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Author Topic: Stem Mastering  (Read 3208 times)

aivoryuk

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Stem Mastering
« on: April 06, 2009, 08:08:52 am »

Just wondering what other peoples approaches to Stem mastering are?

Do you still treat the stems as 2track and do your thing as normal and if things are not sounding quite right then have a listen to the stems and alter things there.

Or

Start with the stems and adjust and then listen at the overall 2 track and adjust as appropriate.

Maybe a mixture of the 2 or maybe something else?
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Viitalahde

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Re: Stem Mastering
« Reply #1 on: April 06, 2009, 08:35:39 am »

I encourage people to bring in complete mixdowns as well. If there's an issue with vocal levels, I'll address it where needed.

Recently i did an ultimate stem project. An EP done in 2001 or so, never released. There was a faders-only rough mixdown of guitar, bass & drums (no compression, no EQ, no anything) done for vocal tracking, the vocal tracks, a separate percussion track and a trombone track. Nothing was in balance.

The only way I could do it was to do a mixdown with the band member present. Together we checked the balances and I did some very rough EQ & multi-band oppression for the guitar/bass/drums mixdown.

From there I bounced the mixes and began my job. I just could not have done it if I had the tracks open, everything tweakable.
 
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Greg Reierson

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Re: Stem Mastering
« Reply #2 on: April 06, 2009, 09:45:39 am »

The only time I ask for stems is when the vocal is sibilant and the mix engineer can't fix it with his/her tools. Otherwise a final mix that everyone it happy with is usually best.


GR
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TotalSonic

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Re: Stem Mastering
« Reply #3 on: April 06, 2009, 11:12:31 am »

I always start with 2-track but I've asked for stems a few times * one where the bass guitar was really muddy and indistinct and where the kick needed to be sorted out of the mud as well - in this case I got a separate stem for the bass and then one for all the rest of instruments - and the client was much happier with the results
* a few times with hip-hop stuff where album, radio (i.e. "clean"), tv track, instrumental and acapella versions needed to be created - in which case you need separate stem for lead vocals, backup vocals, and instruments
* one album where the client wasn't comfortable with their own mixing skills and they brought in their entire mix to me - we ended up doing a bit of compression and de-essing to the vox, and cut high end off a lot of percussive elements like shakers.  

Best regards,
Steve Berson

aivoryuk

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Re: Stem Mastering
« Reply #4 on: April 06, 2009, 11:25:12 am »

I actually didn't ask for stems this is just what the client sent me. It's just a one off at the mo but could lead to more.

I got the impression he wasn't sure how the low end was going to translate.

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Waltz Mastering

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Re: Stem Mastering
« Reply #5 on: April 06, 2009, 11:32:47 am »

I look at stems like a "mini mix"

I  always prefer to work from a 2 channel mix, but there are instances where stems are delivered. Most of the time I think it's from the clients not being to confident in their mix.  

I definitely charge differently for this because it's a two stage process for me.  Get the "mini mix approved",   get the "master approved"  If I can avoid stems I do.  Often times I'm able to give the mix a lot more clarity and punch from stems but I also get headaches a lot easier from working with stems.

Rarely have I been able to pull stems into a session, set  unity gain and been able to master from that session.

cerberus

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Re: Stem Mastering
« Reply #6 on: April 06, 2009, 12:30:51 pm »

i've done a few jobs with stems lately...it generally comes about when a client isn't
entirely satisfied with their mix.  in those cases, it's easier for me to finish their
mix as they wish it to sound, rather  than undo major mistakes. i do not
charge double, because the point is to make my work easier.

jeff dinces

jdg

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Re: Stem Mastering
« Reply #7 on: April 06, 2009, 02:05:02 pm »

i personally hate stems.

but if someone insists (they really have to insist, with great vigor) i just load them up, run them at unity and master from the buss mix. and only adjust level with the stem, not EQ.  

thats me... and i hate mastering from stems.

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Greg Youngman

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Re: Stem Mastering
« Reply #8 on: April 06, 2009, 02:25:59 pm »

How is it that you are delivered stems?  I can understand that if you are having problems with ie., the drums, it would be nice if you had stems to go back to, but if something's that bad, why not just go back and remix it?  Maybe someone can enlighten me, but unless your doing post for a film why would you mix stems?  Seems like more work for the ME to me.
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Waltz Mastering

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Re: Stem Mastering
« Reply #9 on: April 06, 2009, 05:40:27 pm »

I don't think it's so much the ME requesting stems as it is the client on a rare occasion wanting to provide them.  It could be that they are not 100% happy with the mix and reached the end  of the line on their end and just want to hand it off in more a salvageable fashion.

The less I  have  to deal with stems the better.

Garrett H

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Re: Stem Mastering
« Reply #10 on: April 06, 2009, 07:30:09 pm »

I second Greg's comment.  I try to avoid stems because I want to use mixes that people have vetted and are pleased with.  However, sometimes having a stem will yield a much better job than trying to adjust one component via a single two track mix.  Sibilance is a great example of that kind of situation.  

Best,
Garrett
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mcsnare

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Re: Stem Mastering
« Reply #11 on: April 06, 2009, 10:13:59 pm »

I don't usually endorse the whole stem concept but recently I had a client where the stem thing really worked well. He is a regular client and a very good mixer that usually supplies stereo mixes. On this particular project, out of necessity, he had mixed in an unfamiliar environment. I think it was an engineer friend's apartment. After talking with me early in the process, he decided to break out the mixes as stereo track, bass, and stereo vocals with effects, plus the actual complete stereo mix all lined up in a ProTools session. He was unsure of the low end and it worked perfectly for us. On about half of them I used the stereo mix. The other half it was easy to contour the lows on the kick (from the track stem) and the bass separately. On a few I eq'd the vocal without changing the ambiance by using the Massey M/S matrix plugins and inserting eq/comp/d'esser inbetween the encode and decode. Some songs only the bass/kick stuff was changed, some songs only the vocal tweaked, some both. Half the band was present for this and they had no problem signing off on the changes right then and there. It took a little bit longer than a typical session, but everybody was really happy with the results.

Dave

Ed Littman

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Re: Stem Mastering
« Reply #12 on: April 07, 2009, 08:02:31 am »

Greg Youngman wrote on Mon, 06 April 2009 14:25

 why not just go back and remix it?  Maybe someone can enlighten me


For some clients & their environments/mix chops this cannot address the problems.

Ed
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Matt_G

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Re: Stem Mastering
« Reply #13 on: April 07, 2009, 08:23:27 am »

I'm usually requesting instrumental & vocal only stems where possible these days... here are some of my reasoning for doing so.

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Greg Youngman

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Re: Stem Mastering
« Reply #14 on: April 07, 2009, 01:25:14 pm »

A bit off topic.

I remember having a conversation with Bob Stone (God rest his soul) about releasing a Zappa album of stems, whereby the listener would have control of the mix with 8 tracks.  The choice of delivery format was the issue... so that's as far as we got.  It is an interesting concept of allowing the listener to get more involved with the process.

Ben Folds takes it a bit further with "Stems And Seeds".  

http://www.benfolds.com/news/stems-and-seeds-remix-challenge

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aivoryuk

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Re: Stem Mastering
« Reply #15 on: April 07, 2009, 03:11:59 pm »

we'll I got to admit the master did sound better with changes on the stems as opposed to the 2 channel mix (the client wanted it loud and bright)

It obviously took more time so whether not I would want to do it all the time I don't know. It does allow you to be creative but at the back of mind I'm thinking should I be this creative? I think you would have to have very good communication with the client because you could quite easily take it to a place where the client didn't want you to take the mix. I also felt a bit more pressure to perform as well which was quite strange.

Certainly a lot to think about.
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starfireIV

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Re: Stem Mastering
« Reply #16 on: April 07, 2009, 09:43:23 pm »

Getting off topic, I know, but Peter Gabriel famously released the individual tracks for "Shock the Monkey" a couple years ago in a Real World remix competition (wicked headphone bleed on the vocal track), and I think Trent Reznor has done it too more recently.

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Jerry Tubb

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Re: Stem Mastering
« Reply #17 on: April 07, 2009, 11:19:45 pm »

jdg wrote on Mon, 06 April 2009 13:05

i personally hate stems.


Don't hold back john, tell us how you really feel!

Greg Youngman wrote on Tue, 07 April 2009 12:25

a Zappa album of stems, whereby the listener would have control of the mix with 8 tracks.


Reminds of that Todd Rundgren CD-ROM that came out in the early '90s where the user could alter the mix as it played, anyone remember that one?

I always thought it would be a great idea for some of the classic rock albums to be released as tracks or stems, create your own mix of Sgt Pepper, Axis Bold as Love, Disraeli Gears, etc.

But back on topic.

I occasionally get stems, usually vocal level related, can be a good thing if handled properly. Also folks often bring in the entire mix on their laptops for last minute tweaks.

On a recent session, the speed metal band (I love that stuff, heavy rock, freedom rock, etc.) showed up with 1/4" 15ips +6 RMGI tape, and stems on PT sessions, in case there were tweaks needed.

So we put on both versions and AB'd.

The mix from the tape (on my ATR) sounded so much better, the bands eyebrows went up and jaws dropped. So we trashed the stems and went with analog.

Best - JT
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