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What Are Stems in Music Production?

What Are Stems in Music Production?

Ever heard the term ‘stems?’ If you have, you might want to learn more, and if you haven’t, you’re probably curious about this mysterious term. Let’s get into it.

What are audio stems, how do you use them, and where can you find them? If you’re in music production, you’re likely familiar with the term, and if you’re an avid video creator, you might also be aware of this powerful feature. Stems enable customization for both audio and video productions to tailor the music in their content.

For those who aren’t familiar, learning how to use stems might be a bit daunting. You can either choose from one entirely produced audio track or work with a bunch of files labeled as stems – many choose not to use them. However, knowing what they are and how to use stems will most definitely help you improve your content.

What are stems

What are stems?

Music stems are a type of audio file that breaks down a complete track into individual mixes. This allows you, as a creator, to control each of the particular mixes for your production. Stems tend to break down into four tracks, commonly including the melody, instruments, bass, and drums. When played simultaneously, without any changes, the original track should be heard as mastered, or at least very close to the mastered version. It’s because of this that stems are widely used by DJs and other artists when doing remixes. It’s simply a more manageable format to work with.

While widely used by other artists, stems can also be used for video production and YouTube. With stem files, you can work piece by piece to add the track parts that align best with your video. Perhaps you want the music to build as you go, starting with just the drums. Or maybe a particular set of instruments you don’t enjoy in a track, but everything else works perfectly. With stems, you have the ability to tailor the track to suit your needs.

How to use stems

How to use stems

Using stems opens up for creativity as you can mix and match according to your preferences. However, there are some unique benefits for DJs and video content creators.

Here are some ideas:

  • Easy dubbing – Stems are great if you want to use a piece of music in a podcast or similar, since you can choose to remove the vocals and instead add your own voice-over.
  • Extend or shorten portions of the song – Audio stems make it easy to extend any parts of a track or make custom cut-downs. Perfect for fine-tuning a video and making sure it hits exactly where you want it.
  • Editing made easy – One of the best things about stems is they allow you to edit a track with its own stems to fit your production, e.g. start with only instruments and have drums and bass come in later. This means you have great flexibility that would otherwise not be possible on the whole track. As long as the fundamental character of the track stays the same, you’re good to go.

How can you get access to stems?

As long as you are working with the final production track, creating music stems in popular audio programs is easy. Epidemic Sound organizes stems into four categories: melody, instruments, bass, and drums. When you export each of those stems, make sure only the sounds you want to include are active. This will give you independent MP3 or WAV tracks – you decide! – with just the instruments you selected. Name them with identifying titles, so that anyone you send them to can easily figure out what each track is.

How can you find music with stems?

Finding a reliable source of music stems can be difficult if you don’t know where to look. Epidemic Sound tracks have the option of downloading just the track or the track and stems, and we’re one of the biggest providers of stem music in the world.

Alternatively, you could speak with an artist directly and see if they have access to their stems. For more prominent artists, you would likely need to talk with their label. Stems are somewhat common within the music industry, but video producers may not be aware of them. As such, the best thing you can do is ask!

Stems will usually download to your computer as a zipped folder. You may need to use a tool like WinRAR to access the five different MP3 or WAV files. Those files include the master track and the four stems: bass, drums, instruments, and melody. EDM artists often find tracks labeled as kick, snare, piano, and vocals. There are other ways as well, but these are generally the most common.

Once the stem is on your computer, you can start the creative process! If you’re making videos, one good thing to remember is that laying four audio tracks down and placing one stem on each will result in the master song being heard. It’s worth trying if you ever feel lost.

If you want to learn about stems in a more visual format, check out our video with Epidemic Sound ambassador Premiere Gal below. 

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What Are Stems in Music Production?
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