What are track out files (Stems) of a beat and why you need them❗️

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If you’re aiming to go to a recording studio or simply to record your songs professionally, tracked out files – also called Stems, are an absolute must-have. 

Their value is undeniable, but their true potential shines when you use them right. For some artists, this might be new territory. 

So, let me break down why buying a license for a beat that includes track out files (stems) is a game-changer you won’t want to miss.

In this guide you will learn:

  • What track out files (stems) are
  • What they are typically used for
  • Why they are much better than a single .MP3 or .WAV file of a beat
  • Why they are more expensive compared to licensing optis with a sngle .MP3 or .WAV file

What are Tracked Out files (Stems) of a beat?

The terms “Tracked Out Files”, “Track Stems”, “Tracked Out Stems”, “Multitracks” or simply “Stems” are commonly mentioned by producers in their licensing options. They come with the more expensive license (non-exclusive) and they refer to the individual elements or instruments within the beat/ instrumental track.

Licensing table - Andreas Nick

Let’s start with identifying the two different types of stems that are typically used in the music industry.

  1. Individual Stems
    *(a separate audio file of each instrument/element in the beat

  2. Group Stems
    *(a group of instruments of the same category packed together in a single audio file)

 

Individual Stems (Multitracks):

Individual stems or Multitracks are single instrument tracks or vocal tracks. They consist of all the individual elements of an audio production, each with their own dedicated track.

For example: Kick, Snare, Hats, Toms, Shaker, Guitar, Piano, Lead Vocal, Backing Vocal, ad-lib.. etc.

Some may be mono, while others are stereo. They may have been recorded from microphones or direct inputs, programmed in a sequencer, or arranged in a sampler. When you are buying beats online, usually these are the type of stems you should expect to find.

Individual Stems (multitracks)

Group Stems:

Group stems are a group of sounds packed together in a single audio file and the grouping of the sounds is typically created by category.

For example, all drum sounds (Kick, Snare, Toms, 808s… etc) will be in one group, in single file called Drums. All the recordings created by guitars will be in one group, in a single file called Guitars.

Since group stems are a group of sounds the files are in stereo format. The image below shows a folder of stems generated from a mix of the multitrack files displayed in the previous image.

To enhance your song’s overall quality, you should aim  for the individual tracks instead of grouped stems.

When producers refer to “tracked out stems” they typically mean individual stems, so this is not somethign that should worry you.

NOTE: After audio engineers have completed the mixing process, they might export your song to grouped stems for mastering. However, to keep things simple, we won’t get into the specifics of that in this guide.

Group stems

What are tracked out files (Stems) used for?

There are a lot of reasons why Professionals prefer to  work with stems rather than a single audio file, but at its core, it all boils down to one thing:

TO HAVE CONTROL!

It’s about having control over:

– The overall mix
– Song arrangement
– Volume levels of each track
– Manipulating specific frequencies within a track
– And much, much, MUCH more…

Producers and audio engineers require this level of control to ensure that the song they are delivering meets industry quality standards.

And this is precisely where tracked out stems come into play.

What if you’re an artist, recording, producing and mixing your own songs?

Many independent artists handle the recording, production and mixing of their songs independently. If that sounds like you, these same principles still hold true.

With tracked out files (stems), you’ll open up a world of possibilities to enhance your vocals and make them stand out but also elevate the overall quality of your songs.

Even minor adjustments to the volume levels of the beat stems can have a significant impact. You don’t need to be a professional audio engineer to manage that.

The same goes for equalizing the instrumental tracks to create space for your vocals. Take the reins of the entire mix and don’t rely solely on your vocal tracks and a single beat file.

Truth be told, most of the times producers mix beats in a way to make the overall tonal qualities of a beat more appealing when an artists is listening to them, – as an instrumental, but when a vocal track is added on a beat minor adjustments are much needed.

The fact is, every song benefits from (minor) adjustments in different areas. Always!

Why Stems are better than a single MP3 or WAV file

Let’s get one thing straight, if you’re serious about your music career, DO NOT make use of .MP3 files for your songs. 🤦🏻‍♂️

Why? Well, here's the deal..

MP3’s are far from the industry standard, and they won’t even come close to delivering the quality you hear on the radio. It’s simply because the quality of MP3 files is poor.

Now, picture this: If you’re outsourcing mixing and mastering to an audio engineer and you send over your vocal tracks along with an MP3 beat file, the audio engineer will most probably have big laugh about this.😄

As I mentioned, mixing songs is all about control. And when you provide just a single track of the lowest quality, it makes it very difficult for the audio engineer to do their job properly.

But wait.. 

There’s another reason why I wouldn’t recommend sticking to a single-track MP3 or WAV file – and believe me, this is the most important reason!

Beware of Mastered versions!

When you purchase beats from online producers, it’s worth noting that nearly all single-track beats (in MP3 or WAV format) have typically been mastered by the producer before being made available in their store.

In simpler terms, this means they’ve tweaked the volume and fine-tuned specific frequencies of the beat. They do this to enhance the overall quality and meet volume industry standards – particularly for their YouTube videos.

However, for some producers, this is also the version they provide when you purchase a license.

This can significantly impact the quality of your song because once you’ve finished recording your vocals, you’ll need to arrange for separate mastering.

Unfortunately, you can’t master an already mastered instrumental!

This can pose a significant challenge for artists who often purchase the cheaper licensing options, and it’s even more problematic for those who download beats (illegally) from YouTube! 😤

Again, some producers sell these mastered versions with their cheapest licenses.

In my case, only my Basic and Premium license comes with a mastered version. All other licenses come with non-mastered versions of the beat.

Why licenses with tracked out stems are more expensive

Producers typically set a higher, yet reasonable price for licenses that include tracked out stems, which can range from $50 to $200 per license.

By now, you’ve understood the numerous advantages of using stems, and hopefully, we’re on the same page that it’s a wise investment to consider.

It’s all about getting the best value for your money and crafting a song with the potential for greatness! This benefits both you and the producer.

The better quality the ingredients, the better the result.

If I may elaborate on my own rationale for pricing, user rights, and the perks of more premium licenses:

By providing these tracked out stems, I’m granting you greater control over the instrumental and the chance to create a high-quality song.

Additionally, the enhanced user rights that come with these licenses empower you to share your song across multiple streaming platforms, maximize your exposure, and achieve a higher return on your investment.

What if you really can’t afford the more expensive licenses?

I completely understand – we all need to make the most of what we have.

In this situation, I’d suggest considering a license that includes a WAV version at the very least. While it may have some limitations in terms of mixing and mastering, with the right audio engineer, you can achieve a pretty good sound for your mix.

However, I wouldn’t recommend this approach for singles, albums, EPs, (official) music videos, or any tracks intended for sale on iTunes or other platforms, or for streaming on platforms like Spotify or Apple Music.

These are the platforms where songs make waves these days. You could find yourself added to Spotify playlists or attracting the attention of major labels due to the exposure you receive there.

Believe me, you don’t want to hold a hit song in your hands only to miss out on a major opportunity because of a low-quality song. 😊

Did you come here to determine which license to buy from my store?

If you came here trying to figure out which license to select from my store, I hope I’ve provided the answers you needed.

 

If you still have questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out anytime using the contact page on my website.

 

On a separate note, if making the full investment right now is hard with your budget and you purchase a more budget-friendly license, remember that you can upgrade later. You’ll only need to cover the difference between the prices of the licenses. (Please note that this option may not be available with all online producers!)

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Antreas Nick Nikolaidis

I am a music producer, songwriter, musician, and audio engineer based in Limassol, Cyprus. Following the successful completion of my studies at Birmingham City University in the United Kingdom, where I earned a BSc degree in Sound Engineering and Production, these days, my main goal is to team up with independent artists and help them bring their music projects to life.

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