Stems: A new music format divides the scene

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The new STEMS file music format
… offers huge possibilities for creative mixing, yet the acceptance in the Psytrance Producer / DJ scene is still very low. We asked why and got diverse replies…


Stems is a new open music format created by Native Instuments and aimed at DJs and producers. Stems, paired with the right hardware, opens a wide array of creative possibilities for innovative DJing/live act performance.
Basically, in the stems format, which comes along inside an MP4 container file, a track is broken down into four seperate channels which can be individually filtered and mixed (e.g. drums/percussion, basslines, synths and voice/speech/effects). This makes it easy to create live remixes and mashups as well as perfect and clean transitions.
While loads of tracks in the stem format from other genres are already available for download at online music suppliers like Beatport, virtually none can be found for Psytrance.
Why is that so? Is it because the format is too new? Is it because producers fear that DJs will “take their credits away” by remixing their music live and perhaps performing more innovative and crowd gripping than the classic “hooray, I pushed play” live act? Because the margins between a DJ set and a live-act performance get blurred using stems? Or is it simply because no one owns stems-capable hardware (yet)? Are there other reasons?

We asked for some feedback…

liquid soul STEMS

Liquid Soul

I think stems in Psytrance doesn’t make much sense since the genre does not provide much variability to play tracks differently respectively better, due to the dense layering of tracks. This also makes it complicated for producers to decide which of the 50-100 layers that make up a track should be bundled in one of the four available stems. In minimal/techno/house it makes much more sense because fewer layers are needed in production and mixing is also much more flexible and can be done in a more interesting way.

S-Range about Stems


Stem files are great, they allow you to mix any alien voice sample into other tracks, imagine all the endless possibilities to use your favourite S>Range drums and basslines into your own tracks when mixing for a full house, just amazing!

PsiloCybian-via-Youtube about STEMS


I have a couple of my tunes that have been made into stems just to try it out, but I don‘t think I would ever give a tune like that into distribution. People having the abillity to mess with my tunes without my approval is something I don‘t like much.



I could imagine the main reason being that Psytrance tracks are usually so packed with sounds that it’s hard to reduce them to only a few stem groups. And what sense would it make to remove a whole group? It‘s a bit like mixing Psytrance tracks. You can hardly mix 2 Psy tunes together for a long time. But you could with more minimal tunes. Mostly techno. Same applies to stems. You can *work* more with minimal tracks, but not really with „overloaded“ Psy tracks
In addition to that I think that the stem format isn‘t very popular yet. Maybe due to the fact that it‘s a lot of work for producers and not many DJs can use it.

Mat Mushroom STEMS

Mat Mushroom

At the beginning of the 90th as I started DJing I thought it would be great to be able to use the several tracks layers seperately. Now 25 years later Native Instruments made it possible and this opens new creative dimensions in mixing music. But when I want to buy stems I see that nearly nothing is available for Psytrance Music.
Why are producers from other music communities able to produce stems? It seems like the Psytrance scene needs a few more years to adapt to new technologies. After vinyl there were cd’s, then came digital DJing and now stems as an update to digital DJing.
Dear producers: Do you think that people will steal your stem layers out of the files? Most of the DJs out there are still stealing music. And you are also using sounds from soundbanks, which is the reason why a lot of electronic music sounds the same.
Do you think it’s too complicated to generate stems? There is a free tool available from Native Instruments.
Do you think you will be unemployed after making your sounds available?
Creative DJs would like to perform creatively with your music and remix it. Uncreative DJs won‘t use stems. Well, uncreative producers could use the stems in their „own“ music, but this would be a music with bad karma. We are living in a digital social media world, so when producers discover their stem layers in someone elses’ track they could spark a shit storm. As a DJ I would love to use stems and I would willingly pay a higher fee for this format. And I think a stem track would be played more often in DJ sets where the DJ is using a stem compatible controller and can gain popularity much easier.

This article appeared first in our printed edition.
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