How to Set Beatgrids and Use Sync Properly in Serato DJ

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Some DJs would prefer to not hear this, but sync exists. In fact, while it may be new to some people (Scratch Live users), the technology has been around for years. Sure, plenty of DJs eschew it, but for those who don’t, it’s important to have the resources and knowledge to use it properly. In this piece, you’ll learn how to set beatgrids and use Simple and Smart Sync in Serato DJ.Serato have had a sync option in their software ever since Itch launched back in 2008, but that has been kept out of their DVS software, Scratch Live (SL), until now; with SL being retired in favor of Serato DJ (SDJ), a platform that combines DVS and controller support in one program, sync has come along with it.

SDJ’s sync implementation is very different from, say, Traktor’s. As is often the case in the software world, it wins out in some areas, and loses in others. But whether you’re new to sync altogether, or coming from a different platform, this is the stuff you need to know.

LOOKING FOR THE PERFECT BEATGRID

Beatgrids aren’t just about sync. Without beatgrids present, SDJ will default to its own transient detection for autoloops, quantizing, and synced visual effects in Serato Video (and Inklen’s MixEmergency plug-in). While that automatic detection is largely reliable, it’s not 100% accurate, and using beatgrids allows you to correct any mistakes manually.

So whether you intend to use sync or not, I wholeheartedly recommend you check Set Beatgrid when analyzing files in offline mode. And, again, even if you’re not planning to use it, have Simple Sync and Snap To Beatgrid enabled. You don’t have to actually turn sync on, but that will ensure your grids are displayed, and you can edit incorrect ones, either in prep or on the fly, while playing.

FOUR TO THE FLOOR
fourfloor

Serato’s beatgrids are all about bars. Whereas Traktor’s grids are simply about beats, and care not for bar structure, the grids in SDJ rely on the first red downbeat marker being set on the first beat of a four-beat bar in order to be correct. Most of the time it will get that right, but sometimes, especially if a track has a weird intro or a drop at the start, it will be off. (Note: In their latest manuals, Serato has started calling them “warp”—instead of “downbeat”—markers. I’m going to stick to their original terminology, as it makes more sense to me.)

My preferred method for editing grids is via the computer keyboard. A lot of SDJ equipment offers the ability to edit grids via the hardware, but using the keyboard is consistent, whatever kit you’re using, and I find it quick and intuitive.

Once you’ve loaded a track with a beatgrid, the first thing to do is make sure that the first downbeat marker is in the right place. If it hasn’t been detected correctly, Alt + Space will get you into grid-edit mode. Then hit Delete to clear the existing grid, move the playhead to the beginning of the first downbeat, and hit X to set a new one and start the grid from there.

FUNKY DRUMMER
funky

With quantized material, that will often be enough to lock the grid town tight. Usually, I’ll just skip along to the last four bars of a track, and check if the numbered grid lines (the start of a bar) are still on point. If not, dropping another downbeat marker should do the trick. Where you have tracks like old funk or disco tunes, which have live drumming and aren’t rigidly quantized, things get a little more tricky. But Serato’s gridding system is very flexible, and will allow you to grid the most funky of grooves with a little work.

The key to gridding such material is using those downbeat markers—scrub your way through the track, and as the tempo wavers, drop another one. You’ll notice the BPM displayed on the deck will change as you do so, although the software is only capable of showing a single BPM in the library itself. As I demonstrate in the video, it’s possible to even grid transition tracks, with a deliberate massive tempo change, using this method.

beatgridinsert1

A word of warning: If you are using Smart Sync, and you’ve gridded a track with a fluctuating BPM, playing it back while synced to another deck will keep the tempo quantized rigidly to that other deck. There’s an argument to be made that in doing so you’ll kill the vibe of the track by removing the original swing in the recording. If you play a lot of that kind of music, you might wish to just grid the first and last few bars tightly, leaving the bulk of the track to its own devices. That will mean you can achieve a super-slick mix in and out, but the track will retain its essential funkiness.

Another thing to keep in mind is that not every track retains a strict 4/4 bar pattern throughout. Sometimes a producer will add an extra couple of beats before a drop, or something similar, and that can throw the gridding right off. No need to panic, though—if that happens twice in a track, then you’ve actually got a whole bar’s worth, and by the outro, all will be well again. If that’s not the case, though, a workaround is to choose a point a few bars before that drop (I like at least 16), set a downbeat there, then drop your next downbeat marker immediately after the extra beats. That means you’ll have 16 bars during which the grid will be off, but it will be back in place correctly for the more important mix-out points.

THAT SYNCING FEELING
nsync

If you do wish to explore the sync functionality in SDJ, then it’s important to understand the two different modes. Simple Sync is the equivalent to tempo sync in Traktor. It will match the BPM of a deck to that of the tempo master. In SDJ, the software will automatically designate the tempo master deck.

You can have SDJ sync the tempo automatically on loading a track, or not—there’s a checkbox in the preferences. If you only plan on using sync occasionally, it’s best to leave that unchecked, rather that having to constantly hit Shift + Sync on your controller to disable it.

The Snap To Beatgrid option (also in the preferences) is worth leaving checked, though. Not only will that ensure your beatgrids are shown, but if you hit sync during playback, the playhead will jump and the grid will sync up with the master deck. That’s especially useful when using sync on DVS, where a dodgy needle or bouncing stage can throw your mix off.

AS THE TABLES TURN…
table

Speaking of which, a large portion of the Serato user community went wild when it was announced that the ongoing development of the company’s DVS software would include sync. That’s understandable—for a lot of DJs, there was still some cache in being able to say, “I use Serato. No sync button for me.”

Those people might be pleased to hear that the implementation of sync when playing with timecode vinyl in SDJ is really not going to be much of a threat to their skills. There’s no Smart Sync—as per Traktor Scratch, where the equivalent, Grid Sync, is unavailable with DVS. However, in Traktor, although the grids aren’t synced, the sync engine takes into account the wow and flutter of a vinyl deck. So, as the timecode on deck A plays, the BPM will fluctuate a little—not loads, if you’ve calibrated correctly, but still up and down a few tenths of a BPM. In Traktor, the BPM for deck B will be constantly adjusted to match that of deck A. That’s why you see DJs like Craze and A-Trak doing long mixes without headphones, and also without looking at their laptop screens.

In SDJ, that on-the-fly adjustment doesn’t happen. So deck A will match the BPM of deck B when it’s loaded, or at the precise moment you hit the sync button, but almost immediately, the fluctuations of the decks will mean that the tracks will drift. That means that you’ll need to be working in the traditional manner, nudging the pitch of the decks and keeping them in time. Anybody who thinks they’ll be able to use sync with turntables in SDJ without needing beat-matching skills is in for a shock. It’s even the same with spinning platter controllers (the NS7, the V7). That fluctuation means drift will happen sooner rather than later.

GET SMART
smart

All that is in stark contrast to Smart Sync, which is available with all-in-one controllers in SDJ. Smart Sync is the full-on, super-tight option for synchronizing multiple decks together, not only in BPM, but also to their beatgrids. And, if those grids are correct, it really works. You can load up two, three, or four tracks, set them running, and they’ll stay locked in time until they end.

It’s not without its own quirks; the software is very quick to take itself out of Smart Sync and back into Simple Sync. If you’re the kind of person who used to play on CDJs, and does the cue-cue-cue-cue-play technique when dropping in a track, you’ll find that as soon as you hit that cue button, Smart Sync is deactivated. You’ll have to get used to doing cue-cue-cue-sync-play instead, if you want to have Smart Sync active when the track starts playing. Similarly, jumping to a different cue point in the track, even with Quantize enabled, will take it out of Smart Sync. This might not be the end of the world, but it’s a pain, especially if you’re wanting to take advantage of what Smart Sync can do—like the ability to change the BPM of multiple decks at once while synched. You’ll need to keep an eye on the screen to ensure none of the sync buttons has gone yellow (Simple Sync).

WRAP UP
wrapup

Even if sync is of zero interest to you, beatgrids are still worth checking out in Serato DJ. They can be very handy, and can help make other aspects of your mix (besides beat-matching) far cleaner and tighter. During the Scratch Live days, there was a sizable contingent of users who had Ableton Bridge installed, not intending to use it but simply to get access to beatgrids. So do experiment, and if you’ve got any gridding tips for us, please share them in the comments below.

 

Read Next: Advanced Techniques For Using Serato DJ’s Slicer

  • DJKNK

    Hi there ! Could anybody tell me the name of that song playing at the very beginning of the video ? Thx !

  • eugene

    Do we really need a guide on how to use sync?

  • J Williams

    Nice Vid, just started using Serato DJ 10days ago. Long time Traktor user until I switched to Ableton last year . But I wanted to DJ on just 2-4 decks like I use to and found Serato DJ to be perfect . The software is very easy to use, maybe a few quirks, but pretty easy. The software is not glitchy like Traktor(“lost collections anyone”). The interface is dull but functional and you have the added bonus of video(Serato Video is ok , but Mix Emergency is the one).

  • ESKEI83

    nice video Chris! I think you can use the quantize mode for Cue Points to do the Cue-Cue-Cue trick, right?

    • Chris Brackley

      Hey Eskei, thanks for reading.

      The Quantize mode does achieve that to some degreee, but it still knocks the system out of smart sync. That’s not the end of the world, of course.

  • Haden Mills

    Really helpful, thanks.

  • Jay D

    Chris, you wouldn’t believe how much time I’ve spent scratching around looking for a decent Serato beatgridding tutorial. You’ve nailed this. Serato owe you a debt of gratitude as their own video is woefully inadequate such that I was actually losing faith in the product. Thanks for taking the time to do this.

  • Kutmaster TeeOh

    It’s not why “DJs like Craze” don’t use headphones or stare at the screen, that’s called being a DJ. You don’t need sync to do that, it’s knowing your music. The majority of music now has no swing and is quantized so you don’t have to worry about performance or studio induced drift and the little bit that comes from deck drag is minor adjustments if any. Besides most of the time the music has the same BPM and is easy to mix (100bpm to 100bpm). If not it’s close and all you have to do is simple math to adjust the pitch. Hardly anyone is jumping 20 BPM for a blend or transition, and the ones that do edit the track so it doesn’t sound warped.

  • Nice Video Chris! We are proud and happy to have you contributing to the Dj TechTools community.

  • Nice Video Chris! We are proud and happy to have you contributing to the Dj TechTools community.

  • Nice Video Chris! We are proud and happy to have you contributing to the Dj TechTools community.

  • Nice Video Chris! We are proud and happy to have you contributing to the Dj TechTools community.

  • Nice Video Chris! We are proud and happy to have you contributing to the Dj TechTools community.

  • Nice Video Chris! We are proud and happy to have you contributing to the Dj TechTools community.

  • Nice Video Chris! We are proud and happy to have you contributing to the Dj TechTools community.

  • Nice Video Chris! We are proud and happy to have you contributing to the Dj TechTools community.

  • Nice Video Chris! We are proud and happy to have you contributing to the Dj TechTools community.

  • Nice Video Chris! We are proud and happy to have you contributing to the Dj TechTools community.

  • Nice Video Chris! We are proud and happy to have you contributing to the Dj TechTools community.

  • Nice Video Chris! We are proud and happy to have you contributing to the Dj TechTools community.

  • Nice Video Chris! We are proud and happy to have you contributing to the Dj TechTools community.

    • Chris Brackley

      It’s an honour to be part of the crew Ean… Thanks!

  • DJ Android

    Really great video Chris! I’ll definitely use the keyboard shortcuts now instead of the mouse–great time saving tip! Also like how you demonstrated how Smart Sync works in use, I’ve been using Simple Sync because I could never really understand why Smart Sync “didn’t work” properly.

    Thanks for the tutorial sir!

    Question: Where can I find that trans of “Bird Machine”?

  • Dj L-BIZ (BEAT3)

    Great Video – I may finally be a bit closer to understanding beatgridding. I still just use Serato with my dvs setup rather than SDJ (but i’m glad you mentioned the wow & flutter situation, I guess it would better if they just stayed locked but hey ho!),

    I mainly have been using Simple Sync with my vci380. I cant quite get my head around beat gridding funk tracks and tbh i still enjoy tweaking the platters to compensate for drift. The one thing i would love to see a video on though is beatgridding acapellas as i like to stick those in the sampler while playing/mixing two tracks. Getting those to stay locked without beatgrids is a bit of a ball ache the pitch buttons end up taking me away from the main mix. Any danger of an example of gridding an acapella in the future would be gratefully recieved.

    Either way great vid look forward to seeing more Serato based content on djtt

  • John

    Hi Chris Great Video …
    If i use a lot of downmarkers (RED markers) means use more RAM or CPU or Virtual Memory?

    Thanx

    • Chris Brackley

      I’ve just done a test in offline mode, threw a ton of downbeat markers into a small section of a track, and watched the Activity Monitor in OSX.

      There doesn’t seem to be much (if any) difference.

      That might be different when syncing multiple decks though, so I’ll play with that next time I have a system set up and let you know.

      • john

        Special Thanx Chris
        waiting report 🙂

  • Klaus Mogensen

    Thanks for this

    I normally only use simple sync, and I really just use it to get the tempos alligned.

    I don’t think the beatgridding is really for the mobile DJs. When I mobile DJ i simply bring to much music for me to have time to check/change the grids on all of it – ever. For (semi-)planned set DJ’ing where I bring way less music (maybe 1% of what i bring when mobile DJing) it’s a good thing

    I do miss an even simpler sync for mobile DJ’ing, where the tempos are just alligned, without locking the tempos together. I need this for 70’s music, where I often have to do a little pitch adjust afterwards on the incomming track before mixing. In Serato i need to sync, figure out that the adjust is needed, disable sync, do a manual tempo allignment (no sync) and then mix, whenever I experience this (at least thats the only way I know how to do it). On other softwares the simple sync-tempo-and-leave-it-be is possible

    • Chris Brackley

      I’m afraid you’re a bit stuck there – by default SDJ will only detect multiple or varying tempos when you tweak the beatgrid – otherwise it decides on the closest single BPM it can.

      With practice, it’s very quick to grid tracks; something like Rapper’s Delight would take ages (personally I wouldn’t bother with that one!), but it is something you can definitely do on the fly at gigs for most music, especially if you’re only bothered about the intro and outro.

      • Klaus Mogensen

        Not perfect is fine by me. Since i don’t put in the effort into getting all my beatgrids correct, I don’t expect them to be 🙂

        But since I then will work with pretty-much-ok bpm’s, I will often need to adjust them on the fly. As I see it I can’t do this with simple sync, since adjusting using the pitch fader adjusts both tracks. So in this case I need to disable sync, and do it manually.

        It would be great if there was an even simpler sync function that just sets the incoming songs bpm to the same as the current one, and then let me adjust the tracks bpm without adjusting the current track. So in effect it would do a quick simple sync, and then “unlock” the tracks from each other again but leave the bpm to the sync’ed value, so I could “take it from there”

        But I should (and will) look into being able to do quick beat gridding on the fly, and see if that turns out to be the way of the future :).

        • Dj Faker

          I use that “sync-unlock technique” in Traktor. I check all my track, grid the ones that are gridable, and for the other ones, I use the Tap button to get the BPM right. When I mix a gridded track with a non-gridded one, I use the sync button to automatically set the pitch, then I un-sync. The Pitch adjustment remains, so I can take it from there with minor adjustements, saving me some time looking for the right pitch. But never rely on the bpm the autogrid found, check ’em out manually before actually using them.

  • Frederik Tollund Juutilainen

    I’m not sure if I understand this correctly. Is it possible to beatgrid and keep the changing tempo (eg. maintain the funk) as opposed to the way it’s done in traktor and ableton?

    • Chris Brackley

      That only applies when Smart Sync is activated and the track is synced to another track.

      For example:

      Funk synced to a house track (house track is tempo master) = funk track plays back quantized to the rigid house beat.

      House track synced to funk track (funk track is tempo master) = house track plays with the swing of the funk beat.

      So it’s not quite like either Ableton, where the track will always be rigidly quantized, or Traktor, where it can’t be, as the grid is at a fixed BPM.

      None of that applies at all when Simple Sync or no sync is used.

      Hope that clarifes it a little!

      • Frederik Tollund Juutilainen

        That’s it, I’m getting serato!.. Thanks for clarifying!

  • DJ BRUAEL

    Great vid, and I finally understand the subtle differences between simple sync and smart sync on SDJ now! I was wondering why i was out of sync with cue-cue-cue-cue-start!

  • Doddstar

    Great video Chris – nice to see someone else presenting alongside Ean. Nice to see some detail on the Serato features – makes me consider going back to it. I enjoyed Serato for years, but it became hassle when playing smaller/shorter gigs that didn’t have equipment. Moved to Traktor so I could use a controller, or plug in to house CDJ’s/Turntables. Pretty versatile.

    Would always prefer turntables. Interested to learn more about Serato in the same way that Ean covers Traktor. Is that what you’ll be doing at DJTT?

    • Chris Brackley

      Thanks Doddstar!

      Like yourself, I’ve moved towards Traktor over the last year, for much the same reasons.

      But I’m a long time Serato SL/Itch/SDJ user, and I’ll continue to be; I’m a big believer in using native hardware where possible, and whilst I own hardware like the DDJ-SX, I’ll still be using SDJ too.

      It just happens that most of my gigs are now back on DVS with vinyl, and I’m preferring the NI ecosystem for that (for now).

      So I’m not the ‘Serato Correspondent’ for DJTT, but I’ll certainly be doing lots more stuff about Serato moving forward. 😉

      • Kutmaster TeeOh

        Thank God, it’s about damn time. lol