Sponsored by Serato

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With a veritable sea of music production software available in today’s market, how do you know you’re choosing the right one for your needs? For many aspiring producers, using a digital audio workstation (DAW) for the first time can feel daunting. There are so many new operational functions and controls to learn and so much terminology & jargon to memorise. Mainstream DAWs can also be bloated with ‘unnecessary’ features in an attempt to appeal to the widest possible user base. In the DAW landscape, some would argue there is a shortage of quality intuitive software for beatmakers. Many are too simplistic and some are just not regularly updated and become a bug-avoidance exercise. However, there is one out there that might fill that gap - Serato Studio. It’s not overwhelmingly complex but it's more than just a simple beat maker too. In this article we’ll explore all the cool stuff Serato Studio has to offer and how it can be an excellent choice for people looking for a simple, yet deceptively powerful DAW to get their creativity flowing.

From beats to songs

Making a beat in short order is certainly Studio’s strong point, but putting a whole song together is equally effortless. Each segment, or section, is called a “Scene”, and this is where you’ll insert your notes or MIDI clips to make a pattern: each Scene can house multiple sound sources - or “Decks”, to use Studio’s terminology - and an entire beat or song section with up to sixteen bars can be assembled here. There are four types of Decks, with descriptive names: Sample, Drum, Instrument & Plug-In (for external AU/VST virtual instruments). Basic mixing can also be done ‘per Scene’, with six insert slots per Deck for effects (three for external instruments). In addition, gain control, a three-band EQ, a flexible filter that morphs between low & highpass, and a volume fader to help keep the levels in balance. All these parameters can be readily automated within the Scene itself, which helps to keep things tidy. Once that’s done, you switch to “Song View” and put all your Scenes together, along with other clips (such as samples from your library or audio recorded inside Studio itself - a feature that was added on version 1.6, but more on this later).

Beats and melodies

When using Serato’s bundled drum packs and instruments, Studio offers dedicated editors for both drum and melody parts, with drums getting the familiar step-sequencer look and the melodic editor using a more conventional “piano roll” layout. It’s not just about the looks though, as the Studio offers the user a nifty “play in key” feature that locks up the grid so notes are always on the right scale. Speaking of looks, at first glance, both editors seem to have no obvious way to edit note velocity - but you can, and fast! All you need to do is hold down the Ctrl key on your keyboard and click and drag the desired note and the velocity will be raised or lowered accordingly.

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Sample editing made easy with precise hit point detection and clear visualization

Right pitch, right time

Serato historically has a strong reputation when it comes to pitch and time manipulation, and naturally this has trickled down to Serato Studio. Users can easily transpose audio clips, samples, scenes and even entire songs with just a few clicks, allowing the user to change the pitch of a project without changing its tempo and thanks to Serato’s famous ‘Pitch N’ Time’ algorithm (widely regarded as a benchmark tool across the industry) time and pitch can be seamlessly tweaked without suffering negative artefacts.

Editing samples with Studio is a breeze, with a clutter-free editor that enables the user to quickly cut samples or slice loops with ease but without sacrificing precision or sound quality. Although Serato Studio can be used as a ‘looper’/sample-centric app, it also features tools to write arrangements or build songs from scratch. The combination of Serato’s library and powerful MIDI can be extremely beneficial for those who aren’t versed or even familiar with music theory, as it allows them to stay on the correct scale for the scene they’re working on.

Clean interface for fast-paced workflow

User interfaces often present a barrier when it comes to DAWs, with multiple windows and visualisations that can be overwhelming for a beginner. Serato Studio elegantly handles this with a single-window, yet highly flexible design that can be customised according to the task in hand (and/or user preferences). The only extra ‘floating’ windows to be found here are for external plug-ins, but that’s both expected and fair! Other than that, users will stay within the DAW, rearranging the interface for each part of the process - for instance, when editing a sample there’s a toggle for a ‘proper’ display with a big waveform representation on the left side, and scene/song editing views can be combined when the library is not in use, and so forth - allowing for quick editing of the Decks within each scene and also quick dragging-and-dropping scenes to the Song panel.

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Studio is compatible with any AU or VST Instrument, as shown above with Arturia Pigments

Bundled content and Virtual Instrument plug-In support

With hundreds of samples, instruments, and MIDI patterns, there’s a lot to explore here. The samples offered are are a combination of loops and one-shots, with plenty of drums and stabs, with a strong focus on hip-hop, EDM and their genre variants. ‘Instruments’ are similar to the virtual instrument plug-ins that we are accustomed to getting with most DAWs, but in line with Studio’s overarching concepts they have a more streamlined or minimalistic approach in their design - relying more on curated sounds than on deep tweakability, which lends to the overall philosophy of efficient workflows. Finally, there are many included pre-programmed ‘patterns’ to fuel drum sequences, basslines and melodies - as with the samples, they also lean towards current popular music genres.

Serato Studio comes with a decent chunk of custom-made instruments, all of which are exclusive to Serato Studio, but many producers will want access to more sound options or already have preferred virtual instruments in their plug-in folders. The good news is, Serato Studio’s decks can load these external virtual instruments easily: VST and/or Audio Units (AU) are compatible with Serato Studio so users are free to fire up their favourites. Overall, Serato Studio’s bundled content will take users deep into their productions, but with so many excellent VST/AU instruments out there, having the possibility of using VST and AU broadens everyone’s options for producing top-quality tracks.

Templates and demo projects

Serato offers a handful of templates that are excellent song-starters for those who are unsure on where to start or unfamiliar with Studio’s core library. These templates come in specific styles such as Hip Hop, Rap, EDM, Dubstep, Reggae, R&B and Indie, to name a few. Studio’s stock library also includes a handful of demo projects for Trap, House and Hip-Hop, which should be helpful in showcasing the app and giving users a glimpse of its overall capabilities. All Serato additional sound packs, including the “artist” packs, feature full projects as well as individual samples. Some highlights include Just Blaze, TRAKGIRL, and Juls, so you can see how top-tier producers lay out their projects and put their musical ideas together.

It’s important to note that Serato Studio can be used for any style of music, but it’s definitely geared towards hip-hop and dance music, with a set of tools that sets itself as an optimal digital audio workstation for modern pop music.

Organising samples

Most producers have sample libraries with thousands of sounds, and getting all that content sorted out is frequently an issue. You’ll find that a properly organised sample library is a must or you’re basically lost in a sea of content - you need to be able to find those samples and fast - but if you’re a newcomer don’t worry, Serato Studio has plenty of tools to help you achieve this, including search and keyword tagging. With Serato Studio's library you are provided with useful information such as artist, album, BPM, key, label and genre.

Another very clever handling of samples that Studio offers is the “Crate” system, which greatly helps to sort files and speed up the process of choosing sounds. At first glance, Crates might look like a regular folder or tagging system, but it’s actually a combination of both with a few extra touches to help the user to organise and find their samples. Serato Studio can trade crates with Serato DJ Pro, so owners of both apps will benefit from integrating both libraries to quickly find their audio content of choice. Crates (and corresponding sub-crates) can be freely made, offering more neat ways to organise samples.

Integrating MIDI/DJ Hardware and other DAWs

Serato Studio offers basic hardware integration for virtually any MIDI-compatible controller and they become ready for action once enabled in Serato Studio’s setup window, so keyboards can be played right away once they’re enabled. We should also note that owners of some DJ hardware units from Pioneer, Roland, Numark and Denon will benefit from automatic mappings (see the full compatibility list here).

People looking to produce with Serato Studio but wanting to mix in other DAWs such as Avid Pro Tools, Steinberg Cubase or Apple Logic Pro will be pleased to know that Serato Studio offers a handy stem exporting feature which renders each track separately for easy import into any other audio mixing application. With the stem export feature users can also export each drum pad as a separate file for even more flexibility further into the production process. Each file generated by the stem exports can be attenuated by 6 dBs, ensuring not only that there’s no overloads or undesired clipping but also that there’s enough headroom for the final mixing process in the external DAW. Safety first!

New features in version 1.6

Serato has recently introduced Studio v1.6, and besides the usual bug fixes and optimisation they have introduced some very important new features, including the much-anticipated audio recording functionality. Here’s a brief look at the version 1.6 core features:
  • Audio Recording: Serato Studio has introduced audio recording, allowing users to record their ideas without having to use 3rd party apps, speeding up the creative process even further. Currently you are limited to recording one track at a time, but this will work fine for laying down vocals, recording solo instruments or sampling from external sources (such as vinyl records or tapes) straight into Studio.
  • Audio Track Improvements: Inserts have now been expanded to six insert slots per track, giving users more depth when it comes to adding plugins. Clips can now be dragged and dropped from one track to another in Song View, giving users more options to arrange their songs.
  • Virtual Audio Driver: Mac users can now stream audio from Serato Studio to any other app, making it a lot easier to stream your content to the desired platforms, such as YouTube, Twitch or even Skype, which is handy for sharing musical ideas or promoting music. Virtual Audio Driver is compatible with the macOS 11 Big Sur and Studio is also compatible with the latest M1 chips.

Serato Studio currently offers free and paid-for versions, which are differentiated as follows:
  • Free version: One Audio Track; 4 Decks; 4 Scenes; MP3-only audio export; comes with select sound packs, projects, drum patterns and kits.
  • Paid version: Unlimited Audio Tracks and Decks; 32 Scenes; WAV and MP3 audio exporting; Beta program access that gives users previews of upcoming releases and early access to new features; all sound packs, projects, drum patterns and kits, free iZope Elements* plug-in.
The Paid version is available as a one-time purchase ($199 USD) or via monthly subscription ($9.99/month).

We greatly encourage everyone to try the free version as it offers a superb way to demo the Serato Studio workflow and core features, and you can decide if the Paid version is right for you with no dent in your wallet at all!

For more information and to download Serato Studio, click here.

*Limited time offer - see serato.com for details