Learn how to Prepare your stems for mixing

If you have recorded some tracks in your home studio and would like them mixed by a professional sound engineer, here are a few tips for preparing the files. It will save the engineer valuable time (and money for you) if they can simply import them in to their DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) ready for mixing. See the end of this article for links to specific instructions for different DAWs.

  • Make sure all files (stems) start at the same point even if the instrument doesn’t actually play from the start. This makes it quick and easy to line up all the tracks when they are imported in to the engineers DAW, meaning everything plays in time from the offset. See the end of this article for some instructions on how to do this in a selection of common DAWS
  • All files should be the same format, sample rate and bit depth. WAV files with a sample rate of 48khz and a bit depth of 24bits are ideal, 44khz and 16 bit are acceptable if that is how they were recorded. MP3’s are not at all acceptable, the quality is too low to do your recording justice. Converting MP3 files to 48Khz 24bit does not increase their quality, the audio needs to have been recorded at the higher rate in the first place.
  • If the track was recorded to a click, tell the engineer what the BPM is. It’s useful for time base effects like delay, but also useful to help correct any slight timing issues in the recording
  • Avoid ‘clipping’ audio during recording. Make sure you do not record your instruments too loud in to your audio card, this will create digital distortion, which doesn’t sound nice. You can identify ‘clipping’ by zooming in to the waveform. If it is squaring off, then you are recording too loud. Turn the gain down on your interface, or turn your instrument down.
  • Do not add any processing to your files such as normalising, compression etc. This maintains the dynamics of the performance and leaves all options open to the engineer during mixing.
  • Give your files meaningful names. ‘Kick Drum’ rather than ‘Audio1’, ‘OD Guitar’ rather than ‘Dave’ etc. It means the engineer doesn’t have to waste time checking what each track contains (once again, saving you money).

Here we have a few links for DAW specific instructions for exporting stems correctly:

Reaper – How to Properly Export Multi-tracks for Mixing – Render tracks, Glue, & Consolidating in REAPER by The Reaper Blog

Logic Pro X – Prepping Stems for a Mix or Remix by Macpovideo.com

Cubase – How to Export Stems Quickly in Cubase by Blackus – Music for Media

Studio One – How to Export Stems in Studio One by Studio One Expert

Garageband – GarageBands Stem Sharing Solution by TheGarageBandGuide