Make use of the many benefits of stem mixing in Studio One.
Stem mixing originated in film post-production, where the numbers of tracks used in mixes became so large that it was a practical necessity to reduce them to manageable levels for final mixdown. The first person I can remember talking about using stem mixing for albums was the great Phil Ramone, who started mixing to stems very early, around the same time that it became popular in film mixing.
So what is stem mixing? Really, it’s just submixing, but the point of stem mixing is to print each ‘stem’ (or groups of related elements: drums, for example) of your mix separately, rather than rolling them all into the main mix, which is what I term ‘submixing’. Stem mixing offers several benefits, but the main one is that it greatly facilitates re-purposing! For example, if the label wants a new mix with a little more vocal, you can just restore all the stems and push the vocal stem up a bit, or you can remove the vocal altogether for a TV underscore.
Stemming The Flow
The critical decision in stem mixing is how many stems to bounce out. There are some tracks, such as lead vocal or snare drum, where you are likely to want individual control all the way down the line to the final mix. So how far does one take stem mixing?
For a four-piece rock band, we are now already talking about half a dozen stems: drums, snare, bass, guitars, background vocals, lead vocal. We might even break solos out from the guitar tracks to their own stem. It doesn’t take long before you’re up to eight or 10 stems, usually all stereo. If your stem count starts to get much higher than that, you have to wonder what the advantages are of working in this way over working with the individual tracks.