Stems: The BEST Format for LIVE Sets!

Ninesense Member Posts: 70 Helper

Even though stems haven't been popular with the DJ community, I still think it's the best format for playing live sets.

Now that SYNC is a thing, there is little left to do on stage when playing LIVE sets... Waving your hands around is an option, twist an EQ knob endlessly is another option... but none very fulfilling and just seem like it's pretend work rather then actually changing the music live.

Why are stems the best option for live sets?

Because you can edit your track live, you can subtract parts (which is much more noticeable then adding on busy tracks), you can put FX on separate stems, you can loops parts of stems on the fly while playing other parts from other stems... etc

You can do this with Ableton, but nothing beats the flexibility of Traktor and how easy it is to prepare a set, navigate through tracks, adjust levels, be spontaneous... But with Traktor you can cycle through FX easily, you can make combination FX quickly, you can even make FX presets so that you press a button and it recalls various FX on the positions you want! It's just an incredible format.

Recently there was a BUG fix for MAC were you weren't able to analyse .stem files with traktor. That has now been fixed. I don't know about windows...

Unfortunately the stem creator tool doesn't work on my m1 Mac now, but I've managed to use it still with parallels using windows.

So... I hope NI keeps supporting this format, I hope they realise that this is such a powerful tool... it just wasn't given the proper attention and put out to the right market.

Producers wouldn't play MP3 quality files normally, it was almost 7 years for NI to fix this with Stems... Producers aren't aware that Stems can sound as good as mastered files, and sometimes even better!

Let me describe my process:

  • I export a track in 4 stems: Kick n Bass, Drums, Leads, Atmos
  • Then I master these stems, here is how:
  • Each stem has it's own EQ, sometimes saturation, Stereo widening something, not much more
  • Then in the master channel there is a Colouring compressor, some MB compression, EQ, and Limiter. I push the limiter up until there is a bit of action on the limiter (not much)
  • THEN I export each stem to Wav (each stem goes through the processing on their channel + master bus)
  • THEN I use MediaHuman Audio Converter to convert to ALAC (It's the only format that is lossless that Stem Creator tool accepts.
  • THEN I put the stems + the stereo file in the Stem Creator Tool (all have to be the same exact length). This creates a .stem file that is around 300 to 400mb (proper lossless). I wish the stem creator tools just had an option for doing lossless instead of having to use ALAC files... NI??
  • In traktor I set it up to -6db of headroom.
  • THEN I use an app called Audio Hijack, in this app I run an Invisible limiter in low latency.. so when the sound comes out of traktor it goes through this limiter which is set tp +6db.

The results is I can play stems with high quality sound that sound almost identical to the masters with all the flexibility of Traktor per STEM! It's just the best...

So... I hope native instruments updates the stem creator tool (the last version is from 2015???)

I hope they fix all the bugs and support this format... the hardest part of the work is done, it works... now it's just about fixing and updating things.

Hope you found this read useful.

Here, quick video playing with stems :)



  • Nico_NI
    Nico_NI Administrator Posts: 1,130 admin

    Thanks for sharing your workflow, that's a good approach and I kind of agree on the fact that mixing stems is definitely more flexible and fun.

    However, this requires a lot of preparation beforehand and lots of data to export.

    It also implies you can only have the stems of your own tracks in most of the case, not from other producers.

    So pros and cons but with the right preparation, it's definitely a super solid way of playing!

  • Nico_NI
    Nico_NI Administrator Posts: 1,130 admin

    Did you try opening Stem Creator with Rosetta?

  • Ninesense
    Ninesense Member Posts: 70 Helper

    Thanks Nico.

    It does require preparation but only because the stem creator tool isn’t up to par. But still, it’s possible and then it’s just a routine.

    If the stem creator tool:

    1) could import waves and export a lossless stem file (as one would think it should work) half of the work would be gone.

    2) if the limiter was a bit better sounding in traktor/stem creator tool, the other half of the work would be gone. I use the AOM invisible filter, in low latency more (less then 3ms) and it sounds fantastic.

    If these updates were made, then it would just be a matter of:

    1) exporting 4 stems out of the daw

    2) importing into stem creator tool

    3) play in traktor (high quality lossless stem files with proper limiting). Dream come true :)

    Playing stems live is a game changer. When do we think people will catch on to the fact that many DJs and producers are twisting an EQ knob on the mixer pretending they are doing that cool sound that is coming out of the speakers… meanwhile they are just tweaking the lows or the mids (or even an eq knob on a channel that isn’t even on!… I’ve seen it). Some people already see this, more will follow. Traktor and Stems can be the answer to this and change how electronic music is played!

    Stems ends the era of just waving hands in the air and making heart shaped signs and it brings on doing actually live remixing, deconstruction and construction of tracks live, live fx on kicks bass leads etc… it changes everything.

    I tried with Ableton, but the process is 100x more complicated and it’s not as fun and flexible live.

    anyway… please continue to support stems, and if possible… consider the updates mentioned above. Many producers don’t even know this is possible (to play with stems with same or better quality then masters with better dynamic range)

    Lossless HQ audio stems played live in traktor… it’s best thing ever.

  • Ninesense
    Ninesense Member Posts: 70 Helper
    edited May 2022

    Uhmm how can I do this?

    With Ableton I right click / get info and there is the “Open with Rosetta” option.

    With stem creator tool that option isn’t there. Am I missing something ?

    Would be great if it worked… I’m running Parallels in trial, but full version is 100 euros. 100 euros just to create stems is quite a lot…

  • Mutis
    Mutis Member Posts: 472 Pro

    Get hitnmix software. It’s working today not relying on what NI will do or not in the future.

    Said that… Ableton is better option with more flexibility (starting from dedicated outputs for each channel/stem and great remote surface controllers like Launchpads etc). Remixing stems is fun but VirtualDj/Djay Pro approach is painless for most users so expect that implementation inside Traktor in the best scenario.

  • Aquadics
    Aquadics Member Posts: 59 Helper

    I think stems died because DJ's prefer additional decks to do exactly this.

  • Ninesense
    Ninesense Member Posts: 70 Helper

    If they add the AI stems thing it’s fine, definitely lots of value in there.. but I truly hope they maintain the current process as well so that people who want absolutely clean stems can use them. AI still doesn’t make super clear separation of sounds

    Ableton is great and I’ve used it for this but the drawbacks are:

    a lot more painful to prepare a set with the clips as opposed to a list of tracks.

    not as easy to grab loops from stems as in traktor

    fx have to be pre programmed

    you can’t see (this is a big one) the whole track on the display. You can only see 1 stem at a time.

    there are quite a few more disadvantages to doing this kind of set in Ableton for me and why I prefer traktor. There are some advantages as well but depends on what kind of performance you want to do.

  • Ninesense
    Ninesense Member Posts: 70 Helper

    Not sure how that would work. You mean have 8 decks to play 2 tracks of 4 stems?

  • Aquadics
    Aquadics Member Posts: 59 Helper

    A little bit like this. If you have decks deck with 2 layer you would need only 4 :-)

    Honestly I was also amazed from the idea of stems but the whole true is that I never really used it during my Traktor time. Maybe this is also related to the fact that you can not get stems for the songs you would really like it. Of course If you produce your own music this is another story. But in this case, would it not even make more sense to use something like Akai Force. With Stems you are still bound to the flow of the song and can not use eg. the chorus vocals with the intro of the same song.

  • Ninesense
    Ninesense Member Posts: 70 Helper

    The idea of a stand alone controller is tempting but there are still quite a few things missing on that unit that I think are key for a live set. Follow actions is one of them… faders is another one

    If the S8 was a stand-alone controller (maybe a bit smaller to travel with) that would be absolute gold. 8 faders for stems and remix decks, a 2 or 4 ch mixer and 16 knobs for the 4 fx… now that would be a machine! :)

    I know what you mean about changing the order of clips in a track, but I honestly haven’t seen many people do that live… normally people stick with the flow of the track. For me I rather stick with the flow of the track and if needed I can loop one of the stems then use the other deck to add different parts.

  • Kubrak
    Kubrak Member Posts: 2,591 Expert


    Honestly I was also amazed from the idea of stems but the whole true is that I never really used it during my Traktor time. Maybe this is also related to the fact that you can not get stems for the songs you would really like it.

    That is probably true. But it is possible to make STEMS (separate different parts) using tools. Never tried how good it is (for sure not so good as it would be directly from producer), but it could do. Now, or in fereseen future....

  • Patch
    Patch Member Posts: 191 Advisor
    edited May 2022

    The stems idea works. But, it is a lot of work to get good at it.

    Before I’d ever heard of Traktor, I used Ableton to DJ, and the stems (and even Remix Decks) really is a dumbed down (or, imposed limitation) version of what you can do in Live.

    I’m sure the stems idea will catch on, but, right now, it’s not really got much traction.

  • Aquadics
    Aquadics Member Posts: 59 Helper

    For most DJ's its too much for what is required during live DJing. To mix in some acappella or additional drums/percussions requires only a third deck. All behind is not practical in a club like adding too much FX.

    Also most DJ's prepare their sets. Why would they not already prepare a song in Live if the intention is to impress the crowd.

    But yes, any option to extend the room for creativity (like Stems) is welcome.

  • Mutis
    Mutis Member Posts: 472 Pro

    Now soundwise has NI and iZotope under its umbrella maybe some stem tools from the last could be implemented into the first… but until then (maybe never) you have this among other solutions for iOS like “Let’s unmix”

  • Ninesense
    Ninesense Member Posts: 70 Helper

    It’s actually not that hard to get use to it.

    Being able to switch kick n bass of tracks without an eq is super nice, and sounds much cleaner.

    playing with fx etc, just a matter of practice but it’s great. it’s more noticeable actually when you remove things from tracks live rather then add more things to already busy mastered tracks.

    but I wouldn’t say it’s hard, playing guitar is much harder I think.. and people still do it 😁

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