If you’re a musical artist who is trying to send your project to the mixing engineers to mix and you’re struggling to get them the right stems, this is an ultimate guide for you. It will answer all of your questions about what and how to prepare stems for your mixing engineers. Including step by step tutorial section on how to properly export stems in Logic Pro X and Ableton Live.
Dry Stems or Wet Stems
This is probably the most asked question. My answer is to send tracks with EQ/Compression/Effects baked in if they’re part of the sound design, with reverb and delay tracks sent separately. Here’s the reason why. when you spent countless hours crafting the sound for your song, you want to hand over to the mix engineers exactly where you left off and they can help you elevate your songs from there. If they have to spend hours to recreate what you have built, it’s less possible to get a mix that matches your vision. Of course, with extremely experienced engineers, they get the idea and can get it right quickly. Well, for the more consistent results, I recommend everyone to send your engineer exactly what you’re happy about and let them do their magic. And they’ll also thank you for saving their time and energy to perform more creative touches.
What to send?
That being said, the easiest and most effective way is to send your mixer your session file if you’re working in the same DAW. I mix in Pro Tools, Ableton, and Studio One, so I advise my clients to send me their session files with all of their tracks frozen. So I don’t have to worry about the missing plugins. For those who can only send out audio stems, I’ll also go over how to properly export stems in Logic and Ableton.
Let’s talk about technical requirements for your stems.
File Format and Resolution
- First of all, always send audio in the highest resolution of wave file that matches your session setting. If you work in 24/48, for instance, send all of your audio file in 24/48.
- Always include your automation and panning information.
Audio Editing Time & Pitch (De-noise)
- Finish editing and tuning before handing the projects to your mixers. Watch out for any room noise and breathes before you put any audio effects or processing. You want to turn up your monitoring or your headphone volume to check. In my other tutorials, I’ll share with you how to eliminate noise to get a better recording and how to de-noise in post production. Remember to check it out, links are in the description box down below. All the editing and tuning should be done before the mixing stage. You should always take care of the timing and pitch at recording or editing stage. Sit down with your recording engineer or producers to get it right, don’t expect your mixer will fix those issues for you. If you don’t know anyone who can help you with editing, please consult with the mixers, they usually provide separate service or point you to someone they know who can provide the service. Some of the mixer like myself will also nudge the timing or pitch a tiny little bit to fit in the pocket and groove during the mix stage, of course if it’s needed.
Quality Control – Check Before Send
- Lastly, always import all the stems in a new session and give it a listen before sending out the stem folder. You want to make sure what you exported matches your reference mix. No missing pieces, distortion or sudden cut off, etc. Trust me, this 5 minute move can save you hours of communication cost with your engineers.
Remember, the better quality of the stems you hand to the mixers, the better result you’ll get. Mixers always want the projects they work on to be the most spectacular piece. Give them a chance to turn your projects into something bigger than life. Haha (AHHH)
Bounce Stems in Logic
Before bouncing the stems, we want to check the overall level at the loudest section of the song to make sure nothing is clipping. If you see the red here at the meter, feel free to select all of the tracks and bring down the volume a tiny bit until the meter is not red. So that you’re leaving enough headroom for the mixer. Then we select the full length of the song, from the start to the end, and make it a cycle selection. You can hit the shortcut “C” to toggle on and off the cycle selection. Next, we hit the shortcut “X” to bring up the mix window, we find all the Aux Send tracks for reverb and delay at the very end of the channel strips, select them, go to the “Option” menu and select “Create Tracks for Selected Channel Strips”. Now you can see in the main window, Aux Send tracks show up as tracks. Now Highlight all of the tracks from the main window and go to the menu, under “File” – “Export”, Export 47 Tracks we selected as Audio Files or command E. Let’s create a Stem folder first, remember where you save the folder. Name it as “Song title”_For Mix Stem. Under range, we’ll select Export Cycle Range Only. Bit Depth should be the same as your session setting. 32 Bit float provides the highest dynamic range, if you have enough space, I definitely recommend you to create at 32 Bit Float. For Multi-Output Software Instrument, your battery drum rack, for instance, you can have them export separately or as a one stereo file. Here I’ll stick with one file per track. Remember to select “Include Volume/Pan Automation and turn off the Normalize option, otherwise, it’ll mess up the volume balance between your tracks. A little trick for organizing your stems is to put a Track Number before your Track Name, shown as below, that way when your mixer import the stems in their workstation, everything is in perfect order and they don’t have to spend a lot of time trying to navigate, and as a result, you’ll get your mix back sooner. Now after we exported the stems, we’ll save the current session as a Stem session so that it doesn’t mess up with your original session. Close the session and create a blank new session, import all of the stems we just exported in it. Play it all the way through and make sure it sounds right, no distortion or clipping, no missing sound or effects, no missing section. After this, we’re ready to send off the stem folder to your mixer. I’m putting the BPM and Key information in the folder name, nice and neat, now I’m going to compress the folder to a smaller size and send it. Voila!
Bounce Stems in Ableton
(Before bouncing the stems, we want to check the overall level at the loudest section of the song to make sure nothing is clipping. If you see the red here at the meter, feel free to select all of the tracks and bring down the volume a tiny bit until the meter is not red. So that you’re leaving enough headroom for the mixer. (Copy from the previous)
Then we select the full length of the song, from the start to the end, and make it a loop selection, highlight it. Then go to File Menu, “Export Audio/Video”, under the Rendered track, choose “All Individual Tracks. Make sure the start and length are correct. Turn on “Include Return and Master Effects, make sure Normalize is off, choose the same sample rate and bit depth as your session setting. Turn on PCM, Wave File Type, and No Dither. Create a new folder for mix stems, Properly name it, I’ll include BPM and Key info in the folder name, and delete the song title from this section because I don’t like the stem name has a song title name in front, I’m not able to quickly review the actual name of the track after I import them into my mix session. So I’ll just put a space here. Now we’re ready to export. I haven’t quite figure out how to add the number of the track back in after I renamed the track in the session. If you have the answer, please let me know in the comment section.
Now we have exported the stems, we’ll save the session as a new version, name it For Mix Stem. Then I’m going to create a new Ableton session, and import all the stems in the new session and give it a listen. Hold on comment key while dragging, that way all the files will be put into their individual track. Let’s play it all the way through and make sure it sounds right, with no distortion or clipping, no missing sound or effects, no missing section. After this, we’re ready to compress the stem folder and send it off to your favorite mixer.