Most editors have an innate sense of rhythm, yet finding the right music and tailoring it to your video poses a challenge for even the most talented cutter. SmartSound has provided a solution to this dilemma for many years. Last year the company updated its Sonicfire Pro audio mixing software to version 6. This update adds interesting new features and support for today’s crop of NLEs.
The starting point is SmartSound’s library of original music. You buy the tracks you like once—Sonicfire includes easy licensing options—and then tailor the song to the appropriate length, for as many productions as required. SmartSound’s offerings cover a range of genres. Each track has been quantized into “beat blocks” that the Sonicfire Pro application uses to make automatic timing adjustments. While this description might make it sound like all the music would need to be synthetically generated, be assured that it isn’t. These tracks are played by humans with real instruments. If you want rock, electronic, symphonic, etc., you’ve got it.
Many selections have been “mood-mapped”—SmartSound’s term to identify music cues that are multilayered, with up to nine instrument layers. If you like the track but want to lose the drums or lower the lead instrument’s volume within the mix, simply turn off that layer or adjust its volume envelope. Both multilayer and single-layer tracks can all be adjusted for time within Sonicfire Pro.
Sonicfire Pro 6’s Modern Interface
Sonicfire Pro 6 is a welcome update. It’s more streamlined than version 5, with a clean, modern interface. This excellent mini-tutorial by Larry Jordan will give you a quick overview of how it works:
Within the application, you have immediate access to all of your owned titles, as well as any other SmartSound selections (when you are online). If you don’t already own it, find a track you like from SmartSound, buy it and download it right from the Sonicfire Pro 6 UI. In the upper browser pane, search for specific tracks, albums and style, or sort by tempo or intensity.
Sonicfire Pro 6 main screen
Sonicfire Pro 6 is designed as a user-friendly tool to empower music scoring to picture, so naturally it supports video. To add a video clip, show the video window and select “Add Video” from the pull-down menu. You can expand the Sonicfire Pro 6 interface (it references your monitor size automatically)—at the right size, it will allow you to have both the video window and either the inspector or markers window open simultaneously, so you can actually reference your video when making adjustments in these panels. Now the video will run in sync with your timeline. You can also import audio from a video file if you want to do the whole mix in Sonicfire, much like a traditional digital audio workstation (DAW). You can export tracks, full mixes and/or complete audio/video files with completed mixes; however, this is optional, as you can run SFP6 as an audio-only tool without ever involving video, should you decide to work that way.
When you pick a track, three settings will get you started. The first is duration. Enter the desired duration and Sonicfire Pro will change the song structure to fit the length. It does this without simply repeating the same loop. Next, pick your variation. Each track has a set of variations, which are different arrangements of the same song. Finally, for mood-mapped (multilayer) tracks, make a mood selection. Moods are different arrangements of instruments within the song, going from a full mix to various combinations of dominant instruments. Finally, there’s an advanced tab for additional options, including adjusting the mix of multilayer tracks and shifting the tempo.
Sonicfire Pro has a really cool search function called “Tap.” Simply tap out the beats by clicking the Tap button a few times and Sonicfire Pro will subsequently sort the library selections based on the tempo you tapped out.
Working in the Timeline
Sonicfire Pro’s Cut Video to Music feature exports multiple beat, bar, section and track options into NLEs including Final Cut Pro X.
Once you’ve auditioned and (optionally) adjusted the duration, variation and mood, drag and drop the selection to the timeline at the bottom of the application window. If you need the track to be longer or shorter, just drag the edge of the clip to the desired length and Sonicfire Pro will automatically change the arrangement as needed based on SmartSound’s proprietary beat block structure. Additional selections can be dragged to the timeline, so it’s easy to score an entire video using multiple track selections. Each additional song dragged to the timeline creates a new track there, enabling you to adjust volume, length and mood of a song without affecting the surrounding selections on the timeline.
Within the inspector are additional controls, including the fade in and out handles for a clip, and the Timing Control feature. Timing Control was introduced in SFP5 but improved in v6. As of this writing, SmartSound has updated 124 albums for this feature—that’s more than 1,240 tracks—and adds new albums regularly.
When you enable Timing Control on a track that has been updated, several markers appear on the clip in the timeline. These markers can be dragged to adjust musical changes to emphasize an event or transition in your video. When you drag a marker, SFP6 automatically shuffles the arrangement of that song. For example, if you want a clip’s big ending to better match your video cut, slide the marker to make it happen.
In practice, this functionality was not flawless. In one case, a change made too close to the end of a clip left me with an incomplete ending. I found I needed to slide the track length a tad longer for SFP6 to come up with a good-sounding ending. This feature is designed to enable experimentation to produce a custom score, so don’t be afraid to play with it.
Cut-Video-to-Music import in FCP X
Finally, as part of its integration with NLEs, Sonicfire offers a new feature called “Cut Video to Music.” Apple Final Cut Pro X, Adobe Premiere Pro CC, Avid Media Composer and Magix Vegas Pro are all supported. The feature lets you export a track and a corresponding XML file, which in turn is imported into the designated project. Inside the NLE, the track shows up with markers identifying your choice of either beats, strong beats only, SmartSound blocks or music sections, making it easy to edit picture cuts accordingly.
Make sure you are running the most recent version after you install the software. I ran into some minor issues with the initial 6.0.0 version, which were resolved with the 6.0.3 update. Updates may be downloaded from the SmartSound web site.
SmartSound’s Sonicfire Pro 6 is a welcome refresh to a wonderful tool. To my knowledge, no other software developer offers anything to match it. Adobe briefly tried, adding custom music features to Soundbooth, but then dropped the functionality after a couple of years. Magix Software and Apple both offer applications that let users create loop-based tunes, but neither starts with finished compositions that can be modified both in length and arrangement with such ease.
While music choice is subjective, I’ve built up a SmartSound library over the years that lets me offer clients quality music alternatives without much fuss or cost. That’s just another service I can offer to a client. It allows you as an editor to be the hero to your client and accomplish the task expediently and on budget.
Product:SmartSound Sonicfire Pro 6
Pros: High-quality music scores with buy-what-you-need business model. Easy to use and customize by style and length.
Cons: Original source audio files use a proprietary format.
Bottom Line: An easy-to-use software combination that is NLE- and DAW-agnostic, which can add a custom touch to any project.
MSRP: $199, $69.95 for upgrades (scores additional)