You know how it is. You want to create your very own mashup of that great new track that just topped the charts a few days ago, just like all your DJ/producer heroes have already done in the past week. You already know how you’re going to fit it in an existing song that you have in your library, and you even have that all-important “drop” planned out. Your heart races as you imagine playing that tune in front of your friends, minds blown as they try to figure out how you could’ve come up with such a floorfilling dance gem. Piece of cake! Now if only you could find the vocals of that track…
You scour the net for it, only to be duped by a handful of bogus download sites, clickbait and, even worse, you’re even tempted to hang around in dubious filesharing sites with their “.exe” and “.dmg” viruses. Not good. So here’s our list of where you ought to be looking instead…
Edit, bootleg or something else?
An edit is when you “cut up” a piece of music to add bars, remove certain portions of a song, or rearrange it according to your liking – we’ve got a post on edits here. This is perfect for adding in an intro and an outro to make a song easier to “mix in” when you DJ, for example.
Bootlegs or mashups are a different thing. Whenever you take portions of a song (say, the chorus vocals) and put your own twist to it by layering your own beats and melodies under them, that’s called making a bootleg. Bootlegs are, for the most part, unofficial remixes using readily available versions of those songs, such as the ones you hear on the radio (called a “radio edit), or one that you can purchase online through stores like iTunes. Mashups are very similar, although mainly you’re taking whole elements of already finished songs here and putting them together to create something new.
6 Places to get acapellas
All original acapellas
Aside from audio loops, Looperman offers royalty-free acapellas for use in your DJ sets or productions. The content on the site is generated by a community of musicians, so there really isn’t a screening process when a piece of audio is uploaded to the site, which of course is a double-edged sword: You get a large amount of content without any rigid quality control.
Pros: Good variety of original acapellas and rapping for different genres of music, royalty-free for non-commercial use, good search functionality, active forum for feedback, free membership
Cons: Quality standard isn’t set too high, so there are some acapellas that range from mediocre to quite poor. Use your ears!
Go to site: Looperman
2. Acapella Heaven
One of the more professional sites in our list, Acapella Heaven serves as a conduit between vocalists / songwriters and DJs / producers looking to add in some acapellas in their productions. While it isn’t free to join (there are three types of monthly memberships, with the lowest tier costing US$8.35), the quality of the acapellas in this site are among some of the best you can find online: They’re studio-quality and professionally produced, which lend themselves well to mashups and live remixes that won’t make you sound like you just copped an MP3 of someone singing in the shower.
Pros: High quality acapellas, rapping, and singing. If you’re looking for radio-quality vocals produced with high standards, this is the place to get them. Endorsed by no less than Judge Jules and Roger Sanchez
Cons: Just a handful of vocals available (a little over 300). While there’s a tiered membership system as to who gets first dibs on the acapellas, as a producer you’ll still have to split publishing royalties and earnings with the acapella songwriter if you plan on releasing the song commercially.
Go to site: Acapella Heaven
More of an online store for loops, one shots, and plugins, Loopmasters still has an extensive catalogue of true royalty-free acapellas and vocal samples. They’re sold in vocal packs, and while sites like the aforementioned Acapella Heaven and Looperman contain full-on songs, the acapellas that you purchase in packs here in Loopmasters come in phrases instead, making them ideal for assembly in a DAW or for loading onto your DJ software’s sampler for some live acapella mixing. Sound packs come in different prices depending on who produced the pack and how much vocals it contains, and with the large variety of genres available, you’re sure to find something to your liking in here.
Pros: Royalty-free, cleared acapellas for use in your productions. Comes in different forms (words, phrases). One-time payment for all vocal packs that you can use indefinitely, no earnings / royalty-splitting if your song becomes a commercial hit
Cons: Comes in vocal loops and phrases, so there is some need for assembly in a DAW or loaded onto a DJ software’s sample player
Go to site: Loopmasters
Commercial studio acapellas
When you want to remix or mashup popular or commercially available tunes, you’re going to have to source what’s called a “studio acapella”, which is an officially released vocal-only track usually sent out to remixers by a record label or publisher on the artist’s behalf. There are also unofficial and DIY acapellas, the vocals of which are isolated using software or bedroom studio-wizardry. Although the quality of the latter isn’t as clean, these are already quite usable for creating mashups and practising to remix.
4. Beatport Play
Online music megastore Beatport is better known for its extensive electronic music selection which is its main focus, but it’s also home to a lot of studio acapellas, which can be considered as having been “officially released” by the respective artists for remix, production, and mashup purposes. These acapellas come in either full song form or as loops and one shots, so you can either load them up in your DAW or sampler for assembly, or you can drop them during a DJ set. Like Loopmasters, you’re going to have to pay for the individual acapellas or the acapella packs, but they’re royalty-free for use in even your commercially-released productions.
Of note as well is Beatport Play, which is the site’s remix contest portal, giving you the chance to create remixes using official studio acapellas from the artists themselves, although there is a limit as to where and when you can upload your productions depending on the rules of the remix contest.
Pros: Huge variety of acapellas and vocal samples for all forms of electronic music, home of some of the best remix contests with the most notable artists, giving you a taste of what it feels like to create an “official remix”
Cons: Sample packs can be pricey, remix contests are exclusive (usually for the duration of the contest), so you can’t post your creations online aside from within Beatport’s submission page
Go to site: Beatport Play
5. Indaba Music
On the other side of the remix contest music spectrum, Indaba Music offers more genres aside from EDM / dance music. While Indaba itself is a community for musicians, it’s a place for remixers and producers to join contests, and is a great source for exclusive studio acapellas from popular artists you won’t find anywhere else. Remember, though, that since it’s a contest hosted by the company, you can’t commercially sell your work and can only upload it to Indaba.
Pros: Great place to find acapellas and remix stems for music styles outside of electronic / dance music, burgeoning community of producers that gives feedback on your work
Cons: Stems are for contest use primarily, so you can’t use these acapellas if you plan on releasing your productions commercially
Go to site: Indaba Music
6. Acapellas 4U
One of the longest running acapella sites still in operation today, Acapellas 4U has a large collection of vocals from Top 40 and other popular songs. While its forum layout isn’t presented in the most easily-searchable way, this is the place to get those unofficial acapellas, but since they’re unsanctioned by the artists, you can’t release and make money out of any of your work when using vocals from these. However, when used for non-commercial / education purposes, it’s a great way to learn how to produce, remix, and create mashups using commercially popular tunes you hear on the radio.
Pros: Top 40 / pop song acapellas can be found here, free membership, regularly updated
Cons: Not the most user-friendly site on the internet, mix of official and DIY / unofficially released acapellas make audio quality a hit or miss affair
Go to site: Acapellas 4U
Whether you’re a budding producer or a seasoned DJ looking to add more flair to your set by adding signature live mashups and edits, acapellas are a great DJ tool to have and use. Vocals have the power to turn even the dreariest of electronic music into a recognisable anthem by the sheer power of melodic recall.
With key mixing and live production becoming both accessible to and, to an extent, expected of DJs in the digital age, we’ve moved a long way from the bootleg acapella albums of old. As the internet continues to make both music and music production accessible to a greater number of people, the demand for good quality vocal elements – both recognisable (for a quick DJ “hit”) and original (for producers to build whole new tracks around) is likely to continue to be high. Hopefully this article has inspired you to grab an acapella or two and have a go yourself, if you’re not already doing this.
• Wanna learn? The Digital DJ Tips course, Acapella Mixing Masterclass contains everything you need to learn how to mix acapellas in your DJ sets like a pro.
Where do you download your acapellas? Let us know what we’ve missed! Leave a comment in the section below.