What Are Stems And Will It Change DJing?

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Stems, screenshot
Stems, screenshot

Stems is an open multi-track format, that contains four separate audio channels (typically drum, bassline, melody and vocal) of the same track in one file. The file is in the same time playable as a whole with any device that can play MP4 format.

The whole idea arrived from music production and, where producers sometimes tend to make a “sub-mixes” of channels (par example mix together all percussion channels in one group channel, and then mix it with the rest of the arrangement ).

It is intended for DJs to be able to better manipulate the content of the track as oppose to simply EQing the parts of the track in and out. So per example you can use the drum part from one track, and the bassline from another, vocal from the third, and so on. In general this sounds like a great idea, as it brings DJing closer to a live act, and gives DJs more control. For the DJ’s that play tracks with vocals (mainly house DJs) this approach is not new, as house producers already had a custom of releasing “a cappella” versions of their tracks (only vocal).

What about techno? A lot of techno tracks are meant to be used as tools for the mix, but the elements of the track make a whole in a way that its not possible to break it apart cleanly. Techno is a genre that is more abstract than most others, and the elements of the track are not that rigidly defined, as in a house track for example.

With more possibilities, there is more complexity. I already see the hyped kids, that have no idea about harmony or mixing in general, slapping parts of the tracks on top one another, creating horrible sounds in their bed room. Most of them haven’t learned to mix two whole tracks properly, sync options and DJ software made it possible for them to call themselves DJs, and now they have even more buttons to push. That’s not the problem as long as they stay in (I am not sure that they will).

Basically, its all about the musicality of the DJ once again. People that understand music will find stems useful, while the ones that don’t have the touch will make even more cacophony.

Some DJs will put it to use, but I don’t think that it will become a standard. Most of the well experienced DJs like it the way it is, and surely large percent of the producers tend to look at their tracks as a whole, and will not like to have their track “butchered” to pieces. I think it will find more use with commercial music and so called “EDM”, where the fans don’t mind that they are already listening to the “questionable quality” music to say the least. Also this may also be interesting to the rap DJs and digital turntablists, who will have more material to work with.

Most of the major electronic music stores (Beatport, Junodownload, Traxsource…) support stems, also the digital DJ gear manufacturers, we will see how far will it get.

If you have any opinions about this or experiences with stems, please share it below.