I saw on the MPG website recently that they have opened up a new forum to discuss the business of stems and how they fit in to our current working lives. The issue, as with all things, seems to revolve around money and time. Stems are the current buzz term in the recording industry and I suspect due in many ways to the proliferation of successful bedroom producers and multiple DAW stations used in music production. Stems provide an easy way to navigate round plugin and DAW incompatibility. They also work well as a backup should the track need to be re-addressed at any point, proper multi-track backups for future access is another topic entirely. I have changed my own template in Pro Tools to make living in the world of stems easier and as such when I print a mix, I can print most of the stems at the same time. Admittedly this has become easier with Pro Tools HDX and the extra processing power. It wasn’t really feasible to route the way I do now on my older HD rig, it would have used up too much valuable processing resources.
Some of the posts on MPG forum raise the point of not being paid for creating stems and this seems to be rather more prevalent than I had thought, although I find it hard to believe that when agreeing a mix or album deal the issue of delivery and what that includes isn’t agreed before hand. Asking for money at the end of a project to create stems seems to lack foresight and I keep reading that engineers and producers are running off stem versions as a gesture of good will to the client. This doesn’t seem like a viable business model going forward, although from my experience it would seem very indicative of what we call a business.
I have a bunch of old sample sessions from my Pro Tools 4 / 5 days, how long ago was that !! Anyway, I can’t see these sessions on my current Mac Pro 2013 ( I like the term cylinder but everyone else calls it the ashtray, which is most annoying). They are not recognised by the system and therefore cannot be opened. Luckily I still have my old Mac Pro running Pro Tools 10 and it can see the files. So I did a save session copy to update the sample rate ( i now run everything at 48K) bit rate ( I run everything at 32bit) and file type from SDII to BWAV. The sessions now load in the cylinder and all is good. But for me this is yet another point in favour of Stems.
There have been two big changes in Pro Tools hardware in recent years, the leap from Mix Plus to HD and HD to HDX. Both have involved me loosing access to trusted and favoured plugins which have not made the leap and thus fallen by the way side, anyone remember Lexiverb ? So any thought that you can simply go back to old sessions, open them and hit play are long gone. Your only hope is to find that exact system with all your correct plugins installed, licensed and working. I think you’ve got a better chance of bring back an SSL recall than a Pro Tools 6 or 7 mix.
So from my point of view Stems are the future and here to stay, they provide a steadfast way for labels, artist and remixers to access a song in more detail than the normal master, instrumental and TV mix and yet don’t require the effort and time of bouncing every track with every effect and remain reasonably small in size for storage. And if we setup our mix sessions with the bussing already assigned ,then running off stems should be as easy as printing the master mix. Of course in an ideal world clients, labels and artist managers would build a small increase in their recording / mix budgets for stem creation but then I’ve probably got more chance of seeing a pig fly.