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Hi, I'm a long time lurker, and now I have a question. When I submit audio to an ME, are stems the way to go? How are they setup? Is it vox, rhythm section, guitars/keys? Is there a standard? Is there no end to my questions?
Thanks to all for such a great resource.


GT40sc Sun, 01/04/2004 - 00:37
Hello Bill,

Forgive me if you are already familiar with this process, but let me ask...

What is your final product in this case?

I would imagine you are speaking of a stereo music mix, rather than a surround mix or a film soundtrack, where the use of "stems" is more common...

In the "traditional" world of mastering, the engineer usually works with just the 2-track mixdown...

However, in the past 10 years or so, as the job of mastering has become more "workstation oriented," producers and engineers and A&R types have had the opportunity to put off decisions still further...(g)

Thus, we have seen more and more vocal/instrumental "split stereo" mixes delivered to the mastering studio. (vocal mix on 2 tracks, instrumental mix on 2 more tracks.)

If there is a "standard" for split mixes, I suppose this is it. Perhaps a very complex song may call for the backing vocals on their own stereo pair,giving the ME six tracks to work with...or perhaps this just shows a lack of confidence on the part of the producer?...(sorry.)

Keep in mind that it is NOT the job of the mastering engineer to MIX your song for you. (Although I can certainly do so, you may not get what you want out of it.)

You may be better served by mixing several versions of each song, and then working with the mastering engineer to choose the best one. Don't make it any more complicated or expensive than you have to...

best of luck,

Thomas W. Bethel Sun, 01/04/2004 - 03:56
The use of "stems" is growing and with surround mastering it may become the defacto standard.

Stems originally were for movie sound tracks where you had the voices on one stem, the sound effects on another stem and the music on another stem and three mixers who controlled those stems.

It is now used in various places including recording of live concerts or events where someone other than the main mixer will concentrate all the different microphones into stems that the final mixer will combine into a complete mix. I have personally seen this used on TV remotes for car racing and live concert recordings.

People want to put off the final decisions until later in the production timetable and maybe stems are an attempt to wait until the very last minute to make the "final" decisions.

We have done a couple of mastering sessions where someone will bring in their all-in-one digital mixer to the session so they can control the material they are sending to us to master. We have also done some work with a composer that brought in all of his material on a DA-88 for the mixdown/mastering session. We use WAVELAB so it is easy to do the only problem being syncing up all of the tracks in the montage portion of WL. Luckily the composer talked to us early in the process and we suggested recording a "blip" at the beginning of each track to sync up from. The "blip" was nothing more than a fast rise fast decay pulse that had a recognizable peak that could be lined up visually in WL.

Hope this helps....

Member Sun, 01/04/2004 - 12:08
Thanks guys. Your replies clear up a lot of questions. I see the benefit to stems, but, as GT40sc points out, it isn't the job of the ME to mix the tune, and the flexiblility of stems could actually detract from the artist's vision.
Of course, the artist would hear and agree to the finished product, but stems could actually waste time for the ME.
As you've probably guessed, I'm not an ME.
Thanks again.

joe lambert Tue, 01/06/2004 - 12:45

Stems are fine. My suggestions is to only do stems on songs that you have a question with. For example if you're concerned with the guitar levels, put those as a stem and everything else as the other stereo "Stem".
This limits openinp pandoras box and questioning all you decisions over again.

If you bring in each song with 3 or 4 pairs of stems it's fine but you will have to be very clear with the engineer what your concerns are. Or you will take 3 times as long.