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Stem Mixing

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Stem Mixing

Postby Frank Rideau » Wed Jun 29, 2011 12:50 pm

Yesterday, I did my first experimentation by bouncing group of tracks (drums, guitars, multi-mic recorded instrument, etc...) from an on-going mix. The idea was to fine-tune the mix by working with only 8 tracks rather than 25. I really liked doing this. It allows me to experiment quickly subtle group balance changes and I even permit myself to make some additionnal group processing.

I would be curious to hear if you guys use this kind of technique a lot (working with stems at mixing stage) and what benefits do you get ?
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Re: Stem Mixing

Postby jaminem » Wed Jun 29, 2011 12:57 pm

I always make groups for drums, lead vocals, backing vocals, guitars, bass, percussion etc.

Just makes it much easier when using global send effects etc...
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Re: Stem Mixing

Postby Jonnypopisical » Wed Jun 29, 2011 1:11 pm

Yea if there is the time/budget I like to bounce stuff down to stems - then I can get creative and do nice edits and or additional processing it the way to go for big projects
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Re: Stem Mixing

Postby The Elf » Wed Jun 29, 2011 2:04 pm

I always sub-group (Drums, Lead Vocals, Backing Vocals, Guitars, etc.), but I don’t see any point in printing the stems; it doesn’t make anything any easier. I use Cubase and I allocate the three mixers to views of Tracks, Groups and FX respectively. That helps to keep me focussed.
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Re: Stem Mixing

Postby Jonnypopisical » Wed Jun 29, 2011 2:29 pm

It makes a difference elf if you print the Stems with effects - then you can chop things up very easily and do stuff like reverse and beat here and there - but I guess it depends on the style on the music as to whether that's useful or not
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Re: Stem Mixing

Postby ElecTrika-MixTek » Wed Jun 29, 2011 2:33 pm

The Elf wrote:I always sub-group (Drums, Lead Vocals, Backing Vocals, Guitars, etc.), but I don’t see any point in printing the stems; it doesn’t make anything any easier.
No, but there are creative possibilities.
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Re: Stem Mixing

Postby The Korff » Wed Jun 29, 2011 2:49 pm

Not to mention the "this bit is finished" mentality. Leaving everything in a tweakable state until the 11th hour isn't always the quickest or best way to get things done...
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Re: Stem Mixing

Postby The Elf » Wed Jun 29, 2011 2:53 pm

ElecTrika-MixTek wrote:
The Elf wrote:I always sub-group (Drums, Lead Vocals, Backing Vocals, Guitars, etc.), but I don’t see any point in printing the stems; it doesn’t make anything any easier.
No, but there are creative possibilities.
?

What can I do by printing the stems that I can't by processing the sub-groups in real-time?
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Re: Stem Mixing

Postby ElecTrika-MixTek » Wed Jun 29, 2011 3:05 pm

Korff wrote:Not to mention the "this bit is finished" mentality. Leaving everything in a tweakable state until the 11th hour isn't always the quickest or best way to get things done...
I had a bad experience one time and lost the fx settings of a particular song that sounded very hot - sadly I never was able to mix it the same way, If I printed it I would have had great stems to work with. Lesson was learned I guess.
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Re: Stem Mixing

Postby The Korff » Wed Jun 29, 2011 3:06 pm

Reverse a beat (or perform other glitchy edits), add reverse reverb, use one piece of outboard on several different tracks/stems... I'm sure there are other things you can only do once you've consolidated a few bits n bobs.

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Re: Stem Mixing

Postby ElecTrika-MixTek » Wed Jun 29, 2011 3:10 pm

The Elf wrote:
ElecTrika-MixTek wrote:
The Elf wrote:I always sub-group (Drums, Lead Vocals, Backing Vocals, Guitars, etc.), but I don’t see any point in printing the stems; it doesn’t make anything any easier.
No, but there are creative possibilities.
?

What can I do by printing the stems that I can't by processing the sub-groups in real-time?

You can cut, edit and sample a clip. Because you have a visual waveform you have a different 'gestalt' or visual pattern which the brain will respond to differently. I'm willing to bet there are a lot of artists who work this way, it's a different exercise.

You're thinking logically - "how could it possibly be different in theory?" - but, it is different in practice.
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Re: Stem Mixing

Postby Greg Strutton » Wed Jun 29, 2011 3:57 pm

This is what you had to do in the days of 4, 8 or 16 track machines. If you ran out of room and needed more tracks, you would have to bounce a mix or submix of some of the tracks. This was normally at the recording stage too, so you had to be pretty careful when doing this, as you could totally ruin a session with a bad bounce.

These days, working in a DAW, the only time I would do this is if I'm working with a CPU intensive plugin, Guitar Rig is one example, stick that on a few tracks and you soon notice the CPU get nailed. So I normally find a sound, print it and use that. CPU is happy again.

Other than that, when mixing, I use groups, but never bounce the groups.
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Re: Stem Mixing

Postby The Elf » Wed Jun 29, 2011 4:15 pm

Korff wrote:Reverse a beat (or perform other glitchy edits), add reverse reverb, use one piece of outboard on several different tracks/stems... I'm sure there are other things you can only do once you've consolidated a few bits n bobs.
Yep, I do all these things by rendering a stem, but I don't keep the render. I throw it away and go back to the sub-groups. Looks like this is just one of those "you say tomayto and I say tomahto" moments!

As they say, if it works for you...
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Re: Stem Mixing

Postby Frank Rideau » Wed Jun 29, 2011 4:49 pm


Funny enough, the first reason that made me bounce things to stems was I was running out of memory in a very complex mix. So it may be one simple valid point to do this. I also find that it force you into some decisions that you have to assume after. It can be challenging for example to engage yourself with a drums sub-mix balance and work with it after into a 8 tracks project. It make you focus, you stop thinking about the hi hat level into the mix, so it may help to progress.
Obviously, experienced engineer are able to focus and progress even in a very large mixing project, but for some people like me, I'm now looking forward to using this approach more often.
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Re: Stem Mixing

Postby narcoman » Wed Jun 29, 2011 5:56 pm

The Elf wrote:I always sub-group (Drums, Lead Vocals, Backing Vocals, Guitars, etc.), but I don’t see any point in printing the stems; it doesn’t make anything any easier. I use Cubase and I allocate the three mixers to views of Tracks, Groups and FX respectively. That helps to keep me focussed.


all makes sense when you recall 5 years later!

Stems are great. Pain in the butt but save your bacon years later when stuff doesn't load. Also most labels and media clients demand them these days. I'm also not one to enjoy rebuilding a mix on the console or with outboard....
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Re: Stem Mixing

Postby narcoman » Wed Jun 29, 2011 5:58 pm

The Elf wrote:
ElecTrika-MixTek wrote:
The Elf wrote:I always sub-group (Drums, Lead Vocals, Backing Vocals, Guitars, etc.), but I don’t see any point in printing the stems; it doesn’t make anything any easier.
No, but there are creative possibilities.
?

What can I do by printing the stems that I can't by processing the sub-groups in real-time?

arrangement edits for different needs too - rather than digging the session out. When your doing 30 plus cues for a project it just makes life easier.
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Re: Stem Mixing

Postby grab » Thu Jun 30, 2011 9:28 am

ElecTrika-MixTek wrote:I had a bad experience one time and lost the fx settings of a particular song that sounded very hot - sadly I never was able to mix it the same way, If I printed it I would have had great stems to work with. Lesson was learned I guess.

Use a version control system - even a basic one like TortoiseCVS.

I don't know whether it's standard practise in studios, but it certainly is in industry. Every useful file gets version-controlled, so you can always get back to where you were last Tuesday before you started your MegaReworkX project that turned out not to work after all.

Version-controlling the WAVs would be a bad idea - too much data there. But version-controlling the project files is absolutely fine. And so long as you don't then go hacking around with the raw recorded WAVs, you're sorted.
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Re: Stem Mixing

Postby Daniel Davis » Thu Jun 30, 2011 10:23 am

I'm with the group but not printed stems party.

I can mix my drums and get the drum bus sounding great, and from that point I will will largely just be concerned with the group fader. But still at the end of the mix or mastering stage I might decide, for instance, that the kick level is wrong in the context of the complete mix. I can't adjust the level of a stem to fix this. And EQing either the stem or the complete mix is the wrong solution if what I really need is to fix the level of an individual track.
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Re: Stem Mixing

Postby SafeandSound Mastering » Thu Jun 30, 2011 2:23 pm

I have often found this a curious discussion.

If there is a mix problem move the fader or effect/process the problem.I fail to see how a group helps unless it is a collection of instruments that needs to be adjusted and then of course it would be why they were created in the traditional sense.

Groups are sure useful for "bigger" or more global tweaks related to group and of course for something along the lines of drum bus compression, but I do not see it as help to a mix balance issue as your groups will surely reflect those track by track issues anyway.

I think it is best left as a practical means of making already well mixed material more manageable.
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Re: Stem Mixing

Postby The Korff » Thu Jun 30, 2011 3:10 pm

Sending groups to auxes can make very light work of reverb'ing backing vocals, for example...

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Re: Stem Mixing

Postby The Elf » Thu Jun 30, 2011 3:39 pm

I often like to compress the BVs at the group, rather on the individual tracks, since it helps to unify them. Same goes for layered synth pads and string sections.
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Re: Stem Mixing

Postby Mixedup » Fri Jul 01, 2011 9:09 am

I use groups a lot - nested groups in fact (2 x kick mics > kick buss > drum buss. I don't tend to bounce stems, except if I'm planning to do eg a vocals-up version of the mix... Although I do use folders to tidy other tracks away, and will routinely 'freeze' tracks to free up resources and as a semi-permanent way of committing to a decision... so I guess you *could* call that stem mixing.

Certainly if there are any software instruments in the mix, I'll print them and just work with the audio. Ditto any external MIDI stuff - track as audio and go from there. Just easier to work with, and you can always go back to an earlier version to make tweaks if you absolutely have to.
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