What Is a Stem in Audio Production? (Explained)

Discover what a stem in audio production is and how it can amp up your music game. Master multitracks, collaborate like a pro, and create epic mixes.

Ever heard of a stem in audio? If you’re stepping into the fascinating world of music production, you’ll likely encounter this term sooner rather than later. They’re the building blocks of any track, but what exactly is a stem? And more importantly, how can understanding them elevate your music creation process? Let’s dive into the melody of stems and find out!

What is a stem in audio production? A stem is a stereo recording sourced from mixes of multiple individual tracks, acting as a core element in the music creation process. By understanding stems, you gain greater control and flexibility over your production, which can significantly enhance the final sound of your music.

What are stems and multitracks?

Maybe you’ve heard the terms stem and multitrack thrown around in the music production world, but let’s break it down, shall we?

Man recording music with his laptop. Source: unsplash
Man recording music with his laptop. Source: unsplash

Let’s start with the multitrack. This is like the Infinity Stones of your song; each stone, or in this case, each track, is a separate entity – vocals, drums, synths, and so on. Every instrument or audio element gets its own track, which is like giving each Avenger their spotlight.

Picture Tony Stark in his lab. Each multitrack is a separate component of his suit, each piece vital to the final design. Similarly, multitracks consist of all individual audio elements on their dedicated tracks, forming a complete song when combined. But beware, with great power (and tracks) comes great responsibility. Making sure each element sits well together can be a bit of a balancing act.

Think of stems as groups of tracks; for instance, all the drums and percussion might be mixed down into a single stereo track.

Now, imagine if Tony could combine some of those suit components into larger parts – easier to handle, right? That’s where stems come into play. Think of stems as groups of tracks; for instance, all the drums and percussion might be mixed down into a single stereo track. This makes it more manageable, especially when collaborating or remixing.

While multitracks have far more tracks than stem sessions, stem sessions typically contain only four to twenty tracks. It’s like choosing between a full Avengers team or a smaller squad like the Guardians of the Galaxy. Both are powerful, but your choice depends on what you need for your mission – or in our case, your song. With stems, you still get the essence of your song but in a more streamlined package.

My favorite MIDI keyboard (at the moment):

AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3

What is a stem in audio production? (explained) | 717qmgla7zl. Ac sl1500 | audio apartment
My favorite MIDI keyboard (at the moment):

AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3

I’m loving the AKAI MPK Mini MK3 for its compact design and the range of controls. It’s one of my essential tools. The velocity-sensitive keys and MPC-style pads are great for making beats, while the thumbstick and knobs give me precise control.

When should you use stems and multitracks?

Choosing between multitracks and stems depends on your music production needs. If you’re like Dr. Strange, needing to control every aspect of time – or in this case, your mix, multitracks are your Infinity Stones.

Multitracks provide complete flexibility, giving you the power to adjust each instrument. On the flip side, stems are your go-to when the collaborator doesn’t need every separate element of the production. Stems are ideal when you need to pass on files to vocalists, remix a song, or simply want a simpler package to work with.

Here’s a simple table that can serve as your cheat sheet when deciding when to use stems or multitracks:

Number of Tracks4 – 20Unlimited
UsabilityEasy to ManageRequires More Skills
Ideal ForCollaborations, RemixesFull Mix Control
Comparison of stems and multitracks in music production

What are some tips for creating and sharing stems?

There are a few things you should keep in mind when creating and sharing stems. Here are some tips when sharing stems:

  • Do:
    • Ensure all stems start at the same place, even if they start with silence.
    • Export a minimum of four separate stems: drums, bass, vocals, and additional instruments or synths.
    • Send stems with and without effects if useful.
  • Don’t:
    • Forget to label your stems correctly.
    • Neglect to keep your stems organized in a separate folder.
    • Leave out a song information PDF when sharing stems.

Remember, proper management of your stems is like organizing your superhero squad – it can make the difference between a chaotic mess and a well-coordinated attack.

Woman recording in a studio. Source: pexels
Woman recording in a studio. Source: pexels

Advantages and disadvantages of stems in audio production

Stems, which are individual tracks or groups of audio sources within a mix, can drastically influence the process and final output of audio production. This approach presents several merits and drawbacks that producers should be aware of when navigating the audio landscape.

Advantages of using stems in audio production

Let’s first tune into the positive aspects of using stems in audio production.

  • Greater Control: Using stems gives you more control over individual elements of the mix. You can tweak, adjust, and manipulate each stem independently.
  • Facilitates Collaboration: Stems make it easier for producers, artists, and mixers to collaborate. Each person can work on individual elements without disrupting the overall mix.
  • Versatility in Mixes: Stems enable you to create different versions of a mix, such as instrumental, a cappella, or radio versions, by selectively muting certain stems.
  • Efficient Troubleshooting: When there’s an issue in the mix, stems make it easier to isolate and rectify the problem.
  • Easier Remastering: Stems are beneficial for future remastering. They allow sound engineers to improve audio quality without starting from scratch.

Disadvantages of using stems in audio production

While there are evident benefits, let’s not miss a beat and dive into the potential drawbacks of using stems in audio production.

  • Increased Complexity: Working with stems can complicate the mixing process, especially for beginners, as it requires dealing with multiple audio tracks simultaneously.
  • Potential Quality Loss: If stems are not properly handled or are excessively processed individually, it may lead to quality loss or unwanted audio artifacts.
  • Storage Issues: Stems take up more storage space. For large projects, managing and storing multiple versions of stems can be challenging.
  • Time-consuming: Creating, organizing, and managing stems can be a time-consuming process, potentially slowing down the overall production timeline.
  • Possibility of Over-Processing: With the increased flexibility and control stems provide, there’s a risk of over-processing individual stems, which could affect the overall coherence and balance of the mix.

If you want even more great tips and information, watch this video called “Audio Engineering Basics: What Are Stems?” from the Cato Zane YouTube channel.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Do you still have questions about stems in audio production? Below are some of the most commonly asked questions.

What’s the basic difference between stems and multitracks?

Stems and multitracks are two ways of breaking down a song into its individual audio elements. The fundamental difference lies in the number of individual tracks in each. Multitracks contain all the individual audio tracks, while stems are grouped stereo recordings sourced from mixes of multiple individual tracks.

When should I use multitracks over stems?

Multitracks offer more flexibility and are ideal when you need full control over each individual instrument or vocal track. This level of control is particularly useful for mix engineers who want to tailor each element’s sound to fit perfectly into the mix.

What are some tips for creating and sharing stems?

When creating stems, it’s important to make sure they all start at the same place, even if it means starting with silence. You should export a minimum of four separate stems: drums, bass, vocals, and additional instruments or synths. Be sure to label your stems correctly and organize them in a separate folder. Providing a song information PDF is also a good practice.


And that’s the long and short of it! Stems and multitracks – they’re kind of like the rhythm and melody of music production. They each play their own role, but when they work together… well, that’s when the real magic happens.

So, what’s your take on stems and multitracks? Did I cover everything you wanted to know? Let me know in the comments section below. I read and reply to every comment. If you found this article helpful, share it with a friend, and check out my full blog for more tips and tricks on audio production and music engineering. Thanks for reading, and until next time, keep those beats banging!

Key takeaways

This article covered stems in audio production. Here are some key takeaways:

  • Stems and multitracks are both ways to break down a song into its various audio elements.
  • Multitracks offer complete flexibility and control, making them ideal for audio engineers.
  • Stems are stereo recordings sourced from mixes of multiple tracks, making them easier to manage and ideal for collaborations and remixes.
  • When creating and sharing stems, ensure they all start at the same place, label them correctly, and organize them neatly.

Helpful resources

Image Andrew Ash
Written by Andrew Ash, Staff Writer

Hey there! My name is Andrew, and I'm relatively new to music production, but I've been learning a ton, and documenting my journey along the way. That's why I started this blog. If you want to improve your home studio setup and learn more along with me, this is the place for you!

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Edited by Nick Eggert, Staff Editor

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