Stem mastering checklist

  • Print stems as continuous, unbroken files, from your project start (e.g. beat 1, bar 1). So, stems might be four stereo files, all the same length, or running to the end of the material in the stem
  • Assemble the stems in a new DAW session, and check they play back as expected (especially, missing instruments)
  • Export stems at the native bit depth of your DAW - e.g. 32 or 24 bit. Do not trunate and dither to 16-bit.

Analogue summing from stems assumes you have printed mix-level automation on to printed stems, i.e. with stems set at the same level, your reference mix should emerge. Because stems are exported via the bounce process, vocal stems should contain all vocal edits, de-essing and pitch correction, as well as your mix level automation.

What do stems contain?

Stems are stereo WAV or AIFF files, containing the elements of your mix, e.g. drums, bass, guitars, vocal, backing vocals, fx. A minimal mastering stem set might be -

  • music (stereo)
  • vocal (mono / stereo, with vocal fx)

This allows us to re-balance the vocal level quickly, and perform additional processing in a much less invasive manner, e.g. vinyl de-essing can be done unobtrusively, by applying automation to the dry vocal stem, where necessary.

You can get more sophisticated, by splitting vocal fx - and this then gives you the option to re-balance fx, if necessary

  • music (stereo)
  • vocal (mono / stereo, no fx)
  • vocal fx (stereo)

You can certainly expand upon this, up to 8 stereo stems, or 16 mono stems, e.g.

  • 2 tracks drums (stereo)
  • 1 bass (mono/stereo)
  • 2 keys (stereo)
  • 2 etc (stereo)
  • 2 guitar solo (stereo)
  • 1 vocal (mono / stereo, no fx)
  • 2 vocal fx (stereo)

If you feel the need to master with lots of stems, and these require a lot of automation, we will advise if a mix makes more sense.