Composing Career Bootcamp

πŸ”ŠΒ How to Make Sure Your Music Gets Heard

🎚️ production Feb 27, 2024

Today, we’re going to be talking about stems.

This topic was sparked from a great conversation I had with a Bootcamp student a few weeks ago.

(I’m sure he’s reading πŸ‘‹)

You may already know that media composers are often asked to split their track into stems: individual groups of instruments that “sum” to the total full mix when combined.

In some cases, this additional step can feel frustrating, time-consuming, or even just unnecessary. 😑

But what you may NOT know is that NOT sending stems is a huge risk.

NOT to your clients…

… but to YOU.

Let me explain. πŸ‘‡

The splitting of stems are a requirement for projects like games and films because, as composers, our music is only one part of the production.

We’ve also got sound effects and dialogue to deal with. πŸ”‰

While we may mix SFX/dialogue while composing…

… we often DON’T get the final say in how it gets mixed in the end.

That responsibility goes to a mix engineer.

When we send stems, those stems often go to them.

They then use those stems as a backup option in case they need to make some specific EQ or volume adjustments to individual instrument groups.

(Keep in mind that this is different than mixing a track for the sake of improving the overall mix. This is adjusting volume/EQ for the sake of the piece of media as a whole.)

Now, you might be thinking:

“I don’t want them touching my music! I worked so hard to get it to sound exactly the way it sounds!”

However, this extra steps exists to HELP make our music heard.

In media, there’s a common expression:

“Dialogue is king.”

If the audience can’t hear the dialogue, it’s a general practice to lower the volume of EVERYTHING else to make room.

(Unless it’s a Chris Nolan movie. 🀣)

Some even say that “dialogue is Queen.” So where does that leave music?

Right at the bottom.

Now imagine that instead of sending stems, you just sent a full mix.

What would happen if the music overpowers the dialogue?

The mix engineer will turn ALL of the music down. 🎚️

Don’t believe me?

Check out this infamous scene from Indiana Jones. The music was turned down SO quietly that John Williams himself named that track “Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra”:

If John Williams deals with his music being lowered, you will too.

But…

By sending your stems, you’re giving your mix engineer more control over WHAT gets lowered.

Instead of lowering your full mix, they might only lower the brass for a few seconds.

Or reduce the low EQs on your drums during a loud explosion.

But WITHOUT the stems, they’ll be forced to pull the whole mix down.

So while stems can be a cumbersome, non-creative step…

They’ll make sure that all of your hard creative work gets HEARD.

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