The Ultimate Definitive Guide for Multitracks and Stems

If you are interested in music production and want to learn more about multitracks and stems, you're in the right place! Our definitive guide covers everything you need to know about multitracks and stems, including how to prepare and share them, their advantages and disadvantages, and how to use them in your music production.

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You might have heard "stems" and "multitracks" being used interchangeably, but did you know that they are actually different? For seasoned producers and music engineers, it's easy to tell the difference, but it can be confusing for those new to the field. That's why we're here to help clarify things and ensure that you have a solid understanding of both stems and multitracks! 

Our guide will give you the confidence to tackle the ins and outs of working with stems and multitracks, whether you are an aspiring music producer, an audio engineer, or a videographer who wants to understand the world of audio production a little better. 

And if the latter speaks to you, you might want to check out our non copyright music library here at Snapmuse to find the perfect song to soundtrack your videos!

What are Multitracks?

Multitracks are a set of individual audio tracks, all from a separate microphone, and when combined, they make up a full song recording. Especially if you are new in the world of music production, making a solid sense of all these technical definitions can seem a bit hard. 


So, to better illustrate what multitracks are, just open a project you have been working on in your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) - all the separate channels that are stacked vertically one after the other are individual tracks of your project. 


For example, all the different guitar parts from separate channels count as individual tracks: 3 guitar parts (3 tracks), bass guitar (1 track), atmospheric guitar (1 track), and so on. 


It goes the same with your vocals and drums as well: 2 lead vocals parts plus 4 backing vocal parts (6 tracks), and the tracks for each of the kick drum, snare drum, toms, hi-hats, and cymbals (5 tracks) - you get the idea!

What are Stems?

Stems are sub-mixes of multitracks of the same instruments bounced together as mono or stereo files. What characterizes stems is the combination of grouped tracks playing in sync throughout a song, such as vocals, bass, drums, and instruments.


For example, a guitar stem might include all the guitar tracks in a song mixed together such as a rhythm guitar track, an acoustic guitar track, a lead guitar track, and another rhythm guitar track. 


This process can be repeated for other instrument groups such as drums, keyboards, and vocals. Breaking down a song into stems allows for more flexibility and control over the mix, such as isolating and manipulating specific elements of a song.

The Ultimate Definitive Guide for Multitracks and Stems

What is the Difference Between Stems and Multitracks?

You spent a lot of time and effort working on your latest song, you are now down with recording, and it's time to send it off to your collaborator for some mixing magic. Next, you must figure out whether you are supposed to send them multitracks or stems. 


If you want to save yourself some time and energy, you should not take this step for granted. Understanding the differences between stems and multitracks before you send them to another studio for mixing and mastering is essential, as it will help you make informed decisions about how to approach your audio production projects.


What sets multitracks and stems apart is how many tracks you break the song down into. While multitracks involve breaking down the song into every single element, stems feature similar elements grouped together to create a more manageable number of tracks.


As multitracks are the raw, unprocessed audio files from a recording session that include all of the individual tracks for each instrument and vocal, the engineer will have complete control over each individual element and can make more precise adjustments. 


On the other hand, as stems are groups of these individual tracks, it becomes easier to work on specific parts of the song with a more streamlined and manageable set of files at hand.

The Relationship Between Stems and Multitracks

Stems are created by staking multitracks and exporting them as a single audio file and both are related to the process of breaking down a full song into its individual elements. They can be used together or separately in audio production projects for different purposes.

How Can You Use Multitracks?

Depending on the size of your project, your song can consist of 3-200 individual tracks. The production process requires adjusting every single one of your tracks in line with your creative vision.


Each of these individual tracks can be processed and mixed separately, allowing for greater control over the sound of each element of the song. This can be especially useful when creating a balanced mix, as it allows the producer to fine-tune the levels and effects of each track to achieve the desired sound.

Multitracks: How to Prepare and Send Them?

When working with multitracks, it's important to remember that they are the individual tracks from a recording session and require specialized software such as a DAW to manipulate. 


Furthermore, when you are sending multitracks to an audio engineer or another producer, you want to make sure that your multitracks files are as precise and clean as possible. This way, your collaborator can focus on the mixing process rather than spending time fixing issues that could have been avoided on your end. 


To make sure you prepare your multitracks correctly, you need to pay attention to the technical adjustments you make on each individual track within the DAW before you export your audio files, as well as file export settings. After you’ve got your multitrack files ready, you can use platforms such as WeTransfer or DropBox to share a zipped folder of your files with your collaborators. 


Managing these technical steps can seem daunting at first. Luckily, we have a list of some life-saving tips and tricks below to help you with the enhancements you can make when preparing and sharing your multitracks.

Tips for Creating and Sharing Multitracks

 Here are some useful tips for creating and sharing multitracks with audio engineers the right way:

1. Pre-Mixing Adjustments

If you are confused about how you can work your magic during the pre-mixing process, give these a try before you send them out for mixing:  


  • Organize and Label: This might not seem like a big deal, but believe us when we say labeling each track correctly (as well as making sure they are all in the same file format) before you send multitracks will make things a lot easier for your collaborators. This will also be helpful if you produce songs and beats for licence free music libraries as most of them request separate multitracks and stems. 
  • Turn off Effects: By turning off all effects, bussing, and plugins, you allow the engineer to work with a raw, unaltered version of the audio. You can send the “wet” versions to show the engineer how you want your song to sound, but it is the “dry” version that they are actually going to be working on. This allows them to have complete control and flexibility over the mix and helps ensure that the final product aligns with your creative vision and goals for the project.
  • Adjust the Gains: Unbalanced and peaking sound levels can cause distortion and affect the overall mix. While audio engineers can take care of this step for you, having the levels properly set before the mixing process can save time and ensure a cleaner sound. You can do this by reviewing your tracks to check where they are peaking and adjusting the gains at around -12 decibels for each track.
  • Aim for Cleaner Audio: Clearing your tracks from noises, clicks, and silences and applying fades at the beginnings and ends of your tracks will help you get cleaner tracks before sending them out to the audio engineer.

2. File Export Settings

Here’s all you need to know to make sense of the export settings that will pop up on your screen when you hit the Command + E button (Control + E in Windows) to export your multitrack files: 

  • Range: The three options you will see are “Trim Silence at File End”, “Export Cycle Range Only”, and “Extend File Length to Project Length''. The first option takes your project from the zero point and removes the silent bit at the end of your project. The second option only exports the selected portion, and the third one takes where your locators finish as a reference.
  • Format: The most commonly used file format to export your multitracks is saving them as a WAV file at a 24-bit depth and 441000 kHz. If you want to show your collaborators where your sessions start and end, you can also go with an AIFF file to export markers and locators as well. 
  • Normalize: You have three options at this step. We recommend turning the normalizer “Off” to keep the sound levels of your individual multitracks just like you adjusted them. If the normalizer is “On”, the loudest part of your file automatically increases to the very top of the decibel scale to 0 db! The last option you have here is “Overload Protection Only”. Choosing this will only normalize the peaks in your file. 

If you want to dive deeper into the enchanting world of music, start exploring our dynamic royalty-free music and sound effects library today! Whether you are looking for suspenseful music for gaming videos or opening music for your podcasts, you can find the perfect song for your content by browsing through genres, moods, usage areas, and artists.


Stems: How to Prepare and Send Them?

Preparing stems is similar to preparing multitracks. Make sure to combine related audio tracks and mix them into a stereo file. Label each stem clearly, and provide a reference mix so the recipient knows what the final mix should sound like.

Trust us, making a habit of keeping your stems organized by groups and listing additional information such as BPM, the title of your song, and bit depth will be your best friend during this process.

Tips for Creating and Sharing Stems

It's recommended to export at least four separate stems when sharing your project: one for the drum and percussion tracks, one for the bass instruments, one for the vocal tracks, and one for other instruments/synths. 


Here’s what else you can pay attention to when creating and sharing stem files:


  • Align Your Audio Files: Before exporting your stems, double-checking that each stem starts at the same point is a good idea. Even if there is no sound at the start of some stems, lining up your audio files at the beginning of your project will make your stems easier for the audio engineer to work with. 
  • Turn Off Effects: Similar to creating multitrack files, you should turn off effects and bypass plug-ins when preparing your stem files so that you can share both versions (with and without effects) with your collaborators.
The Ultimate Definitive Guide for Multitracks and Stems

How Can You Use Stems?

Stems can be used in a variety of ways in audio production, such as:


  • Remixing or creating alternate versions of a song (an example is adding binaural effects to your songs, which is how 8D music is produced)
  • Backing tracks during live performances when you don’t have a full band to play all instruments and sing back vocals
  • Mastering and rebalancing mixes with the help of audio engineers

How Can you Get Access to Stems?

If you are interested in getting access to the stems of a song, you can contact artists or record labels to ask them if they can share stem files. 

Getting access to stems can be an unnecessarily lengthy process for you if you are not in the music production world. Videographers or podcast creators often look for stems to include in their creative projects. However, using royalty-free music will be a more efficient way in such cases. For more information, you can check out our guide on how to download free music.


Don’t forget to browse our extensive royalty-free music and sound effects library to find the right song that fits your musical needs!

How to Receive Multitracks and Stem Files?

Once you have access to the files, it is important to check that they are organized and properly labeled. You also need to make sure you have the necessary software and plugins to work with the files. After that, you will be ready to start the creative process!


Keep in mind that mix engineers usually prefer to receive multitracks without any processing effects, which include reverbs, delays, and compressors, so that they can apply their own EQ adjustments and mixing decisions.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Stems and Multitracks

Considering the advantages and disadvantages of multitracks and stems is essential to decide which one you will need for mixing, mastering, and other collaborative purposes.


While multitracks provide greater control over individual elements and flexibility to experiment with different arrangements and effects to create unique remixes, mixing multitracks requires advanced mixing skills and knowledge of audio production techniques.

On the other hand, stems are relatively easier to work with, and they are more advantageous when collaborating with vocalists or during live performances. However, as they are pre-mixed, you have limited creative possibilities compared to multitracks.

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