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Anybody into STEMs?

Plec

Venerated Member
Haha, had a great experience I got to tell you about! 8)

I've never really liked the sound of mixing purley digital and then pushing your mix down the throat of a stereo DAW bus, altough it couldn't be more technically correct, I feel it lacks musicality many times. Basically I've always prefered the sound of an analogue mixbus.

About two album mixes ago I stopped doing alternative mixes and started making STEM mixes instead in case I had to change anything before mastering. Doing STEM mixes in the DAW is not a problem, but when doing it analogue you get much more noise from the console that combine in the end when putting all the STEMs together, so I just kept them as a backup in case anything would go wrong. The other day though I thought I would make an A/B test just to see what differences there were between the original stereo mixdown of a track and the combined STEM mix. I also had another engineer present for a second opinion.

To my surprise the STEM mixes actally sounded better when combined in the DAW to make up the complete mix than the actual analogue stereo mix from the console. The STEM mix sounded more dynamic, had a cleaner high-end and basically just sounded fuller and more relaxed were the original mix sounded thin and stressed. I just went in and edited away all the \"silent\" parts in the STEMs and the whole thing just sounded better as a whole. :lol:

The great part is also the nice editing features you get with doing the STEMs. The drums are solo during a short segment?.. just turn the STEM up a couple of db... That single line in the vocal that was so good but didn't really shine through like it was supposed to?... just turn the STEM up, man! Doing some freaky FX like turning the drums backwards for a bar etc...... all so easy and fast when having the STEMs to work with, and it sounds BETTER than going ALL through the analogue mix bus at once. I couldn't be happier. So now I pretty much divide my mix sessions into PRE-mixing and POST-mixing :wink:

\"Hey mix dude, what about that cool thing we talked about on the guitars?\" Relax man... we'll fix it in the POST MIX! :roll:
 

Dr_Jones

Member
Akis, you beat me to the question. Plec, you have definitely piqued my curiousity.
 

MASSIVE Mastering

Active Member
Think of them as busses - When I get stems in for mastering, there's usually a drum stem, guitar, vocal and effects stems. At unity, they create the original mix. Like with busses though, processing can be applied independently to the stems instead of across the entire mix.
 

Dr_Jones

Member
ok, I think I am understanding. So all of your drum tracks mixed together into one audio file = a drum stem. Then all of your guitar tracks mixed together in an audio file = a guitar stem etc. correct? I'm guessing as a mastering engineer you would prefer to work with stems as it gives you more flexibility?
 

Plec

Venerated Member
Exactly like John says!

I basically have one bus/folder with all the drums, another for bass, another for rhythm guitars, one for solos & FX, one for lead vocals and one for backing vocals. An entire mix might be 5-7 STEMs depending on the stuff that's being done.

I arrange the whole Nuendo project from scratch with the STEMs in mind, so when I mix down, all I have to do is solo the right \"folder\" and just play it through the console, going to a stereo buss to a reference converter and then back into Nuendo on a new stereo track. You just do this for every folder/stem that you want.

It's wonderful to be able to \"correct\" stuff after the fact. Especially this recent album I did which was really tight scheduled. We had 12 days for putting down all the tracks including mixing. I had my assistent sit down and edit drums for 36 hours straight right before the actual mix and we basically had to do six songs per day to finish the 12 songs in time. With that much stress you never get it the way you want to... you overlook stuff 'cause you don't have the time to fix it or you didn't to that cool characteristic fx that would've taken an hour to get right.... bla bla bla you know....

With STEMs you can go back at a later time with rested ears and do all those little things. A couple of lines in the vocal needed some more attention, had a few cool drumfills that needed a bit more excitement, had a little 150Hz on the rhythm guitars that needed to be compressed which poked through the mix a little to much, certain notes on a solo that didn't quite cut through..... ALL those little things that actually matters that you don't notice after a 20 hour mix session and that you're basically screwed with in mastering if you only do a stereo mix.

AHH! STEM for President! :lol:
 

akisd28

Member
That's a very nice concept. However, sometimes I use to send some tracks to an 1176LN for some colour, and these include drums, guitar, bass etc. Should this be a separate STEM, if I assume correctly? Because, if I just solo, let's say, the guitars to export their STEM, then the drums etc., the interaction between them when sent to the same compressor will be lost - and I think this gives a bit of unity to the mix.

D'oh, I'm talking non-sense: I could send their STEMs to the 1176LN... :oops: Right?
 

MASSIVE Mastering

Active Member
Dr_Jones said:
I'm guessing as a mastering engineer you would prefer to work with stems as it gives you more flexibility?
Actually, I (along with most I know) would much rather just have a regular stereo mix. Mastering from stems can take damn near forever. My "package" rates don't apply - It goes straight to the hourly book rate for stems.
 

.mr chris

Active Member
Greetings

you might also want to consider to SRC(r8brain/pro) the STEMs and mix at >=96kHz 8)

Cheers,
.chris
 
So we're really just talking about submixes of the various parts - drums - guitars - vocals, etc?

Sorry to be dim here, but if you're recording onto a sequencer which is fully automated and can recall your settings, what's the advantage of doing this over just working with the groups sent to busses?

I know I'm missing something here, but I can't work out what it is!

Cheers


Ron
 

jcat

Active Member
Ronnie Wibbley said:
So we're really just talking about submixes of the various parts - drums - guitars - vocals, etc?

Sorry to be dim here, but if you're recording onto a sequencer which is fully automated and can recall your settings, what's the advantage of doing this over just working with the groups sent to busses?

I know I'm missing something here, but I can't work out what it is!

Cheers


Ron
I quite often STEM my mixes for people that want to have the mixed parts and tweak them a bit in their own time, or work on the track else where (different set-up).

If they’re being worked on elsewhere then stems are great, they can be used and imported into any set-up.

BTW, stems don’t have to be all the drums and all the guitars etc. There can be a stem for every individual element if you want.



akisd28 said:
That's a very nice concept. However, sometimes I use to send some tracks to an 1176LN for some colour, and these include drums, guitar, bass etc. Should this be a separate STEM, if I assume correctly? Because, if I just solo, let's say, the guitars to export their STEM, then the drums etc., the interaction between them when sent to the same compressor will be lost - and I think this gives a bit of unity to the mix.

D'oh, I'm talking non-sense: I could send their STEMs to the 1176LN... Right?

I very often use some compression on sends (this can be great for adding weight without stealing any of the initial transients of the sound), and you have some options when creating stems.

Either just solo each element you want and export (this will include the send as well), or include a 1176 stem for example.


If I'm running some different drum sounds to a 1176 via a send, I will create individual stems that include the 1176 sound as part of the stem, plus a comp stem which is everything being sent to that 1176 plus the 1176 output. The client can then decide for themselves which ones to use.

The point is that the comp stem will include the interactions between the different sounds within the 1176, whereas the individually soloed stems that include the 1176 will sound a little different than if they're all running through the compressor at the same time.



Cheers,

jcat
 

Ashermusic

Active Member
Ronnie Wibbley said:
So we're really just talking about submixes of the various parts - drums - guitars - vocals, etc?

Sorry to be dim here, but if you're recording onto a sequencer which is fully automated and can recall your settings, what's the advantage of doing this over just working with the groups sent to busses?

I know I'm missing something here, but I can't work out what it is!

Cheers


Ron
No, you are not Ron. Stems are indeed sub-mixed bounces and delivering them is a compromise between giving a client, mixer, or masterer a stereo or 5.1 mix and every audio file. It gives them more control than just the mix but less hassle than a whole bunch of audio files. But many post houses and masterers would rather just have the mix and be done with it.

I use stems mostly when I am not going to do the final mix here on my Logic native rig (low budget) but with my engineer on his PT HD rig (higher budget.) It gives him more control which he is happy to have without having to deal with a large number of audio files. If you are doing all the work on your own rig the only reason IMHO to use stems is for archiving in case you want to revisit the project and tweak it later on.
 

Plec

Venerated Member
I have to agree with John. When you're mastering a project from STEMs it can take forvever. It all depends on what needs to be done. It can sometimes save the whole project though.

I had an album in for mastering that didn't sound good at all. I could only do 20% of the stuff I needed to do cause the mix was basically screwed up (in my opinion since I knew what the band wanted). I knew they did everything with a DAW, so I called up the producer and asked for a big STEM of the whole album. It was all the drums separated (8 tracks), Bass (2tr), Rhm guitars (4 tr), Solo guitars (2tr), Lead vocals (2tr), Backing Vox (4tr) and FX (1st-Tr). So basically I had 24 tracks to fiddle with when doing mastering. Basically I re-mixed the whole album to about 80%... but it turned out exactly the way the band wanted... but the mix engineer was of course pissed for a while, but eventually he came to like it as well.

In those cases it can be a life saver, but it might cost you four times as much :|
 
Thanks for your replies. It turns out that when doing music and sound design for tv advertisements I've been doing stem mixes for the clients all the time without realising it! When we started it was common practice to give them the whole mix and then a series of \"tracks\" (in those days from SawPro) bounced down and with effects etc added, all with a click at the start to sync up to picture.

It gave the producer something to do at the dubbing suite!

Cheers


Ron
 

chewie

Active Member
Hey Plec, that wouldn´t happen to have been Christian Rivel´s Audiovision? I know that was the issue on that album as well and it turned out great!

chewie
 

GP

Member
I also find that when you are doing vox up, vox down, kick up, ect. to pass on to the ME, stems make this process fast. All kinds of advatages to using stems. I think I'm just used to mixing to stems so the process seems natural to me ITB.
 

Plec

Venerated Member
chewie said:
Hey Plec, that wouldn´t happen to have been Christian Rivel´s Audiovision? I know that was the issue on that album as well and it turned out great!

chewie
Haha! Funny stuff man! :D

No, actually it wasn't that album. Christian told me they had trouble with getting the sound right. It was Björn Engelmann at Cutting Room who did it whom is one of the most respected mastering engineers in Sweden and he had to do it five times over before they were all satisfied with the results, I just did the master for the Japanese release on Audiovision.

The album that's mentioned was actually Christian Rivel's Divine Fire album. 8)
 

chewie

Active Member
Mayby I got those records mixed up then....my bad :wink:
I think that you mastered one of my mixes on Christian´s Sweet tribute album then, \"Mother Earth\", with my band Brighteye Brison....right? Good work on that in that case! And furthermore I will deliver another master for the project Flagship in 5 weeks or so (if everything works out :eek: ). I believe that you will have that too.....but I can be mistaking again :oops: :?:

chewie
 

Plec

Venerated Member
Ah, damn shame chewie, I didn't to anything on the Sweet tribute album, sorry man :cry:

Flagship...
Just checked it out on Rivels site.. seems like cool stuff man 8)

That would be a cool one to do though :)
Christian phoned me a couple of days ago, but I've been to busy to return his call. Maybe has something to do with that album? You never know... :)
 

chewie

Active Member
Yeah, Flagship will be a cool project (if I don´t screw up the mix....), some really wicked guitarwork :eek: going on and great playing overall.
I got to sing lead on one of the songs as well so I´m happy :D
Kerry Livgren from Kansas has laid down a nice guitarsolo on his song \"Ground Zero\", so that is very cool too!
A lot of channels to keep track of though, we´re up to 50-60 on backing vocals alone on some of the songs...I got me a third UAD-1 and use the freeze on SX3 as well, but I should update my computer too, it gets really sluggish with a few SIR instances and three full cards :wink:

chewie
 
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