I’ve been focused lately on creating a useful new set of products to compliment my Platinum Orchestra Series arrangements. If you are unfamiliar with these arrangements, you can check them out here. The charts are written for a fairly standard symphonic orchestra, and they sound wonderful when played by a fully-staffed ensemble. (Check out the demo recordings.) But in the Real World of church music, absenteeism combined with a limited pool of quality volunteer musicians often make it difficult to staff a balanced ensemble for rehearsals and worship services, week in and week out.
To compensate, churches increasingly are turning to technology to solve this problem. The use of click tracks, Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs), and sophisticated monitoring systems, has become common. These technologies, coupled with the use of stem mixes, enable a church orchestra director to fill in the missing gaps in his or her ensemble. (Simply put, “stems” are specific stereo audio sub-mixes created from a publisher’s professionally recorded demos.)
Typically, stems are stereo sub-mixes of the primary instrument groups: strings, woodwinds, brass, percussion, etc. They are printed straight from the final mix product in the recording studio, and sound exactly like the recording. The concept is: If you lined up all the stems from a song and played them together at “zero” level, you would recreate the final mix of the publisher’s demo. Pretty cool, right?
And so, stems have become something of a life-saver in a lot of churches. But the standard configuration of stem mixes is somewhat limiting. An orchestra might only be missing only the piccolo player. But the woodwind stem is the entire woodwind family. Or, an ensemble may have plenty of violins, but needs help in the viola section. Again, the standard stem is a pre-mixed blend of all the strings.
Further, typical commercial stems come with all the EQ, reverb, and balancing tricks used to create the perfect mix in a recording studio. But church sanctuaries are not pristine recording environments. What’s more, no two spaces are the same. All those effects that sound so great in the studio may not translate well in an auditorium that comes with its own natural reverb.
But – I think I’ve come up with solutions for these problems with the soon-to-be-released audio stems for my Platinum Orchestra Series arrangements.
- In addition to the standard stereo mix of each instrument family, I have broken out the individual instrument groups within the family. So, along with a stereo Brass stem, there will be separate stems for the horns, trumpets, trombones, bass trombone, and tuba. The user can slip in only the instruments needed on any given rehearsal or performance. (In the Percussion Section, every single percussion instrument comes with its own stem – right down to the triangle.)
- Each stem track comes with only the natural “room” sound and a very limited (or zero) amount of reverb. As a result, these stems sound more “raw” than typical stems, but they sound more real. This gives the user the ability to blend the recorded sound with the live musicians more believably, and add reverb, EQ, and other effects only as needed.
I’m excited about these stem mixes. I hope they will open up possibilities for church and school orchestras to better perform the arrangements in the Platinum Orchestra Series. Of course, in a perfect world every church orchestra would have a full complement of players every Sunday, and stems would never be needed. But until that time comes, technology helps us to close the gap between the ideal and reality. And these new stems from RMS Music will provide a whole new level of flexibility and believability to the process.
Keep an eye out for more info to come.