BPM 2015: Play Stems On Any Controller With Mixed In Key Flow 8 Deck

Phil Morse | Founder & Tutor
Read time: 3 mins
Last updated 8 October, 2015

Using Flow 8 Deck software with a Traktor Kontrol S4. Flow allows you to DJ, with “normal” music files and with Stems, using practically any modern DJ controller.

Who’d have thought that DJ software would have been one of the big talking points of the BPM Show this weekend? But it most definitely is, and one of the most interesting and original pieces of software news ahead of this year’s show is the release of Flow 8 Deck from Mixed in Key. Among other innovations, it’s the first DJ software that lets you play Stems files on practically any DJ controller.

Flow was first released nearly two years ago as two-deck DJ software designed to streamline mixed DJ sets, with an emphasis on simplicity and incorporating Mixed In Key’s harmonic mixing as a central element, but the new software builds hugely on the original Flow.

Now, you can choose between two, four and eight deck layouts, and the software will keep everything in sync automatically. There’s no concept of individual deck tempo other than a master tempo, which means the software is firmly skewed towards electronic music and smooth beatmixes. One of the innovations for beatmixing is the ability to automix within the same tune by jumping from section to section, with Flow 8 Deck smoothly crossfading between the parts you jump from and to.

Stems control is achieved by mapping the Stem volumes to the EQs, and this is how the software opens Stems use up to just about any DJ controller that has four knobs of some kind for each of its channels. (There’s a video below to show you how it works.) However, just like with Traktor you don’t get a visual representation of each of the four layers within the Stems file in the software. Also, this software appears to have jumped the gun on implementing Stems, as the developer pack isn’t even out as of the time of writing, so expect improvements when it is.

Piling on the decks makes things more challenging, but Flow 8 Deck is designed to keep everything visually as simple a possible.

Numerous other visual features are designed to make four or eight-deck mixing as intuitive as possible, with elements fading to the background or coming to the fore depending on what the DJ is doing, and visual “linking” of tracks in compatible key. The waveforms are two contrasting colours, one colour being used for the melody and one for the beats, to help you instantly work out visually the structure of your tracks as regards breakdowns, drops etc.

As you’d expect from Mixed In Key, the company’s harmonic mixing, “energy level” and autocue features from that flagship software are baked right in to Flow 8 Deck, with a dynamic playlist recommendation engine that takes into account key, energy and tempo in suggesting what you should play next.

Flow 8 Deck works out of the box with practically all modern controllers from names like Pioneer, Native Instruments, Numark, Akai and Reloop, and has been designed to be extremely simple to map to any other Midi controllers you like, meaning you can – for instance – control Stems files with just about anything Midi you happen to have lying around that’s got knobs on it.

Who’s it for?

In its simplest two-deck for the software is designed to be really easy for anyone to use; the complexity comes when you switch on up to eight decks, as per the main shot.

We loved the original Flow although we felt it was best suited to DJs who can “do it” the traditional way and who appreciate what’s different about this approach to DJing. This time around, Mixed in Key is positioning this software as “easy to use, hard to master”, which seems fair.

By design, though, this software won’t suit open format DJs or DJs who want to make big tempo changes in their sets. However, the facts that it allows things like eight-deck control on two-deck controllers, and Stems control on pretty much any controller, mean it is very intriguing otherwise. We can’t wait to get “hands on” with it.

Promo Video: Using Stems

• Flow 8 Deck is for Mac (Windows version coming soon) and costs US$58, with free upgrade for previous Flow owners. Find out more about it on the Flow website.

Are you intrigued by Flow 8 Deck? Have you used Flow before? What do you think of the software? Please share your thoughts below.

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