New music format Stems wants you to buy all your tunes all over again

Designed for DJs but fun for everyone, Stems is all about isolating the best bits of your favourite songs and ignoring the rest

The music industry’s relentlessly under fire, fending off expectations that everything should somehow be free while artists figure out how to make a living.

In the past, new formats have been a cunning way to make a few extra bucks, and now Native Instruments has launched Stems.

However, Stems isn’t an upgrade to a slightly higher-fidelity recording, but an entirely new way of thinking about music, largely geared towards DJs.

Based around the concept of stem mixing, where you work with groups of audio sources that can be individually manipulated before a final mix-down, the multi-channel Stem format enables producers to split tracks into four separate elements.

In practice, this means a DJ could isolate one song’s drums and play that over another track’s bass; you could mute a vocal to create an on-the-fly instrumental; and effects could be added to a specific element of a song, rather than the entire thing.

From a consumer perspective, there are fewer compelling reasons to splash out on Stems upgrades, but if you ever fancied shutting up a singer and just letting the rest of the band get on with it, now you’ll get your chance — assuming the band's label gets on board.

According to Native Instruments, the format is open and has no licensing fees, which should boost adoption.

It will also play as normal in any software that supports m4a, and while a Stem file typically comprises only AAC 256 kbps VBR, ALAC is available, and even the AACs should sound pretty good because “each Stem is encoded individually”, thereby making the net quality of each combined Stem “greater than that of a single file encoded in 256 kbps”.

At present, Native Instruments has the support of a small range of labels and stores, and the format can be played in some of the company’s software. It hopes others will quickly join the party, swayed by the possibility of charging more money for these ‘premium’ tracks, which should start arriving in online stores from July 2015.

At multimedia arts festival Sonar 2015, a panel enthused about the new format. Producer and DJ Kerri Chandler said playing with Stems “blew my mind” and “presents so many possibilities”. Techno stalwart Carl Craig enthused that it was “technologically incredible” and “presents an opportunity to energise music industry revenues”.

Here at Stuff, we’re busy wondering at what point we’ll be able to combine Björk’s vocals, guitar by Slash, and some Kraftwerk drums, just because we can.

Find out more about Stems at