Ableton/Serato The Bridge
The yawning chasm between the workflows of DJ gear and pro-audio production tools has been one even Evel Knievel would have been unwilling to jump, (even on a re-imagined Tron Light Cycle).
If DJ/producers wanted to mangle beats like a turntablist, right there within their on-screen arrangements, there were little in the way of realistic solutions on offer.
The idea of taking a live recording of a two-or-more-channel, plus effects, DJ set and being able to entirely unpick and polish every single crossfader and upfader movement is one that isn't exactly new - hand-held DJ device Pacemaker offers post-mix tidying, but never to this extent and between such established DJing heavyweights.
When a digital DJing system announced it had teamed up with a popular DAW and solved the problem, the gasps of forum users could be heard all over the internet. The resulting, stealth-like work yielded a new protocol: The Bridge.
Imagine it operates on similar principals to ReWire, in such that it allows the control and transfer of data between digital audio-related software, then times the idea by several large numbers.
They say it enables you to seamlessly DJ selections from an Ableton Live set, or doctor and tweak recorded Scratch Live mixes like a track. Full integration between Serato and Ableton? Cue mass DJ light-headedness and fainting behind the decks.
But does it live up to the hype? Let's put it to the test from both angles.
Perform your beats
At the foot of the Ableton side of The Bridge you launch both programs and an Ableton Live Transport Track appears in your Serato library. Dragging the Transport Track on to one of the virtual decks means you're now ready to use the deck to control Ableton Live's tempo and playback.
Now, in Ableton, the transport 'Stop' is greyed out to show sync with a master i.e. Serato. Pressing play on your deck will start Ableton's transport, with all active clips playing as standard - and responding to any control vinyl scratches and speed adjustments.
The innovation here is that as well as playing out your clips, effects and devices, The Bridge gives producers the medium of traditional DJing to handle their multi-track sessions with. It's like Ableton has been given the ultimate DJ controller: the turntable.
What makes it next level is that every effect or instrument on the channel is pulled through to Serato's interface, where you can scroll through and adjust effects from one window. With smooth functionality you can mix tracks, trim the parameters of effects and virtual instruments, or cut up or launch loops using an Itch controller, or the encoded vinyl or CDs of the Serato Scratch Live hardware, on-the-fl y, and with your hard-earned DJ skills.
Controlling Session view tracks in Serato is a piece of pie, and the way you can drop in Serato library tracks alongside Ableton clips into your mix means you can really layer up the sounds and get away with some creative mixing, like beefing up transitions with extra drum loops and acapellas.
A bleak track marker timer grid system replaces Serato's usual chunky, colourful waveforms in this mode, which means using the dips in size and changing colour of your waveform to find that nice drop or easy mixing point isn't as visual.
Using The Bridge from Ableton to Serato is simple, rewarding and a joy to use. And if any other additional dedicated controllers, like Novation's Launchpad or Akai's APC were on hand, the interface would have graduated from the pointy click-click from a mouse to the bashable, dance behind the laptop type of play you can get from these sturdy bits of kit.
It's worth raising the niggle, however, that some users with more miserly processing power may feel a bit of a drain as both programs have to be running at the same time, add to that a host of extra plug-ins and you might experience some twitchiness and slowed traffic.
Refine your mixtapes
Trip-trapping across to the other side of The Bridge, Serato to Ableton, things are equally bountiful on the reward tip. The way you can now polish recorded DJ sets using the fully malleable raw data of a mix session means that your next promo mix or radio set need never miss a beat again.
It's like auto-tuning in the world of shit Pop - everyone can sound ace. For this to work, you don't even need Ableton to be running, so there are no latency issues. Simply press record and start mixing. The results will be saved as a fully mess-about-able Ableton Live Session file.
Every tune you've dropped is separate, and every fade, transition and crossfader action is tweakable with full automation on display in the track. Came in too early or too loud twenty minutes into your latest mix? Using the DAW as a post-production platform, you get full control over effect parameters, tempo, pitch and so on.
The whole process is quick and fun, and reassuring to work with but you will need the Rane range of mixers. Truly a landmark moment in the mix game.
Purists may gripe that it does mean that the old live C-90 tape-type mixes are a thing of the past. The warts and all, 'sold as seen' DJ sets of yore, done in real-time, will fade into time. Now every DJ can sound pinpoint perfect. But, is that a bad thing?
The general consensus is that its Serato owners who are the ones who have lucked out, feature-wise. It's the DJ who wants a top-flight mixtape-making machine that has the biggest grin on launching this software.
DJs that have utilised everything from the bog standard shareware of Audacity up to shelling out for Ableton to craft their painstakingly selected and blended mix CDs on, will nearly weep at the level of control they now have over their recorded sets. Every move, cut, fader adjustment, crab scratch or effect can be doctored after you've pressed record.
Pro turntablists can now fine-tune that mid set drill scratch till their heart's content. Whether using it to touch up the club mix or tweaking your next national radio set on, The Bridge is un-paralleled.
After trialing it heavily to create a mix, it's worth pointing out that to get the full range of post production capabilities, users are going to need to stump up for the Rane TTM 57SL or SIXTYEIGHT mixers.
With these you get full gain, EQ, pan and fader automation to mess with, which a shame if you've already committed to a mixer or can't afford a new one.
A Bridge too far out
On the plus side, it's also technically a free protocol but there's a serious amount of money to be spent to take advantage of everything it offers. However, it still gets full marks for Value as it could easily be a paid-for update.
As we've said, The Bridge favours the Serato user more than the Live user in terms of functions and because the hardware requirements will be taken care of. Serato users who dabble in production or who want to add a third-element to their sets, you need this on your hard drive.
Record DJ performances as an Ableton Live Set. Use decks to tweak effects and launch loops. Turntable-style control of multi-track productions.
Can be draining on the CPU. Requires a fair amount of other software and hardware purchases to get full value.
A very sturdy Bridge indeed. And toll-free to owners of Scratch Live and Ableton Live
A protocol for performing and perfecting mixes
Requires Serato Scratch Live 2.1.1 or later and Ableton Live 8.2 or later