What Is A Stem In Audio Mixing?

In audio mixing and mastering, stems are very important because they make processing very easy. For the newbie, knowing and understanding what a stem is may seem difficult. But not to worry, this post has you covered.

So, What is a Stem in Audio Mixing?

A stem in audio mixing is the singled out individual track or section of a mix that is usually bounced out in a suitable file format to be processed individually in any Digital Audio Workstation. For example a song made up of a kick, snare, hat and vocal basically has the kick stem, snare stem, hat stem and a vocal stem.

The duration of the stem will depend on the length of the mix from which it is bounced out from.

Stems are basically the individual elements that make up the full mix. They are basically split into individual sections like kick, bass and snare to make them usable and that much easier to work with.

What are stems used for?

Mixing

Stems are usually used in mixing because they are much easier to handle and allow for easy mixing.

Mixing a full two track that is rendered out can be quite challenging because every mixing decision that is applied to a specific aspect will be applied to the entire track.

This is bad because your effort to fix a certain section of a mix will result in the entire mix being affected.

When you have the stems to a mix, you have the ability to work on them individually which will allow you to do a lot more.

This is why it’s always good to have your stems ready every time you finish a project because you never know when you might need them.

Furthermore certain situations will call for you having the stems.

For example, stems are necessary for anybody involved in beat selling because your customers and clients will want to have the original stems to the instrumental so they can easily have their engineers work on their music with ease especially if you’re simply supplying the instrumental and not recording the actual song.

Having stems to beats usually means ownership and for a beat that is purchased exclusively. Therefore, you’ll need the stems because your client will basically own the exclusive license.

Having the stems will serve them better in any case that they wish to collaborate, edit the music or remix the music.

Mastering

Mastering with stems is another use that stems have in music and audio production. Mastering being the final process in the production process will require that the engineers apply various final touches and tweaks to make the song or final product sound perfect.

It’s common in mastering for people to be simply given a two track. This may work in situations where the person that handled the mixing is excellent at their job, but when it comes to music and audio production, terms like perfect and excellent are not entirely achievable.

You can get pretty close to perfection, but the fact is hearing and perceiving audio differs ear to ear which makes perfection a moving a target.

Which is why mastering with stems can help and make the job pretty much easier because it can allow for further processing.

Most producers and engineers will agree this because it is an industry standard in most situations. Especially situations that involve collaboration.

Handling collaborative work

Stems allow for a great level of zeroing in that can help you fix several issues with in a mix. This brings me to my next point on the use of stems audio and music production.

When handling collaborative work, people will usually record their audio, process it and then send over the stems to their mix so they can be further processed by their collaborator to make them sound a lot better and in tune with the rest of the elements to the tracks.

This is important because collaborative work usually involves two or more people recording it different types of rooms all treated differently whilst using different microphones and various audio equipment.

Therefore to properly handle collaborative work taking into account the various differences in recording equipment and recording spaces you need the stems from your various collaborators because it is the only way you’ll be able to properly mix and master to make all the elements sound cohesive and uniform.

Further editing

Another key function in relation to all the points discussed above is that stems allow for further editing with ease.

Like in the case of the collaborative work that we’ve discussed above.

Think of stems like for example, the various parts that make up a full motor car engine. For extensive inner work to be carried out most parts have to be disassembled so the problem can be figured out, rather than trying to work with the full engine and all its parts attached.

The point is, stems will allow you to do a lot more to mix than you would to a two track instrumental.

What is the importance of stems in music?

They’re easier to use

One of the key things that makes stems important is that they are easy to work with and give more options for a person to carry out further audio production processes.

Rendering out the stems to a mix allows you to separate them and work with them individually within the context of the entire mix.

Great way to keep your processing

Another key importance of stems is that they allow you to keep the processing that you assigned to the individual elements of the mix.

When working within a DAW you might it more efficient to bounce out your stems and then apply your mixing and mastering because it can allow you to save up some processing power and RAM.

They allow for creativity

Stems allow for further creativity that you can’t be had when one decides to work with a two track. With stems you can apply different effects to different tracks, delete tracks, and further edit them to any standard that you wish to.