Stem Mastering - How To Prepare Your Stems Before Sending
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Stem Creation

Procedure for stem creation

 

First, record / bounce your final stereo mix as you would normally. This should be a 24 or 16 bit stereo file at the same sampling rate as your session. If there are any “mastering plugins” on the master output you can leave these on as this will give us a reference point as to how the mix was sounding at your end.

 

Create a folder on your hard drive and label it with the name of the song. Name the file ‘your song name.wav’  and put it into the folder.

 

At this stage please remove all master bus processing that has been added purely for level.

 

Anything that has been added at the end of the mix solely with the intention of making it louder can be removed however any compression that has been written into or mixed into and is integral to the sound of the mix can and should be left on. Likewise, any EQ or stereo enhancement plugins that are essential to the sound and vibe of the mix should be left on. Those that were “thrown on” at the end to make it wider and brighter can be removed.

 

Then without changing any levels, plug-ins, automation or anything else create your stems as per the below instructions and add them into the folder with the bounce of your full mix:

Making a stem

 

Kick Stem Example

Mute (or disable the outputs of) all tracks except the kick. Record (or bounce) this kick-only stem through your normal stereo buss (including any stereo buss processing as described above). Don’t change any settings. Name the file 1.Kick.wav.

This process is then repeated for all stems.

 

PLEASE DO NOT MAKE MONO TRACKS for any stems including the kick and bass.

 

Include all buss processing that is on the stems that you are bouncing.

 

If making multiple synths stems, you MUST bounce each part out with it’s respective effects on. That is to say if your lead sound has been sent to a bus with reverb on it, we want the lead sound WITH the reverb on. We don’t want a “dry” lead sound, loads of other “dry” sounds and then a bus of “reverb” – that is no good to us at all!

 

If we have had prior communication as to what stems we are after then continue with this process to provide us with the list of stems we have pre arranged.

 

If we have asked you to make several drum/bass/synth stems, please label like this:-

2.1.Drums.wav
2.2.Drums.wav
2.3.Drums.wav
3.1.Bass.wav
3.2.Bass.wav
3.3.Bass.wav
3.4.Bass.wav
4.1.Synth.wav
4.2.Synth.wav
4.3.Synth.wav
4.4.Synth.wav
4.5.Synth.wav
Etc.

0.(Your Song) Full Mix.wav
1.(Your Song) Kick.wav
2.(Your Song) Drums.wav
3.(Your Song) Bass.wav
4.(Your Song) Synths.wav
5.(Your Song) Vocals.wav
6.(Your Song) FX.wav

After making up the stems, open a new DAW session and import these new stems. Listen to be sure you have included everything that’s in your stereo mix.

 

If you are happy with your mix and we haven’t had any prior communication, don’t make lots of stems. These basic 6: kick, drums, bass, synths, vocals & FX are ideal. If however you are unsure about something in the mix then separate it out and run an additional stem.

 

If you separated the bass as well as the synths, vocals, kicks, FX and drums, you have now recorded 7 files including 6 stems and the stereo mix into [Your Song] folder. All files must be in stereo – each bounced the same way through your stereo buss output.

IMPORTANT! BE SURE YOU LEAVE YOUR COMPUTER AUTOMATION ON FOR EACH STEM SO THAT EVERY SONIC MOVE YOU MAKE IN YOUR STEREO MIX IS RETAINED IN THE STEMS.

Don’t change any aspect of your mix

 

Start the song at the exact same place at the beginning of the song. All stems should start from 00`00`00`00 irrespective of where the audio starts. So even if you have one stem where a noise plays on the last beat of the song, we would want the whole song in silence before that point. Basically, we should be able to sync all the stems you provide us with to 00’00’00 and it should sound correct.

 

Keep a count of all the tracks you are muting/turning off.

 

Every element in your mix, every plug-in, every automation move, every musical component should go into the stems. When recombined together, they exactly add up to the stereo mix. (Note: if you’ve used stereo buss compression, each stem will be less compressed than the full stereo mix). When recombined in mastering, this compression will be restored. This is not necessarily the case with multiband compressors.

CHECK YOUR STEMS

 

Load them into a new mix session. The combined separations should sound the same as your stereo mix file, but just more open and less compressed. You may see “overs” in your stereo meters from the stems because the transients come through more. This is normal and not something you should worry about.

 

The better you like your stereo mix, the fewer stems you need. More concerns about your mix, make a greater number of stems.

 

Do NOT change the sampling rate from the original mix session! If your system is 48k, make 48k-24 bit files. If your system is 44.1k, make 44.1k-24 bit files, etc.

Checklist

 

✔  All tracks are in stereo.

 

✔  All automation has been left on respective tracks.

 

✔  All buss processing on respective tracks.

 

✔  All tracks are numbered and titled correctly.

 

✔  All stems have been checked against the mix you bounced to MAKE SURE NOTHING IS MISSING.

 

✔  Tracks have been bounced at the same sample rate as the original mix session.

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