Music can make or break a film.
It is a powerful editing tool that serves to push forward the
action, create the mood and enhance the story line. Music, which
doesn't quite match the plot lines, can distract, disengage and
misdirect the viewer. One thing for sure is that having a quality
music and sound effects library is absolutely essential to any
The search for copyright free music
has changed quite a bit over the years. No longer is it necessary
to buy large libraries of music, paying for and/or getting cuts
that you might not want. Now many editors can simply go online
and pay for only the cut or cuts they want. They, through programs
like Sonic Fire Pro, can now create and customize their own music
selections to match that of their videos or films.
While Final Cut Pro 4 has come
out with a super music creation application in Soundtrack, it
is very time consuming to create complete musical pieces from
scratch. While I find Soundtrack a whole lot of fun and extremely
addictive to use, I find that I still utilize the Sonic Fire
Program a great deal for its simplicity of use , large available
library and the incredible speed by which I can create a perfectly
timed finished product. The quickness of creation as you customize
your music, as well as the high quality of the orchestration
itself is a primary reason to consider having Sonic Fire Pro
as one of your essential editing tools.
Many music discs from various copyright
free music companies come with multiple versions and lengths
of individual pieces, often at 10, 30 and 60 sec lengths. That
is fine if your video piece or clip also comes in at those lengths.
If not, you are stuck key framing fades to match or figuring
out how to loop two clips on just the right beat to make a longer
piece. Not too difficult to do but it is time consuming.
That's when I discovered the Smart
Sound software, which has evolved over the years to become Sonic
Fire Pro 3.1. Sonic Fire Pro comes equipped with numerous tools
to help the audio editor in all of us and works flawlessly with
Quicktime, MPEG or AVI files. The entire program is designed
to help the editor create original, copyright free music that
will fit whatever video project it is that you are working on
and fit it to the exact length and frames that you want.
Sonic Fire Pro allows you to pick
and choose several methods to customize your music. One unique
thing about Sonic Fire Pro is that, like its predecessors, it
utilizes blocks of music that the editor can use and manipulate
in any way or order they find fitting to their needs. For those
not musically oriented, these blocks of orchestration provide
easy to identify symbols to indicate which blocks would be good
to start and/or end any particular piece.
Sonic Fire offers discs of music
centered on a particular theme or genre. They call these discs
Palettes with one disc perhaps being blues oriented, another
party or wedding oriented music, while others cover a wide range
of music representing different cultures and countries, industrial
powerhouse themes, orchestral scoring, Foley FX sounds and far
too many more to mention here. Smart Sound regularly comes out
with new discs every couple of months so expanding your library
to use their software is an easy option. Don't want to buy an
entire disc? Simple, just go online, something you can do from
within the Sonic Fire interface. Demo any number of music and
FX options and buy only the piece you need for a reasonable price.
No longer is it necessary to wait for days or weeks for your
order to arrive while your video project sits there. You can
now have the piece you need within seconds.
So, just how easy is it to work
within Sonic Fire? Very, the program is fairly intuitive. Opening
Sonic Fire brings up the entire interface consisting of the timeline,
video window, and music blocks.
Once opened the simplest way to
score your film is by using the Sonic Fire Pro's Maestro. The
Maestro has been completely redesigned from previous versions
providing the user with more search criteria and flexibility
in selecting the right music.
Simply click on the Maestro under
the top timeline menu. Then it is up to you. You can instruct
it to provide previews of Smart Sound music that you already
own, go to a tunes or FX that you have previously marked as being
favorites, or go to tunes that have already been copied on to
your computer. Another method of selection is to click on a particular
style of music that you had in mind, when you do this the maestro
will select all the tunes that you have in your library that
meet your criteria. Before selecting a title you can listen to
the piece in the preview window, if it meets your standards you
simply click done and it will open in your timeline as both a
complete piece in the Sonic Fire Pro timeline as well as a series
of blocks in the blocks window.
Now the customization is up to
you. You can fine tune the entire piece in your timeline or delete
it and create your own unique version by dragging music blocks
from the blocks window and dropping them in the timeline window.
Each block is individually named
and numbered so that you don't get confused and forget which
is which. In addition, blocks, which are denoted as being good
to begin or end music pieces, have their own icons which help
you find just the right block. You can have a lot of fun working
with this and create pieces that are uniquely your own.
A real help when working with Sonic
Fire Pro 3.1 is that you can import video into their video window
and customize your music piece so that it is properly synched
within your project.
Now suppose you're in a rush, feeling
uninspired, lazy or just want to create a good music piece the
simplest way possible. That's when you forgo the Music Maestro
and utilize the Sonic Fire Pro Assistant. Here you can create
a perfectly timed piece down to almost the exact frame length
that you require. The assistant easily leads you through the
entire process and all you have to do is decide which music you
like best and how long it needs to be. The assistant will do
all the work. Simply click on the Assistant, also under the timeline
menu, and it will bring up a window, which guides you through
the easy steps.
This window guides you to the next
step and asks whether you are looking for Sound Effects or Music.
This leads you to the second window
that asks you to denote the style of music from a wide variety
The third window then asks you
to choose a keyword, which reflects the mood of the selection
you desire. These keywords will often reflect and fit any number
of pieces that you might have in your library or that are available
to you on line. Unfortunately, I found this to be a major pain.
If I had a certain piece in mind or if I had forgotten the title
and had failed to mark it as a favorite but remembered it as
"calm" I would highlight that keyword but not find
it listed. This is because the folks at Sonic Fire might have
deemed it as 'ethereal'. Thus, if I had a particular piece of
music I wanted the Assistant to cut for me, I might have to try
a number of keywords before I could actually get to the title
I was looking for. The more I used it, the more annoyed I got.
Never the less, these keywords narrow your choices down for you
if you are not sure of what to select.
The fourth window finally focuses
upon the selections that meet your criteria. If the selection
has already been downloaded into the computer you can preview
and compare them. If not, then you will have to insert the disc
Finally, you have the piece you
have selected but you are not quite done yet. At this point you
instruct the Sonic Fire Pro assistant to determine the exact
length of your selection.
Click 'Done' and your selection
immediately opens up in the timeline as a finished piece. Its
start and end points will be just the length you asked for and
sound professionally scored. This might sound like a long process
but it really is not. It goes quickly and is easy to do.
This brings us to the quality of
the music itself. Early discs from the old Smart Sound days sometimes
sounded too artificial to me. Reliance upon synthesizer created
pieces was not cutting it. In addition, several cuts I had already
had in my library from Music Bakery or other copyright free music
companies were repeated within the Smart Sound palettes and I
didn't like the idea of paying for something that was just a
copy of a piece I already bought and paid for. Those days are
happily in the past, as their new palettes of music sound just
great. I recently picked up 4 of their most recent palettes,
Across Borders, Tranquil Journeys, Nostalgic Nights and Uplifting
Ideas and they are all just fine. The use of real instrumentation
makes all the difference to me. In addition, the very fact that
I can so easily customize the length and feel of each piece,
or even change the piece around by manipulating the blocks of
music to my own liking in a quick and efficacious manner makes
Sonic Fire Pro one really valuable editing application.
Sonic Fire Pro provides the same
palettes in two different sampling rates. One is a 22k 16-bit
stereo which is just fine for the casual hobbyist or for those
using Sonic Fire for outputting to the Web. These discs generally
sell for $49.95 which can be considered a bargain when you look
at the costs of copyright free music elsewhere. The professional
44k version of the discs sells for $99.95 and come with a code
number that gives you that access. The QuickTime structure of
Sonic Fire will automatically resample the 44.1k audio to 48k
so you won't find any loss of quality.
The Sonic Fire Pro 3.1 software
program itself sells for $299.00 and comes with two 44k music
palettes. They also offer additional bundles and collections
of music packages for both Mac and Windows users. Demo versions
of the Sonic Fire Pro software are available on the www.smartsound.com
site. Once there you can also audition and order music palettes
to your hearts content. It is pretty nice to be able to hear
what you're getting prior to paying for it.
All in all, Sonic Fire Pro 3.1
is a fine music application with little not to like. While the
initial outlay for the program and supplemental palette discs
can eventually add up, you have the options of only buying the
cuts you want or adding to your library as the need deems necessary.
While it is possible that you will hear the music you've used
on someone else's project, that you can so completely customize
any of the orchestrations allows you to create pieces that are
completely your own. There's no arguing with that.
Steve Douglas has been an underwater videographer and
contributor to numerous film festivals around the world. The
winner of the 1999 Pacific Coast Underwater Film Competition
and the 2003 IVIE competition, Steve has also worked on the feature
film "The Deep Blue Sea" and is one of the principal
organizers of the San Diego UnderSea Film Festival. Steve leads
both African safari and underwater filming expeditions and is
based in San Diego. Feel free to contact him.
Review copyright ©
Steve Douglas 2004
This article first appeared on www.kenstone.net and is reprinted here
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