Preparing your files for mixing and Stem Mastering

 

Stem Mastering Session
Stem Mastering Session

Mixing Or Stem Mastering ?

Mixing and Stem Mastering are services that are increasingly in demand. Since the beginning of 2016, 75% of our contracts now include stems of some sort.

The great advantage is that it provides more flexibility, so the mix can be optimized before mastering. For us, Stem mastering is the solution of the future. You keep most of the elements you like about your rough mix, but the whole thing is then upgraded right before mastering. It allows us to catch mistakes and problems before it gets stuck in the mix.

Call it as you want, we are basically taking your rough mix from where it is with few stems, and simply make it sound better… then bigger :)

What files should I send you ?

Okay, so you are about to send me your files over so I can operate my magic on it. Now you are wondering what you need to send. Here is a quick summary.

FILE FORMAT

The most obvious point where to start is the file format.

All stems should be 24 bit WAV files, using the sampling of your DAW session. I prefer the following rate: 44.1, 48, 88.2 & 96 kHz. If you send over some files at 192 kHz, they will be downsampled to 96 kHz for mixing and Stem Mastering.

STEMS

“What stem should I make” you are going to ask me.

It does require some judgement from your part, and by reading what follows you will understand it is part of common sense.

The idea is to have enough tracks to improve flexibility, but not so many that the session gets confusing and/or redundant.

 

Generally speaking, you can separate all the different instruments if you want, or group them by categories (All strings togethers, all pads and synths together, all guitars together, etc.). Just make sure that group you are making are working well, because I won’t be able to separate them afterwards.

One thing I generally don’t want is to have more than one track per instrument unless it is really necessary. For example, you recorded the same guitar sound for different section of the song using the exact same guitar, but for the sake of your session you recorded it on three different tracks. Please put all of them on the same, unless there is a place where two guitars are playing at the same time, of course.

The most common exception is the vocal, where you can have the all the main vocals on one track, but the chorus main on another one, and the maybe to other tracks for back vocals, then the ad libs on another one… Yes, that’s totally fine.

Here are two example of sessions you might have, with some recommendation regarding the  stems for each.

Example #1: Recording of a live session

John has recorded a real band using an impressive load of microphones. He used many close mics to capture every instruments. The drum only has 7 mikes. For the bass, he recorded the DI, but he also decided to mike a amp cabinet using two microphones. John also recorded two acoustic guitars using 2 microphones for each. He also recorded a piano using 4 mics and two lead vocals.

Does Chris want all the separated track ? No, he does not.

Possible configuration #1 – 7 stems

  1. Drums – John tastefully mixes the drum to get the sound he wants
  2. Bass – John combines the sound of the DI with the miked signals.
  3. Acoustic Guitar 1
  4. Acoustic Guitar 2
  5. Piano -Combines the tracks to get a nice Piano sound.
  6. Vocalist 1
  7. Vocalist 2

Possible configuration #2 – 10 Stems

  1. Kick
  2. Snare
  3. Overheads
  4. Bass DI
  5. Miked Bass
  6. Acoustic Guitar 1
  7. Acoustic Guitar 2
  8. Piano
  9. Vocalist 1
  10. Vocalist 2

Example #2: Computer-based Production

Cindy loves to create music on her laptop. She does play some guitar, and a little bit of keyboard. She uses a combination of Mic’ing and Midi sequencing to create her songs.

For her last song, she recorded the midi scores using her keyboard for many instruments such as Bass, Piano, Strings, Synth Pads, Machine Drums and some weird colorful provocative lead synth.

She then recorded her vocals. She recorded each verses separately, then the chorus, and she stacked back vocals to support the main vocals. Total, she has 25 tracks of vocals in her session. Most of them have almost nothing on them.

Recommended Stem Configuration:

  1. Lead Vocal (Verses) – A comp file of the best performances that makes the lead vocal.
  2. Back Vocals Left – Some back vocals that are belonging to the left side of the mix, mainly doubling the lead vocal.
  3. Back Vocals Right – Some back vocals that are belonging to the right side of the mix, mainly doubling the lead vocal.
  4. Vocal Ad libs and background filler
  5. Bass
  6. Kick
  7. Snare/Claps/Snaps
  8. Cymbals/Hihats
  9. Strings
  10. Piano
  11. Synth Pads
  12. Lead Synth

 

Submitting the file:

The easiest way to transfer me the file is to upload all the files onto a server such as Dropbox or Google drive and then Share the folder with me at cdion (at) quantum-music.ca

You can also upload a zip onto Wetransfer and send me the link to the same email address.

One Final Request:

Make sure you name the tracks properly, such as “Lead Synth”, “Lead Vocal” and”Piano”,  rather than “master-rendered-file-1″, “master-rendered-file-2″ and “master-rendered-file-1″.

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