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Stem mastering

Stem mastering, also known as stem mixing, is like using the sub groups on a live mixing console. Instead of everything being summed to the stereo master output to create a single stereo mix file, you can break the mix down into the specific parts. These parts can then each receive special attention in the mastering session.

For example, you could create a stereo drum track stem, a stem combining a stereo vocal track with backing vocals and vocal effects mixed in, and a final stem combining the remaining instruments. These stems are exported with the exact same start time, then assembled again in a multi-track stem mastering session where the mastering engineer can address these mix problems more effectively. For instance, we could EQ the bass guitar without altering other areas of the mix, de-ess the vocals without effecting the cymbals, raise or lower the drums for more or less impact.

Why do it?

Under the right circumstances, stem mastering can make a very big difference to the sound of the finished master. Stem mastering effectively finishes off the mix in a controlled environment, which in turn helps the mastering process achieve the maximum sonic potential for the project. Clients with limited mixing experience, engineers with poor monitoring, and recordings produced with low budget equipment can all benefit from stem mastering.

Does it cost more?

Stem mastering is more expensive than mastering a stereo track. Because the time may vary from project to project, stem mastering is based on an hourly rate. The time required largely depends on the quantity and quality of the stem files provided and how much work is required to obtain the best results.

Should I do stem mastering?

Why not discuss stem mastering with Matthew before your session to find out if it will benefit your next project.