Tracked out stems ..
.. You really can’t go without them when you’re looking to record your song(s) professionally.
- But what are tracked out stems exactly?
- What are they used for?
- Why is it so much better than a single MP3 or WAV file?
- And how come the price to get these is always far higher compared to licensing options with a single MP3 or WAV?
The term ‘Tracked Out stems” is commonly mentioned in producer’s licensing options, but there is a difference between individual stems and group stems.
Let’s point these out first.
Individual Stems (Tracks):
A single instrument (or vocal) track. For example; Kick, Snare, Guitar, Piano or Lead Vocal, backing vocal, ad-lib.
A group of sounds of a category often pushed through a single track (/bus). Such as the group of all drums, the group of all guitar recordings or the group of both lead and background vocals.
In order to get your songs professionally mixed you’d want to go for the individual tracks, rather than the group stems. I’ll tell you why later in this article.
Producers normally send over individual stems instead of group stems, so no worries about that. If they don’t, just ask for it and they’ll most likely send it over to you without questions.
After a song is mixed by the engineers, they sometimes export the group stems for mastering. We’ll not go into the details of mastering right now. Instead, we’ll talk about the benefits of individually tracked out stems.
So what are the benefits of tracked out stems?
There are so many good reasons why professional audio engineers work with tracked out stems. Whether they are individual stems or group stems.
But it all comes down to one thing ..
Audio engineers need to have control over the mix in order to deliver a good quality song and to make your mixes sound like a song from your most favourite artists.
They need these tracked out stems to; for example;
- Adjust the volume levels of individual instrument tracks.
- Cut or enhance specific frequencies in an individual stem that may clash with your vocals.
- Perform other surgical operations on individual stems, because that’s what these audio engineering lab rats do. Miracle workers, though. Life-savers, really. 🙏🏽
Now, maybe you’re thinking.
“I’m not an audio engineer and I mix all my vocals myself ..”
Okay, cool! Ever had that problem where your lead vocal interferes with the snare of the instrumental? Or that the level of the drums in the instrumental is too loud to fit the mix?
That’s what I’m talking about!
Control your mix and not just your vocals and a single-track WAV file of the instrumental. With tracked out stems you can adjust the levels of each individual track, perform surgically EQ operations yourself and compress and enhance parts of the instrumental, when necessary. (And it always is)
Why is it so much better than a single MP3 or WAV file?
First of all, if you’re serious about your music career. Please stop using MP3 files for your songs.
MP3’s are not at all industry standard and once you’re looking into getting your songs professionally mixed or mastered, you are in trouble, my friend.
I already mentioned the most important benefit of sending tracked out stems to your audio engineer. Which is ‘Control.’
Still, there’s another reason why I would not recommend recording to a single track MP3 or WAV files.
Almost all single-track (MP3/WAV formatted) instrumentals have been pre-mastered by the producer before they uploaded it online. They need to do this to improve the quality and turn up the volume of the beat.
You can’t master an already mastered instrumental!
This is a major issue with probably half of all the artists who ‘cheap-lease’ instrumentals or even worse; Download them illegally from YouTube!😤
Do me a favour and head over to Soundcloud.com and type in ‘Prod. by Robin Wesley.’ Just listen to a few of the tracks that pop up. Especially the ones with low play count, likes and the voice tags still on it.
Notice how most of them sound squashed and low quality?
Or on some songs, how the vocals are completely off balance compared to the instrumental?
That’s because they couldn’t master it, without messing up the quality of the instrumental and so the full track.
Some of these tracks actually don’t even sound that bad in terms of the artist’s vocal or writing skills. They just chose not to invest in a proper license or/and a professional mix, I guess.
“I want to get the tracked out stems, but the licenses are so expensive. Why!?”
Correct! Producers ask a higher, yet fair rate (to my opinion), for tracked out stems. Have you noticed that they also have better user-rights that come along with these licenses?
It’s simply a better option, no scam at all!
For me personally, it’s all about song potential.
I’m giving you control over the instrumental, the opportunity to make a good quality song with it and better user-rights to make more money from it and maximise your exposure and song potential.
“It’s really not an option. It doesn’t fit my budget.”
Perfectly understandable! We all have to work with what we have.
In this case, I would recommend getting at least the WAV formatted version. It’s limited in terms of mixing and mastering, but with the right audio engineer, you can get a pretty good sounding mix.
However, I do not recommend this for singles, albums, EP’s and/or (official) music videos or any tracks that are going to be sold on iTunes or other platforms. Or streamed on the well-known platforms as, for example, Spotify.
These are the platforms where songs could possibly get picked up by labels or go viral on the web.
The benefits of having the Tracked Out stems
If you have any further questions about this topic, feel free to drop them below in the comment section!
Join the free “Zero to Radio Ready” mini-courseA course designed specifically for artists and songwriters.
- How to analyze music and become a better songwriter
- How to record pro-sounding vocals
- How to mix radio-ready vocals