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:






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?

Thanks Oli!

Ditto Music vs TuneCore – a review from a UK Artist

Choosing as an independent artist (hate the term unsigned!) a Distribution Agent for Music is one of the biggest ‘business’ decisions a musician faces. Lets face it, musicians are lovers, whimsical and dreamy… well, we were up until the point that online now enables a musician regardless of talent and skill the opportunity to push music to the masses.

So now the musician has to be skilled in distribution, social media, marketing, web design, art, photography oh and playing an instrument, sound engineer, mix engineer, master engineer and general dogs body!

So the decision on distribution…

Crimson has used Ditto Music (www.dittomusic.com) since 2015. Back then, I offered a charity (www.abbiesarmy.co.uk) a song called Angels & Stars. I wrote the song after reading the harrowing story of Abbie and donated the song. I needed a distie that would be easy for me to track streams, sales etc and move that money to the charity. At the time, I was making the decision in a naive way, just pleased that it was easier than I thought to get music onto platforms and donate the money to the charity.
I checked out distrokid, tunecore & ditto… Ditto was the only UK based distie and so based pretty much on that, I went for it.

The track was uploaded, artwork, set the outlets and away we went.

For 4 years, they have pretty much done exactly what was needed. Tracked the streams, sales etc.. reported on where and when things have taken place. Money was paid to the charity… Getting the money from Ditto was fairly straightforward. A rigorous method of checking who you are (fair enough) and once complete, the money is moved and thats that.

In 2019, Crimson Medici was born even though Wendy and I had been writing songs together since 2015. Crimson needed a trusted distribution that essentially ‘just worked’. This time, my decision making was much wider. I didn’t need to stick with Ditto and could go pretty much anywhere. Its at this point, you start reading online reviews! Wow.. there is much negativity about ALL of them! Distrokid this, TuneCore that, Ditto are sh&*, CD Cry Baby… I mean find reviews that arent in some way bloody horrid.. Cant get money out, made an error on my listing, wrong artist etc etc…

But then lets look at the hard facts. Approx. 40,000 songs are released on any given day on Spotify! So yes by the law of averages mistakes will occur and as musicians we have to be as careful and considered in all the Meta Data, song data and artwork to ensure we at least have done the right thing.

After reading the various reviews I realised that Ditto even though had bad reviews was no worse than any of the others and the fact I had 4 years of experience with them, had my payment system sorted and for the most part did the job I needed i stuck with them.

Since that decision, we have released 5 tracks with them without error and its been absolutely painless.
Now enter TuneCore – In April 2020, we donated a version of our song Survivor to the Helping Rhinos Charity and with that wanted to make sure that the Charity had full access to all the reporting and money. It made sense to keep that away from Ditto bearing in mind all of our other tracks.

TuneCore was the best rated at the time I did my research and their services looked clean and simple for the track to be loaded for them to distribute. The loading process was painless, the artwork was fine, WAV quality all good and outlets were typical. Their pricing is more expensive than Ditto and they wanted further money for new platforms as they come online. This is already included within Dittos price point. (We pay the £19 / year as a single artist and it works absolutely fine currently).

Ditto offers Smart links per release. This is a great dedicated little page that can be shared and points listeners to the various outlets the music sits on. This isnt included within Tunecore and so makes sharing on the platforms a much more pointed affair. You need to find the Apple link or Amazon link… Spotify URI on the Tunecore page and share that specifically. Thats a shame as Ditto is so clean and tidy.

The reporting for Ditto appears to be updated quicker than TuneCore. We released the Rhinos track in April. It is only in June I am seeing the streams on their system for Spotify. In Ditto, we see the streams almost instantly…

Where TuneCore seems to have the upperhand – Moneytising YouTube is easier in Tunecore and getting reports on it.

Both of them have limited levels of Meta data and I have a gripe with Ditto as I cannot update the writers and produced by Meta fields on Spotify.

I have had open tickets with both of them – Service wise they both replied at a reasonable speed to enquiries and resolved whatever issues without fuss.

So… for Crimson, Ditto works for us. Tunecore is ok, but with the social media such a key point of sharing out songs and the ditto speed link it does tip the scales.

Thanks for reading and good luck in your decision!