Serato Studio helps simplify the path to music production

For Serato DJ users with a controller, this is an approachable way to step into the music-making game.

Jon Turi / Engadget

It's a safe assumption that most DJs have the itch to create some music of their own. Obviously many of them do, but for some, the expense of new gear or the learning curve involved with the software hinders that quest. To help bridge the gap, makers of the popular Serato DJ software are releasing a new product: Serato Studio (macOS/Windows). For those who already use the company's DJ hardware and software, things will be pleasantly familiar, helping ease you into the song-making process. Of course, you don't need to be a DJ; this tool is great for anyone who wants to make music with fewer "technical roadblocks" and more creative flow.

Today's soft launch is for the free public Serato Studio Beta version, with limited slots available. If you sign up, you'll be able to kick the tires on this beta release and give Serato your feedback to help them hone the final product. Plus, you'll get updates as new functionality and features are added during that period. The official 1.0 release is expected sometime this summer (for the Northern Hemisphere) and will be a subscription-based model. Although pricing hasn't been announced, we hope it will be an affordable monthly fee similar to the company's other subscription products (usually $10-$15).

Loops, cue points, effects, time stretching and key detection with Pitch 'n Time plus loads of instruments and samples help you create song blocks that you can then arrange into a single timeline along the bottom. It's not really meant to take the place of a more advanced digital audio workstation (DAW) but it can help new users lay out a song's framework more easily and in a workflow similar to what DJs already use. People with production skills already under their belt can use Serato Studio as a way to quickly sketch out new ideas — especially with stem file exports on the short-term roadmap.

"By building on what DJs already know, we've reduced that steep learning curve commonly associated with music production, which means less time hitting technical roadblocks and more time actually making music."
- Nick Maclaren, Chief Strategy Officer at Serato

Since Serato's business model is focused on DJing, it's no surprise that it has tailored Studio to work well with DJ hardware including its jog wheels, pads and knobs. The on-screen layout echoes the device's setup, with a central view split into left and right segments (like a two-turntable setup). Each of these have volume sliders, filters and keypads that correspond to the ones on either side of your controller, making it a relatively familiar workspace. There's still no manual or comprehensive help screen available yet, so you'll have to make do with hover tips for clarification and plenty of experimenting.

On the right segment is the stack where you can add drums, samples and instruments — and there are plenty of these included in the beta software package. Notes can be recorded live or drawn into groups of up to four looped measures. (That's currently the maximum length of what they're calling "scenes" by default.) Each scene is a tab, and you can copy them to add the next stage of complexity or easily create blank ones for breakdowns, changes and such. These tabs are what you'll drag to the song view along the bottom to lay out your track. Adding a new row of sounds to any scene will add the same row across all of them, so in that way it's similar to most DAW layouts, except that here you'll have to jump to another tab for changes, rather than continuing in a single uninterrupted line from start to finish. It's primarily a loop-based creation tool, after all.

The left segment is where you see the details of each sound from your scenes. That includes instruments, drum kits and samples. The sampler is one of the more powerful and unique tools here, and seems to include much of the functionality from Serato's recent Sample product that works as a plugin with other DAWs. Here, it's built into the workspace and since Studio can access your Serato library (when you toggle from song view to library view at the bottom), it's easy to drag in tunes from your collection, use existing cue points or find new ones to start playing segments. Each sample has its own filters and adjustments including key, tempo, attack and release.

Serato Studio supports VST plugins and MIDI devices, so if you happen to have keyboards and other controllers beyond your DJ gear, they should work easily. I dusted off and fired up an old Oxygen 8 keyboard, downloaded a well-outdated driver and was ready to play right away. The initial Studio Beta includes plenty of sounds, drum kits, samples and effects to get going without the need for anything else. Plus the drum kits have preset beat layouts from a variety of styles to get you going until you craft your own. While you can also draw from your Serato library, you don't actually need to have Serato DJ to use Studio. You can drag audio files from your desktop and work that way.

With the subscription model, you'll get fresh content to play with each month from contributors including Decap, MSXII Sound Design and Goldbaby. This is also becoming more of an industry standard for many other DJ and production products. Algoriddim's djay Pro offers sound packs and expanded features with a subscription. Sounds from Native Instruments provides an extensive library of loops and samples to choose from that work as a plug-in with any DAW for a monthly fee.

All in all, this is a great tool for everyone but particularly those who may have been stymied by the production process or never been able to put enough time in to get results. It's easy to get a track rolling in a few minutes so you can have some fun without too much technological inertia. After playing with Serato Studio for a few days, my interest has been reinvigorated, not only to use Serato DJ more (along with some slapdash track edits) but also at taking another shot working on proper DAW platforms.

If you're a DJ who hasn't taken the leap into making tunes yet or just feel inspired to craft a few beats with little to no experience, this will put you on your way without overwhelming the creative process with details right out of the gate. Sign-ups for Serato Studio Beta start today and are open until slots are filled, after which the company plans to have "semi-regular openings to add more members before the official release."

Update 3/29/2019: "Serato has announced it is putting a hold on new sign ups to the public beta of Serato Studio after launching the beatmaking software yesterday."

Key Features

  • DJ Style Library - Access your entire Serato DJ library with crates, cue points, BPM and key information.

  • High-quality FX - Tweak your beats using over 30 built-in FX presets that will feel instantly familiar to DJs.

  • Works with DJ hardware - Studio works with a range of DJ controllers and mixers, as well as MIDI controllers, or just your laptop.

  • Make beats - Get inspired with over 300 pre-made drum patterns across a range of different genres.

  • Master Key and BPM - Let the project key automatically update as you start making your beat. Adjust the BPM to extremes with world-class Pitch 'n Time stretching

  • Play in key - Play any instrument or plugin in key, without knowing music theory.

  • Quality Content Built In - Studio comes with a huge number of built-in drum kits, instruments, audio loops and samples, with frequent content updates for subscribers.

  • Simple Sequencer - Get creative with your drum patterns using the simple and easy-to-use 808-style step sequencer

  • DJ-style mixing - Mix your sounds using a familiar DJ channel mixing strip, with dedicated gain, EQs, filters and more.

  • Serato Colored Waveforms - See your audio and MIDI sequences in Serato's famous colored waveforms.