Serato ITCH is a famously easy DJ program to use, which is one reason why many DJs prefer it to more complicated programs. The ethos seems to be to strip everything back and down, leaving you with just what you need to get the job done. Its “closed architecture” means that there’s no remapping or tinkering with most of its settings, either – the software is tied closely to the hardware it works on, with everything predetermined for you by Serato and the various DJ controller companies’ engineers.
Having said that, though, there are best practices, smart ways of working, and even a couple of hidden “Easter eggs” that you can employ to improve your DJing using Serato ITCH.
So today we talk through 10 such tips. Some you may know, some are definitely wacky, but hopefully you’ll find something you weren’t aware of. By the way, if you’re a Serato DJ Intro user (or indeed you use Serato Scratch Live), most of these will be fine for you too – and there’s a special bonus tip for DJ Intro users at the end too.
10 Serato ITCH tips and tricks
1. Accurately halve or double the BPM of files
Serato wisely doesn’t try and show you BPM to multiple decimal places – let’s be honest who cares if a BPM is 123.334 or 123.543!
But that means should the program inaccurately guess a BPM (which nearly always means it guesses it half or double the speed it should be) it’s actually impossible for you to completely accurately double or halve the BPM using arithmetic, because you don’t know the exact starting BPM. Luckily it’s simple to get Serato to do that calculation for you. To get Serato to double or halve a BPM for you, you double-click the offending BPM in the library (as if to edit it manually), then hold ALT and press the up cursor arrow (to double the BPM), or the down cursor arrow (to halve it).
2. Edit multiple fields at once in your library
I am all for maintaining your library when you’re DJing – adding stuff in the comments, correcting BPMs, genres and so on – because that’s where you’re most likely to realise things are wrong. Serato is actually really good at letting you edit tags, even if you’re playing from iTunes playlists – something some other DJ software infuriatingly seems incapable of providing. However, you don’t want to be typing any more than you have to when you should be having fun – you need quick way to make these small updates and corrections.
So here’s an easy way to change multiple tags at once. First, hold CTRL (PC) or CMD (Mac) and click all the tracks you want to change so they’re highlighted. Next, on one of those tracks, double-click the field you want to change. Change it, and hit Enter; an alert box will confirm you want to make the change on all of the tracks, and it will be done.
This can be useful if you want to quickly correct genre information on multiple tracks, for instance (what good is “electronica” as a genre tag anyway?) to something more meaningful to you. Just be aware that it’s not reversible, so be careful.
3. Hide track information from prying eyes
Now I’m not one to do this myself: I like to share my music with everyone, and I’d rather they asked me than Shazam’ed it, because I get to form a relationship with my crowd that way). But nonetheless, there are times when you may get some freak staring over your shoulder writing down every track you play.
So here’s a way to hide the track names, effectively making them disappear. It’s easy: Just click on the BPM (in the upper deck, not in the library) and then on your keyboard type the letters “AM”. Presto! Your track information disappears.
4. Change the waveform colours to represent actual output
Serato’s waveforms are the best in the business. It’s hard not to use them to judge when the bass is coming or when the vocals kick in – you get a sense of it instinctively. The reason for this is, of course, that the colours aren’t random – they’re showing you the frequencies in the track.
But the way Serato ITCH works “out of the box” is to show you the waveforms in the track as it was recorded – not as it is after you’ve done your EQing. So say you knock out all but the bass in a track as part of a DJ mix: the waveform doesn’t change colour to show this. But there is a way to make that happen. Here’s how (and it’s completely weird, by the way, and so difficult you might just give up!):
Hover your mouse over one of the waveforms. Then on your keyboard, hold SHIFT + ALT + CTRL(PC)/CMD(Mac). Now, type the word “KING” – in Morse Code! You do this by clicking the left mouse button. In Morse Code, a dash is a long click, and a dot is a short one. To save you heading off to radiophonic websites to find out what the Morse Code for “KING” is, I can help. K: — . — I: . . N: — . G: — —. As you finish typing each letter, watch the status line at the bottom of the screen, which will encourgae you (or not). I found a video that shows you this.
Assuming you don’t give up before you manage this, test it! Turn all but the bass down on a playing track and see the waveform change colour, Do the same with mid and treble. It’s up to you to decide whether this might be useful to you, but it’s good to know it’s there…
5. Set your audio output to mono
In the setup menu, under Playback, there’s a section called “audio output”. Here there’s a tick box that lets you make your output mono. I’ll bet you haven’t got this box ticked, but today I’m going to tell you why you should have.
It’s a little-known fact that most club sound systems are routed to work in mono anyway. It makes sense: Stereo is designed for audiophiles, sat studiously in the sweet spot between two speakers to get the illusion of “being there”. Well, when you’re clubbing, jumping around like a loon on the dance floor, let me remind you that you’re already “there”!
More to the point, with speakers dotted all around a club, there’s no reason at all to be feeding a stereo signal, arbitrarily routing the left signal to some of the speakers and a right signal to some of the others. So if you’re playing in a club, this doesn’t really matter – it’s probably already done for you.
But if you’re playing in a bar or lounge and the system isn’t set up this way, this is your chance to improve things by forcing it into mono. It means everyone, wherever they are in your venue, hears the full music. It’s well worth doing.
6. Switch off autogain
Autogain is there to balance the volumes of tunes for you, saving you a job. It means if some of your music is quiet, and some is loud, Serato ITCH will take care of that for you. It’s a good idea, but there are disadvantages to using it. Apart from the fact that it’s not always accurate, the main reason is that’s what the gain controls are for! It should be part of your DJing routine to load a track and do this yourself with the gain control. Because while the computer can set the gain for you, it can’t balance the EQ etc, which you should also be doing at this point.
By making yourself do the gain settings, you’re also hopefully reminding yourself to actually listen to the track and balance the bass, mid and treble too so the new tune mixes unobtrusively into the record you’re currently playing. It’s easy, too: Load the track, and turn the gain/trim control until the VUs show the track just occasionally peaking into the red on the “loud bits”.
If you compare the VUs of this track to the VU reading of the currently playing track also at a loud part, they should be equal. Doing this also stands you in good stead for when using DJ gear that doesn’t have auto gain, as this is really very standard DJ behaviour, and “gain staging” is a fundamental part of getting the best sound out of any DJ system.
7. Watch for the limiter!
Following on from the previous point, at the top of Serato ITCH’s screen, near the title bar and towards the right, there is a visual warning that kicks in when Serato is limiting your output. A limiter is designed to preserve sound quality when the DJ is disregarding gain staging (keeping the levels in check on the mixer). It’s important on digital gear, because digital distortion sounds terrible – like a Geiger counter over your music. The limiter is Serato gently attenuating the offending audio signals, meaning they don’t sound quite so bad.
But they still sound bad. Compression – making the loud bits quieter while keeping the quiet bits the same volume (in this case) – takes the dynamics and excitement out of the music, and should be avoided. (It’s most likely to happen when you’re mixing two tunes, by the way.)
So keep your eye on the top of the screen. If you see a red dot and “LIMITER” appear at any time, turn down the gains and/or the master, and check the VUs aren’t peaking into the red for individual tracks. Understand that you’re not dropping the volume, because when you turn things up past that point, Serato is dropping the volume on your behalf anyway – and it’s always best to be controlling the music yourself, not letting the software decide things about it on your behalf.
8. Activate the hidden filter
This one is especially useful for owners of equipment with no filters onboard, especially the (still) massively popular Vestax VCI-300. It gives you a one-knob filter (ie turning the knob to the left from 12 o’clock activates the low-pass filter, turning it to the right activates the high-pass filter). This filter replaces the “bass” EQ knob.
To activate it, turn the high EQ and the low EQ knobs on the left-hand deck all the way down (ie all the way to the left) and then all the way up (ie all the way to the right) simultaneously and quickly, three or four times. The screen will say “you’re onto something!”, then instruct you to press ALT & , together. Do it, and you’ll unlock the feature.
9. Use the hidden loop roll function
While controllers like the Vestax VCI-380 and the Novation Twitch have loop roll already, some don’t. I know this trick that isn’t in the manual works on the Vestax VCI-300, but I’m not sure about others, so do let us know! First let’s recap what a “loop roll” is. You know when you activate the auto loop, and then exit? The program quite reasonably exits from where the loop is, right?
Loop roll – which is a feature on some DJ software/hardware and on high-end CDJ players – takes another approach. It pretends the track is actually continuing to play “underneath” the loop, unheard. As soon as you exit the loop, the music jumps back to where the track would have been had you not started largin’ it up!
So to do it on an ITCH controller, hold SHIFT on the controller before entering the auto loop. You need to keep SHIFT held down continuously until you exit the loop, and as long as you do that, it will behave as a loop roll, in the way described above.
10. Use smart crates to help you with key mixing
Many DJs use iTunes to sort their sets, playing from iTunes (smart) playlists within Serato. However, Serato now has its own “smart crates” (folders that auto-sort your collection based on pre-defined rules), meaning you can also equally use Serato to sort out your music.
One of the main advantages of this is that you can sort by key. That means that if you mix in key (and if you don’t, grab a copy of Mixed In Key, analyse your collection, and see what you’re missing!), it is possible to have smart playlists that suggest tunes that’ll mix well with the one you’re currently playing.
(The reason you can’t do this with iTunes smart playlists, by the way, is that iTunes can’t sort by key – it doesn’t have that field in its choices.)
Setting up key playlists is easy. Click the new smart crate icon (the blue folder bottom left of the screen you see when your controller is disconnected, near the little red filter and “album art” buttons), and then add a rule “key is 1A” (if this doesn’t mean anything to you, the instructions that come with Mixed In Key are very simple and will get you up to speed. Or read our introduction to key mixing).
Now name this crate “1A”, and go on and do the same for “2A”, “3A” up to “12A”. Finally, do the same with “1B” to “12B”. Now, you can instantly refer to one of these folders to see all the other tunes in your collection in the same key as the one you’re currently playing.
Hang on though, you might way, why not just sort all of my music by that column and save having folders? One reason is that you can now get clever. For instance, you can add to the rules so, say, “4A” also includes tunes in keys “3A”, “5A” and “4B” – all related keys that are also likely to mix well with the current tune.
Do the same for all the other 23 folders and you have a pretty powerful key matching smart crate system. Now when you click on crate “4A”, every tune that could potentially mix with your currently-playing 4A tune is there. Furthermore, you still have the option of further sorting/filtering by genre, BPM etc to really drill down into your collection.
11: Bonus for Serato DJ Intro users
Serato DJ Intro users will find some of these tips work for them, and some don’t. But here’s a “smart” tip: If you want to use smart crates as discussed here but find you can’t because of the limitations of Serato DJ Intro, there’s a cunning way around it. Because all Serato software (Serato Scratch Live, Serato DJ Intro, Serato ITCH) uses the same file system, your library in one will work in all of the others.
Here’s how that will work in your favour as a Serato DJ Intro user. Firstly, go and download Serato ITCH from the Serato website. It’s free, but it will only work in offline mode unless you have an ITCH controller. That’s fine though, because we only want to use it in offline mode.
Now, use ITCH to do all the smart crate stuff, and when you’re done, close it. When you open Serato DJ Intro to DJ with, you’ll find all your smart crates are there ready for you to play from!
As we try and teach in How To Digital DJ Fast, it’s possible to become obsessed with your DJ software, with tweaking it, and file structure, and smart crates, and all the other things that digital DJing suddenly makes possible.
While it’s actually more difficult to fall into this trap with Serato ITCH, because as mentioned at the beginning the software feels designed for no-clutter DJing rather than endless tweaking, it’s always worth remembering that fundamentally your job is to play the best tunes next for the people in front of you – it really needn’t be anything more.
When you’re spending the time tweaking things, especially organising your music, it pays to ask yourself: Is this going to directly help me to find the best next tune, faster, and do a good job of mixing it in? Because if it isn’t, I believe you’re probably better off spending the time looking for great new music, or practising your mixing with your setup just the way it is.
Do you have any Serato ITCH tips and tricks we haven’t covered? How have you got on with some of those above? I’d love you to share your thoughts with us in the comments.