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Serato: Scratch'n tunes

There’s a new sound this year in the dance clubs of New York and LA, and a New Zealand company can take some of the credit. North Shore-based Serato has become a DJ’s favourite

There’s a new sound this year in the dance clubs of New York and LA, and a New Zealand company can take some of the credit. North Shore-based Serato has become a DJ’s favourite by allowing electronic music files to be ‘scratched’ just like a vinyl record.

'Scratch'n tunes'

Idealog September/October 2006, page 20. Photographs by James Stokes

“People used to play one kind of music,” says Serato general manager Sam Gribben. “Now they can find things easily, they can play a much wider collection of music. They can play a much more varied, dynamic set, and it’s much more fun.”

The DJs are using Scratch LIVE, a hardware and software combo that lets them use an old-style turntable with their computers. It’s the result of a fruitful collaboration between Serato and the US-based Rane Corporation. Serato develops the software, Rane designs and manufactures the hardware, and both company logos are printed on the box.

Serato founders Steve West and AJ Bertenshaw created Scratch LIVE when they were at university. Scratch LIVE isn’t the only product of its type but Gribben says it’s now “omnipresent” in US clubs. Why? Simple, he says: “It works. The other products are unstable, or not close enough to real vinyl to be reliable enough to use. Our success has been in keeping it simple and making Scratch LIVE really easy to use. A lot of DJs buy a computer especially for it and for many it’s the first computer they’ve ever owned. I think a lot of our competitors have fallen into the trap of too many features.”

Partnering with Rane, a manufacturer of high-end audio kit, allows Serato to concentrate on the software and let the US company worry about hardware production, distribution and other headaches. “We invented the technology in New Zealand but it’s a software and hardware thing and we’re a software company,” says Gribben. “Rane is a hardware company and they have a reputation for making the good stuff.”

'Scratch'n tunes'

Although Rane already has a well-established sales channel, Serato staff make the trip Stateside every couple of months and to Europe once or twice a year. The company doesn’t plan to move closer to its main market anytime soon. “The isolation from the market is good in some ways because we can just sit back in New Zealand, do our job and get things done, and then go to trade shows and have enough time to meet people. Then we can retreat to the ‘bat cave’ to get on with things.” Serato keeps in touch with its customers through its website, which includes forums where the engineering staff answer questions directly. About half Serato’s staff are DJs themselves.

Ironically, Scratch LIVE isn’t as well-known in New Zealand as it is in the US. Gribben counts local artists like P-Money and DJ Sir-Vere among its customers, and offshore users include DJ AM, sometime star of the women’s mags, and Jazzy Jeff, made famous by The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Gribben says Serato has been growing at 18 percent per month but has just scraped the surface of its market. “There are lots and lots of DJs out there,” he says. “It’s popular with the kids so there’s a lot of people always getting into it. For a lot of kids these days it’s like getting your first guitar.”