What is going on Artists, Musicians, Rappers, Singers, Songwriters, and Poets alike.
I was in a conversation with a friend of mine the other day about sending their song to me so I can mix it and feature it on my portfolio.
When I brought up STEMs, there seemed to be a bit of confusion. Have you been there too?
Maybe you are thinking to yourself, "I don't even know what STEMs are..." or you might be thinking, "I've heard of that, but I don't know how to do that without soloing every single track in my song and exporting the project that way..." Maybe you're not sure what a DAW is (I will address that in another article) and maybe you're here by accident... or you already know how to export STEMs, and this article might not be for you...
Regardless of where you stand in the above, I'm here to hopefully clear up some STEM confusion.
What are STEMs?
STEMs at their most basic understanding are exported versions of submixes of different groups of tracks or all tracks in general in your song. These would be all the instruments, vocals, and other recordings included to make your song sound the way it does.
Your STEMs will usually include the effects (FX) that you applied before sending to the mixing engineer; for example, reverb, delays, dynamic compression, for each track within your STEM files.
Why are they important?
It is important to understand the function and defining factors of STEMs for a few reasons.
Sending your STEMs to a mixing or mastering engineer can save you a lot of time as it relates to revisions in your song. Because you provided the optimum format to be able to edit every aspect of your song, a mixing engineer will be able to isolate and sit each element of your song in harmony, allowing it to work together, rather than limiting the potential of your project. You want the best possible quality from your mixers and masters, not just good enough...
This in turn can save you on production costs and your budget over the course of that mix, especially if you consolidate your STEMs ahead of time.
If you need to revisit your project at a later time, you can easily extract your STEMs and open them up in a new DAW or project window without having to fish for all your audio effects and FX chains, which can be time consuming, frustrating, near impossible to redo, and depending on the plugin parameters for your computer, runs the risk of utilizing too much CPU power - and you want that puppy running smooth, believe me.
What does a mixing engineer do with these STEMs?
A mixing engineer, like myself, will apply processes and effects based on their view of what will improve and be best for the overall mix of your song. The end product is a stereo mixdown from the STEMs you have provided, but is not neccessarily considered a mastered mix.
STEM mastering, on the contrary, will not be as conspicuous as to the processing adjustments the mixing engineer will do. These terms tend to get confused, but STEM mastering is geared toward subtle quality adjustments; for example, if the 808 is too loud and drowning out the vocals, the STEM mastering process may pull the level of the 808 down and bring the vocals up, while the STEM mixing process may EQ the 808 and vocals, throw on a compressor, and make larger adjustments to levels.
That's great... but how do I create my STEMs?
- First, get in contact with your mixing or mastering engineer and just ask them if they have any special requirements that would be helpful to the mixing process. Believe me, this will make a positive impact on your relationship between you and your engineers.
- Next, decide if you are going to export each individual track from your song or if you are going to route your tracks into a their own busses; for example, you may have 10 vocal tracks, lead and background, but if your total project has more than 20 tracks, you may consider routing the lead vocals into one bus, background and ad libs into their own, and combine similar instruments together, unless your mixing engineer advises otherwise.
- Make sure your Master Bus is clear of any dynamic effects including compressors or limiters
- Export your STEMs
- This may look differently across DAWs (the software used to edit/record audio)
- Generally, there will be an option from the Export menu saying "All Tracks as Audio Files" or "All Busses"
- After Exporting, find your STEM files (usually grouped into a folder you labeled before export), and upload them to your DropBox.
I hope you enjoyed and learned something new from this article. If I missed something, feel free to let me know or comment below. If you think someone could benefit from this information, go ahead and share this article. If you have questions, feel free to contact me. What would you like to know next? Let me know in the comments below. Do me a favor, smash that like button, share it, let me know what you guys want to learn next, be nice to someone, and have a great day!