Simplicity helps Serato to export success

Company in discussions with 'big three' international labels

A focus on simplicity and doing a few things very well has propelled Auckland-based software company Serato into the finals of the 2007 New Zealand Export Awards.

Serato has developed two quite different kinds of audio software: one is used by recording studios and film studios, while the other is used by DJs around the world.

The United States is Serato’s biggest market and the company has representatives in New York and Los Angeles, says Sam Gribben, Serato’s general manager. The company is also doing “quite a lot” of business in Europe, as well as an increasing amount in East Asia and Japan, he adds.

Simplicity is what differentiates Serato’s software from its competitors, says Gribben.

“Our software probably has the fewest features of any software of its kind on the market. Our emphasis is really on doing a few things and doing them well,” he says. “We are very thorough in new feature development.”

Of the company’s 23 staff, more than half are developers. Serato likes to hire people who are passionate about both engineering and the music industry, says Gribben.

Serato was founded in 1999 and initially developed recording software used by Hollywood film studios to create audio-tracks for movies. Musicians also use the software, which is called Pitch’n Time, during the later stages of projects — when they’re mixing the music down and getting it ready to be pressed on CDs, says Gribben.

Pitch’n Time is a plug-in for audio-recording software Pro Tools, which is the industry standard for recording studios, he says.

More recently, in 2004, Serato began developing software for DJs, called Scratch Live, and this product has really taken off, says Gribben.

Using turntables is still a very popular way of DJ-ing, but lugging vinyl records around is difficult and expensive, especially for DJs who perform internationally, he says.

With Scratch Live, DJs can use regular turntables or CD players, and scratch and mix files from their Macs or Windows XP computers, he says.

The solution comes with two control vinyl records, which each have a unique control signal pressed onto them, says Gribben. The software can track the motion of the record, simulating the same movement with digital audio, he says.

So, with just two vinyl records, the Scratch Live software and Serato’s hardware interface — which is essentially a soundcard — DJs can play any song from their computers as if it was pressed on vinyl, Gribben says. DJs can have 10,000 songs or more on their laptops — the equivalent of hundreds of kilos of vinyl records, says Gribben.

The software’s popularity is the result of being both a convenient solution — when compared with dealing with vinyl records — and also because DJs don’t have to learn anything new to be able to use it, says Gribben.

“It is very true to the feeling of vinyl. It feels exactly like a vinyl record. You can’t really tell that it’s not actually music on the vinyl that you are playing,” he says.

Serato is also working on another project, called the Serato Whitelabel Delivery Network, or Whitelabel.net. This is an online digital delivery service for promotional releases of new music. As more and more DJs began using Serato’s system, record labels found themselves faced with the challenge of delivering new releases to DJs, says Gribben.

Typically, record labels would provide “pre-release” copies of vinyl records to DJs, to play in clubs and on the radio, to help promote songs, says Gribben. But, when DJs started not wanting vinyl any more, because they were using Serato’s system, record labels approached the company and together they came up with the electronic delivery network.

“Obviously, they didn’t want to send out MP3s of stuff that hadn’t been released yet,” says Gribben.

The Whitelabel.net files play as a low-quality preview on MP3 players and as a high-quality version when used with the Serato Scratch Live application, he says. The files are specially prepared for use in Scratch Live, he says. They have had their overviews built, and are tagged with song and artist information, bpm (beats per minute), and album art.

Whitelabel.net is still in beta, but it is about to be officially launched, says Gribben. The company is in negotiations with “the big three” international record labels, he says.

Labels that have already signed-up include Ninja Tune, VP Records, Tru Thoughts, Babygrande Records and Delicious Vinyl, as well as local labels such as Sugarlicks Records and Handmade Records.

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