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Clarification about "stems"
Old 11th April 2003
  #1
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heartsoffire's Avatar
 

Clarification about "stems"

OK. I know that this should be fundamental, but I am having a problem understanding what "stems" are. Here is what I THINK they are and what I think they are NOT.

What I think they are:
Mulitple tracks bussed to output channels. (i.e. 10 tracks of drums that are bussed to channels 3 & 4. 6 tracks of guitars bussed to channels 5 & 6).

What I think they are NOT:
Multiple tracks bussed to an AUX track.

In my searching for answers on this topic, I undertand that many of you believe that bussing to an AUX track may not be good and that sending them out as a STEM is better.

Do I understand this correctly?
Old 11th April 2003
  #2
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In my experence, people usually use the term in reference to printing at the end of the mix. For example, print:

Drums Stems
Guitar Stems
Bass Stems
Live String Stems
Other Music Stems
Lead Vocal Stems
Background Vocal Stems

This way if you bring all the stems up at unity, you, in theory, will have your mix back and can make other mix versions accordingly. It's very helpful for tv and show mixes, but can save you from a recall if someone thinks that one element sticks out too much.

...or what's leftover after your clients roll a doobie.
Old 11th April 2003
  #3
Gear Maniac
 

Exactly what e-cue said...

I usually do a band stem mix and a vocal stem mix. Sometimes i'll spread the band out and do drum& bass on a stem and pads and gtrs on two other stems...

but anything goes.
Old 11th April 2003
  #4
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One of the things to be careful with is, 2 bus processing. I've often wondered about how other engineers handle this.

For example, lets say you have a compressor on your 2 mix, and your kick is loud, the kick drum will trigger your compression threshold across the whole 2 mix, so, if you are printing your lead accapella, the compression will hit the threshold differently. You dig? So, if you key the compressor (if it has a key input) it will trigger the compressor the same way as long as the whole 2 mix is being sent to the key input (not as easy as just soloin' the lead vocal, since that will mute the rest of the board).

Does this make an inkling of sense?

Also, I consider my mixes MY intellectual property. I don't like the idea of someone taking my stems and turning them into a 5.1 mix without me seeing so type of compensation. For this reason, I usually don't release these if I can get away with it. Also, should they need a different version for TV, I get paid my engineering fee to do the alternate version. (sometimes I'm cool and don't charge the label if I'm not superbusy, but I usually change anyway to set a precedence).
Old 11th April 2003
  #5
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I'm just about to do some on a film i'm scoring.

But it's kind of pointless. If I group the cellos whoopee doo you get some cellos coming in and out at indecriminate points.

If I do stems of the woodwind, um, same thing.

You just end up with chunks.

Also once I've taken my sends to reverb off it sound duff anyway.

Also as I'm doing most of this in the computer sounds nothing like what I meant without the heavy automation going on to create the illusion of a living breathing orchestra.

But they still want stems.

Hey ho. It's the commitmophobic age we live in. Why can't it just be 'finished'.

I've been doing this long enough to get over it, but I don't think I will. Perhaps I'll pay the fedex guy to take the stems to a different part of the world to the actual mixes.
Old 11th April 2003
  #6
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The gents are exactly right in there descriptions.
Bev, why not print the stem with automation and FX in?
Old 11th April 2003
  #7
Gear Addict
 

Typically, I'll print stems from a patch point before the 2 bus compressor. There's really no way to get stems to sound like the mix, unless there was no 2 bus compression on the mix. In order to do recalls, I return the stems to the pre-VCA insert return, and spank them all together. You've got to watch out for all those noisy effect returns building up on ya too.
If you're using lots of group where different tracks are sharing compressors, distortions, Dolby's etc, well.... you're screwed.
Old 11th April 2003
  #8
Mindreader
 
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Steve -

When it's very subtle music a part would be over-reverbed if it was pushed up in the mix. It's a very 'relative' game.

Bloomin classical music. Where's a rock gig.
Old 11th April 2003
  #9
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Stems allow you to readjust a mix for multiple formats without needing to bring everything up for a new mix. In the case of film, this is mandatory because of massive incompatibilities among the various release formats.

In the case of film music, different styles of film mixing require different balances. You really don't want people using eq. to fix problems that could be fixed using music stems. The difference between a mix played against the big screen and one played without picture or a TV screen is absolutely amazing. Record mixes don't sound good against picture, good film music mixes make really bad records and video really requires a third mix. A client of mine made an incredible demo of this that he used as an integral part of my interning education for moving from records to film work.

The thing to understand about stems is that they are expected to play back perfectly with no fader moves at all besides static balance adjustments between elements.
Old 11th April 2003
  #10
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Quote:
Originally posted by Bob Olhsson
The thing to understand about stems is that they are expected to play back perfectly with no fader moves at all besides static balance adjustments between elements.
Exactly, Bob. As usual, a concise description.

However, if you do employ some level of 2 bus compression, which I especially find to be common in a DAW mix to help create a bit of tape-like cohesion, that stem playback will never completely recreate the final stereo mix, without the identical compression being applied after re-summing the stems.

For that reason, combined with 100% recall/reset capability in my fully "in the Box" mixing approach, I never do stems. In my case, it is actually more trouble than just doing a full recall and adjusting from there.

My only current stem adventures involve requests for live performance oriented stems for playback at FOH from DA-88s, etc.

I've done some film oriented mixing. Thank God that's over. Gimme a 4 minute hit song in stereo to work on instead, any day.


Regards,
Brian T
Old 12th April 2003
  #11
Super Moderator
 
Remoteness's Avatar
Perfect explanation Bob!

Let's say you're mixing 4 stereo stems.

Drums on 1&2

Bass & GTRs on 3&4

Keys, pads, etc. on 5&6

Vocals on 7&8

Set the return (of the stem mix machine) faders to unity.
Each pass is mixed and/or refined with it's own reverb, FX and individual compression, plus a 2mix compressor.

It's like having 4 stereo (2 buss) compressors working for you.
Each compressor, FX and reverb is special to each stem individually.

The stems are then mixed thru the stereo (mix buss) for final output to the CDR, DAT, Masterlink and/or DA98HR. If the client needs a simple remix, it's done via the stem mix tracks. You know, a little more vocals, etc. If you need to add something on top of the stems just lock up the multitracks and add it in or remix that stem.

The client does have to get the stem mix tape. The CDR or whatever is usually just fine. 4 out of 5 of my mixes are done this way. IMO, it's the only way to do it!
Old 12th April 2003
  #12
Moderator emeritus
 

I have a regular client who wants a soloed lead vocal, soloed background vocals, and an instrumental mix in addition to the full mixes I give him. His theory is that if he doesn't like the mixes I gave him, he can essentially line up these stems and then tweak to his hearts content. Unfortunately, he (A) wants them on CD, meaning 16 bit, and (B) wants them with the L1+ and any added EQ on the master fader. So these stems, at least do NOT add up to my original mix.

Not only is it frustrating knowing that if he does it, he'll screw it up (I've heard his versions), but that he doesn't even want 24 bit files. Oh, and since he wants these stems (plus my mixes) delivered on an audio CD, it takes a lot of time to bounce all of these mixes down - I spent almost 6 hours today bouncing to disk 5 passes of 9 songs and then putting each song on its own CD. But at least he doesn't pay very well...

But at least he does pay.
Old 12th April 2003
  #13
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Steve Smith's Avatar
 

Steve : Victory!

Dave: I had to grab my keyboard to keep myself from going into a flashback when I read your post.. there should be a law that protects engineers from these types of clients.. surely OSHA sees the risk to our mental health?
Old 12th April 2003
  #14
Moderator emeritus
 

Quote:
Originally posted by Steve Smith

Dave: I had to grab my keyboard to keep myself from going into a flashback when I read your post.. there should be a law that protects engineers from these types of clients.. surely OSHA sees the risk to our mental health?
I'm not complaining (except here), because he IS a steady client. Less work than a year ago, but still steady work every month.
Old 12th April 2003
  #15
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Quote:
Originally posted by BrianT


...combined with 100% recall/reset capability in my fully "in the Box" mixing approach, I never do stems. In my case, it is actually more trouble than just doing a full recall and adjusting from there.
This is true, "in the box" is equivalent to nothing but stems. In the case of a film, it's usually way too complicated to not use stems and I suspect this may turn out to be the case with surround music mixing as people discover the hard way how difficult it is to make things translate. It's all about being able to easily do something about mixes that won't work in certain situations.
Old 12th April 2003
  #16
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I can totally appreciate the surround mixing of stems. Way easier than any other method.

I'm still not quite sure what use stems would be for any other kind of film mix though. Unless it's for the insertion/removal of parts to match last minute edits.

The thing I'm doing right now is on an incredibly tight schedule, I'm trying to write things as 'open' as possible, and instead of writing cues through transitions, I'm ending the cue, then writing a 'new' cue to pick up where the last one ended so that overlap would not be a problem.

With all this, if it gives the guys at the end greater flexiblity then I guess it can't be a bad thing.

Creating stems is still a giant pain in the arse though, specially when you're a one man band.
Old 13th April 2003
  #17
Gear Guru
 
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Couldn't you do as ecue suggested. As far as the 2 buss compression.

Send everything to another pair of busses that key your compressor.

Then, when you do stems you just don't send unused tracks to the main buss.

But they still go to the Key buss. Although the reverbs and delays would have to be turned off too. PITA

Also, if this would work, how would you do it if you were using multiple things on the master buss..

Like Channelstrip compression then TCMasterX then L2

That's a tough one.
Old 13th April 2003
  #18
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e-cue's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally posted by Produceher
Couldn't you do as ecue suggested. As far as the 2 buss compression.

Send everything to another pair of busses that key your compressor.

Then, when you do stems you just don't send unused tracks to the main buss.

But they still go to the Key buss. Although the reverbs and delays would have to be turned off too. PITA

Also, if this would work, how would you do it if you were using multiple things on the master buss..

Like Channelstrip compression then TCMasterX then L2

That's a tough one.
The reason I do this is when I DO need to pull these tracks up for say, a TV mix, I don't need $10,000 worth of 2 bus processing. Most often, I'll get a call "WE NEED A VERSION WITH THE LEAD HARMONIES IN THE VERSES FOR TEH TONIGHT SHOW, AND WE NEED IT YESTERDAY!". I'll pull the session up in my stankin boxers, print the version, and messenger it across town (or midnight express). 15 minutes of work, and I charge a day rate, is still cheaper than doing a recall at a $2,000 a day studio plus rentals.
I very rarely share effects like I used to, except for on vocals, which I print seperate and combined versions of. It seems to work good for me. If the label needs more than that and they didn't specify anything out of the ordanary, then they have to just break bread and do the recall. In rare instances, I've done everything track by track.
Old 18th April 2003
  #19
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Quote:
Originally posted by BevvyB

I'm still not quite sure what use stems would be for any other kind of film mix though.
Nobody ever knows exactly what all will be in the final mix until after the final mix!

Dialogue changes and sound effects changes are frequently made after the director hears the final mix in a theater with the film being projected on a big screen. The original ideas of how to establish certain elements or parts of a plot frequently don't work. Stems allow you to introduce new clarifying dramatic elements and then quickly adjust the whole mix so that everything works together seamlessly.
Old 18th April 2003
  #20
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saving my ass

I 'inherited' an over produced major label record
a week ago. My job is to replace all the guitars and 'unproduce' it and re mix 9-12 songs.

Nearly impossible as no one agrees on the final outcome.
My only hope is to do my parts (many) and re mix
using as many stems as possible. I'm thinking
6 stereo and 4 mono stems including FX as one of the stereo stems. This way, during mastering (in a week), I can make tweaks for the many folks who will attend this session. Then, I will cash my check and get drunk.
cheers for stems,
chap
Old 19th April 2003
  #21
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Pardon me for peeing all over this post. Does it seem like the concept of stem-mixing has become yet another way of forstalling the inevitable final decision-making of a record? (Referring to music mixing, not film)

Many of the heavy mastering engineers now seem to be working from these stems, and essentially remixing projects. Who gave these guys the keys? Just mix the damn thing, and then go eat.
Old 19th April 2003
  #22
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live to mix another day

I suppose that's a good idea in theory.
So far, the last 2 producers of this project were fired during mastering by the label president for being unprepared. That's $10,000 that the label has mispent because someone "went to eat."

The message has been sent. Be prepared.
I'll be a good little boy scout.

I think I'd like to keep working so I'll bring my stems and make minor adjustments on the fly...and live to mix another day.
Old 19th April 2003
  #23
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Quote:
Originally posted by mitgong
Pardon me for peeing all over this post. Does it seem like the concept of stem-mixing has become yet another way of forstalling the inevitable final decision-making of a record? (Referring to music mixing, not film)

Many of the heavy mastering engineers now seem to be working from these stems, and essentially remixing projects. Who gave these guys the keys? Just mix the damn thing, and then go eat.
I see your point, but what happens if you print your Main pass, your Instrumental Pass, your "tv" pass, your Lead Up pass, Your Background Vox pass, Your Lead vocal up pass, Your BG vox etc, etc... And then the label / artist what to do a remix and keep one element, or the vocalist's voice is shoot and they need to play the tonight show but use live background singers? Recall. There are some people out there that treat stems like a "mix in progress", and that kinda sucks, but stems have save me, my clients, and the world a crapload and time, unnecessary inconvenience, and money. They are just another form of back up that's more flexible.
Old 19th April 2003
  #24
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Quote:
Originally posted by e-cue
I see your point, but what happens if you print your Main pass, your Instrumental Pass, your "tv" pass, your Lead Up pass, Your Background Vox pass, Your Lead vocal up pass, Your BG vox etc, etc... And then the label / artist what to do a remix and keep one element, or the vocalist's voice is shoot and they need to play the tonight show but use live background singers? Recall. There are some people out there that treat stems like a "mix in progress", and that kinda sucks, but stems have save me, my clients, and the world a crapload and time, unnecessary inconvenience, and money. They are just another form of back up that's more flexible.
I have to create live mixes as well for artists sometimes. For a typical song, i think I have like 10 stereo tracks and 2 mono tracks.
Then depending on what their gig is and how many players/singers they are taking with them for the tour or one off, I mix that down to 8 tracks to be played with live playback on something like a da88 or adat or HardDisk VS-1880.
1 click
2 cue track (mono mix of what the artist wants)
3 All Perc/loops stuff - L
4 All Perc/loops stuff - R
5 All pads/strings/ear candy - L
6 All pads/strings/ear candy - R
7 BGVs L
8 BGVs R

Then the live mixer can mix however they want.
If it's a tv track and the artist is playing something live as well, like a piano and is using in ears, I still use Multitracks and use it like

1 cue track to artist L
2 cue track to artist R
3-4 drums / loops / perc
5 bass
6 BGVs
7-8 pads /strings / gtrs

If I didn't have the original stems that I made or the original album mixer made, life would suck everytime I had to make changes, add sections, edit sections, take out parts, add parts, remix the stems, etc.
Old 19th April 2003
  #25
Motown legend
 
Bob Olhsson's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally posted by mitgong
Does it seem like the concept of stem-mixing has become yet another way of forstalling the inevitable final decision-making of a record?
It certainly could be but it's also a powerful tool when handled intelligently. Certainly one could say the very same thing about multitrack recording and overdubbing too.
Old 19th April 2003
  #26
Super Moderator
 
Remoteness's Avatar
Quote:
Originally posted by mitgong
Pardon me for peeing all over this post. Does it seem like the concept of stem-mixing has become yet another way of forstalling the inevitable final decision-making of a record? (Referring to music mixing, not film)
Yes, and what wrong with that? Let's say the mix was perfect but it needed a little adjustment on the vocal stem, etc. Why should I have to recall all my settings for a 4 minute fix?

Quote:

Many of the heavy mastering engineers now seem to be working from these stems, and essentially remixing projects. Who gave these guys the keys? Just mix the damn thing, and then go eat.
The (stem) mix engineers (may) trust their associates, and that's why they gave them the keys. There should be an understanding about how far a mastering engineer can go before it's too much of a change. If you're not comfortable with it, don't give them the option.

I'd rather have my mastering engineer adjust the mix via a stem, then pulling a track in or out with EQ tricks, etc. But that's my opinion.
Old 20th April 2003
  #27
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The easy way to do this is to bring the stems and work with the mastering engineer. Chances are that as a mixer/producer. you are more informed about the project and the artist/ label's intentions.

Works for me.
cheers,
chap
Old 21st April 2003
  #28
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OK. I learned something tonight by reading these posts. All good points, but more valid to those (most?) of you who are using consoles for mixing as opposed to staying within a DAW.

I guess my topic-hijack was more about how I'd love to see a little more fearlessness in mixing. I can play the ignorant idealist, though, because I hardly ever have to deal with label mooks holding the purse-strings (and my clients rarely have the budget for outside mastering).

Thanks for the great insights, you geeks.
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