In this article I will describe what stems are, for those who are not familiar with the concept. I will also show an example of how to create a stem in Logic Pro 9 so that you can quickly set up a template with stems already pre-built for your common project layouts.
The concept of creating stems is to allow for easy mix down of your projects and allowing for some flexibility yet maintaining overall control of your sound, if you are using outsourced mix engineers and/or mastering engineers. The output of specific Mix Channel Strip are directed to a specified BUS Channel Strip in order to group similar instruments our instrument groups.
For Instance I usually group my drum tracks (2 kicks, snare top, snare bottom, rack toms, floor toms, hi-hat, overhead mic 1 & 2, room ambient mic, along with drum samples for emphasizing the kicks and snare) and send them all to one Bus Channel Strip. I’ll group my Bass DI, Bass Mic and Bass overdrive and possibly another copy of the Bass DI to another Aux Channel Strip, Rhythm Guitars to another, Leads to another, etc.
The idea here is that I have all these balanced, premixed tracks feeding into their respective Bux Channels rather than to the master output. This is the key. Do not have the Mix Channel strip feed the master output unless it is the only instrument type of it’s kind to be utilized in the song. This will enable you to apply compression with ducking and other group effects to allow your mix to breath and make room for the other instruments to create dynamics and interest in the music you are composing.
So let’s take some time now to walk through building a set of stems for a basic pop rock track. Sorry I’m partial to rock. But the concept will work whether you are working with Hip-Hop, Soul, R&B, Country, Blues and.. well you get the picture.
In this first example I have a Kick drum which has it’s output feeding into Stereo Out and I have changed it to Bus 1. I do this by Clicking on the Channel Strip button that says Stereo Out selecting Bus and then selecting Bus 1. This creates an Auxiliary Channel Strip with the input showing as Bus 1 and the output showing as Stereo Out. I rename the Aux Channel Strip to Drums. I now take each of the drum Channel strips and send them to this particular bus.
I also use an ESX 24 Sampler using a Roland TR-808 sample bank and a feed in from Reason 6 Kong Drum Designer to provide emphasis to the kick and snare drums. These are fed into the drum stem as well.
Next I take the bass DI, Bass Mic, a copy of the bass DI, and a sampler providing some additional low end bass signal and route those to Bus 2 which I have renamed as Bass Stem.
I repeat the process for the rhythm guitars, the lead guitars, synths, lead vox, backing vox, and acoustic guitars. Each grouping having their own bus stem. As I create these stems I name them for the group of instruments or vocals that they are handling.
Once I have completed creating all my stems then I will open up the mixer in the Edit Area and select those buses that I have created. In my case I have 8 buses. I have selected and highlighted those buses. Then from the options menu I select “Create Arrange Tracks for Selected Channel Strips.” Logic will now create those tracks in the Arrange Area.
Next I will set my snap to 1/4 notes and then select the Pencil Tool and draw an empty region of 1/4 note length in the Arrange tracks for the Stems. Now you can set up your compressors for your drums and bass to duck if necessary based upon the vocal tracks, add any group effects and adjust the mix for the specific elements of the song on a group basis as well as on an instrument by instrument basis.
Once you have completed your mix down and are ready to send it off to a mix engineer for final tweaking or are ready for a stereo mix down to send to a mastering engineer, you can now easily export the stems or the stereo mix. If sending out the stem simply choose File > Export > Export All Tracks as Audio Files. you will create an audio file for each track in your arrange window, including the aux channels. The exported aux channels will contain a mix of all the individual tracks that you routed to them in setting up the stems. You can use any combination of stems and individual tracks you may need to send out. Follow the usual procedure for exporting a stereo mix.