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Taking Audio To The Next Step
Vinyl records and CD’s have always offered DJs a handy way to play the crowd favourites, but they are fairly limited in what they deliver. By that, I mean they are restricted to a linear delivery of a stereo image. You only get a left and right signal of a mixed track that can be played and worked with. This meant that EQ and filter effects were suitable across the entire mix, but didn’t make it possible to remove individual aspects of a track in a live format. Once it was mixed to that stereo recording that was all you had to work with.


The computer changed all of that in a hurry. Now, when I say “in a hurry” I actually mean the computer took a bloody long time to get around to offering DJs what they really wanted in flexible music performance. It took a very long time for computer audio to be a workable medium that was stable enough to rely on in a live environment. It also took a long time for the computers that were readily available to gain the ability to manage the workloads demanded of them by the modern DJ. Due to this, we are now only beginning to see what can be achieved with a computer in a DJ set. It was almost twenty years ago when I was carting a computer tower to certain events to run it as a sequencer, but the advancement of computer technology over the last five or so years has sped up the process at an alarming pace. And now, the continued development of Stems means that we are going to see a lot of improvement in live computer performance.


The Stem Revolution
For those of you who have been living under a rock for the last year or so, Stems are what we are all going to be using soon when it comes to mixing live music. Gone is the simplicity and restrictiveness of only mixing stereo tracks. Now you can work with a stem and get four separate parts to that track that will allow you to mix and edit each part, as if it were its own track in itself. A track is broken down into four separate groups, usually being Drums, Bass, Vocals and Instruments. So, you can rip out just a vocal part of one track to play over another, without having to try and _lter out the drums and bass and inevitably failing to do so. It’s like working with a simplified multitrack recording, right there, in a live environment.


The stem revolution takes live mixing to an all new level and with the help of new hardware coming out specifically designed for working with stem audio, this is going to be the next step forward for digital DJs. The big question is, how does one source the stems to play? Native Instruments are leading the charge on this puzzle by releasing a beta version of their new Stem Creator Tool that enables you to build your own Stems for playback on their Traktor Stem decks. As is so often the case with digital DJing, we are once again entering a whole new realm of possibilities and the results are sure to push the boundaries of what we thought to be possible in terms of live mixing.


What lies ahead for this exciting new audio format may well depend on whether other hardware manufacturers join the party and whether it gets totally embraced. Yes, you can generally work with and preview Stems on a variety of players, even iTunes, but to get the full potential of Stems, you need a controller that allows you to pull them apart and see individual attributes from the console itself so you don’t have to rely on the computer as an interface as such. What lies ahead for DJs and Stems is going to be interesting, that is for sure.