Different Types of Mastering

By Damon Mapp
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

written by Damon Mapp

You’ve been gearing up for this new release for months. On top of the time it took to write and refine the songs, you and your band have spent countless hours rehearsing, testing the songs at shows, and playing every chance you’ve had to save up for the production of this project. Now that you’ve wrapped up at the recording studio, you can finally relax. It’s done… right?

Well, not quite. It’s time to dive into the last phase of finishing your album: mastering! This phase includes a final polish (adjusting volume, EQ, leveling, compression, spacing), adding the CD Text, submitting the content to Gracenote, and more.

If you read my last article, you should know that there are differences between recording, mixing, and mastering. But, did you know there are different types of mastering? Maybe you did. If not, though, don’t worry. Today, I’m going to explain two different types of mastering: stereo mastering and stem mastering.

Stereo Mastering

Stereo mastering is the more common of these two types of mastering. It’s the final polish before mass production and distribution.

For stereo mastering, you take your final mixdown (or stereo track) that the mix engineer has produced, apply balance, EQ, and compression (if necessary), and tweak any other tonal enhancements or deficiencies that the track may have before it reaches its final place: on store shelves, on your merch table, or online for digital distribution. This mastered track is normally louder, punchier, and more articulate than the mixdown.

Stem Mastering

Compared to stereo mastering, stem mastering takes things a little further and offers more options to a mastering engineer. That’s because a stereo master starts with just two tracks (the left and right of the mixdown), but a stem master consists of the separated elements of a track.

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