A stem player is a device that is believed to have the potential to revolutionize the music world in the coming years. Music is a game for young people. If you decide to survey the history of pop, the creative and intuitive cutting edge at any given time seems to be dominated by people that are under the age of 30. However, there is always an exception to any rule.
Until recently, one of the notable exceptions in the music world is Kanye West, who was 38 years old when he published 2016’s The Life of Pablo. It was the finale of a 12-year, 8-album run that continuously put him at or near the critical and commercial zenith of popular music. That is an incredibly long reign, but just like everything else in the world, it was expected to end at some point.
In recent years, West’s music has somehow sounded uninspired and half-baked, which is what can be expected for the music made by an artist in his mid-40s with a lot of other things going on in his life.
Nonetheless, in case you want to try and make some customized audio using Kanye West’s audio image, the bizarre but creative $200 Donda Stem Player enables you to remix his latest album Donda and all other music files and YouTube clips. According to Ye himself, the Donda Stem Player is also the exclusive place to listen to his next album, Donda 2.
What Is Stem Player?
A Stem Player is a physical device that you can buy and it acts as a streaming platform. This platform is named after a stem, a music term that is mostly used in audio production. Within any song, a stem is described as a grouped collection of sounds that are mostly used as a single unit.
Stems can be removed, changed, or edited during a song, which is mostly the basis for the physical Stem Player. This small device comprises a cross of four lights across the front, which was the image that Kanye West shared on his Instagram.
The Stem Player enables users to customize any song, splitting it into multiple stems, and based on their website, it also comes with Donda. According to the Stem Player site, the handheld eponymous device comprises soft skin, Bluetooth, and haptics.
Notably, the front-facing side of the physical Stem Player consists of four touch-sensitive light sliders that can change the volume of individual stems within a song. Other specs that are highlighted on this device include a 3.5mm jack, 8GB storage, 97DB speaker, and anti-static coating. It can also support several music files including WAVs and MP3s.
The official Stem Player Twitter account shared a short video of this device playing and remixing “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” from Encanto to prove that it can be used on any song. The Stem Player can be bought for $200 and Kanye West said that there are 67,000 available and 3,000 daily are being made.
But, fans will not need to purchase the Stem Player to listen to Donda 2 since it is also available on the Stem Player platform as well.
It Feels Like Nothing Else
The first thing one notices about the Donda Stem Player is its conspicuous physical presence. This lightweight circular disc that measures 2.5 inches across and is 1-inch thick can fit easily in the hand. Its beige design somehow resembles the color of flesh and it has a fleshy texture as well.
Notably, the site boasts about the anti-static “soft skin,” which ensures that users do not have to deal with any sharp edges. It is reminiscent of the strange biological machines from the David Cronenberg movie like eXistenZ or Videodrome.
Compounding the issue is how one interacts with the player. Just like the old iPod shuffle, the Donda Stem Player does not have any screen. You can connect it to a computer through USB-C to update it and add any new songs of your choice. To use this device, you have to continuously flick and stroke different touch-sensitive grooves.
Interestingly, the Stem Player does not come with many confusing options. Pressing a button to change tracks or raise the volume as a song plays is simple enough. The color of the lights changes when you move on to a new song.
Nevertheless, if you become confused about how to execute a particular function, keep the instructions nearby.
The Mash-Up Machine
After you get over the physical appearance, the Donda Stem Player is a great music creation tool; the mash-up machine. Several years ago, in case you want to remix songs like a professional DJ, you needed to learn how to use a complicated digital audio workstation.
But today, everything from the Fuser video game to the DropMix card game, to the Lego Vidiyo toy enables amateurs to discover customizing music. The Stem Player continues the interesting trend. As a song plays, the Donda Stem Player shows four colorful strips of beautiful pulsing lights. These lights represent four “stems,” which are pieces of the track.
One stem might be the bassline while the other might be the vocals. When all four stems play concurrently, the song sounds normal. But any given time, you can even isolate the stems to develop Capella tracks and karaoke-ready instrumentals. Eventually, you can fix “Wolves.”
Apart from isolating the stems, the Donda Stem Player enables users to apply different fun audio effects. For example, you can raise and lower the pitch, make the song go backward, or chop and adjust the length of a loop in case you wish to make some true Ye-style sample beats.
The Stem Player ensures that everything is kept on tempo. Thus, any rhythm that you can come up with will always sound reasonable. The player also provides you with space for experimentation. Exploring everything that the Stem Player can do pushes its general control scheme and light-based interface to its limit.
For instance, to shorten a particular loop, you have to swipe down vertically to minimize the number of lights that represent the loop’s current length. Swiping horizontally is believed to change speed and direction.
To return to playing normal tracks once more, you have to press a button to move away from the remix mode. It is also possible to integrate stems from various songs, a technique that not many have mastered. It takes some practice.
The Donda Stem Player comes preloaded with Kanye West’s Donda album that has some unreleased tracks. The artist also said that the follow-up album, Donda 2 is Stem Player exclusive. Thus, the included album gives the users a great jumping-off point for using the device. For starters, “Never Abandon Your Family” is a solid collection of easily identifiable and clear stems that lend themselves perfectly to remixing.
Once you exhaust the tracks you can upload your desired music. The quality of the audio varies subject to the source files. However, the Stem Player supports several formats including the lossless ones.
It is possible to upload M4A, MP3, MP4, AAC, AIF, AIFF, WAVE, WAV, ALAC, and FLAC files. One can also copy and paste a YouTube link to put the video’s audio directly into the Donda Stem Player with great results. The device intelligently separates the stems in songs making users feel like professional audio engineers.
While using this device, you will not need to download any extra software. Simply plug the Stem Player into your computer and go to StemPlayer.com to manage the device. After the browser connects to the player, click ‘upload’ on the minimalist menu to start importing the songs from links or files.
But, with just 8GB of storage, the Stem Player will not replace your dedicated music player soon since there is also no easy way to determine the amount of available space at any given time. Although it is easy to get songs onto the player, it is challenging to extract the remixes for additional editing.
For anyone to share the songs that they make using the device, they can play the track and record it via another device. That might be designed to avoid any legal shenanigans and challenges that may come up from ‘stealing’ songs from YouTube.
But, with the headphone jack and strong updated Bluetooth connectivity, you do not have to wholly rely on the Stem Player’s serviceable, tiny, and somehow muffled built-in 97dB speaker.
It is highly likely that sometime in the future an enterprising musician might get on stage and then deliver the most interesting and entertaining using the Donda Stem Player. In case something like that happens in the future, music fanatics are assured of enjoying their music regardless of wherever they may be.
While the Donda Stem Player is an imaginative and flexible music creation tool, some analysts believe that it is more of a toy than a method for artists to move to superstardom.
Tech companies have already made music almost free. Thus, if an artist does not do merch sneakers and album tours, they do not earn enough from their work.