Native Instruments’ Stems format is a different way to distribute music, especially EDM/dance/electronica – each file bundles together both a stereo master, plus 4 stereo “stems”:
Having these elements stored separately gives far more flexibility when playing the file using compatible software – for example DJs can choose to layer different elements from different songs in a mix.
Ever since the format was released people have been asking me for ideas on how to master for it, though – how do you process stems to sound good individually, but also combine correctly to create a satisfying mix ? The format includes the ability to add compression and limiting when playing the files back, but these won’t necessarily sound the same as your favourite mix bus or mastering processors, and the metering options are very limited. How can you deal with this ?