Bruce Pavitt has spent most of his life as a gatekeeper. As the founder of the seminal Seattle record label Sub Pop — the very same that brought us Nirvana and Soundgarden — he’s long been plucking sounds that he thought were cool out of the general din and broadcasting it to the masses. But after several decades, it seems he’s grown a bit tired of the model of music from on high.
8Stem — the new remix production app Pavitt co-founded with Adam Farish — isn’t going to bring the record industry crashing down around his feet, but it does lower long-maintained barriers down to the level that anybody can get in on creating music.
“It used to be that nobody was able to engage in music production and remixing unless you had a very specific set of tools,” said Farish. “We wanted to bring that down to a level that was easily digestible for everyone, like an Instagram for music production.”
Basically, 8Stem is production app made simple. Where before anyone who wanted to make a remix had to learn complicated Digital Audio Workstation software –or even learn how to splice sounds together manually — 8Stem has created a system where anyone can generate a remix in minutes and share it with the world.
The app launched last week full of songs that are already split into their respective pieces and ready to be rejiggered. Using the app now, the production and posting of remixes is simple. But the path to making 8Stem was anything but.
“Two and a half years ago, Adam brought me a prototype [of 8Stem] that was functional,” said Pavitt. “Here was this way to deconstruct and reconstruct music that was so simple. It blew my mind.”
Not everyone was impressed as quickly as Pavitt, however. Farish said the app was a “tough sell” to producers who had spent years honing their skills and purchasing equipment, only to see an app that allowed anyone with a phone to start mixing.
Farish said that they traveled around for an entire year, trying to convince people that 8Stem had merit by endlessly remixing the one song that Farish had included in the prototype, Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry.”
“A lot of people slammed the door in our face,” Pavitt admitted, saying that they got some serious pushback from long-time producers. “A lot of people were outraged by the concept that anyone with a finger and a phone could produce, they found it pretty offensive.”
However, those hold-outs eventually proved to be the minority. As Pavitt and Farish traveled, they found more and more musicians who were willing to take part in this experiment. Pavitt and Farish built up the hand-selected library of 8Stem tracks the same way that Pavitt had years before with Sub Pop, asking friends to join who then talked to their friends about it, and so on. Pavitt says every artist on the app during this initial roll-out is “a handshake away” from everyone else.
“Most musicians we talked to were excited to have their fans engage with their music on a deeper level,” Pavitt said. “For the most part people are pretty stoked.”
As well they should. 8Stem isn’t merely a place where fans can engage with music and create their own sounds, it actually generates revenue for the artists involved.
Unlike the murky and dubiously legal world of online remixes, all of the remixes made via 8Stem are “fingerprinted” before they are uploaded to Apple Music or Spotify, with streaming royalties from the tracks going to the songs original author. It is Farish and Pavitt’s hope that bringing these remixes out into the light will lead to a “new era” where fans consider their favorite music as customizable as everything else in their lives.
“The way we think about creation and consumption is now shifting as the result of technology in people’s pockets,” Farish said. “Where we used to think of music as a closed item, it’s now a dynamic piece of media and users have a spin they can put on that.”
8Stem is available now for iPhone via the App Store. Download it here.