The Dumbest/Coolest Gift I Bought Myself This Year
When I was in my preteen to teen years, I distinctly remember using the various tools available to me to alter music in what I thought were interesting ways. For example, I’d use my tape deck to record a part of a song, pause the tape, and then record it again to loop and extend parts of the track as I saw fit. Later, I learned to navigate some very basic digital music tools that not only made this particular task much easier but also allowed me to change the speed or even pitch of a song.
From there, things only got better, allowing me to create mash-ups, remixes, and admittedly make sampled beats I’d then attempted to nerdily rap over. Alas, while there was a time when I told inquiring adults that I wanted to be a record producer when I grew up, this minor hobby was never a super prominent part of my life and fell by the wayside. However, it was recently reignited in a big way when I heard about the Stem Player. Well, after weeks of being unable to think about much else, I went ahead and splurged on one as a Christmas gift to myself — and I have to tell you all about it.
First, I should probably explain exactly what it is and where it came from. The Stem Player is a tool developed by none other than famed artist Kanye West in collaboration with Kano. If you’re unfamiliar, a “stem” is basically the equivalent of a track when recording. In the case of this Stem Player, songs are broken down into four basic stems, such as vocals, bass, percussion, and guitars or synths (although it will differ by track). With these stems separated, you can control them in real time to create your own remixes of sorts. What’s more, you can also build on-the-fly loops, adjust the playback speed, add effects, record samples, and more. Oh, and all of this is done via a tiny, silicon circle that fits into the palm of your hand.
One thing I’ll say about the Stem Player is that it’s deceptively simple looking. When you first start it up, you’ll immediately be able to start adjusting the stem playback and hearing the songs in new ways. Yet, discovering all of the powers this tool has stashed away has been a bit of a journey as there are only a few buttons on the device and, in my case, no manual to guide you.
For what it’s worth, the minimalistic approach is evident at every level of the Stem Player experience, starting with the device’s sales page. Furthermore, that same site is where you can upload additional songs for use on your device. Once again, however, the simple look disguises how technologically remarkable the platform is as the site is able to separate fully-mixed tracks into stems with an impressive albeit imperfect degree of accuracy. It’s true that the songs you upload yourself likely won’t sound as good as those built into existing stems or that come preloaded, but it’s an awesome feature nonetheless. Meanwhile, I’ve also been able to track down pre-split, non-Ye songs that sound amazing on the machine.
Obviously I’ve been relishing in this cool self-given gift… so why did I call it “dumb” in my headline? Um, well, it costs $200. That makes it hard to justify — but, hey, it does at least come preloaded with Kanye’s latest album Donda, so that’s like $10 in value, right?
I’m fully aware that my Yeezy Stem Player was a pure splurge. Still, I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed playing around with, learning, and exploring this intriguing piece of musical tech. It’s also really transported me back in time and brought out an interest I’d partially forgotten about. Sounds like a pretty cool gift after all, doesn’t it?