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What is a Stem Master?
Old 8th April 2011
  #1
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What is a Stem Master?

Hey guys - I asked this over in the Newbie subforum but only got 2 kind of conflicting answers, so I am trying here.

Sorry for this extremely newb question. Not sure how I've managed to never hear of a stem master before.

I recorded 4 songs for a band a few months ago. I mixed it all in Logic 9 Pro, including some over-all mix sweetening for each song via plugin inserts in the Stereo Out bus. Just some over-all mix EQ, Compression and a little very subtle aural exciter stuff. Then in Waveburner, I did some very mild mastering. I use the term 'mastering' very loosely, it was really just very subtle EQ and Compression for all songs.

The band then asked me for unmastered mixes of the 4 songs, then sent the 4 songs to a Mastering Studio. The Mastering Studio then emailed back saying they want "a stem master because they want to do something to the eq before it's mastered".

What do I do here?
Old 8th April 2011
  #2
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Red Mastering's Avatar
 
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🎧 10 years
ask them what kind of stems they want,
vocal/instrument only or all groups you bounced
stem is just a stereo bounce,
there's no agreement in mastering world about stem master
some ppl say it's wrong, because it's no ME job and should be resolved in mixing,
others accept it (as myself) because it's very handy sometimes;
I often ask clients to send me stems so I could resolve issues in more elegant manner


good luck
Old 8th April 2011 | Show parent
  #3
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🎧 10 years
stem mastering is a tricky endeavor, because in essence the ME is making mix decisions. unless you have complete and total trust in you ME, and you have worked with them on many projects, it's not something i'd recommend to anyone unless it's an attended session. (where you're physically in the room during mastering.)

i recently did a few stem masters with an ME that i have been working with for years, and even then it took 3 revisions to get the levels right. i couldn't be present for the mastering session, and what we quickly found out was that a process that would have taken me 15 seconds with a fader under my hand, took 3 revisions and bunch of emails back and forth to get right. (and that was only with kick and snare stems! imagine if it had been more involved with more stems...)

you can get fantastic results with stem mastering, but it can also be very labour intensive....
Old 8th April 2011
  #4
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🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by steveyraff ➑️
The Mastering Studio then emailed back saying they want "a stem master because they want to do something to the eq before it's mastered".
This raises a flag for me... perhaps just a communication issue of Chinese whispers between the mastering house, band and yourself?
But basically I have never asked for stems without explaining exactly what I thought the issues were that I wanted to resolve using stems. Then between you and the band you can make up your mind if you agree to their consideration of the 'issue' and take it from there.
If they can't tell you precisely what stems they need and why - then I would be wondering at this point whether they are just trying to bump up their hours or something?
Old 8th April 2011
  #5
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Here's a link to the guy that invented it. It's always nice to read about it from the original person.

CD/Audio Mastering - About John Vestman - Musical and Engineering Background
Old 8th April 2011 | Show parent
  #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RNEast ➑️
Here's a link to the guy that invented it. It's always nice to read about it from the original person.

CD/Audio Mastering - About John Vestman - Musical and Engineering Background

errr..... wtf??

from the site... "
β€’ NEVER make zip, rar, or any kind of compressed files. Uncompressed audio always sounds better."

Absolutely John, those zip files are killing our fidelity.

Old 8th April 2011 | Show parent
  #7
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-TheFrog-'s Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
I hope he invented it well over 20 years ago
Old 8th April 2011 | Show parent
  #8
Gear Maniac
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by RNEast ➑️
Here's a link to the guy that invented it. It's always nice to read about it from the original person.

CD/Audio Mastering - About John Vestman - Musical and Engineering Background

You need to get out more kid.
To the OP. Give them whatever they want, just get paid first.
Do we call the OP the TS now?
Old 8th April 2011
  #9
Gear Nut
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by huejahfink ➑️

errr..... wtf??

from the site... "
• NEVER make zip, rar, or any kind of compressed files. Uncompressed audio always sounds better."

Absolutely John, those zip files are killing our fidelity.

Amazing.
Old 8th April 2011 | Show parent
  #10
PBM
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🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by huejahfink ➑️

errr..... wtf??

from the site... "
• NEVER make zip, rar, or any kind of compressed files. Uncompressed audio always sounds better."

Absolutely John, those zip files are killing our fidelity.

And those awful RAR files - very far from the dogs bollox.
Old 8th April 2011
  #11
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IIIrd's Avatar
 
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🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by steveyraff ➑️
Hey guys - I asked this over in the Newbie subforum but only got 2 kind of conflicting answers, so I am trying here.

Sorry for this extremely newb question. Not sure how I've managed to never hear of a stem master before.

I recorded 4 songs for a band a few months ago. I mixed it all in Logic 9 Pro, including some over-all mix sweetening for each song via plugin inserts in the Stereo Out bus. Just some over-all mix EQ, Compression and a little very subtle aural exciter stuff. Then in Waveburner, I did some very mild mastering. I use the term 'mastering' very loosely, it was really just very subtle EQ and Compression for all songs.

The band then asked me for unmastered mixes of the 4 songs, then sent the 4 songs to a Mastering Studio. The Mastering Studio then emailed back saying they want "a stem master because they want to do something to the eq before it's mastered".

What do I do here?

Find another mastering engineer old chap..thats one of the most ridiculous things I've ever heard.
Old 8th April 2011 | Show parent
  #12
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MASSIVE Master's Avatar
 
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🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by RNEast ➑️
Here's a link to the guy that invented it. It's always nice to read about it from the original person.

CD/Audio Mastering - About John Vestman - Musical and Engineering Background
Ummm.... Yeah, he didn't invent that.
Old 8th April 2011 | Show parent
  #13
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🎧 10 years
Invent what? Multitrack DAW recording?
Old 8th April 2011 | Show parent
  #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by IIIrd ➑️
Find another mastering engineer old chap..thats one of the most ridiculous things I've ever heard.

to the OP, i can't agree with the quote above. it's not necessarily ridiculous at all. it all depends on the quality of the original mixes, and the degree to which you trust this ME. some ME's in indie mastering houses take it upon themselves to try to "fix" mix problems, even though it's not their job. i couldn't say whether or not your mixes had problems without hearing them, but maybe the ME is trying to give you a better end result without stepping on your toes...

based on your 1st post in the thread, you did seem to do quite alot of processing across your 2 buss, and then more "faux mastering" in other software afterwards. (which is usually a bad idea if the material is going to end up at a real mastering house down the line. an ME's ears and equipment are far better suited to treating those nuances IMO)

without stems, in this case, it would be pretty difficult for the ME to undo any of that processing you did across the entire mix if you missed the mark anywhere.

again, i haven't heard the mixes, i'm not accusing you of ugly mixing! but there could be valid reasons he's asking you for stems...
Old 8th April 2011 | Show parent
  #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MASSIVE Master ➑️
Ummm.... Yeah, he didn't invent that.
Agreed -
Tons of engineers were working with stems way before John V. got on the scene.

Best regards,
Steve Berson
Old 8th April 2011 | Show parent
  #16
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Thanks to all the replies, it has really helped me become familiar with the concept of stem masters.

Anyways, just to get something clear - a lot of people are telling me to make sure I am getting paid first, or to make sure I really trust the ME. To be honest, this has nothing to do with me. I recorded the bands songs for them, mixed them and did a little bit of amateur 'mastering' to them (I use the term mastering loosely, just over-all sweetening really). They were all extremely happy with the final mixes I gave them and told me they'd definitely be back, and then paid me.

However, I did explain to them, that I do not offer professional mastering and that they can send it to a mastering studio if they wish. That is their choice, their money and their responsibility. My work was done at this point. I even gave them two CD's, one of which included each song with no Stereo Bus inserts, and no Waveburner plugin's. This was what I referred to as the 'unmastered' CD for them to send to the mastering studio of their choice.

So, I in no way will protest that some guy I do not know in some Mastering Studio somewhere apparently wants 'Stem Masters'. I just wanted to make sure I was giving him exactly what he wanted.

I emailed the band back and told them to either ask exactly what he needs or for them to give me his email so I could discuss it with him. From the information you have all very kindly supplied me with, it would seem he probably wants separate stereo bounces, one for guitars, one for drums, vocals, bass etc.

Sorry guys, I know I am being a newb, but hey, if I never ask and never research these things, it'll be something I will be ignorant to for longer than I rightly should!

Many thanks to you all!
Old 8th April 2011 | Show parent
  #17
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IIIrd's Avatar
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sound_music ➑️
to the OP, i can't agree with the quote above. it's not necessarily ridiculous at all. it all depends on the quality of the original mixes, and the degree to which you trust this ME. some ME's in indie mastering houses take it upon themselves to try to "fix" mix problems, even though it's not their job. i couldn't say whether or not your mixes had problems without hearing them, but maybe the ME is trying to give you a better end result without stepping on your toes...

based on your 1st post in the thread, you did seem to do quite alot of processing across your 2 buss, and then more "faux mastering" in other software afterwards. (which is usually a bad idea if the material is going to end up at a real mastering house down the line. an ME's ears and equipment are far better suited to treating those nuances IMO)

without stems, in this case, it would be pretty difficult for the ME to undo any of that processing you did across the entire mix if you missed the mark anywhere.

again, i haven't heard the mixes, i'm not accusing you of ugly mixing! but there could be valid reasons he's asking you for stems...
I'll accept that, but it would be more normal for the mastering eng to say..."these mixes have issues that I can't deal with..." and then tell you why. You as the client , can then opt to address these problems and provide new mixes.
option two as detailed here....mastering eng says " i need you to send stems so i can address an eq problem" ...kerching!

sorry, maybe i put it the wrong way, but i find the op scenario most unusual. It's not because where I work means everything is high end, because that isn't the case. personally i would go for option A above, and advise said client that something was amiss and that a new mix (having given some details of what i thought could be done, given that I'm not a mix engineer) would be better. Delving into stems can up the cost of any work considerably, and I would advise that the client arrange that, as it would be to his/her advantage..... They'd then reconsider their mix and we'd start the session again when they're ready...so far...no cost incurred.
Get the mix right, then go to mastering...there is too much "we'll sort it out in the mastering"
Old 9th April 2011 | Show parent
  #18
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🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by IIIrd ➑️
Get the mix right, then go to mastering...there is too much "we'll sort it out in the mastering"
totally agree with you, 100% thumbsup

it must be a weird time for mastering engineers: there so much home production today that the sheer volume of tracks getting mastered today must be tenfold compared to a decade ago... so they're making nice money. but by the same token the majority of those tracks they're getting must be technically challenging to work on, which has to be frustrating at the same time...

Last edited by sound_music; 9th April 2011 at 12:08 AM.. Reason: ps - this thought and post are not related to the OP's question or mixes! (just realized it might come off that way)
Old 9th April 2011 | Show parent
  #19
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MASSIVE Master's Avatar
 
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There are also tenfold the number of people who consider themselves "mastering engineer" --

Technically challenging and sometimes very frustrating though? Absolutely.

I remember when the whole point was to "change" the audio as little as possible --
Old 9th April 2011 | Show parent
  #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sound_music ➑️
totally agree with you, 100% thumbsup

it must be a weird time for mastering engineers: there so much home production today that the sheer volume of tracks getting mastered today must be tenfold compared to a decade ago... so they're making nice money. but by the same token the majority of those tracks they're getting must be technically challenging to work on, which has to be frustrating at the same time...
Some of the best mixes I've ever heard have been home ones, seriously. There are some very good ears out there. Home producers also don't have meter running when they're working either....saying that, there are some bloody awful ones...but thats the same in "pro" world as well.

I think the challenges are becoming more complex though...loudness for one, we're at the limit (no pun intended) of the medium, and now incomplete mixes or unmade decisions know now by their safe name or stems...and the "new" process of "stem mastering"
Old 9th April 2011 | Show parent
  #21
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🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by MASSIVE Master ➑️
There are also tenfold the number of people who consider themselves "mastering engineer" --
lol, that's true too... the home studio revolution has extended into the mastering realm as well: a guy buys himself a DAW, a brickwall limiter plugin and a linear phase eq plugin (ok, and maybe a nice set of monitors), and all of a sudden he's doing "masters" for $20 a pop!

Quote:
Originally Posted by MASSIVE Master ➑️
Technically challenging and sometimes very frustrating though? Absolutely.
i can only image brother....

Quote:
Originally Posted by MASSIVE Master;6523089 I remember when the whole point was to "change" the audio [i
as little as possible[/i] --
Old 10th April 2011 | Show parent
  #22
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https://gearspace.com/board/work-pro...e-welcome.html

Here is one of the songs I had recorded. This is before I made various amendments, this one doesnt sound so good - the versions I gave to them sounded a whole lot better.

For all those following this thread, I asked the band to email the ME and ask exactly what Stem Master he wanted, if it was just the mixed subgroups etc? This is the email they got back...

"Yep, that's pretty much it. If possible, I would split in to all it's individual channels as I intend to tap right in to mix some what. Perhaps the drums could be kept as two or so, KST & OH perhaps. All guitars, vocals, bass etc would be best separated completely.

From what I remember, there was a lot of reverb going on (I'm not suggesting you should not have that much reverb). At this point I'm just not sure if it's better I apply it myself with the intention of EQ'in the reverb separately to achieve better definition in low mids, or just go with what's already there.

This may be a bit of a ball ache but it might be worth bouncing one lot of stems with reverbs, and one with out. Is that possible? All other FX like compression is bang on though.

Or, we could just try it keeping all the FX as normal for now and see where we end up?"

Well thats what the ME seems to want. Is this standard procedure, do ME's normally request all this from the studio that tracked/mixed it? I know I am not 'Pro' standard, but I put alot of work into making the mix decent, and even asked the opinions of you all here to make sure I'd got it right. I was fairly confident the actual mix was passable for a demo. As I say, the final product was better than the version of the song I linked to here. Didn't think there'd be this many problems when it came to the mastering.

Advice and opinions welcome, thanks guys.
Old 10th April 2011 | Show parent
  #23
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Like you said, it's not your call it is the bands. If they want to use this engineer and they insist that you do all that amount of re-bouncing, just make sure you get paid for your extra time! If they don't want to pay you any more (and you are not willing to work for FREE) then they may just have to make do with what they have now.
Old 10th April 2011 | Show parent
  #24
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🎧 15 years
I'm stern about stems.

JT
Old 10th April 2011 | Show parent
  #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by steveyraff ➑️
https://gearspace.com/board/work-pro...e-welcome.html

Here is one of the songs I had recorded. This is before I made various amendments, this one doesnt sound so good - the versions I gave to them sounded a whole lot better.

For all those following this thread, I asked the band to email the ME and ask exactly what Stem Master he wanted, if it was just the mixed subgroups etc? This is the email they got back...

"Yep, that's pretty much it. If possible, I would split in to all it's individual channels as I intend to tap right in to mix some what. Perhaps the drums could be kept as two or so, KST & OH perhaps. All guitars, vocals, bass etc would be best separated completely.

From what I remember, there was a lot of reverb going on (I'm not suggesting you should not have that much reverb). At this point I'm just not sure if it's better I apply it myself with the intention of EQ'in the reverb separately to achieve better definition in low mids, or just go with what's already there.

This may be a bit of a ball ache but it might be worth bouncing one lot of stems with reverbs, and one with out. Is that possible? All other FX like compression is bang on though.

Or, we could just try it keeping all the FX as normal for now and see where we end up?"

Well thats what the ME seems to want. Is this standard procedure, do ME's normally request all this from the studio that tracked/mixed it? I know I am not 'Pro' standard, but I put alot of work into making the mix decent, and even asked the opinions of you all here to make sure I'd got it right. I was fairly confident the actual mix was passable for a demo. As I say, the final product was better than the version of the song I linked to here. Didn't think there'd be this many problems when it came to the mastering.

Advice and opinions welcome, thanks guys.
What he's suggesting isn't mastering, he's going to remix it for you the way he'd like it, and charge you for it.
I've worked with stems before and actively discourage it. Its not mastering and potentially dangerous. What if you forget to mute something or forget to un mute something....it happens...ask him why he can't work with the mix as is, and whats wrong with it...
I don't normally listen to stuff posted as I have enough listening in my life as it i...but I've listened to this on headphones just now. It sounds fine, it needs a little eq ,a little light compression maybe, but not "tapping right into the mix somewhat blah blah blah",
As Jerry says above, be stern about his request for stems.
I'd send it them in to one of the named studio's online services, Abbey Road, Sterling , Metroplolis, Capitol, Masterdisk etc etc, They'll master them, if they can't they tell you and they wont ask your stems....or at least I'd hope not.

best of luck and I hope everything goes well
Old 10th April 2011 | Show parent
  #26
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🎧 10 years
I remember listening to your mix when you originally posted it up.

There are a couple of timing issues with it - some drumming mistakes. So I'm wondering if he might be asking for stems because he's thinking of trying to correct them?

I suppose I differ from some of the posters above in that I quite like the idea of interventionist mastering in theory, providing the ME asks the band first and keeps them very clued in about what changes are being made and why they are being made.

It's problematic though. I mean, listening to your mix, to take one example, unlike the ME I don't hear "a lot of reverb going on"...

(Note: I appreciate that what you've just posted up here is not the final mix you sent.)
Old 11th April 2011 | Show parent
  #27
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🎧 10 years
Dude...that's an all out remix. It's not your project but if I were you I would DEFINATELY inform the band that what he intends to do is remix the song and let them make an informed decision as to where to go from there.

I have NEVER heard of a mastering engineer requesting to remix a song. That's a new one for me...
Old 11th April 2011 | Show parent
  #28
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🎧 10 years
wow, now that you've posted the ME's email and intentions, i can give you an answer to your original question: you were right to question this guy's method, this is a highly abnormal request! (and what he's proposing is not stem mastering... it's stem mixing!)
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