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 ?
I still haven’t dug into the format myself, but in this video, mastering engineer and mixer Ian Stewart shows how he solves the challenges of the format. Ian took my Home Mastering Masterclass course a few years ago, and has been active in the Facebook group ever since, helping other members. He’s one of several members I particularly appreciate there, because he almost always answers questions in exactly the same way that I would, and I even invited him to be a guest on my podcast recently to help explain the topic of mid-side processing. (And if you haven’t read his blog post on EDM dynamics yet, you should !)
In the video above Ian builds on the methods I recommend in the masterclass course, and walks you through his entire process, showing how he has adapted them to master for the stems format, including:
- How to set up your DAW to master for Stems
- How he uses EQ and stereo processing when mastering for Stems
- How to stop the final limiter working too hard
- How to get consistent results with compression on both separate stems and the final mix
- How to store lossless audio in Stems format
- How to get better metering options within the stems creator
So, if you’re getting started mastering for the Stems format, or are interested to give it a try, I think you’ll find it really helpful – take a look !