Back in March, Native Instruments -- the company behind the ubiquitous Traktor DJ software -- announced Stems: a music format that lets DJs and remixers to control individual parts of a track. Today Stems launches to the buying public on a number of popular music stores including Beatport and Traxsource have them listed already, Bleep, Juno, whatpeopleplay, and Wasabeat will also be selling them. For years DJs and producers' only chance of finding a cappella versions of songs was to hope a vocal-only recording existed. The advent of the internet made finding these a little easier, but they were still rare. Expensive software can sometimes help you surgically remove parts or a track, or isolate vocals, but the results aren't always very clean. Stems makes all that a thing of the past.
The new file-format allows DJs to turn the separate parts of a track on and off at will. Importantly, Stems is open, so anyone will be able to export music as a compatible file (Native Instruments will release tools for this later in the year), and big artists and labels are already on board. A Stems file will break a song into four parts; usually drums, vocals, bass and lead, each of which can be manipulated independently with compatible hardware (Native Instruments' Kontrol S8, D2, and F1 for example). Beatport, will even let you audition tracks as separate parts in the browser (as seen below). It's unlikely most casual listeners need to worry about Stems -- it's definitely more for performers -- but, if there's a killer track, with a really annoying vocal, there might just be a workaround at last.
An update for Traktor that adds Stem compatibility is available via NI Service Center today.