Hacking Stems: How To Extract Parts From Stem Files

At this point, many of you have probably heard about the Stems concept from Native Instruments, which allows you to play songs with four parts and isolate each part from one another – for example, removing the drums. While these files are available for purchase on many online stores, until now you needed to use NI hardware and software to isolate the parts and use their power. Today Ean shares how anyone can isolate a Stem file’s individual elements using a simple, free process for Mac and PC, allowing you to create custom instrumentals that will play in any DJ software or hardware.

Hacking Stems / Extracting Instrumentals

Everyone loves the STEM concept, and who has not wanted to break down a track and take out the bass, vocals or drums. In my experience, this is often something that you could do once, and not worry about live. It would make sense then to create a permanent “edit” of your stem that has those parts removed and not bother with isolating things in the DJ set.

Here are the steps you need to take in order to break apart a Stem file and isolate the parts outside of Traktor (or Mixed In Key’s Flow 8 Deck, which is the second DJ software to support Stems playback). First, get your system set up with the right software:

  1. Purchase + download Stems from Beatport, Juno, Traxsource, whatpeopleplay, or Wasabeat (direct links to their Stem sections)
  2. Download Audacity (PC/Mac) and download FFmpeg Library for Audacity (PC/Mac) (both are free)
  3. Go into Audacity’s Preferences > Libraries
  4. Click on “Locate” next to “FFmpeg Library” select “libavformat.55.dylib” which will be contained in the FFmpeg download

Now let’s import the Stem file into Audacity and isolate them:

  1. Import the Stem .MP4 file (it will be fairly large and take a few minutes)
  2. Select all five of the streams (this will include the master stereo mix and each of the four stem parts)
  3. File > Export Multiple in Audacity (use AIFF or WAV and number them so you can keep track)

Make A Custom Instrumental From A Stems File

To make your own custom instrumental, bring the files into Ableton:

  1. Drag all the files into Ableton Arrangement view (hold down the CMD key to easily separate them into their own audio tracks)
  2. Adjust the session to the track BPM and line up the beats. Make sure the individual audio files are not warped
  3. Remove the stereo master track

Finally, fine tune your instrumental so it is more playable:

  1. Move a portion of the drum track/beat to the first 8 counts
  2. Isolate your parts and add mastering as needed/wanted
  3. Bounce out as WAV or AIFF with the BPM in the file name for quick reference

Have a better way that you’ve found to hack Stems apart into individual files? Let us know in the comments below. 

Wanna extract stems from a track? We have the perfect tool

audacityean goldenextractinstrumentalsstem decksstem filesstemsTraktor TipsXtrax Stems
Comments (36)
Add Comment
  • Dyonissis Zoès

    Thanks a million! A new world of possibilities has opened 🙂

  • Gerard van Dijnsen

    I found a very nice way to get this working *with* warping. Here are the steps:
    1. Destem the file with the bash script written by Hendrik
    2. Load stem 0 (the full track) into Ableton
    3. Warp it like you normally do. Save the settings.
    4. Go to a console and copy the .asd file created 4 times and rename them *.stem.[1234].* so keep the names the same, but replace the 0 in the asd file by 1,2,3 and 4. You now have 5 .asd files, named exactly like the 5 stems.
    6. Load stem files 1 to 4 into session view

    Presto! 4 stems, exactly warped like the main track and perfectly aligned. As an extra you may want to change the warp mode to Pro for the stems that do not contain beats. It sounds better. Don’t forget to save!

    • Gerard van Dijnsen

      Drawback I just noticed: The waveforms for all the stems are the same and identical to the one from stem 0. Don’t know how to overcome that yet…

      • Gerard van Dijnsen

        Ahhh… just select the clips, right click and select ‘crop clip(s)’ and the waveforms will be rebuilt…

        • booyakachimp

          Hi Gerard, excellent method, thank you for sharing! It works great for me, but when I drop the stems into a different Live Set, the waveform is the same as the original stem and I have to ‘crop clips’ again. Has anyone found a way to permanently fix the stems so they always show up with the correct waveform? Thanks again for the great ideas!

  • 11Fletcher

    you can do the same with multipiste ogg file (usually a file with .mogg extension but it can be .ogg to), except that there are more stems (not limited to 4) and you can find a lot of version of old track (great to do some remix/mash up of classic song)

  • Joseph Mazigo

    Just use Adobe Premium CC

  • Ruben Hulzebosch

    in your video you say aiff and wav are more or less the same and it doesn’t matter which one you choose. This is not true. Aiff supports multichannel, wav doesn’t. But the biggest difference is that Aiff supports metadata, which is essential to DJ’s.

    • Spencer "Thunderball" Thayer

      Well done! Honestly this is far superior to my script attempt. I was going for a .command file that you can drag a file into. I wanted to pass the filename by drag-and-drop using the parameter %1. Doesn’t work for multiple files yet, but maybe your script is just the better solution.

      • Hendrik Schreiber

        You can achieve that by creating an Automator action: “Run Shell Script”—but, you would need to make sure that the script finds the FFmpeg executable, as the regular environment isn’t loaded by Automator as far as I can tell.

  • Eric Allen

    I that true that all individual stems are not mastered, seems like artist would have their stems mastered by a professional and skip the mastering step in the stems creator. Second of all does the stems creator do a good job at mastering or doesn’t it just make it louder.

    • Matías J. Padilla

      It’s mainly just compression to glue the stems back to the loudness of the mastered stereo file. All other mastering steps must be done beforehand.

  • nick

    I thought all you had to do to make them was zip up the 4 tracks and change the extension to .mp4?

    And then likewise to extract them all you have to do is change the extension to .zip and decompress?

  • Juan Andres

    I wonder how producers that makes the tracks feel about this.

    • Matías J. Padilla

      Not much different from an edit or bootleg. It’s not like you are sampling these to use in your own productions, that would be one huge copyright issue.

  • Martin Wilson

    Why would you use this rather than just dropping out the drums on the og STEM track? Wouldn’t that give you the same result (at least in Traktor?)

    • Ean Golden

      isolating stems is one more thing to worry about on stage – I would rather pre-process the instrumental and just drop it in a regular deck.

      • Lu Ynoji

        although not using stems, been doing something similar

        preprocess edit tracks( the edits are not always possible live due to complexity)

        then have your custom ” remixes”/edits imported in your “insert software” deck and then go wild… bit more preparation but a bit ” safer”

        the one requires more practice and is more routine based, the other requires more preparation but can be less based on a routine..

  • dasd

    where i can find some stems demo files ???

  • Mark Settle

    I’m not saying it’s better or worse, but Adobe Audition gives you access to stems too.

    • Matías J. Padilla

      It does, the only problem being the price tag if you don’t own it already.

      • ShiftFunction

        If you’re producing, it’s worth the price tag. I use it for my post-production and sample editing. Going to test out possible workflows with said post-production and the Creator Tool. Looks promising so far.

    • Jonathan Santarelli

      How exactly does that work? I have Adobe Audition.

      • Snowball Creative

        Not sure if this is the best way of doing it but import the stem file to Audition, and you should see waveforms for the different stems in the Editor. Right click, select all, right click, extract channels to mono files. You then have a L and R for each part and can export them as whatever format you want. The L and R sound the same to me so I don’t think you need to try and combine them again, if anyone knows the answer to this please let me know!

  • RolfSki

    This is actually very useful and a great motivator for buying stem-formatted music, regardless of soft & hardware limitations.

    It would be even more useful if there was a DAW plugin for this that doesn’t require you to go to Audacity first but directly import and split stems into your Ableton/Cubase/Logic Pro, etc.

  • Spencer "Thunderball" Thayer

    If this is done using FFMPEG streams then it would be possible to write a BASH script that could automate the extraction process for bulk jobs. I’ll take a crack at it later this week and follow up. Should be simple enough.