An audio STEM is a full song-length audio file that contains a premixed group of audio tracks. Usually, a stem consists of a certain group of instruments (drums, strings, guitar, bass, etc.). That is, the song is vertically divided into sections by instrument. The point of stems is to export tracks to any DAW, quickly recreate the sound of the original track, save time working on the project, and in the case of live use, expand the DJ’s expressive means.
Don’t confuse a stem with a group of tracks in a DAW. A Stem is a WAV file saved in stereo and processed. Stem sessions are usually used when the main work of recording, editing, and mixing has already been completed.
Don’t confuse Stems with multitracks! Multitracks are a collection of individual tracks in a project, either mono or stereo. There will be no processing and effects in multitracks. And each channel contains only one specific voice or instrument, not a group of instruments. For example, a drum stem consists of mixed voices from the entire drum kit and additional percussion. They have already been processed by frequency, level, and time.
There are usually 4 to 20 stems in a project. There can be up to several hundred multitracks.
How Audio STEMS Are Used
This type of file is the industry standard and essential handout. The most obvious uses are: Mastering/Mixing Stems help save time and money – it’s much easier to make small changes to the mix and do the last steps on the record (like slightly increasing the compression of the drum section without touching the vocals and other instruments) with four stems, not 400 tracks.
Stems will come in handy for another reason: if the recording and premix were done in a good studio, then all the processing using expensive rack equipment will be preserved. If you want to edit the mix after a while, you won’t need to access the whole multitrack, rebuild the effects chains, re-align the levels in relation to each other, etc.
In addition, stems can be opened anytime, anywhere, in any studio, and on any DAW. And they will save the day if the recording was made using a plugin that the developers stopped supporting or you don’t have it anymore installed on your computer (studio’s computer).
To assemble a track from stems, it is important that they are the same size, same length (same tempo), saved in the same format (for example, 24 bit / WAV / 48 kHz), and start at the same point on the timeline. Stems should be allocated according to their categories in the arrangement. For example drums, bass, keys, guitars, lead vocals, backing vocals, noise and texture effects, etc.
Stems are also good when several engineers are working on a project. If a person who is not very familiar with the previous stages of the project is working on the next stage, he should not send a multitrack. With a few stems, things will be much easier. And it’s much easier to assemble a complete picture in a DAW from prepared stems than from hundreds of multitracks.
Up until a few years ago, nobody would have thought of bringing individual tracks to a mastering session. Although multitrack recording began in the 1960s with a 4-track recorder, the master was always created from a finished mixdown. Only the digitization of music created the possibilities for this.
The handling of finished music titles or individual tracks as a digital audio file enables problem-free storage, transport, and sending on the Internet, even large amounts of data without loss of quality. Today it is not a problem to come to a mastering session not only with one stereo track, but any number of stems can be delivered.
DJs and producers take elements of the original song but interpret it with a different tempo, different beat, transposition, etc. Dedicated software such as Serato DJ, Traktor, and Ableton Live are great for remixing. You can download a stem pack that usually includes all the individual audio elements in WAV and MIDI format. So you have free hand to edit, slice, chop, and create original new tracks. Stems can be a great way for producers to get inspiration!
The number one rule in working with stems is that they should be the same in length to eliminate problems with synchronization in the project, as well as cue marks for DJs. Mute unwanted tracks. Check that the effects chain and automation curves work for all stems. Keep in mind that there will be no effects on the master bus for obvious reasons.
If you are looking for some great Stems packs you can just make a search in our store (use the search form, search for “Stems”). You will find hundreds of sample packs that includes full beat construction kits loaded with stems in WAV and MIDI format.
All stem packs available on the ProducerSpot website are delivered under a royalty-free license, so you can use them in your own releases and have the right to publicly reproduce them.