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Native Instruments Stems: The Future of DJ-ing?

Published: Tue July 28, 2015  News Feed
When Native Instruments first announced their new Stems file format back in March, not much info was available and it certainly intrigued many, but at the same time some more conservative DJs were not entirely convinced. However, since the launch of the official Stems-music website in June things have been gathering pace, and Native's latest video shows hows innovative Stems is. And there's more: Native Instruments is offering time-limited discounts on STEMS-compatible hardware: Traktor Kontrol S5, Traktor Kontrol D2 are now cheaper than ever! Offer ends on 31/05/16

Is STEMS the future of DJing?

What is better? CDJ or vinyl decks? Or maybe using your laptop and controller? Now, one more question should also become more frequent on any talk about DJ'ing: Stems or no Stems? Discussions of this kind are not really helpful though, because, let's face it, all the answers are correct - there are all sort of DJ's doing great sets in the most diverse styles, so it always comes down to your personal preferences - and skills! But Stems offer something new and different, that can indeed help this format to become popular - Stems open a whole new world of possibilities for the DJ, who can do much more creative things utilizing it.

To put it simply: instead of just having a final mix of a song to play with on your DJ set (when you can for instance add effects or EQ) now you can create your own "mix" on the fly, as the song can be split into four different parts, or stems. So at any time you can solo, boost, mute or add effects to individual parts of the song, such as bass, drums, vocals etc. (whatever is allocated to each particular stem).

This most recent video shows how you can mix with Stems:

 


Of course, some DJs might ask: "Do we really need this?"

But the question is besides the point. Once upon a time, "old skool" DJs only had vinyl decks, and all they could do was limited to a few things such as scratching, cross-fading, pitch-shifting... and it was great! Digital technology, however, whether we "needed it" or not, changed the way people DJ and it's now matter of course to loop, add delays and many other effects when doing a DJ set. And it's great, too.

Stems are here now. It's a fact. It's the newest development in DJ'ing. And, inevitably, it'll lead to new ways of performing and thinking about how to do things on a DJ set. If this is not exciting, we don't know what is!

 


STEAMS FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Stems

If you're still not too sure about Stems, here's our FAQ with some more details about what it's all about.

HOW CAN I CREATE STEMS?

Anyone can easily create Stems. You just need to download the Stem Creator Tool, which is free and very easy to use. It easily imports the tracks from your DAW or wave editor.

A Stem file is limited to only 4 stems, which means that when creating a Stem file, you'll need to decide which elements of your track you want to have as individual stems. The Stem file also contains a fifth stem - your final stereo master, which can be played as a normal audio MP4 file.




IS THE STEAM AUDIO INFERIOR?

According to the Stems website, the Stem format uses the mp4 framework which allows Stem files to be encoded either in AAC 256 kbps VBR or Apple Lossless audio (ALAC). The upcoming Windows 10 provides native ALAC support however previous Windows operating systems do not. Master compression and limiting can be applied to all stems for balanced playback, so your Steam song more or less matches the audio of your final stereo master.

The important thing to note here, is that whatever difference
in audio quality between your Stem mix and your Stereo Master won't really be noticeable on a live environment. High audio quality is important, of course, but you shouldn't exactly think of Steams in audiophile terms, but think of it as a new performance tool.

Stems close up

WHERE DO I BUY / DOWNLOAD STEM FILES?

Stores like Beatport, Juno, and Traxsource already sell Stem files. More online stores and a wider variety of Stem releases are expected to grow, as it becomes more widely adopted by digital DJs.

DO I NEED TO OWN NATIVE INSTRUMENTS GEAR TO PLAY STEMS?


No! You need to have the Traktor Pro 2 software, but you can use any MIDI controller to map the four stems. However, the Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S8, Traktor Kontrol D2 and Traktor Kontrol F1 Controllers were designed with Stems already in mind so they are the best ones to use at the moment. Native are now offering these controllers at lower prices, too, for a limited-time only! Offer ends 30/09/15 so you'd better hurry if you want to join in this revolution! View all Traktor Kontrol offers here

But any device that plays MP4 can play the Stem file as a normal audio track, ie. without the hability to hear or mix the four individual stem parts.

WILL STEMS EVER BECOME POPULAR?

Only time will tell, but signs are promising! For one, it offers a new way of DJ-ing, so lots of DJs should get excited about it. Secondly, in an ever troubled recording industry, making Stem tracks available is an extra source of income that no label or producer should ignore. And finally - Native Instruments were clever enough to make it open source, so anyone can use, develop and improve on Stems technology: it's just a matter of time until we see more Stems controllers, Stems-creating software, Stem playing DJ software etc.

The list of Stems partners is already very impressive, with many online music stores, distributors and record labels supporting this innovative format. Click in image to view list:

Stems partners

In a time when some people accuse superstar DJ's of being just "button pushers", STEMS is here to give DJs greater creative power, and, perhaps more than ever since the early days of Grandmaster Flash-style turntablism, give DJs the chance to do something new, fresh and exciting!

At the moment, Stems is at the cutting edge of DJ-ing technology. It's an exciting time to be a DJ and producer using Stems right now. So... are you gonna try it, or wait until everyone else jumps on the bandwagon? Because, they will... and it's up to you to make good use of this exciting new tool and make it indeed "The Future of DJ'ing". After all, technology just offers us the tools - it's up to the creative people to take it up and make something truly new! Are you up to the challenge?

Want to learn more? Watch this 30min Stems webcast video:

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