Become An Arranger with Music Stems + Splits
If you're fortunate enough to work with a composer or if you're just working with a music library, or if you're evaluating your decision whether to use a music library, look and see if this is something that you can do where they give you split-out tracks of what's in the music. So, you kind of become your own mixer of the music, but the idea, what stems is you add a number of different elements together and then they make the whole. As opposed to just getting the final left and right of that, you get kind of all the activity that's happening and it's stacked up. It gives you the chance to, maybe there's some annoying tambourine sound or something like that and you don't need to use that. So that can be something that just opens up a lot of doors, allows you to more easily do something like loop a four-bar phrase without the other stuff creeping in or having to worry about ... Making your edit in a way that avoids that issue. So these are component parts of a mix. We talked about the s...
ub-mixes as applied to the podcast mix, but this is the same thing. Individual split tracks or effects tracks from the music mixdown. So they give you access to the horizontal and vertical arrangement of the music, like a four-bar percussion loop. And I do tend to use these small, minimal loops to suggest a rhythmic direction and add new instruments at key moments. I will even sometimes listen down to this piece, and while I'm in, able to -- listen down to the podcast material. Just start playing in live, and I don't care if my timing is perfect. That's something that's easily correctable in this environment. I can make myself sound a lot better than I am at playing an instrument. It allows me to remove voices that might compete and just -- I might have the opportunity to use the full work sometime later in the story. So let's look at Pro Tools again. And here ... Pull you into ... So, I work with an amazing collaborator named Fernando Arruda, who does -- just has composition in his background. Something that I kinda came to as more of a amateur musician with conservatory education. But it's something that either way, you can do a lot with this. What I wanna show you is he made an orchestral score for one of our pieces that was about World War II. And it's pretty remarkable what he was able to do with it. So I'm gonna drag these pieces all into -- looks like I need to make myself some more music tracks. So here's the beauty of ... The template. I am just going to duplicate these tracks, just to give myself the similar routing and path. I'm not going to copy the audio. I'm gonna duplicate those 10 twice. This is gonna be an unwieldy, crazy amount of tracks, but it will ... Okay, so ... Here we go. (repetitive string music) (mouse clicking) (repetitive string music) So it's got the strings, he's got -- you're just hearing those on their own now. (repetitive string music) We jump over here. (tympany drum) Got the tympany. (tympany drum pounds) Woodwind voices. (flute music) And you can hear obviously there's nothing going on in the track, unless -- (flute music) we're in that little part of the phrase. So, I mean, this might be something that's a little unnatural for folks, but one of the things that you can do is just use your ears to kind of tap out what's the rhythm of a track. So I don't even need to work on a grid as a I do, in other scenarios. Like, I can just use, what's the transient information from the music to kind of generate something that allows me to make a good cut. So let me ... It's a cool Pro Tools shortcut. We just Control click and we line everything up in time. So, I'm probably going to be relying on drums or drum sounds to kind of find, okay, what's a four-bar phrase that I can use? (mouse clicking) (cymbal clashes) I'm gonna up my music bus a little bit here just to -- (drum pounds) be able to ... (drums pound softly) (drum pounds softly) Okay, so we're hearing the tympany there. (horns sounding repetitive notes) So what if we do that? (horns sounding repetitive notes) And then, at the tail end of it, I've just muted this section with the strings before. And -- (horns sound) I'm just gonna solo so I hear these two things together. Solo, solo should really be doing something that you're using to isolate and hear things together, but it shouldn't be, I'm gonna solo just so I can hear the things that I need to hear in my mix. I think of solo as like to listen in isolation, and then to turn off. So, if you ever wanna make an engineer happy, just hand them a session that doesn't have everything soloed in it. (horns sounding repetitive notes) (string and horn music) So, I mean this is really rudimentary, but like you can see, we have this spacious part to work with. I would probably, because of the way the stems are coming out, this is not going through any reverb, so I might consider just making these artificial orchestra sounds feel a little more real with some reverb. I can do that pretty easily. One of the nice things about my template is I have a music reverb bus that's there for just that scenario. So I think those trombones could really use it. The strings could probably use it a little bit. (horns sounding repetitive notes) Let's make sure we got that. (horns sounding repetitive notes) And, this is ... (horns sounding repetitive notes) talking about different plug-ins. This is one that's, it's modeled after nice, old studio hardware, so. So on one hand, it's kind of ridiculous because I can't push multiple buttons at the same time like I could with that. On the other hand, I can have about 20 of these beautiful pieces of gear that would cost me all the money to my name to -- and then some, to be able to afford. The plug-in universe is pretty great in that respect. Let's see. (horns sounding repetitive notes) Trying to -- (horns sounding repetitive notes) Sometimes this can be so subtle that your ... (horns sounding repetitive notes) not hearing it at all, and I don't know if that's a product of my routing or what's going on here. Okay. In any case, that ... Putting those sounds in space, making them feel real again is something that can be pretty helpful and pretty important. But, you can see how working with the stems just unlocks a lot of possibilities for what the shape of this music could be, right? Whereas, if you listen to the original of it, that's right here. (string music) (orchestral music) You know, and it's a beautiful, cool piece of music, but like, if that tympany hit's coming in when I don't want it to, all I can really do are edits within this specific file. I can't subtract voices. I mean, I could probably screw around and go into Isotope, and try to take out like a tympany hit or something like that, but there's no reason to do that when we're kind of overseeing the entire production.