Serato Audio Research
|This article relies on references to primary sources. (August 2008)|
Serato was founded in 1998 by Stephen West and AJ Bertenshaw who developed a timestretching and pitch-shifting Pro Tools plugin, Pitch 'N Time. They then focused on the evolving vinyl emulation software market, developing the first release of Serato Scratch Live (SSL) in 2004. The software utilizes specialized timecoded audio called the Serato NoiseMap™. The NoiseMap™ is pressed into a control vinyl or CD and the signal is captured by an external sound card which is then used to manipulate digital music on the user's computer. Serato began by working with Washington-based Rane Corporation to develop the first Scratch Live supported hardware, the Rane SL1, during which, Serato developed the NoiseMap™ control vinyls to complete the system.
As of 2014, Serato's products are the dominantly used products in the American DJ market and a worldwide industry standard in the DJing, utilized by the most renowned DJs in the world such as DJ Premier, DJ Z-Trip, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Mix Master Mike and many more. Their current feature product, Serato DJ, is an amalgamation of Scratch Live's DVS technology and the DJ controller support of ITCH, supporting popular hardware from international manufacturers such as Pioneer, Numark, Rane, Vestax, Denon, Reloop, and Novation.
Pitch 'n Time
In 1997 Stephen West, co-founder of Serato, was learning to play the bass guitar as a side interest during his undergraduate computer science degree at the University of Auckland. He wanted to learn technical bass solos in his music by slowing them down to enable him to easily perceive each individual note in the solo. At first he was unable to isolate the playback speed from the pitch of the music. This was problematic for West because he wanted everything to sound the same except slowed down for him to learn. At the time there were existing technologies available that sought to alter playback speed without affecting pitch, however, none were of an acceptable standard for West. Processing the audio was overly time consuming and the result was always distorted and a poor imitation of the source.
After some research, West wrote an algorithm to adjust playback speed independent of the pitch. The result was a tool with the ability to preserve the pitch and increase or decrease playback speed without coloring and distorting the result. The algorithm processed the audio much quicker than other existing tools without degrading the audio. A good friend of West's, A.J. Bertenshaw, co-founder of Serato, persuaded West to sell his algorithm rather than give it away for free. They soon set off to Japan, with the financial aid of both their parents, to talk with large electronics firms in the country. The trip was unsuccessful as they were met with resistance by all companies they approached.
On a trip to Los Angeles in 1998, however, Alan Bertenshaw (father of A.J) stumbled upon an article about Sony Pictures in the local newspaper. Alan quickly decided to approach Sony Pictures and organize a meeting with an engineer to demonstrate West's algorithm. The response was overwhelmingly positive and the demonstration was extended to the wider engineering department. For Sony Pictures, West's algorithm would mitigate the need for re-shooting scenes, re-recording entire orchestras or discarding existing recordings to correct errors; essentially revolutionize their workflow.
With the algorithm, Bertenshaw and West developed Pitch ‘n Time; a plug-in for Digidesign (now Avid) Pro Tools and Apple Logic for timestretching and pitch-shifting. The next couple of years were dedicated to the marketing and distribution of the Pitch ‘n Time plug-in internationally.
It was in the year 2000 that West and Bertenshaw started investigating and experimenting with the idea of "scratching" music with a mouse. Bertenshaw eventually produced a working prototype of a piece of software that enabled a user to do this with a CD. What was now called "Serato" decided to develop this further. Initially the concept of a standard timecode being pressed onto vinyl records to control audio playback was investigated, however, when compared to the sound of scratching and manipulating actual vinyl, the result was deemed audibly unsatisfactory. West and Bertenshaw continued by studying the RIAA curve on vinyl records to determine how to develop a different timecode that would produce a more accurate result. After several user trials and development iterations, they settled on what is now called the Serato NoiseMap™. Serato then went on to produce Scratch Studio Edition, a plug-in for Pro Tools enabling users to scratch any digital sample or sound file on their computer using their existing turntables or mouse as the controller.
In 2002, Serato attended the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) convention in Anaheim, Los Angeles to demonstrate the Scratch Studio Edition system. Los Angeles had long been a center for DJ culture and turntablism. Word about Serato's new digital DJing system at NAMM spread and they received a lot of attention from DJs at the show. The overwhelming response was positive.
DJs traditionally played off vinyl records which, in great number, became cumbersome for travel and expensive to manufacture and purchase. The early 2000s saw the invention of the CDJ which let DJs play CDs instead of vinyl. However, manipulation of a CD was significantly different from a vinyl record and so was not an apt solution for touring DJs who wanted to preserve vinyl culture. Scratch Studio Edition was still far from ideal for live DJs, as bringing their Pro-Tools rigs on stage with them was not a practical option. West and Berternshaw soon determined the solution to involve the production of standalone hardware to interact with a software application based on the work they had done with Scratch Studio Edition.
After a lengthy design process, Serato made the first "black box" in New Zealand for a portable digital DJ system. At another NAMM Show, a beta-tester informally introduced Serato to Rane. At the time Rane had a firm foot in the DJ hardware market with their successful mixers, the Empath and TTM 56. A friendship between the two companies was quickly established, which eventually led to negotiations and ultimately a partnership in bringing Serato's vinyl emulation technology to market. This led to the development of Serato Scratch Live (SSL) in 2004, an application that worked in conjunction with Rane hardware. The application let DJs access and manipulate their digital music collection using specially designed control vinyls or control CDs.
After the successful release of Scratch Live, Sam Gribben, GM of Serato at the time, was approached by Universal Music Group at a conference at Remix Hotel in Miami to discuss an important issue. Prior to the advent of DVS, DJs had been serviced with white labelled vinyl records. Now that DJing was largely becoming a digital enterprise in America, DJs were wanting digital promotional material as opposed to physicals. Serato, in turn, eventually introduced the digital promotional music distribution service, Whitelabel.net, accompanied by a new audio file format (wl.mp3) exclusive to Serato. This enabled record labels to deliver promotional music to DJs in a quick and secure fashion. The music was restricted to DJs by limiting the output quality of the files when not utilizing Serato's software. The files play as a 32kbps mono MP3 file in a normal player and as 320kbps stereo with Serato software and supported hardware attached.
In 2006 Serato started development on an all-in-one compact DJ controller system called project "Skeletor". The aim was to put essential controls at a DJ's fingertips in order to mitigate the growing dependence on a laptop screen and keyboard reported by DVS users. DJ controllers already existed in the market but they were accompanied by software that users had to manually configure, which created an undesirable user experience. Serato instead envisioned a dedicated hardware unit that would function immediately out of the box once software was installed. They thus selected certain hardware manufacturers to partner with in order to create a seamless hardware/software integrated system which would provide an effortless user experience.
- Scratch Live (Vinyl Emulation) (Discontinued with release of DJ 1.6)
- Serato Video (Plugin for Scratch Live and DJ)
- Pitch 'N Time (Pro Tools Plugin)
- Pitch 'N Time DJ (Serato DJ Plugin)
- Rane Series Plug-ins
- Serato DJ (Controller and DVS DJ software)
- Serato DJ Intro (Free entry level controller orientated DJ software)
- Serato Itch (Discontinued)
- Scratch Studio Edition - Pro Tools Plugin (Discontinued)
- High Rise Laptop Stand
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