Stem Mastering: When & How to Go Beyond Conventional Stereo Mastering

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5) Last thing: Test your stems

This is by far the most overlooked and important part of preparing stems.

Create a blank session in your DAW choice.  Import the stems on their own tracks with the faders at unity.  Does the mix sound exactly the same as you remember when the faders are at unity?   If so, congrats you did it!  If not, go back into your mix session and reprint any the stems that may have turned out wrong.

The above process may seem like a lot of work, but it is important work. Regardless of whether you plan on working with a stem mastering engineer, a stereo mastering engineer or going  DIY, I strongly recommend that you incorporate this process at the end of every project that you complete and release.

Creating stems may not be the sexiest part of being a producer, but as a producer, it is extremely important to future-proof your intellectual property.

Operating systems go out of date, plugin formats change and in as little as three years from now you may not be able to play the DAW sessions that you create today. By stemming your songs, you are preserving your work for future use.

Five years from now, someone may want an edited arrangement of your song for a commercial or film. A label may want to release your project in a new VR format. We simply have no idea how we will consume music ten, fifteen or twenty years from today.

Stems are an integral part of music preservation, regardless of your interest in using stems in the mastering process. The songs you conjure up in your daw deserve to be preserved beyond the delivery formats we are accustomed to today. Stem your songs out, save’em and keep your catalog ready for whatevers next.

Ryan Schwabe is a mastering engineer and a professor of recording arts and music production at Drexel University. Find him at

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  • A really useful article, thank you 🙂