New backward compatible audio file format can split songs into four tracks

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Native Instruments – best known for its DJing and music production software – is rolling out a new royalty-free audio format that could be a big deal for professional and amateur remixers. The format, Stems, can store up to four individual tracks in a single mixed file, which means that different components of a song (drums and vocals, for example) can be available as isolated audio. For DJs and remixers, this makes it much easier to reuse key components from a source track.

This is perhaps not the most interesting trick of Stems: the format is completely backward compatible, so you can load a Stems song into any media player that supports MP4 and play it like a normal song. It is only when you load a Stems file into an application that specifically supports its advanced features – Native Instruments’ own Traktor DJ suite, for example – that the individual tracks in the song become available.

Not for everyday listeners

The theory is that producers will be interested in charging for Stems files over conventional audio formats, but a higher price tag isn’t the only reason regular listeners won’t want to start using them. They are significantly larger than a normal audio file because each track is stored separately in addition to the fully mixed song, and audiophiles will be disappointed to learn that they are not available in a lossless format. Basically, these are strictly aimed at bedroom and professional variety DJs – but in this market segment, Stems could end up getting big.

Online music stores Beatport, Juno, and Traxsource have signed up to begin offering Stems files for sale, and a free utility released by Native Instruments will allow producers to create their own. Files, tools and technical specifications for the format will all launch in June.


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