One of the most common questions I get revolves around the difference between stems vs tracks. Understanding this distinction is crucial for anyone involved in music production, as it directly impacts the mixing and mastering phases, ultimately shaping the final sound of a project. In this article, I’ll dive into what stems and tracks are and how to effectively use them to enhance your workflow and final product.

Defining the Basics


Tracks refer to the individual recordings or sounds that make up a song. Each track is a separate entity, representing a single element of the composition, such as a vocal line, a guitar riff, or a drum beat. These tracks are the building blocks of a mix, allowing producers and engineers to apply specific effects, adjust volumes, and tweak EQ settings for each element independently.

For example, consider a basic band recording session that results in separate tracks for lead vocals, backing vocals, electric guitar, bass guitar, and drums. Each of these tracks can be manipulated individually to achieve the desired sound, offering unparalleled control over the mix.


Stems, on the other hand, are submixes that combine multiple tracks into a single audio file. They represent groups of similar sounds or instruments that are processed together. Stems are particularly useful for simplifying the mixing and mastering processes, as they reduce the total number of tracks to manage. This can be a lifesaver in complex projects with hundreds of individual tracks.

A common example of a stem would be a drum stem, which includes all the individual drum tracks (kick, snare, hi-hats, cymbals, toms, etc.) mixed down into one file. Other typical stems include vocals, guitars, keyboards, and background elements, each combining the respective individual tracks.

Pros and Cons


  • Pros:
    • Maximum control over every aspect of the mix.
    • Allows for detailed adjustments and fine-tuning.
  • Cons:
    • Can be overwhelming and time-consuming with a large number of tracks.
    • Higher risk of getting lost in details and losing sight of the overall mix.


  • Pros:
    • Simplifies the mixing and mastering processes.
    • Facilitates collaboration and sharing with other professionals.
  • Cons:
    • Less control over individual elements within the stem.
    • Potential for over-processing or loss of detail in the mix.


Mastering Considerations

When it comes to Mastering, the use of stems can provide additional flexibility compared to working with a stereo mixdown. Mastering from stems allows the mastering engineer to make subtle adjustments to the balance between different elements of the mix, such as tweaking the overall brightness of the vocals without affecting the rest of the track. This can be particularly useful for addressing issues that weren’t fully resolved during the mixing phase.

However, mastering from individual tracks is generally not practical due to the mastering process’s focus on enhancing the final stereo mix rather than revisiting the mixing decisions. Therefore, while stems offer some level of control during mastering, the goal is always to work with the best possible mix to ensure the mastering process can focus on enhancing the overall sound rather than fixing mix issues.

Final Thoughts

Choosing between using individual tracks or stems really comes down to what your project needs, how you like to work, and what your team prefers. There’s no single right way to do it; it’s all about finding the best fit for your music. The main thing? Make sure whatever you choose helps highlight the best parts of your song during mixing and mastering. If you are interested in Stem Mastering or mixing and mastering your song please feel free to reach out.