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Stems vs. Multitracks: Know the Difference!

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Posted by Evermore Sound.
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Understanding the different terminology used in the recording industry is a foundational aspect to building a career as a recording, mixing, or mastering engineer, producer, or studio musician.

With the proliferation of home recording gear, nearly everyone who wants to can access creative music-making tools.

This advancement in access means that it is more important than ever that everyone understands the various parts of the process of making recordings and the different terms that are used.

One example of this confusion is the terms 'stems' and 'raw wav files' or 'multitracks.'

Less experienced musicians will often confuse these terms when communicating about the different steps of the process.

It is quite important to know the differences between stems and multitracks or raw wav files.

Let's check out the basics of each.

What are multitracks?

Multitracks, or raw wav files, are essentially all the individual tracks recorded at a session.


For example, if you are recording a song with drums, bass, and electric guitar, you would receive an individual file for the bass guitar, the electric guitar, the kick drum, snare, overhead, toms, etc.

You could then send those multitracks to the mixing engineer or you could mix them yourself.

In general, raw wav files will not have much in the way of signal processing, other than anything that was in the original recording chain.

For example, if the guitar was recorded with some outboard reverb or compression, that would be present in the raw wav files


What are stems?

The word stem sounds like something that would be a multitrack, right?

However, if you think of multitracks as the seeds of a plant, then the term stems makes much more sense.

Stems are essential stereo files of entire groups of instruments.

Common examples of instruments that are grouped, or bussed, together include drums, guitars, vocals, basses, or synth and production sounds.

Why use multitracks?

If you are planning to mix your session yourself or send the tracks to a mixing engineer at a different recording studio, you will most likely want to send them multitracks.

Sending your mixing engineer multitracks gives them the most flexibility to mold the music in the directions you desire.


For example, if you wanted to create an effect in your music where you put a big reverb sound on your snare drum, but not the entire drumset, you would need the multitracks.

If all you had was stems, it would not be as simple to do this.

Why use stems?

Using stems makes final production work a lot easier.

Instead of having to parse through and organize every single instrument in a song, a producer can simply drop the stems into their DAW and get to work.

Stems are particularly useful for making remixes.

For example, if you have a request to license your music in a commercial, but with slight changes in volume to vocals, it would be simple work for the producer to just use the stems of your song instead of remixing the entire project of tracks.

Stems are also commonly shared among producers on the internet.

Sharing your stems on file sharing websites can be a great way to network and expand the reach of your music.

The Bottom Line

Understanding the differences between raw wav files and stems is important to becoming a functional studio musician.


If you want to sound like a professional, and get asked back by professionals for more work, you need to understand terminology like this.

Essentially, raw wav files are all the tracks recorded in a multitrack recording and stems are discrete groups of instruments bounced to a single stereo file.

A stem may be composed of two to ten or more raw wav files while a raw wav file will be only a single track.

Whether you want to come away from your session with raw wav files, stems, or work through the entire project from start to finish, Evermore Sound has everything you need to make your project a success.

With state-of-the-art equipment and highly-qualified and experienced professionals behind the board you can relax and focus on your creative output!

Drop us a line to book your session today!