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Why Are Music Stems Important And How to Use Them

Photograph of the blog post author, Georgia Carter

Georgia Carter

30.8.2022

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Have you heard the term Music Stems and are you familiar with them, or if you haven’t you might now be curious to find out more as they are used a lot in music nowadays. They are the starting point of remixing so let us take you through what they are exactly, how to use them and what are the benefits of this musical production process. 

Stems Music Definition

Music stems in their simplest form are multiple tracks that have been layered together and in this way it is easier to control the individual mixes. There are typically stems that have been broken down into 4 tracks, which may be melody or the vocals, instrumental, bass and drums.  

In short, whereas you may have say 10 individual tracks on one song, you can combine them into 4 tracks which are easier to mix. It essentially means that there are less mistakes made as you do not have to create something twice, and you can save a lot of valuable studio time by grouping similar stems together rather than working through each individual track. 

Stems are available in mp.4 file format 

All you need to know is that there is a lot that can be done with music stems, meaning musicians now can create a wealth of music quicker than they had done before. 

The Difference Between A Stem And A Track

Now, some people may not know the difference between a track and stem, but hopefully it may be a bit clearer from my point above. If not, I would say that tracks are audio files that are entirely individual from one another and work independently. However stems are grouped audio files which are formed when you bounce various tracks together. These are stereo files of different instrument groups (melody, bass, drums & instrumental) which are then processed and mixed down together.   

Bussing 

This is the technique of exporting stems from your DAW – there are plenty more articles about DAWS on our blog page. To be able to mix well, you need to organize the signal flow within the DAW you are using. A bus is an internal signal path for routing and combining audio – I’m sure you already knew that. As the technical equipment has developed over the years, in the analog era, consult channels would be signalled electrically and then engineers redefined their mixing techniques, which meant additional buses have been added for the engineer to create more channels together before arriving at the master channel. 

Now with digital mixing, you can add as many channels – aux-return tracks –  as you need in one session. Old stems can be used in numerous different ways to create new vivid ideas, and original songs can also sound just slightly altered. To remix a song, you need to begin with the concept of stems.  

It is important to remember that you can create your own stems using a DAW software such as Ableton, Logic or Cubase.

Sends & Returns

The trick to becoming a pro at mixing is with the use of stems, and more specifically, the aux send and return tracks. A return track is a track that contains audio effects, and the output of every track in your project can be sent through it, using send controls. In short, they allow you to run multiple sounds through the same effect in your mix. This once again saves you time as an artist and you are able to create this process using your DAW. 

Bouncing stem files together is an easy process when you understand what your DAW allows you to do as they will all be slightly different depending on which one you bought in terms of music stems download / exporting audio. 

The Stem Music Player

You are now able to buy portable stem music players which double as a MP3 player and a portable remixer. There was a model that was launched last summer by Kanye West called The Stem Player. He decided to bypass all of the streaming giants so people could only play his latest album ‘Donda 2’ on the device which was released on February 23rd this year.  So in terms of a stem player, music may be played this way more in the future, who knows. Watch this space.  

Stems Music & Remixing 

Major labels employ mix engineers to create remixes, and you can do this too for your own music. It is easy if you have the right equipment and in the music business everybody has become their own teacher. In terms of audio production, countless numbers of remixes have been created from original pieces of music. A different vibe is available and stems make this possible for the artist. DJs and video makers are a huge fan of using song stems. It is a much more explorative and subjective activity than it was before. 

Stem Music Distribution 

There is a new platform called Stem Disintermedia, which ‘offers music & video distribution, visualized data, monthly royalty payments, simplified revenue splits, and advances on future earnings, Stem brings clarity to the complicated process of digital rights management & monetization online.’ 

Benefits Of Stems In Music

  • You can edit the tracks within the stems to match your needs for your production. 
  • Collaboration is easier than ever, as others can incorporate your music into their production and replace parts of the music to fit with their performances. When multiple tracks are grouped together, collaborators find it easier to understand what your main drive is of your music.
  • It creates more control over form and the tonal steadiness of your music.  
  • You can make a song longer or shorter depending on what you need for your production. 

Top 10 Stem Music Tracks 

Track / Artist / Label 

  1. In my Soul / Sharam Jey, Jean Bacarezza / 8bit Records 
  2. Levitate / Mario Ochoa / Terminal M
  3. Bass (How Low Can You Go) / Milk & Sugar, Simon Harris / Milk & Sugar Recordings
  4. Exit / Dubfire, Miss Kittin / SCI & TEC
  5. Gork / Schubert / SCI & TEC
  6. Sound Abstraction / Techno Mamma 
  7. Spiral / Boris / Terminal M
  8. Atomic Techno / Alberto Costas / Strabaganzza Records
  9. Clone 01 / Heinrich & Heine / Natura Viva Black
  10. Repeat / 808 Minimal / Frasigan Music

DJing with Stems

There appear to be 2 main uses of equipment when DJing with stems:

  • Turntables + Mixer + Laptop/DJ Software
  • DJ Controller with Channels

 Now which one you chose is entirely up to you and ultimately one will work better for you. The main takeaway is that you really can create so many numerous effects on just one track, and there is so much flexibility as a musician. 

DJ Controllers When DJing With Stems

These are just a few of the DJ controllers you can use if you purely DJ with Stems;

  • Traktor Kontrol S8
  • Traktor Kontrol S5
  • Traktor Kontrol S4
  • Traktor Kontrol D2

Concluding Thoughts

So do you think we have answered your question, what are stems in music production? I hope so and now you can become a whizz at using them yourself. There are so many avenues you can go down in terms of stems music, meaning more creativity for you as the artist as I have mentioned before, so if you were not clued up about it before, you are now so go and give this process a go. 

Also, whilst you’re here, why not check out some more of our helpful guides? Such as Reverb In Music Production & Mixing Explained or What Is The Best Laptop For Music Production

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