You’ve probably heard about the latest file format to hit the DJ world - stems. Stems are providing more creative control over your sets than ever. It’s providing a new generation of DJs ways to standout from the crowd and take more control over their mix.
Because stems are so new, the amount of retailers offering stem files is limited. I’ve searched far and wide and have found 6 resources you can use to download the latest stem files. Each has its own pros and cons, so be sure to read about each site.
Before we get to where to find the Stems I think it’s a good idea to quickly introduce them to anyone who is unfamiliar.
What Are Stems?
Stems are a new file format that was introduced by Native Instruments in early 2015. You can think of them as a multi-channel audio file that contains discrete groupings of instruments.
Typically, a track will be broken down into four different sections:
Stems allow you to control each of the elements independently and provide for a greater level of creative control over each track. You can use them to create spontaneous remixes, acapellas, instrumentals, and mash-ups.
Don’t like the vocals of a song? Cut them out! Only like the bass and drums? Throw out the vocals and melody! Now you can easily pick and choose exactly what you want to play.
They use the .mp4 file format to store each section of the track. The .mp4 file can be used exactly like an .mp3 but offers you a lot more control.
Take note that stem-compatible software and hardware is required to use stems.
Unfortunately, you currently are limited to Native Instrument gear. You can use the Traktor Pro 2 software and Traktor Kontrol S4, S5, S8, D2, and F1 hardware controllers. Pioneer has yet to offer stem compatible hardware. However, it has previously hinted in a Facebook post that stem compatible gear is on its way.
Why You Need To Be Using Stems
Overall, the adoption of stems has been slow. I suspect this has something to do with the limited options for hardware and software. My guess is you’ll start to see stems becoming more mainstream once Pioneer jumps onboard.
There also seems to be some hesitation with DJ trying out new file formats. Why would you break from the pack and try a new format when everyone is still using .wav and .mp3? To get a better idea of what’s possible check out this video:
My main argument for anyone who has the equipment and isn’t using stems is:
You still get all the same functionality of an .mp3 but with much more creative flexibility!
Stems provide a substantial new tool for DJs. They provide a way for you to break apart from everyone who is rehashing the same style of set over and over. While it’s unlikely the average listener will be able to tell the difference, you’ll be able to have much more creative control over the music.
We have always been limited in our control over tracks. A good portion of the musical creativity has remained in the hands of the track’s producer, leaving only a few FXs and filters for us to play with. Now, with stems, we can dig into the parts of the tracks we like, and throw out the parts we don’t.
Transitions will be easier, you’ll have every opportunity for new mashups, and you can finally pick and choose your instrumentals.
The only downside to stems is they take a little more work to use in your sets. They are also going to take a little more skill and creativity to pull off seamlessly. Additionally, you are going to have to pay just a little more than the typical .mp3 file.
If you’re not totally sold, check out resource #2 below - you can grab 65 stem files for free!
Where To Find Stems
Not surprisingly, Beatport is the number one resource you should be using to find stems. They have the largest selection of stems for you to choose from and is the most likely place producers are going to release their stems.
You can filter your stems by genre, key, BPM, artist, label and release date. The overall size of the library has been growing and will likely continue to grow over the coming years.
You’ll note that the stem prices are slightly more than the regular track. This is to accommodate the added processing required to create the stem. However, Beatport offers the same price as the other retailers in the market.
Do you want to try stems but don’t want to pay for them? Native Instruments has you covered. In order to encourage the growth of stems, they have provided 65 stem tracks completely free of charge.
The tracks are derived from selected Machine expansions and cover a wide range of tempos and genres ranging from techno, house, and funk, to trap, drum and bass, dubstep and more.
Additionally, be sure to check out this resource, where the most popular stems have been listed from each website.
Third on our list is Bleep. Although the selection is fairly limited you may find something worthwhile. Their stem files are priced the same as the other retailers but their library is limited.
Due to the lack of selection, they are somewhat of an underdog, but they are a good source to keep an eye on.
Fourth up, JunoDownload. You’ll find much more selection here compared to Bleep - 2044 tracks as of writing this article.
Similar to Beatport, you’ll find all types of genres, tempos, and keys. A great place to check if Beatport doesn’t have what you’re looking for.
While not as many options as Beatport or JunoDownload, TraxSource does offer a reasonable library of stem tracks. However, the most useful feature is their ranking system.
You can use their “most popular” filter to find what other DJs are using and help find the quality tracks without having to sift through a bunch of garbage. They’re priced the same as all the other retailers so no reason to shop around if you found what you’re looking for.
Last on the list: What People Play. The selection here is reasonable with over 300 tracks to choose from. Unfortunately, the price is slightly higher than the other retailers. However, you are able to purchase the stems in a .wav file for an additional fee.
Due to the higher cost, I’d recommend sticking with the other retails if you can find the tracks on their sites.
Creating Your Own Stems
For any producers here, creating your own stems is actually pretty straightforward. Download this standalone application and you’ll be well on your way.
You will first have to bounce down each of the four sections of the track as well as a stereo file of the completed track. You then import these files into the Stem Creator, compress and limit the tracks, input the meta data such as name, color, and title, and finally export the entire file as an .mp4.
You must put additional thought into how you are going to master your audio before packing them into a stem file. Here’s a quick guide outlining a few of the considerations:
Using stems doesn’t have to be a complicated process. As long as you have the right hardware and software everything will integrate smoothly. I hope this article has sparked your interest in stems and has provided you the first few steps to getting started!