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Free Stem Mastering Upgrade until July!

stem mastering mixing or stereo mastering

Try our stem mastering service for free with the purchase of stereo mastering !

Make your musical ambition a reality, and start by getting your audio quality slick and professional. In this email I give some tips on stem mastering, and when it’s most needed.

Add 2 x FREE stems per track (£14 value) with code: 2022FreeStemsOffer
Order “Stereo Mastering” then select “Add Stems” and use the code at checkout to get 2 x free stems!
(You can use the code up to 5 times! Get 5 x stem mastered tracks done & save £70! Code doesn’t expire until the end of June 2022. Scroll down for more details)
Topics covered:
What is Stem Mastering?
How can it help improve your music productions?
How is it different to “regular” stereo mastering?
The difference between a good master & a fantastic master is subtle but important…. A great one just has “something special” about it, which noticeably adds to the overall impact of the track, but isn’t always easy to pin down why. It just sounds “quality”! Labels, sync agents, music supervisors and playlist curators notice the difference.Mastering is like most things in life – the better the input, the better the output.
So today we are going to talk about Stem Mastering, which can help optimize a few of the most demanding parts of a mix as an integral part of the mastering job.

What is Stem Mastering?
Stem mastering is like a mini-mix combined with mastering. It can optimize a mix that’s already great, or correct a few difficult elements and rescue a mix that would otherwise have major issues.A mediocre mix will be massively improved by an experienced mastering engineer anyway, but think how much slicker the end result would be if the tricky mix elements were perfected.Stem mastering is the process of sending certain parts of your mix separately, so the mastering engineer can adjust key elements individually during the mastering process.Often during mastering certain elements get highlighted and mix flaws revealed. It’s really useful for the engineer to be able to adjust these aspects on the fly to get the best end result.For example, there may be an instrument that overlaps the frequency band of a vocal performance, and during the mastering process the vocal needs a little EQ tweak… but this makes the other instrument sound harsh. Or vice-versa and adjusting a harshness in the other instrument then dulls the vocal. It would be helpful to be able to adjust these elements with a little more separation (there are A.I. tools that can be useful, but they are hit-and-miss sometimes).

When do you need stem mastering?
Low-end problems (kick, bass, sub):Many technically excellent, talented producers don’t have the luxury of a fully accurate listening environment which can cause problems balancing their low-end. Matching the kick & sub levels between each other is a very common problem which relies on both accurate monitoring AND environment.There are a few A.I. driven tools on the market which are helpful, but in my experience they don’t quite get it right most of the time. I often use one in my chain, but the majority of the time (90%+) I don’t actually follow its suggestions completely, and use it more as a quick way to check another approach, like a second pair of ears to ask an opinion of. The neutral room + human ears still give the best results tailored to your track.Vocal balancing:A vocal is one of the most tricky parts to make sit naturally inside a mix, and because we all know the sound of a human voice intimately, a vocal that’s not quite blended perfectly is the easiest way to make an otherwise amazing mix go downhill. So many talented producers find getting the vocal to sit right the most challenging part of a mix. If this is you, you are not alone!The highest level mix optimisation:Even if your mix is pretty damn great already, and you just want to get the most optimized mastering possible, then stem mastering can make that happen. It gives the engineer full flexibility to tweak micro aspects of the master and get really precise for ultimate results.Weak sounding drums:A classic problem, especially when using live drums. The track is banging, guitars sound huge, vocal is great, bass is thumping, but the drums sound weak and let the whole track down. By sending the drums as a separate stem we can give the extra push needed to fatten them up in the mix.Any instrument that isn’t “sitting right”:Don’t let it annoy you. Send it separately as a stem and let the engineer fix this in the mastering.

How To Set Up A Stem Master:
It is good general practice when mixing a song to group various elements to different subs/buses before the master output fader. This is helpful for many reasons: You can pull down just 1 fader to adjust all the drum channels for example, or effect all vocal channels with 1 effect. Or send different parts of your track to 1 reverb… Or many other cool things beyond the scope of this article! Sending grouped parts to buses is also useful in optimizing your gain structure to avoid clipping. It’s generally a good habit to have when mixing.When you export your mix, you will choose the option that exports all these different buses separately – these individually grouped wav files will be your stems.
There’s no specific rules for what parts to use as stems – it will vary depending on how many instruments are causing issues, or how complex your track is.Often you will only need 1 or 2 stems to get an optimized result. Vocals and Drums are common choices in this scenario.

For a rock stem mastering job, you might have the following stems:
rhythm guitars
lead guitar
Or for an electronic track:
kick drum
other drums
bass sounds
soft sounds
hard sounds
This is a common stem setup for a dance track:
kick drum
Bass sounds
everything else
Tricky vocal?:
lead vocal
backing vocals
everything else
(also makes it a breeze to bounce an instrumental master version at the same time)
Lots of options! Note how sometimes I’ve grouped them as “hard” & “soft” sounds – really it depends on the track and what elements work most naturally together.

Once you have chosen the best stem configuration for your mix, export them (“Export – Buses” or similar), then load them up in a new project and check to make sure they play back exactly the same as your normal stereo mix.

Feel free to reach out to us for advice if you have any problems making stems.

Send them all separately in a zip file to us HERE, along with a regular stereo copy of your full mix as a reference so the engineer can check all is correct.

Final thoughts:
Stem mastering is not essential for every track. But on a tricky or complex mix it can make the difference between a good final result and a fantastic final result.

It doesn’t have to be expensive either. For example, at Fat As Funk Mastering, you can add a stem for just £7 on top of the mastering cost (or free with this offer!).Try stem mastering on your new track and see how much difference it can make.

Try our stem mastering for free: Add 2 x free stems per track with code: 2022FreeStemsOffer (Order Stereo Mastering + Add Stems, & add the code at checkout for the 2 x free stems discount per track. You can use it up to 5 separate times to get 5 x tracks stem mastered & save up to £70! Code doesn’t expire until the end of June 2022)
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Producer Interview Series – Arrival Sound System

In this new producer interview series, I interview regular Fat As Funk Mastering clients whom I’ve got to know over the years, & have some interesting things going on musically.

First up is reggae producer Hal, from the Arrival Sound System, who has recently released the sublime album “Voices”. A collection of blissful positive dubwise vibes, featuring a variety of different vocalists. A perfect refresher from the stressful world of today.

What was the first moment in your life that really stands out as the driving force behind your musical path?

Buying my first DnB 12”. I think it was by Peshay. I can’t remember the name but I can remember what it looks like… That was the first step into DJing which led to production, learning keys etc.

How long have you been writing & producing music now?

Since age 15 so that’s coming to 20 years in august, I had no idea that much time had passed!

What album/track/collaboration are you most proud of, & why?

The album I’ve just finished which you mastered! An all female voices reggae album called… Voices Its definitely the best thing I have ever made!

Was there a particular piece of equipment/unusual instrument/recording technique that stood out as especially important during the making of that session?

It would be my new Ableton Push! Having gone through loads of different controllers and keyboards over the years I have finally found something that bridges the gap between human and computer! Music music making so much more of a collaboration, before I always felt separate from the computer and with the push it feels like the computer has become an instrument. You can fly around your DAW at a lighting speed and scroll though scales without changing your hand shape and then add tracks/plugins and mix and play and more and more.

Ableton Push

Are there any moments in your musical life where you still feel really nervous?

I still feel nervous before a live show or in fact a live stream. Standing behind the controls ready to play your original music is like opening yourself up to the world and as an introverted person that always makes me nervous and I actually hope it always will, it is what makes playing this game worth it!

What aspect of the music industry have you found hardest to gain traction in? And how did you overcome the resistance?

Getting booked for shows or festivals, it has been very hard to cope with so much rejection! Sending countless emails off into the void of no reply or worst getting a reply that leads to nowhere. The only way to overcome the resistance was to teach myself to care less or cultivate no attachment. Its still exactly the same game but it doesn’t reduce me to a depressed wreck anymore.

Tell us about a couple of musical breaks you had that really made you feel you’d progressed forward in your career.

So there was this one gig at Shambala festival, I think 2018, on Sunday night at 10pm. When we arrived at the stage the venue was empty and as it was Sunday I thought it was going to be a real let down but just after we started this stream of people came in, there had been the closing fireworks not far from the venue, we ended up playing to well over a thousand people who rammed the tent and jumped and danced for the whole hour. Life changing!
The second would be Goa Sunplash in India, I made contact with the organizers through a friend in Nepal and went and played the January festival three times over consecutive years. It’s a great festival with a mixed audience from around the globe and a lot of great reggae musicians come to play, unlike the UK where its unusual create links with other artists, as often they leave straight after a festival gig, here as we’re all on the beach in the sun far from home. There was a great opportunity to meet and mix and build relationships with other dub heads.

Do you want to share any funny/shocking/surprising/scandalous stories you have from on tour/in the studio/around the music industry? Please change the names to protect the innocent/guilty!

The only one I can think of would be a show at One Love festival where I thought our stage time was 2pm and Delroy the mc was super late, more than usual so I had to detour to get him, we arrived after foot to the floor mad driving at five minutes to two to be told that it was actually a 2:30 stage time and that because they were having problems with security that the festival wasn’t open yet anyway! We played our gig to a completely empty tent. But it was funny and we did a really good show!

What excites you most about making music nowadays, compared to what excited you when just starting out?

Its exactly the same, that buzz when you’ve just got a really good loop going or a singer send you a test vocal on one of your tunes and you feel all energized.

What was the most inspiring gig/festival/club night you went to in your youth? & what stood out as being so special about it?

Mad Professor Glastonbury 2002 or 2003 Sunday night in lost vagueness with this huge pile of speakers, it sounded so good and was wobbling all my organs. Every now and again the professor would leave the stage for some reason and this younger guy would sidle over and crank up the bass with a naughty look on his face, then professor would come back and notch it down again, this continued for what seemed like hours! Banging!

What was the first studio technique you learned where you thought “wow this is next level!” & really felt like you had advanced your technique a notch. & what was the equipment/DAW you learned it on?

It would probably be either the power of side chaining or mastering Melodyne. Both on Logic, although I am now a complete Ableton convert.

Do you have a favourite microphone/s? What do you like about it?

I don’t own many microphones but I do really like the new one I bought recently, Aston Origin fixed large diaphragm condenser. It sound super smooth at the high end and gives me everything I want from a vocalist or instrument and it is very fairly priced!

If you’re in a recording session & inspiration drags, what gets you back in the creative zone?

Well it used to be a little smoke but these days it’s a bike ride, if I’m working with another human than it would be a cup of something and a snack.

What are your favourite headphones to produce/DJ with? Why do you like them?

I don’t have any favorites, I bought some £300 focal ones that I thought sounded pretty good until I bought some £30 Sennheiser at an airport and discovered I liked them far more. But in general I now hate headphones, as I’m pretty sure that they are responsible for my tinnitus.

Has traditional music theory been useful to you?

I would say yes, a good knowledge of scales and chord positions speeds things up, since buying the Push I have started to approach music in a completely different way sort of based on traditional theory and sort of not. My teachers always said its good to know the rules (theory) to understand how to break them.

What was the first bit of kit you acquired that you were insanely excited by, & when?

Probably my first Pa speakers when I was 14, three way with a 15” for the low end. Loved them, I still have the 15” drivers the boxes are long gone.

Who were the first few musical artists that really turned your head & influenced your work?

Bob Marley (of course), Dreadzone, Zion Train, Mad Professor plus all of the Drum and Bass and Jungle.

What, if any, cultural aspects influence your music most heavily? E.g. films, politics, art, regional influences, religion etc.

Sound system culture or rave culture, as a youth I went to a lot of free parties in the woods.

Yep, I enjoyed those parties. Good times raving with you back in the day. I dug out an old photo from 2009:

Has being a musician affected your personal relationships, either in positive or negative ways?

It has been the central theme of my life so I would say it has affected all of my relationships hopefully positively I can’t think of any negative impacts from my perspective but that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist.

Got any predictions for what the next big sound will be?

I wish but even if I did know what would be popular next I would probably still make the same kind of sound that I make now. I sometimes try to push outside my box but I always end up making stuff that I like that sounds the stuff I like. If that makes any sense maybe.

Do you have a particular workflow you usually start with? Or do you find a sound or groove that grabs you & just go from there?

I put a lot of work into a really great template in Ableton and so it all starts just with a jam, could be drums first or chords or bass.

Have you had to diversify much across your music career, in order to pay the bills at times? What else have you done while building up your music career?

I work as a sound engineer, lighting designer and general show tech which has very fortunately paid my bills and allowed music to just be a passion in my life.

What’s your current favourite instruments?

Again it’s the Ableton push! But that’s boring so my next one is a little coconut Kalimba I bought in Kathmandu (with a contact mic built in!) followed by my mouth harp twanger thing and my melodica!

Are there any good Music books that you have learned a lot from & recommend?

The music lesson by Victor Wooten is a nice story with lots of tips about how to be musical and avoid being confined by notes and scales.

What piece of advice would you give someone about to self-release a record?

Make double sure you’re super happy with the mix and master and read all of the criteria for distribution, metadata, image formats etc very VERY carefully!

If you could go back in time & give your younger self some important advice, what would it be?

Get on with it! Practice! Don’t get too attached!

What are your favourite festivals? Either to play at or go to as a punter?

Shambala just has the best people and amazing music! Boomtown is the most awe-inspiring and also has great music and Goa Sunsplash is on the beach in Goa and has reggae – ’nuff said!

What’s your favourite movie soundtrack? Why?

Tough one! Probably Jurassic Park, I love john Williams and that theme is just killer.

What’s the most essential bit of music kit that has helped define your sound?

Native Instruments Komplete Ultimate basically is my sound in all the various presets. I do tweak them a bit once I’ve got my part recorded but mainly I find my sound in their sounds. Obviously the mix has a massive impact so I would have to throw in the Waves Platinum bundle now as well.

What’s the most precious thing to you in the studio (not the most expensive!) & why?

My hearing! The tinnitus has got a lot worse in the last year and I wish I had been more careful. I now have very expensive earplugs and mix at low levels but the damage has been done!

Your top tip for aspiring musicians?

Look after your ears! Practice non-attachment!

Do you want to shout out any musical mentors that have helped you along the way? How did they help you?

I live with a bass player called Simon Lovelock, over the last 8 years he has been a constant source of support and also has incredible musical knowledge and is always very willing to help over or have a listen to whatever it is I’m making.

Apart from music what else do you enjoy doing?

Carpentry, I like building speakers and furniture. Also lying around in hammocks on beaches or walking in mountains.

What are your upcoming musical plans?

I’m currently promoting my new album “Voices” (mastered by Fat As Funk), then I have a remix album for my sound system in Nepal out sometime. After that, just keep making music!

Any last words?

Where words fail music speaks

Nice. Thank you very much!

“Voices” By Arrival Sound System is out everywhere NOW!

If you make bassy, dubby, slinky, funky music too, try a free mastering taster from Fat As Funk.