Track stems: The Ultimate guide for artists
What are stems? Stem tracks aka stem files or tracked out stems are the individual tracks that make up your music. They can be edited and mixed, creating remixes of songs. Stems are also essential for an artist to have because stems can be used in many different ways by all kinds of artists-be it the producer, the DJ, or anyone else who might use stems. Let’s find out why stems are so important!
What are stems?
Online producers often have a license which will include track stem aka stems. Stems are the individual tracks that make up your music. Normally these will be (should be) Wav files. A Wav file is uncompressed audio files. What this means is that they preserve the original sound, and there isn’t any loss in quality when you convert it to a compressed file like mp3.
As opposed to wav files, compressed audio formats such as mp3 or m4a (popularly shortened to just “mp3”) use data reduction which means they do lose quality. Think of wav files as the original copy, and compressed audio formats like mp3 or m4a as photocopies-while they’re still usable if you don’t have access to the original file, they just aren’t exactly the same.
Each part of a song is essentially a track, and stems just break those tracks down into even more detailed pieces. For example, stems from a drum track would be “kick” or “snare” stems. A stem is a single track or individual audio file within a song.
Typical Examples of track stems could be organised
1. By the individual tracks that make up your music
2. By type of sound (ie: drum, vocals, guitar, bassline etc.)
Stems or multitracks?
If you’re familiar with producing, you might think of stems as multitracks. While there are similarities between the two, it’s best to not use that term when referring to stems because no one will understand what you’re talking about!
Difference between multitracks
A multitrack isn’t technically an audio file, but rather a recording where there are multiple “tracks” of audio all playing at the same time to create the finished song.
Tracks in a music piece can also be called multitracks or multitrack files. Multitracks are when you have the full song divided into its individual tracks, but it is still one file. It can’t be played back on its own, and will only work if the other tracks are there as well. This means you can’t cut, copy or delete parts of the song.
Difference between Stems
Stems are tracks broken down to their core parts. Say you have a track that has drums, bass, vocals, and guitars playing at once. That track would be one track, but if you decide to separate each individual part of that song (such as the drums, bass and vocals) and turn those tracks into stems, you’d be left with tracks like “kick,” “snare”, “bass”, and “vocals.”
So choosing stems or multitracks is best for different situations and your needs.
Why stems are important for artists
Tracked out stems are by far one of the most important things an artist can have if they want to release their music on platforms like Spotify, Pandora, iTunes, etc. Stems allow you to edit tracks and mix your song in the way you wish.
When tracks are separated by different tracks into individual tracks, it allows for artists to edit their tracks, giving the artist or audio engineers more power over how they want their music to sound. This is great because it helps create a specific sound that an artist might be trying to achieve with their music. Maybe you want more reverb on a certain track or want to mess with the arrangement of the song, you can do all of this with stems.
Additionally, having your tracks broken down into individual stems gives you the power to create remixes. For example, if you have a song with wav files, you can take the wav files for each separate track in your song (kick, snare, bassline, etc.) and import them into a program like Fl studio or Logic Pro and create a new version of your song with wav files, essentially giving you the foundations for your remix.
Stems also give you the power to use different kinds of compression and effects on tracks without affecting anything else in your mix. For example, you can add lots of reverb to just the snare drum stems instead of applying that effect to the entire track, allowing you to mix and edit the effect as you see fit.
How to use stems in your music production process
Stems are best used when your music is completely tracked out. If you have a song that has vocals, drums, guitars, basslines and synth parts all in the same track file it becomes quite difficult to adjust any of those individual pieces later on.
What this means is that there’s a lot more editing involved in order to manipulate different sounds or tracks.
If you have all your music in separate tracks, it becomes a lot easier to create songs with complicated arrangements because you are working with individual sounds instead of everything being mashed together in one file. When working with stems, you can edit these individual tracks much easier and create a clean full mix.
The best ways to work with stems is by importing the stems into a Digital Audio Workstation such as Pro Tools, Logic Pro or Ableton Live, where you can manipulate each stem individually in a way that best suits your song.
How important are stems to the music industry?
Tracks separated into individual stems give artists more freedom to edit and mix their tracks in a way that best suit the song. Thus, editing and mixing gives an artist more power over their music, allowing them to create a more specific sound.
As stems become an increasingly popular tool for producers and DJs to use, it will slowly turn into a standard best practice to have stems while releasing on platforms like Spotify, Soundcloud and iTunes.
Ways you can use track stems?
Use as the entire song : You have all your tracks separated, so you can use them as the entire song. This is useful if you want to apply effects over everything or perhaps change the entire arrangement
Use as a single track: If you choose a stem and use it as a single track, you can play around with the entire mix of your song. Every instrument and effect will be on their own individual track, allowing you to edit each sound as desired. They give you full control over your entire track and even allow for entire new versions of your song to be created-allowing you to make entirely new versions of your track, which can be used for remixes or even entire separate singles. This is great if you want to make a specific song sound different from others in its genre.
Use for mixing: If you or a mix engineer want a great sounding mixdown of your entire song, using stems is one way to do that. You have more power over how the entire song sounds without drastically changing the entire track.
Use for mastering : Track stems are important for mastering too! You can have your entire mix exported as a stem, and then you or your mastering engineer can use the stem to master the entire song. This is useful if you want to create a certain sound with your entire track that may not be possible from mastering each individual stem
Use for remixes: If you have tracks that are separate into their own tracks, it’s easy to make remixes out of your entire song. As an vocalist, if you choose to give away stems it can be a very powerful move because it gives other artists the ability to remix your single or entire album! (How about a viral Tiktok) This will lead to more exposure for you as an artist and will help you gain a lot more fans.
Use for samples: If you have vocals, drums, or guitar tracks in your stems, take them and use them as samples. This is useful because then the entire mix won’t change when you apply different effects over it.
There is no “official” stem convention that most professionals use for this situation, Its a good idea when providing or using track stems that your use a consistent naming convention that makes it easier to find what your looking for. Most people name their stems as follows:
A good convention would be to name each stem with a corresponding number, so if you have 10 stems, your entire session would look something like this:
-Lead Vocal 1
Finally, if you have track stems of entire songs broken down into the individual instruments, the convention is to name them as follows:
-Drums Stem (kick, snare)
-Synth Stems (lead, pad, etc.)
Benefits of using stems when mixing and editing tracks in a DAW or sampler
There are many benefits of using stems when you’re mixing your track. The best one here is that if you have all the tracks separated, you can easily mix the entire song without affecting any individual parts . If you have a vocal stem, for example, you can apply effects to it without affecting anything else in your mix. Another benefit is that you have full control over your song without affecting any other individual track.
If you have stems, you can also create remixes out of your entire track , which is a great way to show off your skills and get more fans. Remixing is different from sampling in that it allows you to completely change the song while still using the same parts of the song (meaning, if you sampled someone else’s track, you would be using their song for your remix.)
Additionally, stems are very important because they’re an effective way to master an entire track . If your mix engineer exports all of your music as stems, then mastering becomes much easier. This is best for when you want one cohesive sound throughout the entire master of your track.
What about DJing with stems?
Stems can also be used when you’re DJing with them, because it allows you to quickly change up your sound without needing to learn how to mix in 2 or more songs at once . Most DJs use stem files when they play in clubs or for larger audiences.
You can also use stems to sample parts of your track for use in other songs, which is best if you’re looking to become a professional DJ or producer. This will help you get more exposure and open up new opportunities .
Track stems when leasing instrumental beats
When buying beats online from a producer, it’s best if you ask for the stems because this will allow you to make better mixes using your own vocals and other effects. This can be very beneficial to you as an artist and label owner because it allows you to monetize your music more effectively.
Most producers including myself sell track stems but this is only included in the higher tier licenses or the most expensive license.
What beat license should I choose?
Before we talk about which beat license you should choose when purchasing beats. Let’s look at what files should be available to you. For independent artists, money can be tight so making the choice to buy expensive licenses that includes Stems can be increase your budget but also be a huge plus. Check when buying your license that you will receive at lease one or all of the following:
Lower quality audio files that audio tehnicians use to be able to share audio more efficiently.
Higher audio quality audio files, used for more audio intense music products. For a quality mastered version of your final mix you will need quality Wav files.
This is another higher quality file type, which is basically another format of Wav format associated with Logic Pro.
This is when the individual tracks of the song are separated out into different audio tracks, which can be a huge benefit to you as an artist. This can as group stems i.e DRUMS or as individual elements such as single instrument tracks such as a Kick, Snare …etc.
These are the audio files of the song without any audio effects applied to them. This is usually for when the artist wishes to change the sound of the final stereo mix.
Just as it sounds, these audio files have been processed with some level of audio effects. This can range from very minimal processing to a completely transformed sound.
If you have unlimited content creation budget, then go for licenses with stems. If however your budget is limited and can’t afford a license with stems don’t worry its ok ! The good news is that the majority of producers will sell the instrumental/track separate from the stems. This is perfectly fine and you should not feel like you are missing out on anything. You can always upgrade your license and the producer will send you the additional stems.
A music producer will sometimes help artists understand which license could be best for their needs using their naming system. For example, I name my license Entry, Professional and unlimited. This will help make the best choice for themselves.
When choosing the correct license, it is important to choose the license that best suits your situation and needs. For example, if you’d like to use the instrumental as is for both commercial and personal uses, then you should choose the Entry license as a minimum.
An Entry or Basic license (my licenses do) will usually come with two audio tracks. They will be stereo files consisting of a single MP3 file and/or a WAV file but sometimes there will only be MP3 files. As a minimum I would go with the license with at lease a stereo WAV file. This is because stereo files are a higher quality than MP3 stereos files.
These files will be the final mix of the instrumental beat ready for you to put your vocals on.
If you think you would want to use your own mixing engineer to mix the song post vocals then you will need a license which includes track stems. If you are buying a license from my beat store then this will be either the Premium or Unlimited license.
There are other things you need to consider when purchasing a beat licenses such as how many downloads or sale you think your song will have but that is a topic for another article.
Always read the terms of your license carefully. This is very important because it will allow you to find out what you can and cannot do with the beat that you purchase. Make sure to include any other artists on your track if someone else’s vocals were used in the beat. This way, you’ll be sure to follow all licensing laws .
I hope this article has provided you with some tips on best ways to use stems. Stems are an excellent way to give yourself more creative freedom with your music-making process.
For best results with your next music track, purchase a license which comes with wavs and/or track stems. This will greatly increase the value of your purchase and you can do so much more with it than if you just had the instrumental beat track itself.
I hope you found this article helpful please feel.
Interesting in knowing where else you can follow me? Linktree
Looking for instrumental beats for your next project? R&B and Hop Hip Beats