Ooooh yes. Stems are what thrive in today's community. They allow so much to be done.

Before you dive into the differences, you've got to know about Multitracks, so please read that article first.

Unlike Multitracks, stems are mixed. What defines a Stem in audio is a mixdown of tracks to form a single, new track (that is then mastered and exported again) (Not a render or "master bounce" - That would be the full song). Say you've recorded a keyboards lower half, then it's higher half. You mix those together and boom, you've got the keyboard stem. Of course sometimes the keyboard is recorded all it's own. Still, if it's mastered and exported it's a stem.

Now stems and multitracks are super similar, so it's truly fine to throw around either one when talking about something you've received. Unless, that is, it is part of the hard-defined tracks from either one.

What Defines Stems?

An audio mixdown of tracks to form a single track.

Raw audio from the studios tapes is a multitrack. That is one of the hard definitions. However, if you take those tracks, go through them and silence all the unwanted adlibs, commentary, coughing and related audio, then export each track, technically you've made stems.

Some hard definitions

If you can give a definite yes to these, you've got a stem, not a multitrack.

(Excluding simply recording into a microphone connected to such devices)

  • Was it produced on a computer?
  • Was it produced on a smart phone?
  • Was it produced electronically, directly exported that way? (Meaning not recording a keyboard or similar)
  • Are there effects put onto it via a device other than effects pedals?
  • Was is once isolated more than it is now?
  • Is it not a natural instrument?
  • Were there other parts exported at the same time, with the exact same length?
  • Is there autotune?

Now for some that may or may not always be a stem.

  • Did it come from a remix contest/competition?
  • Did it come from a "deluxe" album?
  • Has it been mastered?

If it came from a Remix Comp, it may actually have been a multitrack. Only if it has nothing electronically produced that is. If it came from a "deluxe" album (such as an acapella or such) it could be unaltered, and therefor a multitrack part, however most of the time it's a stem. If it has been mastered, then you've got some researching to do. If the track was mastered live, it's a multitrack, because the part wasn't altered further after recording. If it was mastered later, it's a stem.

Remember that multitracks are always complete, otherwise it's a multitrack part.

Where do stems come from?

The same sources as listed on the Multitracks article.

However there are more sources that are directly stems no matter what.

Using an app for an example (yeah, I'm hip) - GarageBand Mobile the iOS app lets you export your tracks into stems, the hard way. Still no matter what you do they are stems, or just a recording of your voice/instrument. Any time you play the keyboard or guitar within the app you're producing sampled stems into your own song's tracks. Then if you silence all tracks except one, and export it, you've created your first stem from your song. You'd then silence that one, unsilence the next one, and continue from there.

Most Audio Production DAWs are this way. FL Studio, Ableton, Logic. They all let you create audio within them, and export it. Even a VST can take audio, make it into something else, and export it, creating a stem.

Not all stems are multitracks, but all multitracks can be stems

Multitracks are complete. 100% full length and all together. Multitrack parts are 100% full length, but aren't all together. Stems on the other hand can be neither. You could find the loops for a song, and have to create the full stems yourself. These are known as remix packs, or kit. We'll have an article for those eventually.

All multitracks can be stems. One tiny alteration and it's a stem. Especially so if you export it. You can still call it a multitrack, and most of the time no one will know the difference. If someone has the original multitrack that you altered, and they invert it against yours, they'll know that yours are stems.

Stems can be DIY

Like Acapellas and Instrumentals, stems can be created from filtering. You may really want that saxophone part from a song. If all you've got is a lossless version of the song, you might be able to get it. This depends on a few things. The song has to have a part where what is playing alongside the sax, is playing by itself. This is somewhat workaroundable, if you can take little sections from all over the song to recreate the track that's alongside the sax. Sometimes it's good enough to isolate the sax quite well.

Multitracks are never DIYs

Bounces and Renders

A bounce is loosely defined. Bounces are exports, or ready-to-export tracks. When you bounce audio you send it to a channel of other bounces (if you choose not to only export that single bounce) to be played all together, or exported all together.

This means that in order to export your whole song as stems, you'd have to bounce all the tracks to different channels.

Renders are bounces with every single track in them. They're the "master bounce" so to say. When a song is send to iTunes, Spotify, etc. or added to a CD or Record they are the Render.

These terms only really apply to stems, as multitracks aren't made electronically, and using electronics to alter them and master them converts them to stems anyway.

Okay so do I have a multitrack or a stem?

It's really up to you. Like genders here in 2017, everyone believes they've got what they've got. Even if it's clearly one or the other, or a mix of the two.

Jammit (which I'm known for sharing contents of) is an example of the mix. Not all of the tracks are stems, such as the keyboard tracks. Not all of the keyboard are generated, most are actually just recorded. If you amplify around the keyboard, you'll even hear studio sounds. The only exception to the stems rule here is that whoever exports these as different file types also cuts out a lot of the audio, making them silence. This is okay in this case because the audio we would actually hear in the Render would not include those.

Where can I get some stems?

Legally? You'll have to contact and artist, producer, or their agent(s) by email and phone to do that. You'll need a good reason to get them.

Otherwise it's all guesswork whether or not it's legal.

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