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Stem mastering at abbey road studios

When we decided to record ABBA’s ‘The Day Before You Came‘ I knew that mastering would have to be the best it can be. To do this justice and give it the best possible sound, master it independently and with the reported best in the business.

Crimson Medici - The Day Before You came

We have used Abbey Road for mastering before. Alone was mastered there along with Feel The Beat. Both of those used the standard stereo master method. I.e. We mix down here, create all the relative FX and then send that stereo WAV file with about -12db of headroom so the engineers at Abbey Road can then do their thing.

This time I had read about ‘Stem Mastering’ – new to me but probably fairly common in the business. I contacted Abbey Road and they provide a stem mastering service and put me in touch with their Mastering Engineer Oli.

Stem Mastering is a more involved method of mastering and more expensive. The key difference between them is you are not providing just one single stereo file. You provide several – in our case 6 separate groups of stereo files. These are grouped sets of tracks.

For us that broke down into:

Drums

Bass

Choir

Synths

Arpeggios

Master Vocals

We use Ableton as our main Digital Audio Workstation and the method of providing these groups was relatively straight forward. Of course these groups once ‘burnt’ are essentially mixed. Example is Bass Drum, Snare, Hi Hat – once you group these and record the final mix file you are committing those levels to the mix. The beauty of Stem Mastering is the engineer in the Mastering Suite can still tweak the Mix and use various tools to bring out details and add dynamics.

When we arrived at Abbey Road we were shown to the Mastering Suite we would be using for the track and introduced to Oli. He had been at Abbey Road for 3yrs and was recently re-mastering ABBAs Gold Album so was familiar with The Day Before You Came.

Oli methodically went through each of the 6 sub groups and added various dynamics to the track inc EQ, Compression and Gating.

As an example; He added a Side Compression on the Arpeggios that give a spike every time the snare sounded – lifting the arpeggios up and giving the track a real pop.

The process took just over an hour and we walked out with two files – a 44.1khz 16bit file and a 48k 24bit file. We have used the 48k file for our Distribution.

Crimson Medici - Abbey road
Two of the buttons on this part of the desk read… Voodoo & Black Magic

The experience of being at Abbey Road was in itself amazing but watching a true professional working with Pro Tools and the outboard equipment was just pure class.

Like to hear the finished version?

Watch this video on YouTube.

Thanks Oli!