October 2009

If you’ve been keeping up with the DJ scene in the past few years you have no doubt heard of a DJ software program called Serato Scratch Live, by Rane. This is by far the most popular DJ software being used, to my knowledge. Serato Scratch Live is not just a piece of software, but actually a DJ mixing system. It allows you to connect your computer or laptop to your DJ CD players or vinyl turntables and your mixer. You can then play any music from your computer as if you had the record on your turntable. No more lugging around heavy record crates, no more bulky CD cases or scratched CDs. Everything is on your hard drive. So, let me introduce the basics of Serato. This is how the setup looks:

Serato Scratch Live setup

As you can see, the setup comes with software that goes on your laptop and an audio interface, which is more or less a 2-channel sound card, that connects to your turntables and mixer with RCA cables and to your laptop via USB or FireWire. You could also use your microphone with it. Your DJ headphones stay plugged into your mixer.

A summary of how it works:

  • Serato plugs into your turntables or CD players to receive the audio signal coming from the record or CD.
  • Serato picks up the signal coming from your laptop, which is where your music is actually stored.
  • Serato then sends that audio to your mixer, and subsequently transmits it to your stereo speakers where you hear the music.

It’s pretty straight forward because when you’re actually using it, the experience is the same as if you were playing regular CDs or records. But here’s the trick – you’re not playing regular CDs or records. You are playing special Serato CDs or Serato vinyl records. They have a special timecode, which tells the Serato interface and software exactly where you are in the track. It’s like a time signature, so if you’re on 1:23 of the track Serato knows to play 1:23 of the audio file on your computer. If you spin the track back, the software knows exactly where to pick up in the audio file. And so on.

Here is what the Serato Scratch Live software looks like:

Serato Scratch Live software

This may look confusing at first but you’ll learn how to use it pretty quickly. You can browse through your entire music library and select whichever songs you want to play.

Beatmatching is easy with Serato Scratch Live

The middle section shows you a visual representation of the waveform of your audio track, so you could see where the different audio frequencies fall. This lets you easily see where the bass and treble hit, thus making it easy to beatmatch. (You do know how to beatmatch, don’t you?) All you have to do is line up the beats on both tracks and make sure they’re playing at the same speed. Which is also easy because Serato tells you the current BPM of the audible tracks. To make it even easier, the bar at the top shows little lines to represent where the size of the measures in both tracks, so you can be sure to line them up precisely. Honestly, it’s really easy to beatmatch with Serato.

You control everything from your hardware

Even though the actual audio is stored on your computer, you control everything from your turntables and your mixer, just like you would normally. Of course, you now have your laptop as an extra tool to help you beatmatch and make some cool effects (I’ll get to that in a bit) but for the most part the DJ experience is the same so you don’t have to learn anything new. It comes pretty naturally.

Special features

Of course, the software has extra features that you may not normally have with your turntables or CD players. For example, you can set cue points. You can see those in the image above under “Markers.” Cue points let you return to that exact point instantly anytime you want. The reason they’re called markers and not cue points is because the audio plays instantly from that point instead of cueing the track at that point. It’s the same as the Memory function on the CDJ-1000, so if you’re familiar with that CD player you know what I’m talking about. This feature can be very useful, especially if you like beat juggling. I’ve seen this used most commonly to mark the beginning of where you want the track to play from. So you can skip an intro if you don’t want to use it in your mix. If you set the marker right at the first beat, you can always return to that beat with confidence. Oh by the way, these markers get saved in memory, so you don’t have to make new ones every time you use the software.

Easy looping

It’s extremely easy to make seamless loops in Serato. There is a loop feature that lets you loop at any interval from a fraction of a beat to 32 beats, or maybe more, I don’t remember off the top of my head. Regardless, it’s really easy to loop and you can just from one loop interval to another. So say you are looping a 1/4 beat loop and you want to let the loop go but you don’t want to get too far into the track yet, so you can change it from 1/4 beat to 16 beats. There’s a variety of effects you could create if you get creative just with the loop feature.

Lots of other useful features

This is just a basic overview of some of the most commonly used features. I’ll go into more depth on how to mix with Serato Scratch Live in a later post.

You will love Serato Scratch Live

Honestly, if you’re serious about DJing and you want to learn how to DJ with Serato Scratch Live DJ software, you should just get it and play around with it until you master all the features and all the things you could do with it. But it won’t even take you that long to see that it’s worth the investment. It’s no coincidence that you see DJs all around the world displaying stickers like this one:

I Love My Serato Scratch Live!

Did you find this informative? Do you have any questions about Serato Scratch Live? Leave me a comment below!