Knowledge Bank

news category created 14 March 2016 written by Dan Cox

Mix stems


These days it seems to be ‘the norm’ that record companies expect producers and mixers to create and supply stems from their mixes. This obviously adds to the studio time which needs to be allocated to any mix session.

We’re keen to hear about all of your experiences in this area, so please reply with whatever information, anecdotes and opinions you might have about this controversial topic. We’d specifically like to hear about:

• requests for stems: standard, or occasional?
• which record companies have a less than sympathetic attitude towards producers’ and mixers’ time to create them?
• were any extra costs allocated in the budget, or are you expected to supply stems as part of the deal?
• how have the stems you’ve created been used by the record company or artist? e.g. for re-mixes or for live performance playback?
• have you managed to establish in your contracts any limits on the use of the stems you’ve provided?
• when the stems have been used in re-mixes by another mixer or re-mixer, have you received royalties on the sales of those re-mixes?
• have you received PPL payments for those re-mixes? i.e. if you were the producer, has your name been registered at PPL as a Performing Producer for those re-mixed versions of the songs from which you provided stems?
• have you received credits on those remixes?

It seems that everyone has differing experiences in this area, so please let us know about yours…

The MPG Executive Board

This is a real bugbear of mine…it seems to be the norm in all record company contracts these day and i’d like to know if anyone manages to charge extra for doing them…i certainly can’t. Such a can be about 2 days work for an album, done properly – not offine.
99.9% of the time i’m sure they’re never used, and if they are then, as Mick says, what are they used for? Remixes that we’re not paid or credited for? If they’re for live use then it’s understandable but i still don’t see why we’re not paid for them..I sent some stems recently, then was contacted by the live MD who said he needed individual stems of all parts..( there were a lot ). My management asked for an extra £250 for doing them…we were told there was no extra money ( right!), so i did them eventually anyway for the goodwill.

I over charge for stems…. they are a hassle, take ages to render the whole track massive filesize at 48K…..(x24) (0.00 to EOT) and do you want effects with that?? Many of my audio tracks might need the effect It was recorded with..Clean bare tracks again take longer…you need to be super methodical in transferring to file (did I do bass mic 2 or only 1??) with out ambient? do you need separate stems of all tracks?
Your audio may end up as a sample somewhere… so where the credit?

Ive had just the drum tracks remixed and bedroom engineers moaning about spill ( it was never meant to be another song…) and its not a sample disk!!

Lets generate some new sounding audio

my pennys worth

I’m often asked to provide additional mixes without vocals, which are relatively quick to bounce offline when working ‘in the box’, but usually expected to do this for no extra payment.
I normally export these for no extra charge, but am in the process of putting together terms & conditions stating that time spent on the supply of additional files is chargeable. I firmly believe that additional time needed to produce stems or alternative mixes should be paid for.

For several recent projects, I have been asked to record drums or drums/bass only. Although it’s not difficult to export files from Logic as individual tracks with/without plugin effects, whenever possible I ensure the client understands that this must be done during session time and not for free in my own time.
This will become increasingly important as I move towards working ‘outside the box’ with more of a hybrid approach. I appreciate that rendering stem mixes through analogue outboard gear or a console must be especially time consuming.

At the moment, I’m rarely asked for other stem mixes, i.e vox, drum sub, instrument groups etc from a full project, but as it seems to increasingly be becoming ‘the norm’, I hope MPG can help to foster a culture within the industry that additional mix time should be respected and paid for.

Judging by comments from a few people, i think there should be a distinction between being asked to do stems as unpaid add-ons when you’re being paid a one-off fee for a mix, as opposed to when you’re on a daily or hourly rate when they can easily be billed.

Also, the term STEMS is confusing because it should refer to submixes of various elements like drums, bass, perc etc., not individual parts, which are called PARTS. Loads of people don’t seem to get this, but record company contracts expect not just the parts – which is fine, and people can choose to strip out plugins etc,if they want – but also stems, which are the pain in the arse. I use outboard hardware so can’t do them off-line.

Couple of points

As we know the purpose in the start was so minor level tweaks could me made after a mix had to come down off of the board. They were to make everyone’s life more efficient and avoid long winded and costly recalls. I would argue an in the box mix should not be stemmed, if the mix isn’t right then its not mixed yet and we are professionally obligated to finish it, that is one strong contractual tool to start, though unfortunately the easiest place to make the stems.

Secondly as Dave says above, Stems are not parts. There should be 5 or 6 if agreed. Drums, Bass, Guitars, Keys, vocals… That leaves 1 for something special like strings or horns or splitting one of the above further. Maybe there was something under discussion during the mix/production that may need tweaking, that can have one. Granted not everything is a band but it should still break down into a handful of parts.

Maybe a separate thread is needed about productions and mix parts being used live, could get off the rails here, but I feel if you want a remix done that builds on your work then parts can be prepared under a separate agreement and then tracked for credits and payments down the line.


For Live I don’t see an argument against payments when the ‘performance’ consists substantially of produced parts from the record. Those parts should be made under a separate agreement to be tracked and credited, useful stems should not be available for that purpose, see above on limiting the number we give.

Interesting point about payments for live when your stems are being used substantially…i’d never even thought about that, but god knows how you’d collect the money from it. The problem is being legally contracted to do stems which can be used for anything…live playbacks, remixes or whatever, once they’re out of our hands we never know. Don’t deliver them and you don’t get paid.

I agree when you say “if the mix isn’t right then its not mixed yet and we are professionally obligated to finish it,” but it doesn’t seem to always work like that: I have often been sent a session to mix with the previous mixer’s stems in it! I’m bloody sure they weren’t aware of it, and it’s only ethics that stopped me using them. Stems obviously started to avoid big recalls on analogue desks, but they’ve become standard for in the box mixes too.

A mate of mine mixed a big record with A Famous Artist, which later got turned into a duet with Another Famous Artist using his stems…he didn’t get credited or paid, until luckily it was spotted.

I think it’s different when it’s not a mojor label…the example i mentioned when i was refused £250 to basically run off every single part with my mix eqs and bussing was for an upcoming solo artist’s live showcases. I could have dug my heels in but then i’m the one who’s going to look like a dick.
( I had sent him the protools session but he hadn’t got half the plugins and couldn’t make it work).

Requests for stems are becoming the bane of my life, and for several reasons. First of all I’m often asked for them by people who have no real idea what a stem even is in the first place. Somewhat related to this is the problem of being asked for them by managers and labels who have no experience of what mixing a record on an analogue board with analogue outboard actually entails, which can be incredibly frustrating. I was recently asked for “all my stems” for an ep for dance remixes, and had to explain I’d have to spend a day or two creating submixes of everything they wanted, and was booked solidly for the next month. “Just send us your drum stems and vocal stems and guitar stems then”. “There are none!” Etc. Seven emails back and forward and they still had no clue what I was talking about.

Then there’s the problem of live use. I did an album a few years ago and was paid afterwards to mix some stems for the band to use in their shows. When I went to see them on the subsequent tour the only things that were live were the drums, the lead vocals, and the lead guitar (although all the Eventide effects used on the album – and there were many – were running from the laptop, which was hilarious when the guitarist made a mistake live but the effects didn’t). I heard a lot of fans talking in awed tones afterwards about how they still sounded exactly the same even though one guitarist had left and hadn’t been replaced.

Anyway, where does that leave us in terms of being paid for our work? What if there’s a subsequent live album and our work is used on that, uncredited? Where do we stand with PPL if we have played on the record and our playing appears on the stems?

Surely the main point here is whether mixes reconstituted as stems are going to sound as good?

The actual origin of stem mixing is from post-production where it makes a lot of sense.

However, the interaction between instruments feeding into reverbs and other effects cannot be the same if being re-constituted from stems. Also – in order for the mix to be as accurate as possible when re-constituted it would surely need to be summed using exactly the same signal path and once the stems have left your studio you have no control over that – the possibility of someone recalling on a laptop using Cubase is all too real!

I used to point blank refuse – now I just tell everyone there is no point doing these until they are required because I would print them differently depending on the use – most of the time the request never comes!

You’re lucky Tony….i have to do them contractually or i don’t get paid. They won’t budge on the terms.
Of course, the mix will sound different from re-constituted stems which makes them even more pointless, wasteful and annoying.

And of course if someone wants, for example, vocal stems for a remix some months later, i would do them when asked..what i hate is having to do them for an entire 14 song country album.

I don’t know exactly how to avoid doing them case by case in the first place. I think our best chance without a big fight every time is to re-categorise them by how comprehensive we make them as submitted with the final mix. There shouldn’t be that many mix stems and as Tony says the more there are, the further away from the mix there re-combination will become. If comprehensive parts are required for live or remix then time can be made but it is separate.

Seems like the first step MPG wise is getting them understood by labels and then represented separately in contracts from mixes, at least with a clause that says ‘other than for the mix (‘the use of which is covered herein’) further exploitation must be notified, registered and tracked through the relevant avenues. (PPL etc, another issue I know you guys are discussing). Emphasis being that ‘parts’, or whatever they are re-branded, can be an asset to the artist going forward as something separate from the mix and its stems.

Good idea Sam…I like the idea of companies being made to acknowledge the separate nature of them from regular master, tv, instrumental and possible acapella versions.
Another suggestion would be that a part of the fee for the mix could be made separate and non-recoupable….that would also make them address whether they always want them on a blanket basis.

Mick, is this something you think MPG could get involved in? I know you and Tony aren’t really affected too much!

Hi Dave – this discussion has really developed in the past few days and covers many the aspects of the stems issue. I’m going to bring it up at the next MPG directors board meeting on April 13th to see what can be achieved.

The issue of the creation and subsequent use of stems was discussed at the most recent board meeting of the Executive Directors of the MPG (Andrew Hunt, Bruno Ellingham, Cameron Craig, Dan Cox and Mick Glossop) on April 13th. The following is a list of those issues. Please feel to add your own observations and comments. A meeting with representatives of the BPI (British Phonographic Industry) and AIM (Association of Independent Music) is planned in order to to make an attempt to improve the situation with regard to the rights of producers and mixers.

1. For what purposes are the stems required? Several producers have reported that record companies are either loth to respond to this question, or are simply following contract terms and don’t really know the answer.

A list of possible uses of stems:

a) The client requires an alteration to the mix. There is a certain amount of contention as to whether or not it is possibly to faithfully resource a mix by re-combining the stems. In any case the request should be referred back to the original mix engineer in order to make the alterations effectively. Re-assembly of stems by someone other than the original mixer does not guarantee accurate re-creation of the original mix. In fact it almost certainly guarantees that the re-assembly will not be accurate, since much of the equipment used in the original mix will not be available.

b) Remixes, i.e. a new mix involving a ‘re-interpretation’ of the original music, typically with additional ‘creative input’ from the re-mixer. In this case, the re-mixer has the ability to be far more creative if they are supplied with the un-mixed multi-track recording. Stems mostly contain effects, e.g. reverb, delays, etc. which a re-mixer would prefer to be excluded.

c) Backing tracks for live performances. Many artists, when performing live with a limited number of supporting musicians, rely on the playback of recorded performances from their studio recordings. Refer also to point 4.

d) To archive the recording. The archive should include the multitrack and mix stems. In any case, archiving is the responsibility of the rights holder of the recordings, and not the producer, mixer or re-mixer. Moreover, the responsibility for delivery and maintaining secure storage of of the multitrack recordings, mix files, re-mix files and stems should lie with the rights holder.

2. Definition of ‘stems’ and the differences between multitrack, live mixes, TV mixes etc and mix stems. This needs to be clarified, and rights holders need to be made aware of these details.

3. Creating stems involves additional studio time. Therefore, those being asked to create them should be remunerated accordingly.

4. Use of stems in a live performance.

a) If any part of the recording is used in a live performance, additional remuneration should be paid to the producer.

b) If any part of the mixed material (e.g. stems or backing tracks) are used in a live performance additional remuneration should be paid to the producer and to the mixer.

c) If any parts of the mixed material (e.g. stems or backing tracks) are used in a live performance, then PPL and PRS should recognise this and performance payments should be made to all featured and non-featured performers, including Eligible Studio Producers.

5. Credits. If stems are re-assembled by someone other than the original mixer in an attempt to re-create an original mix, credit for the mix should remain with the original mixer. Refer to point 1a.

Thanks Mick, that seems to cover things very well…I’d just quibble with one bit..

1b) Remixes, i.e. a new mix involving a ‘re-interpretation’ of the original music, typically with additional ‘creative input’ from the re-mixer. In this case, the re-mixer has the ability to be far more creative if they are supplied with the un-mixed multi-track recording. Stems mostly contain effects, e.g. reverb, delays, etc. which a re-mixer would prefer to be excluded.

Actually, I think a “re-interpretation” remixer, would very much prefer stems with eq, fx etc already on, as it means the “boring” work has already been done for them, leaving them to concentrate on the “creative input”. Particularly so with vocals, which are often the only bits used and which arguably benefit most from the work done by the original mixer.
Also, as I’ve mentioned, I’ve often been asked to do a regular remix, for radio or because the original mix wasn’t right, whatever, and I’ve been supplied with the original guy’s stems, alongside the separate parts.
An unscrupulous person could easily “remix” a track using entirely someone else’s work, with slight variations and claim the total credit.( Point 5).