Bounce Stems In Pro Tools

“Hey Richard, could you get me stems for that project we did in 2006?”

Back then I was running Pro Tools 7. Bouncing tracks to create stems was really time consuming and I used to avoid producing them. I would create mix minus tracks which consisted of one single stereo bounce, the mix print, minus selected instruments or vocals. Those would be run in real time.

First, a bit of context. Some artists will request stems if they are intending to use studio tracks as backing tracks in a live performance. In the session pictured above, we might choose to create the following stems:

  • Bass Guitar Stem
  • Drums Stem
  • Percussion Stem
  • Keyboards Stem
  • Guitars Stem
  • Lead Violin Stem
  • Backing Violins Stem
  • Click Track Stem

By cutting them separately and ensuring that they all start at the same time, the artist can use a laptop running Ableton Live, Logic or some other DAW, and create a live mix based on whatever instruments might be needed.

Back 10 or 15 years ago, making stems was a real pain and there were few requests for stems in music production. Pro Tools was real-time bounce only which meant that at a bare minimum, 8 stem tracks would take about an hour or so to record as multiple passes were required to create the stem tracks. And setting up the session so that stems could be created was a real pain.

With Pro Tools 12, life is so much easier.

My workflow looks like this. The first thing I do is put the session into grid mode so that my markers will be precise. I mark the entry and exit points for the stems by going to my master output fader (or whatever output bus prints the overall mix). I ensure that there is a two-bar count-in for the click. And I select the area to be printed for the stem tracks on the output bus like so:

Let’s say I want to create stems for the Drums. I start by selecting all of the tracks that I do not want to include in the stem.

I make all of those tracks inactive.

All of the selected tracks are now inactive leaving just the drums and any of the processing tracks (e.g. reverbs) open.

I have to select just the master track now making sure that I still have the in and out section highlighted.

Time to bounce the stems for the drums.

A dialog will come up prompting me for the filetype, name and location for the bounced track.

And that is it. Pro Tools will bounce the active tracks to a stem in faster than real-time. All I need to do is repeat the process for the balance of the stems. So, if Bass was the next stem, I would make it active, ensure the unneeded tracks were made inactive, select my Master track and do another bounce. I would repeat the process for all of the stems.

With Pro Tools 7, I would have had to spend 20 hours or so creating stems for the session from 2006. Including retrieval from the archives and session setup, it took me less than 5 hours to bounce all the stems in Pro Tools 12.

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