The Serato Story.
When you think of DJing, New Zealand doesn’t spring to mind as a great powerhouse of the craft. America, yes. England, definitely. But New Zealand?
Surprisingly though this is where the story of the company renowned for changing the face of traditional DJing begins. But before digital DJing ever existed it was an elusive bass line that the company was founded on…
In 1997 Steve West, co-founder of Serato, was attending Auckland University and learning to play the bass guitar as a side interest. Steve wanted to slow down complicated bass solos in songs in order to hear each note and subsequently learn them.
He could alter the playback speed of audio files but this would alter the pitch of the music. The pitch of the notes was the most important part – Steve wanted everything to sound the same, just slower so that he could learn.
There were tools available that attempted to keep the pitch constant whilst changing the tempo but, as far as Steve was concerned, these were sub-standard. Not only did it take almost a whole day to process audio using these tools but the results sounded distorted and were poor imitation of their source.
After a little research and some incredibly nerdy mathematics Steve wrote an algorithm making it possible to change the tempo of audio independent of the pitch.
This resulted in a tool that could speed up and slow down any piece of audio (including the bass solos) without coloring and distorting the result. Conversely, it could also alter the tempo of a piece of audio without changing the pitch. Not only that, but it was all done in the time it took to make a cup of tea.
Steve’s good friend, A.J. Bertenshaw, co-founder of Serato, suspected that Steve was onto something, and despite Steve’s eagerness to give this algorithm away for free, convinced him to take a shot at selling it. With the help of Steve’s Mum and A.J.’s Dad they set off to Japan to talk to the big electronics firms.
In Japan they met with resistance at every turn and came very close to giving up on the whole thing.
“We were essentially talking to the wrong people. At the time it was really hard going – we knew we had something that was useful and valuable but we hadn’t quite hit our target yet.” – AJ Bertenshaw
On a trip to L.A. in 1998 Alan Bertenshaw (A.J.’s Dad) read an article in the newspaper about Sony Pictures. On a whim he walked down to Sony Pictures and organised a meeting with an engineer to demo Steve’s algorithm.
During this meeting he gave a demo of how the algorithm worked and the engineer was astounded. So much so that he kept pulling more and more engineers into the meeting to show them.
Here was a tool that would significantly decrease post production costs – no more re-shooting scenes, or re-recording whole orchestras or scrapping audio. Here, they had a piece of software that could revolutionize their workflow.
Serato had finally found its market. And so, Pitch ‘n Time was born; a plug-in for Digidesign (now Avid) Pro-Tools and Apple Logic for time-stretching and pitch-shifting.