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Listening to stems and deciding on the musical direction

From: Remixing Techniques: Arranging and Song Form

Video: Listening to stems and deciding on the musical direction

Building on the previous movie, it's time to import all of the remix parts, or what I like to call stems, into our session and listen through everything. But first, let me clarify what stems are, in case some of you might not be familiar with the term. A stem is a bounce of a file as it sat in the final mix of the song. In other words, a drum stem is a bounce of all the drums as one stereo file with their EQ compression and volume automation settings from the final mix of the song. For most remixes, I receive vocal stems only, which typically includes a stereo file of the lead vocal and a stereo file of the background vocals.

Listening to stems and deciding on the musical direction

Building on the previous movie, it's time to import all of the remix parts, or what I like to call stems, into our session and listen through everything. But first, let me clarify what stems are, in case some of you might not be familiar with the term. A stem is a bounce of a file as it sat in the final mix of the song. In other words, a drum stem is a bounce of all the drums as one stereo file with their EQ compression and volume automation settings from the final mix of the song. For most remixes, I receive vocal stems only, which typically includes a stereo file of the lead vocal and a stereo file of the background vocals.

Such is the case with this song, Around the World, by Natalie Brown. I was provided with two sets of vocals. And as I increase the width of my browser, you will see BG VOX DRY, BG VOX WET, LEAD VOX DRY, LEAD VOX WET-- basically wet and dry versions of the lead and background vocals. Although I can add these directly to this session, I will copy them so that all of my audio files live within the same Audio Files folder, and I will choose New Track as a destination.

Next, I will change the BPM of the session to 104, and I will add a click track, which I can do by creating an Aux track, naming it Click. I'll put it up at the top, go to my Mixer, and choose Click, under Instrument. It's important to go through this process because even though the vocals say 104 beats per minute, I'm not 100% sure if they lock up against the grid.

So the first thing I'll do is take a listen to them and see how they line up against the click track. I'll start by listening to the dry vocals. We'll just listen to the leads and backgrounds together, and we'll start from the very beginning. (music playing) I can already tell by listening just 20-30 seconds into this song that these are indeed locked up against the grid. That's why I like to give the stems a chance.

Every once in a while you may get a stem that you import and it's a quarter note off or it's a few milliseconds off and you have to then go in and line it up. But you never want to assume that just because an audio file is labeled a certain way that it actually is what it says it is. These locals and these projects that you come across, a lot of them are done at home and people are not always aware of how to export files properly. So it's just good housekeeping to always double-check the assets or the audio files that you're provided with for a remix.

Now, as I solo out the background vocals, I can already tell that I'm going to need to follow the chord changes of the original, because these vocals here-- (music playing) --are basically spelling a chord. (music playing) And they're pretty prominent; they're very prominent part of the song. So if I cut them out on a radio mix I'm left with very little vocally, especially when the lead vocal plays off of them in the chorus. This is what the lead vocal is doing in the chorus.

(music playing) So you can hear that if the background vocals were to be omitted from the arrangement, we'd be saying goodbye to the majority of the vocals on the chorus, which is not an option for a radio mix. For me, listening to the remix parts and determining the BPM of the original version, or in this case double- checking the BPM of the original version, are some of the most important parts in creating a remix arrangement.

The included stems play a huge role in the parts you may or may not use in your arrangement and once you actually zero in on the BPM of the song, you now have a handle on what your time stretching options are, if you even need to do any time stretching. And in the case of this song, because it's a radio mix, I'm going to leave the BPM at a 104, and I won't need to involve any time stretching in this particular arrangement.

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This video is part of

Image for Remixing Techniques: Arranging and Song Form
Remixing Techniques: Arranging and Song Form

31 video lessons · 5619 viewers

Josh Harris
Author

 
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  1. 2m 59s
    1. Welcome
      1m 17s
    2. What you should know before watching this course
      23s
    3. Why did we record this course in four different DAWs?
      49s
    4. Using the exercise files
      30s
  2. 4m 58s
    1. A general overview of musical arranging
      2m 4s
    2. An overview of remix arranging
      1m 34s
    3. An overview of radio and club arranging
      1m 20s
  3. 51m 30s
    1. Referencing the original or demo version of the song
      3m 2s
    2. Listening to stems and deciding on the musical direction
      4m 36s
    3. Creating a sketch arrangement
      8m 36s
    4. Developing the drums and bass
      13m 31s
    5. Adding synths
      8m 43s
    6. Adding guitars
      7m 49s
    7. Arranging the rest of the song
      5m 13s
  4. 51m 54s
    1. Referencing the original or demo version of the song
      5m 7s
    2. Listening to stems and deciding on the musical direction
      3m 42s
    3. Time stretching stems and creating a sketch arrangement
      11m 18s
    4. Developing the drums and bass
      11m 10s
    5. Adding synths
      10m 30s
    6. Working from the hype backwards
      4m 27s
    7. Arranging the rest of the song
      5m 40s
  5. 18m 31s
    1. Trimming down the club version
      3m 32s
    2. Identifying arrangement changes within the body of the song
      9m 44s
    3. Listening through the final arrangement
      5m 15s
  6. 19m 38s
    1. Adding a vocoder
      5m 36s
    2. Adding filtered delays to vocals
      7m 42s
    3. Adding drum fills
      6m 20s
  7. 14m 48s
    1. Listening through the final radio mix
      4m 12s
    2. Listening through the final club mix
      6m 47s
    3. Listening through the final radio edit
      3m 49s
  8. 38s
    1. Final thoughts and next steps
      38s

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