What is stem-mastering ?
For a stem-mastering, the customer sends groups of instruments in separate files to us. These are stereo-files of summed drums l/r, bass l/r, guitars l/r, vocals l/r, keys l/r, backing-vox l/r, strings l/r and so on. The effects like reverb etc. of the single instruments are also mixed into their corresponding stereo-groups. Alternatively you can also send seperate stems for the effects. This helps with possible problems of a reverb being too loud or soft mixed into the stereo-sum, for example.
As you can see, the use of such grouped tracks in the mastering-process helps the mastering-engineer achieving the goal of a perfect sound much easier. Because virtually more often than not it occurs, that some instruments appear too loud after applying the mastering-processing. And with only the mere stereo-sum available, where all instruments are mixed together already, it is much more complicated to work on a single instrument, in order to make it sound good in the context, without influencing other instruments also by the specified processing – making them sound bad then in turn. May it be a too loud snare, that cuts through everything and piercing in the ear when trying to achieve a good loudness and a balanced but present mid-spectrum for the whole mix. Regardless of whether the snare was being mixed too loud or the mixing-engineer applied too much of EQ, it is obvious that one cannot change its sound without affecting other parts of the mix also. So reducing the over-bright and piercing little drum by a healthy measure will also make the otherwise good sounding guitar or singer’s voice way less pleasing or even stand back too far. Even if you sometimes can compensate for those shortcomings by use of multiband-compression, mid/side-processing or other “tricks”, nothing beats stem-mastering. The other approaches are more or less only tampering with the music, more than professionally polishing the mixdown. So with a stem-mastering you can overcome these problems far better most of the time, consequently leading to a way better result in terms of sound.
Of course, the mastering-engineer could always try to get a new and optimized mixdown from the mixing-engineer. But just look at many analogue mixes, that aren’t easy to recall, if possible at all, or are very expensive and time-consuming to get them done again. So it has proved a very good approach for any mixing session, to also render out stereo-stems of the instrument-groups and/or the effects as a last resort, having them available if it turns out in mastering, that there are some severe problems which cannot be solved otherwise or only with a too high reduction of the overall quality.
Our stem-mastering is the ideal way to improve the sonic possibilites for your music. But wait, there’s more. If you send us simple mono-stem-files of those instruments, which are usually mixed 100% in the mid of the stereo-field, like bass-drum, bass, lead-vocals and (in part, if not distributed in the stereo-panorama) the snare, you’ll be amazed at how these monophonic sources sound, when summed through our high-end-analogue-Neumann-summing-system. The separation and resolution is most of the time unrivalled by digital summing solutions. The precise stereo-field and the accurate mono-placing of high-end analogue summing is a big part of the secret of how to achieve that classic “analogue sound”. It helps for getting that punch, transparency and warmth, which is associated with analogue technology – especially when using transformers in the path, like with the classy German Haufe-transformers in our Neumann summing-amp.
Bottom line: stem-mastering (sometimes also called stem-mixing, as it is a hybrid of both, mixing and mastering) has significant advantages over the mere stereo-sum-mastering. Most of the times the moderately higher costs are more than compensated by the result, especially if one has to deal with critical material.
You can upload your stems any time via the form on our mastering-page. The most easy way is to pack everything into a Zip-/7z or rar-archive. Please don’t forget the exact naming of the single group-files, so that we know, what we have there. Also please render those files all synchronized, so that they all start at the same point and we can align them perfectly in our DAW. Ideally you can use Broadcast-Wave-format which nearly all modern DAW’s should support. With these wav’s the Timecode is already stamped into the rendered files, so they align perfectly together automatically after imporing them into our workstation.
If you have any questions: phone +49 2533 919474 or contact us via the web.