An individual track stem is an audio file that is created when you record a vocal, instrument, or midi sound for a song. When creating a full track, you usually are combining several stems together to make a complete work of audio art.
Whether the song has instrumentation or is vocal only, chances are, you will have more than one track stem involved in the music project file. For example, a track stem could be a lead vocal, a lead guitar, a lower harmony, a steady piano chord progression, or a drum kick.
To send each individual stem from your project file, you will need to solo the individual track and bounce them out as audio files one by one. The highest quality stems are those in the form of lossless files, like AAC or WAV stems, so avoid doing MP3 bounces if you can.
If it is your job to mix a song, you will need to be given each individual track stem and tweak them all together into a professional, polished sound quality that is acceptable by music industry standards. Failure to secure each individual stem may result in a loss in audio quality and hurt the success of the song you're working on. Most professional engineers will deny your business if you cannot provide them with each individual track stem.
If you're looking to buy an exclusive beat from a producer, they may offer a package that includes full access to each individual track stem. This is a great idea to buy, as you (or the sound engineer you work with) will be able to adjust each individual stem to create a sound more custom to your liking.
The possibilities are literally endless if you have each part in the instrumental to play around with in terms of pitch, speed, echo, reverb, pan, and thousands of other effects. You will also provide your mixing engineer with these stems so that they can make appropriate edits to the audio quality where necessary.
If you are working with a singer or musician and would like to receive or give the part you've recorded, it is best to send your part by sending each individual track stem. Oftentimes, artists will send and receive an acapella file, combining each individual voice part together into one track, but limiting the amount of editing that can be done to each individual vocal file.
Without sending each stem, you are setting your song up to be mixed to, at best, subpar quality. You will need all the vocal layers to be separated for the highest mixing potential.
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While track stems are mainly used for the mixing process and not for the mastering process, it is an option for those who want a really fine-tuned sound. You can master each stem, but do note that you should not substitute mixing for mastering.
At the end of the day, having accessible, high-quality track stems is highly critical to the mixing process, first and foremost. Whether you are receiving or sending out track stems, be sure each stem features just one instrument!
It can be tempting to add multiple drum effects or dubbed vocals into one stem, but it really takes away from the magic of the mixing process when it's all said and done.
As a session singer, writer, and producer that has worked with over 200 clients to provide high-quality jingles, singles, features, nursery rhymes, and DJ drops, she currently spends her time engulfed in creating and marketing new music and helpful resources for creators. Her most recent creative collaborations include work with PBS Sound Field, Tribe of Noise, and the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Check out Yona’s latest music releases on her Spotify, her Youtube and share the music if you like it!
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