When Native Instruments first announced their new Stems file format back in March, not much info was available about it, but it was enough to intrigue many DJs. At the same time, however, some were not entirely convinced. But since the launch of the official Stems-music website in June things have been gathering pace, and Native's latest video shows how innovative this new format is!
What's the best way to DJ? Using CDJ or vinyl decks? Or maybe using 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 DJs 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. Maybe it will indeed prove to be the "Future of DJing"...
A NEW DJ (R)EVOLUTION?
To put it simply: instead of just having a final mix of a song to play around 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 or vocals (whatever is allocated to each particular stem).
This most recent video shows how you'd 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, DJs only had turntables and vinyl, and all they could do was limited to a few things such as scratching, cross-fading, pitch-shifting... and it was great, alright!
Some will still swear by it and say that turntablism is the only and true way to DJ. Digital technology (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 can be great, too.
Today, DJs worldwide can opt for the most diverse ways of doing their job: some use CDJs, some use Laptop and MIDI controllers to play MP3s, some use vinyl, some use a combination of all three... whatever works for them and get people dancing!
Which leads us to Native Instruments new Stems audio format. It truly represents a new way of DJing. It's a fact. 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!
If you're still not too sure about Stems, here's our FAQ with some more details for you.
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 which may exist between your Stem mix and your Stereo Master, it 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.
WHERE DO I BUY / DOWNLOAD STEM FILES?
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. Another great reason to make the switch to these great controllers, is that Native Instruments is offering 20% off them until 30/09/15!
And 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. So far, several Online stores, distributors and record labels are supporting this new format, so signs are very promising!
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, Stems-playing DJ software etc.
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 going to try it, or wait until everyone else jumps on the bandwagon? Because, they will...
Want to learn more? Watch this 30min Stems webcast video:
By Ivan Silva