Cakewalk's new Control Bar takes all the pain out of exporting stems.
Cakewalk has always had advanced export options, but now that functionality has been streamlined into a Control Bar module that simplifies exporting projects and, perhaps more importantly, stems.
Stems are a mixed collection of a limited number of tracks (but not an entire project), and are favoured for a variety of applications. When working with video, for example, having separate stems for dialogue, sound effects and music can make it easier to create a suitable mix of these elements, without altering the balance within each element. And while mastering engineers would traditionally work on a stereo or surround mix, some artists nowadays work with the mastering engineer to deliver a small number of stems, like the rhythm section, other instruments, lead vocal and background vocals. This gives the flexibility to deliver masters with different vocal balances, or tracks where it's easy to substitute different rhythms. Suppose you create a project with electronically generated drums and bass, but would prefer parts played by humans. Send the project as stems to your collaborator; after listening to the project with the drums and bass, he or she can replace the stem(s) with alternate parts. Similarly, DJs can benefit from using stems rather than whole mixes, to allow for more flexibility in crossfading, beat-matching and creating different arrangements on the fly. Even when performing ordinary mixing tasks, working with stems can help to declutter your project and also save some CPU power.
Roll Your Own
So how do you create a stem, and how do you define which tracks it's made up of? Simply follow the steps below, but note that the transport needs to be stopped first.
1. Drag across the timeline for the region you want to export. This selects all tracks.
2. Solo the tracks you want to mix into a stem, or select only the tracks you want by clicking on the track header number (Ctrl–click to add tracks).
3. Click on Export.
4. Choose Selection.
5. Click on the Export button itself.
6. Choose Audio from the menu, and then move sideways to the desired audio format (eg. WAV or FLAC).
7. Navigate to the desired destination, and specify name, sample rate and bit depth. If you choose a file with different encoding options, then an additional menu will show up with parameters specific to the chosen format (eg. bit rate for MP3). Click on Save to create the stem.
The exported file's level will be whatever you saw on the master bus. For example, if you want to turn three tracks into a stem and they peak at -12dBFS, then the export will peak at -12dBFS. On the other hand, if they clip, the stem will clip.
The above method is the simplest way to create stems; however, you have other options. Choosing BandLab rather than Audio at step 6 opens a menu for publishing your export to BandLab (complete mix, tracks or busses). Covering Cakewalk's integration with the BandLab platform will be the subject of a future column.
Choosing Advanced at step 6 calls up the original, comprehensive export menu with parameters for various file attributes — mono/stereo, which mix attributes to include in the stem (eg. effects or automation), and file format. This dialogue box also has a Preset menu, where you can save your favourite export options: set up the ideal export attributes, click on the floppy disk icon, and name/save the preset. For export menu details, see www.soundonsound.com/techniques/share-archive-your-sonar-projects.
However, the Export module allows access to the advanced menu's presets when you reach step 6 above. So, once you've set up the most-used presets (which may already be the ones included with Cakewalk), you might never need to access the Advanced option again — simply choose the desired preset and click Save.
If you select multiple clips and drag them into the browser as a group, the clips will be bounced together into a single clip that extends from the beginning of the first clip to the end of the last selected clip.
Bounce To This
You can also create stems by bouncing them with a project. Again, the transport needs to be stopped. The first two steps are the same as above, then instead of following step 3, choose Tracks / Bounce to Tracks, and select the elements you want included. For example, you can choose to include track mute/solo status, track automation, effects and so on. The default is to place the stem on the last empty track in the project, but you can change this with the menu's top field.
Fast Bounce will mix faster, with the only limitation that you can't use it with external hardware inserts, which have to be bounced in real time (Audible Bounce). Also note that if you bounce to mono, stereo tracks will be summed. So, if the stereo tracks use up the maximum headroom, they'll clip. The easiest workaround is to choose Entire Mix as the Source Category, which bounces the mix that appears at the master out. Reduce the bounce level by setting the master bus input gain to -3dB, and clipping won't occur. Note that the Bounce to Track menu is similar to the Advanced option above, but doesn't allow changing the file format because it's assumed you want to use the same file format as the rest of the project.
Exporting Tracks & Clips
In addition to exporting stems with mixed tracks, sometimes you'll want to export individual tracks or clips as part of the collection of stems. To do this with a Clip, simply drag it into an appropriate location in the Browser. However, what's less obvious is that you can do this with tracks, even if they contain multiple clips. You have two options.
If you select multiple clips and drag them into the browser as a group, the clips will be bounced together into a single clip that extends from the beginning of the first clip to the end of the last selected clip. If you drag over the clips to select them, or drag a range in the timeline, the result will be the same except that the clip will extend beyond the last clip if you had dragged past the end of it. The same is not true of the beginning; in other words, if a clip starts at measure 4 but you begin the drag at measure 1, the clip will still start at measure 4. If you want the export to start at the beginning of the track, slip-edit the first clip to the track's beginning.
Note that if you drag partway through a clip, the export will 'grab' the selected portion, not the entire clip. Finally, if you select clips in multiple tracks, they won't be bounced together. However, they will be exported individually.
If you drag a Groove Clip or REX file into the Browser, the loop will export at the current tempo, but it will also become a standard WAV file and lose its Groove Clip metadata. The Export module gives the option to convert the file into a different file format, but still removes the Groove Clip properties. To export a Groove Clip (or REX file, which converts into a Groove Clip once imported into Cakewalk) and retain the metadata, open it in the Loop Construction window, and choose Clip / Save Loop from that window.
The fastest way to export a MIDI Groove Clip is to drag it into the Browser. Unlike audio clips, MIDI Groove Clips retain their 'groovy' properties. You can also export from the Export Control Bar module; click on Export, click on the Export button, then choose Other / MIDI (MIDI Groove Clip). For MIDI files, it doesn't matter whether you choose Project or Selection. Then you can navigate to where you want to save the clip. The only value I've found to using the Export option instead of the Browser is if the Browser doesn't show the destination folder, and you don't want to change the Browser.
Although we've emphasised exporting stems, clips and tracks, it's now also easier to export a complete project. Click on the Export Control Bar module and choose Project. Click on the Export button again to see the same options described previously for stems (BandLab, Audio, Presets and Advanced). For projects, the Other option allows exporting as an OMF file.