There is no denying it, mastering from stems is becoming more common. So what exactly does it involve and what are the advantages and disadvantages over traditional mastering?
In its simplest form, its providing separate vocal and instrumental files, but can often involve handing over multiple files, each with a different element of the mix (IE drums, bass, guitars, vocals etc).
There are a few interesting reasons for giving the mastering engineer a deep level of influence over your track…
For artists working alone in home studios, stem mastering is a fantastic option for having experienced ears over your track without having to pay for a mix engineer. If your monitoring environment is less than ideal or you’re still developing your mix skills, it can be advantageous to give a skilled professional in a commercial studio more ability for fine tuning.
For artists working with professional mix engineers, the advantage is geared towards maximum loudness with minimal negative side effects. Having the ability to limit the separate elements individually gives greater scope for getting the master very loud without as many obvious adverse effects.
So you’re done with the mix and its time to bounce out the stems. There are a couple of things to keep an eye on…
Firstly set a start point and make sure all bounces start from there. This is really important so that the stems all line up perfectly when re-assembled.
Make sure that you’re bouncing with the appropriate FX included in the stem. IE drums stem should include drum reverb, vocals should have the vocal reverb/ delay or any special sauce fx like doubling etc
zip each song in a .zip folder to keep all the files together and upload away!
Sounds amazing, why wouldn’t you do this every time?
If you are totally happy with the mix and you don’t want to let anyone mess with it, don’t do stems! Not every mastering engineer is equal and believe it or not, some have outrageous egos so I highly recommend getting to know your mastering guy before hand. Then there is the increased cost, which is not always a huge factor compared to the rest of the blood, sweat and tears you’ve put into making the music.