WAVs or stems? What's best for your mix? - The Pedalboard Exception
This video explains the difference between raw WAV files and stems, and gives useful advice on how best to export your recording to send to your mix engineer. What is "The Pedalboard Exception" and how will it help you decide whether to print a WAV or stem?
WAVs or stems what's best for your mix should you send your mix engineer raw wav files or stems that are crafted and polished your answer to this question will make your mix engineer either love you or hate you learn audio online with audio masterclass audiomasterclass.com i'm going to introduce you to what i like to call the pedalboard exception it's a metaphor for a sound created by a producer that should not be altered by the mix engineer in any significant way firstly what do i mean by a raw wav file in this context i mean one track of your multi-track recording bounced to a wav file without any insert or bus processing or effects so imagine during your recording process you'd applied eq compression and reverb to the lead vocal to give it a context for the other instruments and background vocals for your raw wav file you would disable your insert plugins and mute the reverb.
The reason you would do this is that you want to give your mix engineer as much flexibility as possible there's an expression why keep a dog and bark yourself following this reasoning then no matter what processing and effects you've applied in your digital audio workstation session you should switch them all off before printing wav files to send to your mix engineer congratulations you've done it right and your mix engineer loves you you've used insert and bus processes and effects to give you context during the recording process but you realize that although you are the master of your own musical expression the mix engineer is massively more experienced and skilled in gelling sounds together to make a great record but there is an exception which is the pedalboard exception if there's a good reason why you should disable your inserts and bus processes and effects before exporting wav files then you might also consider why this would not apply to your guitarist's pedalboard effects well yes there's the very good reason that you've already recorded them and you can't switch them off but the question is more a case of why would you not want to the answer is that the pedal board is part of the guitarist's sound as is their amplifier and loudspeaker cabinets or their own favorite settings on their amp emulator other than technique guitarists spend all their time working on their tone tone is a big word among guitarists and rightly so so the sound that comes out of their loudspeaker cabinet or their amp emulator is their sound and as a recording or mix engineer you would absolutely not want to deny them that so is this the pedalboard exception yes but i want to extend it to you as a producer if a guitarist strives to develop their own individual and unique tone then perhaps as a producer so should you so you might for instance develop your own signature vocal sound i'm going to say sound from now on because tone is a word that i feel should belong to guitarists rather than engineers and producers so your signature vocal sound might require a particular mic a certain shape to the eq a particular compressor and ratio a john lennon style delay and perhaps a reverb preset that you've carefully crafted yourself the parameters of which you keep tightly under lock and key are you going to switch all of this off to send to your mix engineer no way this is an example of the pedalboard exception it's a metaphor for a sound that is exactly as you want it to be and you don't want the mix engineer to alter it in any significant way under the terms of the pedalboard exception you would not export a raw wav file of the track you would export a stem so what's a stem trying to keep this brief from the film industry a stem is dialogue sound effects or music these are traditionally the three principal stems all of the dialogue is mixed into one stem all of the sound effects are mixed into another stem all of the music is mixed into a third stem then the stems themselves can be mixed it's a time-tested working procedure in music recording stems are generally groups of instruments or vocals that can be balanced easily among themselves like a drum set or background vocals or anything else that works nicely as a little sub band in the mix so if you're mixing yourself you could pre-mix the drums pre-mix the background vocals and perhaps pre-mix rhythm acoustic and electric guitars then you can deactivate the original tracks and have a very much simpler mixed screen to work with it can make a lot of sense so you might think of doing this to send your song to your mix engineer send him or her stems of the drums etc and individual tracks of everything else now you're limiting the range of options that the mix engineer has and you must realize this and have a good reason for doing it or you can take this to its logical or illogical conclusion and regard each track as a stem so you export each track individually with all of its insert and bus effects and processes intact this is why your mix engineer hates you their flexibility is now reduced pretty much just to faders and pans so invoking the pedalboard exception in view of what i've said we can see that it would not be productive to export each individual track as a stem with processes and effects but if you go to the other extreme and export all of your tracks as raw wav files you can't show off your signature sounds so the solution is to think about the guitarist's pedal board if the sound you've achieved on any particular vocal or instrumental track is as significant as the guitarist's tone then you need to export that track as a stem with processes and effects you have invoked the pedalboard exception but at the same time give the mix engineer some wriggle room it doesn't have to be either or if you really desperately want to export a track as a stem but you're worried that the mix engineer won't like you cramping their creative style you can export both yes both export that track both as a raw wav file and as a stem and since you will be giving your mix engineer notes notes such as what's important and what's not what kind of dynamics you want here etc you can very clearly state that the raw wav file and the stem are alternatives your mix engineer may realize this almost instinctively but they'll have to compare the two tracks all the way through to be sure you can save them important time and brain compute cycles just by telling them what's what so in summary you'll win friends and influence mixed engineers if you send them raw wav files to mix sending too many tracks as stems restricts their creativity which is what you're paying them for but if you've developed your own sound for a particular track or couple of tracks then export stems of those tracks as well as the raw wav files your mix engineer can either use your stems or work with the raw wav files and improve on them as they please the pedalboard exception best of both worlds i'm david meller course director of audio masterclass thank you for listening.