Music production is a vehicle consisting of many moving parts. If you have any idea of how music production works, then you should understand that producing a great piece of music is dependent on other factors beyond the lyrics, instrumentals, beats, the talent and popularity of the artiste in question, and the meaning of the song.
Mixing is one factor that greatly influences the potential of any piece of music produced. If all other factors are in place, and mixing is not properly done, it is certain that your music will not turn out great.
Mixing is very important and if you get the chance to hear the story behind most of the celebrated works of music we have come to love, you will understand the impact of mixing them accurately. Mixing is however, a delicate process, and perhaps the most important moving part in the vehicle of music production.
Let me explain what I mean – to get music production of high quality, nothing beats having total control over the mix, song arrangement, volume levels, and frequencies of each instrument in the production. Nothing else helps you put all of these things identified in place except proper mixing and mastering. Mixing and mastering as the name implies connects all other moving parts in the right proportion to create a masterpiece.
There are several techniques to mixing, but each different technique holds several advantages which I will explain in this article. In this article, I will describe the differences between a tracked out stem or mix, and a two track mix. I will talk about the benefits of using a tracked out stem/mix, and I will touch on the reasons why it is better than using mp3 or .wav file for a music production.
Let’s get right into it!
DISTINGUISHING BETWEEN A TRACK OUT MIX AND TWO TRACKS MIX
“Power is nothing without control,” – This is one of my favorite taglines belonging to a popular tire manufacturing brand. In the world of music production, this tag line holds a lot of truth. When you are unable to control some of the element in the instrumental/beats used for your music production, then you do not have any power over the production.
The term “Tracked Out stems” is common in music production circles. They are sub mixes of the individual instruments and vocals making up the entire mix. Tracked out stems allows for a more precise fine tuning during mixing. A tracked out mix or stem puts power in your hands and allows you to separately control the parts put together in any music production process.
There are different types of tracked out mixes/stems which includes individual stems and group stems.
Individual stems are stems belonging to a single instrument (or vocal) track in a single file. An individual stem can belong to a snare, kick, backing vocal, lead vocal, piano, guitar, etc.
Group stems on the other hand belong to a group of sounds belonging to the same category, and pushed through a single track. A perfect example of a group stem could be a recording that features drums, lead and backing vocal recordings, guitar recordings, etc., in a single file.
If your goal is to get a professional mix done for your music, your best choice is to use an individual stem instead of the group stems. Individual stems are easier to export for proper mastering.
Two tracks mix is basically a stereo mix of the instrumental i.e., a full mix of a track with different left and right channels. An artist undergoes a two tracks mix session when they bring in an already mixed instrumental for the production instead of the individual tracked out stems for the instrumentals. The mix engineer just needs to remix or re-master the artists’ vocals alongside the already mixed instrumentals. Two tracks mixes are usually stored in wav or Mp3 format.
BENEFITS OF TRACKED OUT STEMS
Both tracked out mix and two tracks mix are useful to professional audio engineers. The tracked out mix however, stands out from the two tracks mix because of one thing – control.
An Audio engineer who is not able to control his mix will end up delivering a shoddy job. Having control over the mix and other elements in the production can help the audio engineer to accurately mix the song without any issues. This is why it is important to work with a tracked out mix.
Working with a tracked out mix will give the audio engineer the chance to adjust the volume level of each instrument, and cut or boost specific frequencies that may otherwise interfere with the recorded vocals. It will also allow the audio engineer to make adjustment to other peculiarities on any individual stem they so desire.
With a tracked out stem/mix, you have the power to individually mix each instrumental and not just the vocals and a single-track WAV file of the whole instrumental.
You may have listened to some music where you noticed there were interference between the vocals and instruments or an instrument whose volume makes it sound as if it does not belong to the mix. Problems like this occur when the production is done without the use of a tracked out stem.
IMPORTING AND EXPORTING OUT OF DIFFERENT DAWS
It is not uncommon as a mix engineer to come across projects that have been recorded or created using other DAWS different from the one you intend to use for mixing. Mix engineers have different DAWS preferences, but different DAWS cannot deter you once you know how to import and export correctly across DAWS.
From Logic Pro, to FL Studio, and pro tools, it is expedient to note that no DAW has features that allow you to export in just a click. There are various ways of exporting projects across DAWS. You can either export the tracks as audio files; stem, OMF, AAF, XML or you can export them using the AAF protocols.
Out of all of these methods of exporting across DAWS, the process that has been able to withstand the most scrutiny is exporting as Stem.
Exporting as stem is a trusted method of exporting and importing across DAWS. Each track is collected separately as an audio file when you export as stem. Using stem is the only universally accepted mode of importing/exporting projects across different DAWs and it is easy for any other mix engineer to gather your pile of audio files and import them to their DAWS.
WHY ARE TRACKED OUT STEMS BETTER THAN A SINGLE MP3 OR WAV?
Anyone who intends to make a mark in the music industry can no longer have their music stored and transferred in MP3 format. This is because MP3s are below the standard of the music industry. As a professional in a highly competitive music industry, you cannot shy away from getting your songs professionally mixed or mastered on the altar of mediocrity.Mp3s have long been phased out and this yet again, points to the importance of having ‘Unlimited Control,’ by using track out mix for your songs.
Almost all the instrumentals used in a MP3/WAV have been re-mastered before they are uploaded online. This has to be done to improve the quality of the beat. Unfortunately, an already mastered instrumental cannot be mastered again, and this is one major issue faced by most artists who purchase cheap instrumentals.
MP3 file format reduces the file size by removing part of the recordings that cannot be heard by the human hear which when mixed, processed and mastered can be heard. WAV format are of better quality than MP3 but tracked out mix is of a better quality than both MP3 and WAV files.
If you are running on a tight budget, your next best bet after tracked out mix is WAV. A very good audio engineer will be able to use an audio stored in WAV format to yield great mix results.
SAMPLE RATE AND BIT DEPTH
Sample rate defines the amount of time a particular sound is sampled per second. It is commonly used in digital recording and signal processing to determine the range of audio frequencies captured in a digital audio. It is measured in Hz. The standard sample rate for a top quality audio CD is 44,100 Hz as this covers the frequencies that can be heard by the human ear (20Hz to 20KHz).
Bit depth on the other hand can be explained to mean the number of bits of information used in each sample rate. Bit depth is the resolution in amplitude of a signal while sample rate is the resolution in time. The bit depth determines how many possible amplitude values that can be recorded in each sample. The most common bit depths are 16-bit, 24 bit, and 32-bit.