Currently, artists just release singles with 1 track - the song.

For example, Ariana Grande's single "Focus" has 1 track:


But wouldn't it be better to release additional tracks as well, like the backing track, instrumental, and acapella:

backing track: no lead vocals, but includes the backing vocals

instrumental: no vocals at all

acapella: only vocals

I think there is market demand for such additional tracks. People want backing tracks and instrumentals for karaoke; aspiring singers want backing tracks and instrumentals for covers and singing competitions; comedians want backing tracks and instrumentals for spoofs; DJs and producers want acapellas for remixes.

So, following that idea, a single like Ariana Grande's "Focus" would have 4 tracks:

Focus (Backing Track)
Focus (Instrumental)
Focus (Acapella)

Here's another idea: Selling the producer's project files. Aspiring producers could study them; DJs could use them to create remixes.

No? Am I missing something?

  • 1
    You may find 'Stems' of interest - a slightly more flexible idea that seems to have some publicity at the moment - stems-music.com - though it doesn't really have mainstream traction yet.
    – user16
    Commented Jan 6, 2016 at 0:31
  • 1
    Take a look at the first paragraph in this Wiki article. Commented Jan 6, 2016 at 12:30
  • 2
    Back in the 70's and early 80's when i bought vinyl 45's sometimes there would be an instrumental version on the b-side. I always felt kinda ripped when they did that. I wanted another song! Commented Jan 10, 2016 at 7:10

6 Answers 6


I like the way you think. It makes perfect sense on the surface. But the music industry and legalities surrounding it are complex. There are a few reasons why this practice has not become common in the music industry.

First, many artists for one reason or another, do not wish to allow their music to be licensed or reproduced in a karaoke version. I can't think of a compelling business reason for this practice, but there is a long list of famous artists who are on the "karaoke no-fly list" who won't authorize any legal reproduction of their music for karaoke. Perhaps it's an ego thing where they don't want some inebriated American Idol wannabe butchering one of their songs at a karaoke bar.

But the main reason record labels and music producers don't produce their own karaoke or instrumental versions of the songs they hold the rights to, is that it is more profitable for them not to! Let me explain.

When a popular song is released, there becomes a demand for instrumental and/or karaoke versions of the song. Other folks want to sing the song, so they are willing to pay for an instrumental or karaoke version. There are several companies who have created a business of "reproducing" popular songs as instrumental or karaoke versions so they can sell copies of those reproductions and make a profit.

In order to legally reproduce a song, a company or individual must negotiate with the owner of the rights to that song for reproduction rights and distribution rights. Up front fees as well as royalties as a percentage of all sales are usually a part of the deal. The rights holder (such as a record label) can sell the reproduction and distribution rights to several different entities who will do the work for them of marketing the reproductions to the target market who wants to buy instrumental only or karaoke versions. The holder of the rights to writers royalties, will usually be entitled to a small percentage from each sale as part of the overall deal as well.

If the record label produced an official instrumental only version themselves, the companies who are in the business of replicating and reproducing the songs would not want to buy the rights to reproduce and distribute a song if the original recording (sans vocals) was available for the public to buy. After all, how can you reproduce a version more authentic than the original? So the label would miss out on multiple opportunities to make deals with multiple companies to sell the right to reproduce the song and distribute those reproductions.

Also, the companies who buy the rights to reproduce and distribute the songs, will spend their own money marketing and selling those reproductions, and the record label and whoever holds the rights to the writers royalties, will get a percentage of every sale. So someone else is spending the marketing dollars to increase the revenue from the song.

It would be interesting to see what could happen if a record label released an official instrumental version. They might discover that they could sell many copies. But for now apparently, they feel there is more money to be made selling the reproduction and distribution rights to the companies that specialize in the instrumental only and karaoke markets.

I don't really have an answer for why it does not seem to be possible to buy the original producers project files. It may have to do with a legal question of some implicit right to reproduce the music from those project files without paying for the reproduction and distribution rights. In other words, if I pay you for your project files, does that give me the right to use those files to produce a derivative work without further payment to you since I already paid for the project files? There might be a way an implied right of use could be construed that might preclude further obligation for payment of reproduction/distribution rights.

Also, sale of the project files may not give the songwriter or composer any mechanism wherein they could be paid any writers royalties on derivative works produced through the use of those producer project files. Perhaps it's like opening an untested "can of worms" or "pandora's box" to use a few cliche's.

There may be other reasons as well, but the foregoing provides one explanation.

  • A couple of problems here. The record company does not own the song, only the recording of the song. If you re-record the song the record company has no rights to it at all, only the songwriter, via the publisher (which is NOT the record label). After a song is recorded and released no one needs to "negotiate" to re-record the music. The writer of the music is due a royalty but there is what is known as a "compulsory license" with a statutory royalty rate to be paid to the song's publisher. Commented Jan 10, 2016 at 7:08
  • Okay - but why would not the record label usually own the publishing rights? Commented Jan 10, 2016 at 9:19
  • No. The record company does not own publishing rights. A recording contract is between label and artist. Publishing goes with the songwriter. If the artist writes their music the writing and publishing are considered separately from the recording and performing. Commented Jan 12, 2016 at 4:02
  • @Tom Writing and Publishing are also considered separately from one another. The writer can retain the writing rights but not hold any of the publishing rights. Some writers have their own publishing company in order to control the publishing rights in addition to the writers royalties. It's actually a complicated game and could be the subject of an entire book (and I am sure there are books about it). Commented Jan 12, 2016 at 6:45
  • Yes, quite complicated. The point is that neither the artist nor the record label have any say if someone records a karaoke version, nor do they get any royalties from it. Neither the writer nor the publisher have any say either once the song has been released (the writer or publisher has right if first publication). The writer does get a royalty from it, though, of which some part goes to the publisher. So the ability to make money of licensing is not the reason. If they wanted to produce their own karaoke releases that would depend on the artists' contracts. Commented Jan 12, 2016 at 22:40

Rockin Cowboy has explained it all very well.

Let me add another point. In the record business, artists themselves rarely ever own the recordings they have made. Lay people don't realize this, but the recordings are usually entirely owned by the record label. The record label is a business which has financed the recording project and have a contract with the artist to share a percentage of any profits, in exchange for their having in effect loaned a great deal of money to the artist to make the recordings in the first place. So even if an artist wanted to release something, they actually would have very little say in the matter. A record label looks upon a recorded album or single as a risky investment. A label is only going to release something if they see a clear chance of making a profit from it. If they don't, then they simply will keep the recordings to themselves.

The few instrumentals and a cappellas from major-label albums that are out there have usually been leaked out to the Internet without the owners' consent in the first place. It's all quite mysterious, since the people doing the leaking have to be people who have access to the original multi-track studio recordings. Since access to those tracks are carefully controlled by the record labels, nobody's quite sure how any given track makes it to the Internet. It would be up to an individual record label to try to track down and prosecute those doing the leaking; I imagine that often the record label businesses decide that it's not worth the trouble to pursue these cases.


Actually, in jamaican reggae music, they do release the instrumental!

Tradition, in jamaican reggae music, is mainly backing bands (e.g. Roots Radics, Sly & Robbie, The Skatalites, The Aggrovators...) recording riddims in studios.

Lead singer artist then comes and records his song on that backing track. Riddim article on Wikipedia says :

A given riddim, if popular, may be used in dozens —or even hundreds— of songs, not only in recordings, but also in live performances.

When released, 7" singles feature the lead song on the A-side, and the riddim —with the title Riddim, Dub or Version— on the B-side. This lyric-free version of the song is especially use in Sound Systems when the MC sings/talks/chants on the riddim.

So, for any classic reggae song you like, you will very likely find the corresponding riddim on the 7" B-side.


Some singles are released with acapellas and/or instrumentals. But that is basically an open invitation for anyone to easily produce unauthorized derivative works. These, in turn, are unlikely to result in any direct additional income to the original artists/producers or label, and might even compete with them, so there is generally very little incentive to do this, and good reasons not to.

There are exceptions. Rap producers often release instrumentals, and rappers sometimes release acapellas, because unauthorized remixes and so forth can be the best and most crucial promotion for them and their work (even if they don't get direct payment from it). Furthemore, as Bebs mentioned, in the reggae dancehall world, this is actually the standard expectation --a producer wouldn't get very far in that market without releasing instrumentals.


I'm an intermediate level(aspiring pro) songwriter. I've just released an album of some of my work, which will soon appear online. On that album I decided to include an instrumental version of the last song. It was my decision, because I own all publishing. If I had an agreement/contract with a publishing company, I would need to consult with them, since I would most likely have agreed to their administration of my work, which usually means they own a good percentage of your publishing for the length of the contract. If I were an artist and had a record label contract, they would be making these decisions...not me.

After all my dabbling in the music business(as a songwriter), accumulated over the last 7+ years...my gut feeling on it, is...labels do not want their track only mixes 'out there', because of the pending temptation for derivative works, bad vocal tracks, which could have a negative affect on the song's reputation, title(think web searches), and overall sales, plus(as somebody else eluded to in an earlier post), an invitation for potential copyright infringement. Although the music itself can be copyrighted, more often than not it's the melody and lyrics that gets registered).

Listeners will readily be able to instantly identify a very successful song's track...and then suddenly, if a terrible, off pitch, amateur vocal kicks in...how's that gonna help that song's trajectory, when the title is searched, etc, it comes up with this person's poor singing(for example)...and after a huge investment by the record label? NOT GOOD!

In my humble opinion, the poster who explained this with the most insight to the business, was 'SpinDownUGo'. Thanks...


Most J-Pop (Japanese Pop) artists release backing/instrumental tracks along with the single, so usually a single is most of the time 3-4 songs; the main single, the B-side, sometimes, a TV size version (which is a shorter version of the single, mainly used for opening / closing themes of a program), and an instrumental / backing track of the single.

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