Once you start really getting into music, it becomes apparent that some tracks are released in a multitude of versions. And especially when you’re at the start of your collection-building journey, it’s not always immediately apparent what some of the descriptions mean. Dub mix? Re-edit? Bootleg?! In this article you’ll learn what 18 of those different mixes of tracks you’re likely to find on singles actually mean.
Here we go, in alphabetical order:
Once upon a time, singles were released on 7″ vinyl, and 7″ vinyl only.
But in the late 1970s, 12″ singles, featuring extended versions of tracks, began to appear. It was therefore sometimes necessary to differentiate between these versions and the 7″ version.
Sometimes the 7″ version would be an edited down, radio-friendly version of a disco/funk/dance track. But especially for pop and rock tracks, it would often be the ‘normal’ version, which may then have been extended for release on the 12″ single.
And where singles were taken from albums (and believe me, they were!), a 4 or 5 minute-long album track would often be edited down to a 3–4 minute-long 7″ radio version, and maybe extended for the 12″ version.
12″ singles originally appeared in the USA in the 1970s. The extra playing time meant it was possible for each side to include a dancefloor-friendly disco or funk workout, featuring plenty of instrumental sections.
But by the early 1980s it had become commonplace to release just about all singles on 12″ too.
Very early 12″ singles in the UK often just featured the exact same music as the 7″ (thanks, major labels!), but it came to be the standard that they would typically feature three or four tracks/mixes.
From this, the 12″ version of tracks was born. As well as 12″ version, they were also called the 12″ mix, extended version, extended mix, or extended 12″ version, or sometimes had a more creative name, often relating to the track title or featuring the producer/remixer’s name. Out of a 3-minute pop song, producers would construct a longer version with longer intros and extended instrumental breakdowns, featuring sections with certain bits of the instrumentation soloed or muted.
Remember as well that when this was happening, remix producers didn’t yet have computers to make the process easier. There was no ‘cutting and pasting’ as we understand it today – their work really did involve accurately cutting tape, and then splicing it together to get the rhythms and extended instrumental sections they wanted. What some of them achieved is amazing, when you think about it.
But extended 12″ versions weren’t just something created for dance tracks or pop songs. In the 1980s, 12″ versions were also commonplace for indie/alternative and rock music, too.
For obvious reasons, the description 12″ version died out when vinyl died out as a mass medium at around the start of the 1990s. By this time, CD singles (in some countries called CD maxi singles, as they had a playing time similar to that of a 12″ single) had taken over as the format for music collectors. The 7″ single was perceived as being something for kids and older people.
And more or less parallel to this, after 1988 and the explosion of dance music culture, it became commonplace to release singles featuring various different remixes of the track.
So for both of these reasons, the distinction between a 7″ and 12″ version had largely gone.
By the time the late 1980s/early 1990s dance music explosion had died down, the practice of offering extended mixes of singles largely died out. At least, until dance music became mainstream again in the noughties.
A cappella version
A cappella means ‘in church style’ in Italian. An a cappella version therefore just features the vocals, without musical accompaniment.
Some a cappella versions are literally just that: unaccompanied vocals, perhaps just featuring the delay and stereo panning used on the normal, accompanied version. But some a cappellas do include some minimal instrumentation, even if only for atmospheric effect.
A cappella versions were an easy way for major labels to fill a B-side (see also instrumental further down), but gold for DJs who can use them in their sets, and for music producers who can make remixes of them or use them in their own tracks. (Forgetting the copyright aspects for a minute; after all, this is how much dance music has always been created!)
You’re more likely to encounter a cappella versions of singles in genres such as soul and R&B and similar, where the singers can actually sing. I’m not sure there would be much demand for an a cappella version of some Scandinavian death metallers grunting. (Although fair play; there’s an art to it, and I certainly couldn’t do it!)
The album version of a song is one that appeared on the album. Duh!
Obviously the tracks on an album are by definition the album versions, so this description crops up on singles that include the album version as one of their tracks. (Another space-filling tactic beloved of major labels.)
What’s the difference between the normal single version and the album version? The 7″ version (or radio edit) is usually shorter: 3–4 minutes, as opposed to four or five minutes or longer on the album.
But: on releases featuring dance remixes, the album version would likely be shorter than the remixes. So just the normal ‘garden’ version of the song without extended breakdowns and extra studio trickery.
Often found on hip-hop 12″ singles, and those of related genres, in the 1980s.
The bonus beats mix was a track featuring pretty much just the beats, but maybe also with some scratching, minimal sampled vocal whoops, or effects such as sirens or similar.
These were intended for turntable DJs, rather than consumers. With the bonus beats mix playing on one deck, DJs could mix them in and out of the track on the other deck, which could even be the standard version of the same song (two copies of one record). This enabled them to create interesting percussive sections, or pair them with a cappellas to create their own track on the fly.
For this reason, they’re also very useful for today’s music producers.
As this article deals with the different types of mixes you may encounter, this part of it relates to bootleg remixes, not bootleg records or CDs. While bootleg mixes certainly have been released as bootleg records, bootleg records don’t necessarily feature bootleg remixes. Today, bootleg remixes are much more likely to be made available online.
If something is a bootleg, it is illicit – whether that’s a remix, vinyl record, alcohol or fake designer handbag.
So a bootleg remix is a remix created without the permission of the rights holder – the artist and/or their record company.
Some dance bootleg tracks are fairly faithful renditions of the original, except created by someone else, and without permission. But other bootleg remixes are a lot more creative. For example, a track remixed in a completely different style to the original.
With the usual obligatory disclaimer about not condoning illegal behaviour etc etc, there’s a skill to creating bootleg remixes. After all, remixers creating authorised mixes receive the components of the track conveniently isolated. This means it is easy for them to remove certain instruments and add musical parts and phrases of their own. But people creating bootleg remixes don’t have this luxury. Instead, they have to recourse to a capellas, instrumental versions and careful copying, cutting and pasting of finished tracks, along with various other studio tricks!
A clean version of a song is one not containing any swearwords or otherwise potentially offensive content that appears in the standard version of the song. These are created for radio stations and platforms that are squeamish about swearing. They are commonly found in genres such as rap and R&B.
Sometimes, the offending words or phrases are just bleeped out, making them stick out like a sore [bleep]. This method just draws people’s attention to the bleep. “I wonder whether that was a ‘fuck’ or a ‘shit’ he just said?” More subtle ways of achieving the same thing involve reversing the offending words or simply fading their volume down so people don’t really notice or hear them.
A demo version is an early recording of a song, not intended for release (at that particular time).
Some demo versions are created to send to record companies, in the hope of getting signed. But others are just early versions of song by artists who already have a record deal. These can be intended for the artist’s own use, so they can get an idea of how their new material is developing, but also to play to record companies, who will want to hear what they’re getting for their money.
While some demo versions aren’t drastically different to the track that is released later, the production may be more basic or less polished. After all, they are often produced by the artist themselves or the respective studio’s in-house producer, before the record company stumps up a load of money for some big name, hotshot producer to step in.
More interesting for fans and collectors are the demo versions that are radically different to what came later. These can sometimes feature different lyrics, different instrumentation or even different melodies.
A ‘4-track’ or ‘8-track’ demo version of a song means it was recorded to tape, on a system only featuring four or eight tracks. Today’s music production software enables you to use virtually limitless numbers of instruments, voices and effects in a song, but on those older systems, you really were limited to just four, eight, 16 or 24 tracks. If you were recording in an 8-track studio, you could manage the following:
- Lead vocals
- Lead guitar
- Rhythm guitar
- Bass guitar
- Backing vocals
- Extra percussion
And that was it! Kids these days with laptops don’t know they’re born!
Dub is a sub-genre of reggae, created in Jamaica in the 1960s. A dub was an instrumental, or mostly instrumental, version of a song, for which the mixing console was used as an instrument in its own right to add lots of reverb and echo, giving the music a ’spaced out’ feel. Vocals, if present at all, would typically only appear as snippets, as in dub, the emphasis is very much on the rhythm section: the bass and drums.
Although a dub mix is in one sense an ‘instrumental’ version of a track, in that it doesn’t feature much in the way of vocals, it is more than a ‘straight’ instrumental, where the vocals would be removed and that was pretty much that. A dub mix changes the structure of the song, soloing and muting parts and adding the echo and reverb, in order to create its distinctive groove.
In the UK in the late 1970s and early 1980s, dub was popular among punks and in the various strands of post-punk music that followed it. For this reason, many 1980s indie and post-punk 12″ singles also included a dub mix, where the principles of dub were applied to the forms of music prevalent at the time.
As electronic music found increasing favour over the course of that decade, these 12″ singles too would often include a dub mix, with the in-your-face drum machine beats that were in vogue at the time ricocheting all around the stereo field. Yay!
Musical tastes are constantly changing, however, and by the end of the 1980s a dub version had more or less come to mean a mostly instrumental version of a track, with the emphasis on the bass and drums. The echos and reverbs – the defining elements – were largely locked back up in their cupboards. A dub version of a track was now little more than a normal instrumental mix, but with a focus on the bassline.
So what you can expect from a dub mix of a track very much depends on the type of music it is and when it was created.
In the noughties, a friend once turned up at my house unannounced with a pile of records he’d pulled out of a skip (how could anyone put records in a skip?!). The look of disappointment on his face when I explained that the ‘dub mixes’ he’d found were nothing much more than instrumental remixes of early 1990s chart dance hits!
The explicit version is the opposite of the clean version (see above). You can be as good as certain that the explicit version is the song as originally intended by the artist. It’s not that Cliff Richard would decide to record an expletive-laden version of Mistletoe and Wine, in order to turn the air at your granny’s Christmas party blue.
See 12″ version earlier in this article. Back in the 1980s heyday of the 12″ single, the terms 12″ version and extended version were interchangeable, as they meant the same thing. But by the early 1990s, vinyl had pretty much died out for casual, mainstream audiences. CDs were now the standard, meaning any extended versions of singles from this point were called just that – an extended version. And even those had fallen out favour by the mid-1990s. (Although they would be resurrected when dance music came back into favour in the noughties.)
An instrumental version was often to be found on the B-sides of pop songs, back in the days when singles were released in physical formats. The B-side of a 7″ single (or its equivalent on the two-track cassette singles of the late 1980s/early 1990s) would often just include an instrumental version of the A-side.
Is that because these pop songs were such complex musical works that they needed to be heard without the distraction of the vocals? Not really. After all, the melody of many pop songs is found in the vocals. The instrumentation often comprises just rhythm, a few basic chords and some sound effects, meaning that instrumental versions aren’t necessarily especially interesting.
I suppose the advantage is that you could sing along. For this reason, ‘karaoke version’ is another slightly cynical alternative way of saying ‘instrumental version’.
In short: instrumental versions were a way of filling up space without needing extra material.
The live version of a song was recorded live. Live? Yeah, at a concert.
What’s the difference? Although concert performances may well use ‘backing tapes’ (these days, computer-based backing tracks), the people on stage are generally singing and playing most instruments in real time, in time with one another.
This is unlike in recording studios, where vocalists and musicians record their parts separately, for them to be combined to form a finished song.
Does that mean that live versions of tracks are a 100% accurate reflection of what the audience at the respective show heard?
No, not necessarily, as the raw live recordings usually undergo extra mixing and processing (‘overdubs’). Sometimes, this may be kept to a bare minimum, but it can also include things such as correcting bum notes, editing tiresome solos or replacing drum sounds with punchier electronic versions. Even the applause may be added/enhanced in the studio, in order to better convey a ‘live’ atmosphere.
A live in the studio version is a variant of the above: the artist or band is singing and playing their instruments in real time, like at a show, only they’re doing it in a recording studio. The intention is to capture their live energy ‘in one take’, rather then record their parts separately, as usually happens in studios. So a bit like a rehearsal, only with the recording equipment switched on.
A mashup is where someone takes parts of two (or more!) tracks and combines them into one ‘new’ track.
On the most basic level, this could be using the instrumentation from one song and the vocals from another. But mashups can also be much more complex, using many different sections of two or more songs.
Modern music production software makes this easier to do than it once was, but producers still have to know what will fit well together. Or be able to recognise if something doesn’t, then go away and do something better.
But also modern DJing software makes it easier to create mashups ‘on the fly’. If the DJ can get it right, there’s enormous potential to impress the heaving, sweaty throng on the dancefloor by playing them two or more songs they already know, but in a way they’ve never heard before!
A pre-mix is music that has been recorded (obviously), but which has only been provisionally mixed. It has not yet undergone the final mixing stage, so probably won’t be as polished as the standard version, or there may be elements missing from it.
In the golden age of vinyl, the radio edit was synonymous with ‘7″ version’.
A shorter, 3–4 minute-long radio-friendly version of a track. The original would either be an album track or a longer dance track.
Typical hallmarks of the radio edit are a shorter intro and outro (and even these are going the way of the dodo!) and much less in the way of instrumental sections. The idea is to focus on the vocals and melody.
Radio session version
A radio session version of a track was recorded in a radio station’s studio, for the station to broadcast in its catchment area/country.
In the UK, that usually means the BBC, whose archives are a treasure trove of recorded music from through the ages. Think John Peel, Janice Long, Kid Jensen, Andy Kershaw, Radio 1 Saturday Live and others. (Showing my age a bit, there!)
Because a number of songs would typically be recorded in one day, in the station’s studio and with the station‘s producer, the results are often different to the versions that are later officially released.
Record companies sometimes license these recordings from the respective radio station.
On the face of it, a re-edit is very similar to a remix. What’s the difference? A producer creating an authorised remix for an artist or record company has access to the original parts of the track, to do with as they please.
But re-edits are created from the finished track, in the form it was released in. People creating them don’t have separate files of the individual instruments and vocal parts to work with.
Re-edits are typically created by DJs, to make a released track more dancefloor-friendly. By copying, cutting and pasting sections, it’s possible to extend breakdowns and instrumental sections, or cut out unwanted elements such as annoying vocals.
A re-edit is therefore very similar to a bootleg remix, with the difference not always being so clear cut. But a bootleg remix implies that the track has been changed more than would be the case for a re-edit, which may just involve adding intros and outros to make beatmixing easier.
Different mixes of tracks on singles – conclusion
I hope this article was helpful, and that you’ve now got a better handle on all the different mixes of tracks you’re likely to find out there. Especially if you’ve just picked up a load of 12″ singles at a record fair.
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