hard to find. My guess is that studios and artists generally don’t want original vocals exposed to rip-offs or unauthorized remixes.

  98. DaWreked oNe says:

    YES! I love acapellas. I search for them regularly and have just started doing a funky “Michael Jackson vs DJ Khaled’s ‘Go Ahead’ Instrumental” thing. Really fun. Can’t produce like I want yet….this is the next best thing. Beyond the basics like key, BPM, etc….any info you guys could give me would be much appreciated. I’m sure many others feel the same way. Traktor (since it started analyzing musical key) has allowed me to use the “key” adjustment feature on Traktor alot easier….but I realize, more than realize, that their are alot of aspects of this I don’t know, ideas I haven’t though of, etc. I love it….whatever u got I want it. : )

  99. DjVanley says:

    Keeping it time! theres no way of knowing the speed of the acapella if you havnt looked it up before, which is a common occurence, also no beat grids. and me being on a shitty little reloop, its not very easy for a beginner to beatmatch by ear

  100. Jam-Master Jake says:

    I don’t know where to buy quality acapellas. There’s also the issue of keeping them in time…those 2 issues are what have kept me away from using them.

  101. I use acapella4u. Huge library. I usually use ableton to warp the track to make it perfect in time then save and load into traktor.

  102. dj mike ohm says:

    after reading my previous post i forget to mention one very important thing and that is time stretching/time reduction of acapellas/vocals this is a very important tool for incorporating acapellas/vocals into your mix.

  103. I have trouble making my own acapellas. I am not a skilled DJ/producer yet. Is there any good website for downloading acapellas? :)

  104. Hey, i’m from Germany so my english is not so Good. I use Ableton to keep the acapellas in Time (128bpm) and use the beatrepeat and some other effect’s. After the Export i Play them live, that isn’t difficult.

  105. Love using acapellas for on the fly blends. By far my biggest challenge is matching up the parts of the songs: intro,verse,chorus,bridge,etc.

    Secondarily, how to smoothly transition out of the blend into the next record. I think this is easier with digital than vinyl, but still I’m never sure how to do this and look smooth.

  106. I agree with the dude from Germany…. I don’t care how good you get those acapella’s on time with the beat…. It will never sound better than producing it in Ableton first…. This is why I don’t really see the point in doing these live pad set’s either….. All of this can be done comfortably at home, And then played live on 2 turntables and a microphone……… Compression is key

  107. Hi I’m having a lot of frustration when I mix acapellas. The biggest problem I have is some acapellas won’t be at the same beat after I let it play for some time. The tempo of my acapella and my track is exactly the same but for instance fedde le grand’s sparks acapella and Dannic’s ignite, when I try to mix them tgt I can’t get the acapella to be in sync with the track I have to constantly nudge the acapella track to get it in time with my track. How do profession DJs do it? Is it on a DAW? And if so how to?

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