Why You Need Tracked Out Files

◇ 4 min read

If you want to create professional, industry-standard, music, tracked-out files/stems are essential. However, tracked-out files/stems are frequently misunderstood. In this article, I attempt to address several common questions and concerns related to tracked-out files/stems:

What Are Tracked-Out Files / Stems?

The terms “tracked-out files” or “stems” are common in the music and beat buying industries. A tracked-out file (or stem) is simply a single “sound” (instrument or vocal) track. For example: kick, snare, guitar, piano, lead vocal, backing vocal, ad-lib, etc. Each of these sounds is exported as an individual file.

What Are The Benefits of Tracked-Out Files / Stems?

There are many reasons why professional audio engineers work with tracked-out stems, but one benefit rules them all:


Audio engineers need control over the mix in order to deliver quality mix results. Having the individual files allows the engineer to craft your song the right way and get your mix sounding like your favorite artists.

Tracked-out files/stems enable them to:

  • Balance your mix by adjusting the volume levels of individual tracks/elements.
  • Cut or enhance specific frequencies on a stem so that your vocal sits perfectly in the mix.
  • Apply surgical or broad brush embellishments on individual elements to get the mix to sound its best for your unique artistic style.

Have you ever tracked your vocals, but they seem to “fight” the kick and the snare? You can’t quite get the right amount of “space” for your vocals to sit properly. Or maybe you just wish the kick wasn’t so low or you want that hi-hats to sparkle just a bit more.

These are just some of the things that can be remedied with the power that comes with access to tracked-out files/stems.

With tracked-out files/stems, you have complete control: you can adjust the levels of each individual track, perform surgical EQ operations, and compress/enhance different elements of the instrumental –- all of which enable you to create the best mix and representation of your song.

Why Are Stems Better Than An MP3 or WAV File?

If you are serious about your music career and want to create the highest-quality music possible, you must stop using MP3 files for your songs. MP3 files are not the industry-standard and you are putting yourself at a severe disadvantage. You simply cannot professionally mix and master an MP3 file.

Buyer Beware
Pre-Mastered Single-Track Files

While single-track WAV files are certainly a step-up in quality from their MP3 counterparts, almost every single-track file will arrive pre-mastered, which again limits your creative options. Single-track files are pre-mastered to improve the overall quality and volume of the beat.


“...you cannot master an already mastered instrumental.”

If you try to record your vocals on top of an already mastered mix, you’re going to have a bad time. Your mix is going to sound over-compressed or “squashed”. You need the headroom that comes with being able to properly set the volume levels between your vocals and the other instruments for a balanced and punch mix.

Why Are Tracked-Out Files So Expensive?

Producers charge a higher (but very fair) rate for tracked-out files because they unlock your potential. With the tracked-out files you have the ability to control the instrumental. In addition, you most likely are extended better user rights – with better control and more privileges, you are enabled to make more money from your song, amplify your exposure, and maximize your potential!

Great, But Tracked-Out Files Are Out of My Budget?

Hey, I hear you. I get it. We all have to work within our budgetary constraints. If purchasing tracked-out files/stems isn’t in the cards for you, I would recommend at least getting the WAV formatted version of the song. While a single-file track will be limited in terms of mixing and mastering, a competent audio engineer should still be able to craft a decent mix.

That having been said, I would not recommend this route for singles, albums, EP’s, and/or (official) music videos or tracks that you intend to sell on iTunes or stream on platforms such as Spotify. If you plan to distribute your music to the world, where there is the potential for you to be heard by labels, or go viral on the web, it is imperative that you publish the best version of yourself.