'Stem' Recording Technique?

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Lorin MMR
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'Stem' Recording Technique?

Post by Lorin MMR » Sat May 13, 2006 7:57 pm

I've had two long converstaions with engineers I really trust about my new set up using an Avalon VT747SP as a front end and they both said the same thing regarding getting the best results....... anyone else use this method of recording?

Because the Avalon is such a serious piece of kit, the best way to get results would be as follows.... apparently.

Arrange the track as much as possible as this process prohibits arrangement changes at a later stage but improves the audio quality massively.

Group instruments of similar type and frequency into anything between 8 to 16 'stems' using either Stereo Bus outputs or different pairs of Main Outs. Pan things as you would like them in the final mix. Example... all bass sounds in one stem, all drum loops in one stem, all top end rhythmn in another stem, all pads and strings in one stem, etc. Do not compress or limit the stems other than to listen to whilst building the track up. EQ the stems roughly to what sounds ok and works together.

With each stem, send the stereo signal to the Avalon. Use the Avalon to compress mildly where required (gain reduction should be no more than 5db at this stage), drive, warm etc until it sounds right, and also try the option of matching your internal EQ settings with the Avalons EQ (disable the internal eq for bouncing).

You will end up with 8-16 track long stereo tracks with silence in between parts which to mix your finished track. (although many of the mix decisions have been made already).

Mixing should be simplified. You can still add last minute additions to the track on top of the stem tracks and if anything isn't working, go back to the original arrangement and redo that particular stem when changes have been made. Noise gate each stem track so that silence does not play.

Apparently when the track is simplified like this all kinds of tricks can be done to each stem with EQ and multi band compression/exciters/stereo enhancers etc, even adding slight reverb to some stems rocks it apparently.

Does anyone else use this method? It's all a bit daunting and alien to me as I was taught to mix conventionally using a 24 track tape machine, mixing desk and outboard. Any comments, tips or words of wisdom?

Loz
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Post by hutson » Sat May 13, 2006 8:08 pm

I like doing this with drums and vocal tid bits.

But i wouldn't make a stem without hearing how it sounds in the mix.
Mainly doing it to free up processing power and to more or less freeze a group of drums.
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Post by Walter Odington » Sat May 13, 2006 10:56 pm

I tend to do it with 3 or 4, but I find it hard getting tunes to the finished stage where its time to do that
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Post by Anti-science » Sat May 13, 2006 11:11 pm

Do what ever feels good to you.

Altho I understand what your saying about grouping similer sounds and then mixing them down through a bit of out-board I think you would be making it harder at the mix stage. What if in a weak you decide that the strings suck and you want to change the sound or something, you will have to go back do the whole thing again!

I would (and do) just recorded my individual tracks through some out-board and them bus them (how you have said) in my sequencer. That way they all got 'analogue warmth' and can be changed with no hassle.

Remember, There is no one way to do anything in music production. It is only upto you as to what is the best way. Its your music! :)

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Post by Tarekith » Sun May 14, 2006 1:28 am

Personally, my tunes rarely have enough tracks to warrent stems. I'd be leary of putting that 737 on ALL your tracks too. It's a bad ass unit, not sure I'd want that sound on everything I recorded though.
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Post by dopamine » Sun May 14, 2006 2:14 am

Why can't you edit and rearrange that recorded audio afterwards? If your bassline only follows a 2-4 bar loop then just run that much through the outboard and arrange it. You'll save a lot of hard drive space and you wont have to chop out the noisy bits of 'silence' afterwards.
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Post by Lorin MMR » Sun May 14, 2006 9:12 am

Why can't you edit and rearrange that recorded audio afterwards? If your bassline only follows a 2-4 bar loop then just run that much through the outboard and arrange it. You'll save a lot of hard drive space and you wont have to chop out the noisy bits of 'silence' afterwards.
Good point Matt, I guess the guys I asked aren't used to having to worry about HD space.

Many thanks to people for responses so far.

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Post by dopamine » Sun May 14, 2006 11:49 am

It's not just about hard drive space though, it would also save a lot of time and if they are working in professional studios then time is money (a lot of money).
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Post by Bin Jesus » Sun May 14, 2006 1:37 pm

loz wrote:
Why can't you edit and rearrange that recorded audio afterwards? If your bassline only follows a 2-4 bar loop then just run that much through the outboard and arrange it. You'll save a lot of hard drive space and you wont have to chop out the noisy bits of 'silence' afterwards.
Good point Matt, I guess the guys I asked aren't used to having to worry about HD space.
this is actually something of a throwback to the ol' Dat tape days, when a band would want the drums spot miked, 3 vocal lines, 2 rhythms parts, one lead part etc etc etc. there simply wasnt enough channels on the desk or the tape to have everything kept separate.
any self respecting studio will have Pro-tools and a 002 box nowadays, not much need to worry HD like you say.

still, its a usefull trick to know, just so long as your 100% sure when you bouncedown that your happy with the stem and dont want to change any parts
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Post by afdafsf » Sun May 14, 2006 2:28 pm

Anti-science wrote:Do what ever feels good to you.

Altho I understand what your saying about grouping similer sounds and then mixing them down through a bit of out-board I think you would be making it harder at the mix stage. What if in a weak you decide that the strings suck and you want to change the sound or something, you will have to go back do the whole thing again!
This is exactly what I was thinking.
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Post by shapshankly » Sun May 14, 2006 2:57 pm

stems can be handy but to be honest it sounds like they aren't for you.

the whole idea of stems was so that you could get more space for extra tracks when you were running out. (or in your case to use the same bit of gear again and again because you only have one)

normally it's worked so that you print to stem something that is complete so that when you throw the faders up to parity you're mix is there. all stemmed parts should be at 0.
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Post by Walter Odington » Sun May 14, 2006 3:52 pm

Slater wrote:still, its a usefull trick to know, just so long as your 100% sure when you bouncedown that your happy with the stem and dont want to change any parts
/\ that is the issue as far as I'm concerned. Bouncing things down when they are not quite right, and only later do you discover that the effects you lathered on are no good.

The reason for doing is to get a track sounding as good as possible. Grouping the instruments can help you to do this.

for example, grouping the drums. A little light compression might make them work as a 'whole' better; grouping the bass to keep it in line amplitude-wise might give you a little more headroom in the end.

Putting the grouped instruments/sounds through your best processors (hard or sofft) means you can dedicate everything you got to making it as sweet as possible.

and as has been said before: to look at the track simplified and already 'finished' can give you a fresh perspective and makes it easy to tweak.

It can help lots, but only on completely finished tracks. IF your track has any issues already then there is NO point, you'll only have to go back and do it all again to fix it.
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Post by hutson » Sun May 14, 2006 4:55 pm

I use stems..


Mainly because... Audio tracks... Plugins..and bussing can really start to tie up your CPU.

So it makes alot of sense for me to bounce selected tracks to a stereo file... and then start with all my processing printed.

If something needs to be fixed i just open the older file/session... tweak and bounce again... import over the existing file.

Granted it's a bit disheartening when you have to bounce again, but taking 20 minutes to do that is alot less stressful than dealing with a strained CPU for hours on end.
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Post by dopamine » Mon May 15, 2006 12:02 am

After I typed my last post I realised the best use for stemming is to take advantage of the analogue summing. doh!
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Post by Lorin MMR » Mon May 15, 2006 1:42 am

After I typed my last post I realised the best use for stemming is to take advantage of the analogue summing. doh!
Well your productions sound rockin' so we'll let you off. Loz
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Post by Moshi » Tue May 16, 2006 9:14 pm

I do tend to group tracks and bounce them according to their 'catagory' and then I try to give each bounce a specific sound by sending it trough my better devices or plugin's. I have no choice but doing this since I do not have an unlimited amount of tracks.

Some of these efforts have been very successfull, working in fixed frequency bands to simplify the mixing process, then trying to blend the different bands in a weird way by sidechaining through dynamic processors or something...anyways, you could take it anywhere from there. But yes I bounce tracks according to their catagory and it works very well for me.

But as mentionned earlier by someone, it's tendious to go back and rebounce yr bounce because some level didn' work very well. It happens all the time with me, but after a while you'll get the hang of it.

As far as I know at the end of the mixing process there's always the joy of playing around and processing grouped tracks wich is very much the same isn't it. ...

Not much wisdom, but anyways thought i'd share it with you
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