After listening to the mixes, I almost immediately opted for stem mastering. I felt like the songs could have been improved by slightly altering the balance between certain tracks. Even if it was possible to perform a fairly similar correction on a two-track stereo using spectral editing, I felt like having the stems would have offered way more wiggle.
After agreeing on the type and number of stems, I proceeded with the edits. Having such a granular access to the layers, I could apply gentle strokes of EQ and compression to some tracks leaving the others untouched. Automation also was of great help, especially for enhancing the choruses.
A Reaper project with stems for drums, bass, vocals, guitars and keys
Mastering using Reaper subprojects
The way I approached the final mastering stage resembles the same technique adopted while mixing Ember Rev’s upcoming album. Subprojects are such a powerful and useful feature I couldn’t refrain from trying it with mastering.
Once the editing stage is complete, ideally I don’t want to keep tinkering with the audio material. With subprojects there’s no bouncing of the two-track to disk to be imported in a new session. Instead, the stem-mastered project becomes a child to be added to a parent project.
The crucial difference is that if I then double-click the child project (rendered in the parent project as a stereo wave file), Reaper opens a new project tab containing the original session, complete with multi-tracks, plug-ins, edits and automation. I can perform fine-tuning without technically leaving my master project. Once I save the new edits, the child is automatically re-rendered and updated in the parent.
So far, I haven’t seen anyone else using the same procedure, so this is to be considered my take on stem mastering using subprojects in Reaper.
I had to go back to the stems a couple times, because of minor loudness adjustments. Normally, I would have adopted a multi-band compressor on certain frequency ranges; since subprojects are available, I simply double-clicked and opened the original stem stession, applied the corrections on drums and bass without touching vocals and the remaining instrumentation.
Once happy with the master, I bounced three versions, each one with a progressively higher loudness. In the following screengrab, the subproject (yellow audio item) had retained the original session markers as item/take markers, which helped with automating the limiter in certain sections.
The master project in Reaper containing a subproject, along with 3 rendered test masters
With SWS installed, checking on loudness is a breeze. Besides having useful metering plug-ins, I love how quickly I can select multiple audio items, click on the Extensions menu and select Loudness to see the complete analysis in a neat table.
Final session with the mastered songs, to check on loudness and consistency
- Bruno Valeri: vocals, piano, synth
- Emilio Albertoni: guitars, bass, synth
- Mixed by Emilio Albertoni.
- Mastered by Simone Silvestroni.
© 2023 Emilio Albertoni & Bruno Valeri.
℗ 2023 Minutes to Midnight (sound recording copyright).