What's a 'Stem' in Music Mix?

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The Music Telegraph
Text 2019-07-26

▲ Each of these tracks are routed in a mix console to deliver the final mix stem as well as the individual stems required.

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What's a 'Stem' in Music Mix?


All the audio in a mix is in some way interrelated. In music recording, for instance, a typical mix will include multiple tracks of drums, guitars, bass, vocals, etc. Each instrument group will most likely be recorded on separate tracks. Drums, for example will have at least one track for each, the kick, snare, toms, and overheads. Each individual track will have its own level, but the engineer will also want to change the overall level of the drums as they as a group are combined  with other instruments. He/She will need to sub mix the individual tracks to a master fader for ease of mixing.


In a typical soundtrack, there may be hundreds of tracks, which will need to be sub mixed into  master dialog, music, and sound effects tracks. These are called 'Stems'. 


There is an added value to mixing with stems, and that is the flexibility it offers when doing alternate mixes. You can do remixes without having to return to the individual tracks and reconstruct a complicated mix. For example, if you wanted to replace the dialog in a soundtrack with another language, all you would need to do is record and mix a new 'dialog stem'. Then, you would simply mix it with the original music and SFX. In the end, you would have a new soundtrack with the dialog in a new language but with the rest of the mix (music and sound effects) identical to the original.






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