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Get Looped! (and make money doing it)

Apple's Soundtrack application By Douglas Spotted Eagle
Apple's Soundtrack uses 'building blocks' of loops, enabling anyone to compose music beds or scores for video, DVD menus, Flash animations, or for use as a musical sketchpad.
Apples newest software offering in the multimedia world is known as "Soundtrack." Just as its name implies, Soundtrack is designed for creating music scores and bed pieces for a variety of purposes. In a time of copyright owners prosecuting even 12-year-old students for illegally using music and the video industry requiring some sort of access to legal audio, Soundtrack is a timely tool that allows video editors, DVD authors, Flash authors, musicians, and other multimedia aficionados to create stunning royalty-free musical pieces. How, might you ask?

Remember playing with Legos when you were a child? Little colored blocks that snapped together? While this may have inspired some to become architects and builders of monolithic towers of human awe, there were also those who simply toyed and created garages for their Matchbox cars. No matter what, even the most creatively challenged child could at the least put together something that worked. Can you imagine putting music together as easily as working with Legos?


Soundtrack functions a lot like an electronic equivalent of those little Lego blocks that snapped together. Except that Soundtrack is a great deal more intelligent. What if when building the creatively challenged Lego structure, the structure actually looked at what you were doing and molded itself into a building of quality that even Frank Lloyd Wright might at least consider passable? Soundtrack takes these small building blocks, called ?loops, and puts them together intelligently. Each ?loop contains metadata, or a ?file that carries information about the file in the file format, which is of course, AIFF, or Apples Interchangeable File Format. The metadata tells Soundtrack what the tempo (speed) of the loop is, what pitch (key) the music is, and better still, what genre of music or type of instrument the loop would best be related to. This metadata is then used by Soundtrack to take a loop of any tempo and pitch and match it to another loop of any other tempo and pitch. This allows even the most musically challenged person to create very high quality music or atmospheres for a video project, DVD menu, Flash project, or even DJ remixers. (A sense of music and rhythm might be nice if you are planning on quitting the day job to become a remixer.)

As an experiment, I had a neighbors child over the other day and put her onto Soundtrack. In about 15 minutes, she had a 60-second ditty that totally made sense, and was musically very pleasant. Would it take home a Grammy? Doubtful. But with a little thought and a marginal ear for dissonance and complementary tone, anyone can use this tool to create royalty free music for video an other projects.

The Media Manager is a significant asset to Soundtrack, allowing users to search all loops, locating the desired tempo, key, and musical instrument/genre in seconds.
Nothing New Here?
I know, all the PC users are crying ?FOUL! ACID does the same thing, and its been around for years. True, Sonic Foundrys ACID, now owned by Sony, had many of the same capabilities, and Sonys ACID 4.0 Pro does far, far more than does Apples Soundtrack at a slightly higher cost. However, Soundtrack has some features that ACID does not have, and more importantly, it runs flawlessly on OSX (10.2.5 or later) and now allows Mac users to take advantage of the millions of ACID loops available from Sony and third-party loop providers. And, Soundtrack is a 1.0 product.

Search Me?
Soundtrack has a unique and exceptionally powerful feature; a searchable database. ACID users should be envious. This search feature is FAST. The database tool allows Soundtrack to search the information in a database and locate it on cross sections such as genre and instrument, plus maybe a limited search for loops only in a specific key or tempo. Soundtrack also allows multiple loops to be placed on one track. In ACID, if a song consists of 10 primary loops for an intro, verse, chorus, verse 2, chorus 2, bridge, etc, then in ACID, a project would consist of a total of 10 tracks. In Soundtrack, one track may contain all 10 loops. This has its drawbacks as well, but for the newer user, non-musical user, or just for plain speed and screen real estate, this works quite effectively.

The Media Manager is a significant asset to Soundtrack, allowing users to search all loops, locating the desired tempo, key, and musical instrument/genre in seconds.

FXPansion's AU to VST adapter opens many VST plugins for use in Soundtrack, and is worth the small investment if a number of musical scores are to be created in Soundtrack.
No Loopology Needed
While Soundtrack ships with several thousand loops, this really isnt enough for most users, (right?.) but there are third-party loops available, with many more on the way from Qup Arts, Spectrasonics, and other well-known loop providers. But what if you want loops now?

FXPansion's AU to VST adapter opens many VST plugins for use in Soundtrack, and is worth the small investment if a number of musical scores are to be created in Soundtrack.

Soundtrack reads Sonys ACID loop libraries wonderfully. In fact, it's pretty clear that Apple wanted Soundtrack users to have access to the several million loops available in ACID format. The Soundtrack Loop Utility is capable of converting these WAV files into AIFF files with metadata intact as well, opening up roughly 5 million loops to the ambitious multimedia creator and making them native to Soundtrack. Soundtrack also can take advantage of various effects processor plugins such as delays, compressors, reverbs, etc, so long as the plugins are are from Apples AU standard. One interesting tool of note, FXPansions VST to AU tool worked great in beta testing, allowing VST plugins to function within Soundtrack. (This should be shipping by the time you are reading this article) Oddly enough, a couple of plugs work great in Soundtrack, but would prevent my Final Cut Pro 4.0 app from launching, and FCP would not tell me that it was the plug that kept it from launching. Thanks to OSXFAQ.com, I tracked down a .log file (new to OSX) that explained why FCP was crashing on launch.

Shoot & Score
One major feature with Soundtrack is that it can read Scoring Markers embedded in a QT file or m2v file from Final Cut Pro. This allows video editors or DVD menu creators to drop markers at specific action points in a video file or project, open the video file in Soundtrack, and score intelligently to those markers. In fact, Soundtrack can look at the time between markers and automatically figure tempo between the markers, saving users from really thinking about how fast a score should be to fit to time. While other NLE apps such as Avids DV Express cant embed Scoring Markers, video CAN be dropped into Soundtrack from any NLE so long as its a Quicktime format, and markers added in Soundtrack to accomplish the exact same purpose. The FCP Scoring Markers merely save a couple steps.

Soundtrack will read Scoring Markers from metadata inserted with Final Cut Pro's marker tool


Soundtrack ships with Final Cut Pro 4.0, and is available as a standalone application for $299.00 from Apple. I didnt test the standalone, as my sources at Apple tell me its exactly the same product, just in a separate box rather than an envelope in the FCP box.
Users of loads of loops might find it best to have loops on a second or external hard drive. While loops are nowhere near as large as video files, a few thousand loops will quickly eat up space. Loop files on average, are under 1 meg.

Soundtrack also assists users in recording their own loops. While Soundtrack lacks the requisite metronome, placing a rimshot loop or cowbell loop on a track and monitoring it during recording works exactly the same way. This is an elegant workaround until Apple perhaps includes this feature in a future build.

Any audio recorded in Soundtrack, whether as a series of takes or a single track, will be auto-converted to a loop and allow a user to insert their own metadata to identify the loop in a search engine. So, if there is a barking dog down the street that youve just been itching to turn into a musical composition, go for it. Or, maybe you just like the sound of your fingers drumming on the kitchen table, and it would fit well in a project?..you get the point by now.

One of Soundtracks biggest drawbacks is the lack of ability to route multiple outputs to multichannel hardware devices.

The workspace in Soundtrack is simple, with many complex functions buried beneath the visible interface, accessible by CTRL+clicking, or using a two-button mouse and right clicking.

FCP 4.0 grabbed this concept and ran with it even though FCP is not capable of surround mixes. Soundtrack does, however, have the ability to output files in separate stereo streams, separate mono streams, or as a single mixed stereo file, with or without audio from an inserted video clip. Having multichannel output abilities might give users the ability to create a fairly complex mix of loops destined to become one new loop, record it with loop information embedded, and create from there without ever having to insert metadata in the Loop Utility (found in the Applications>Utilities folder on the system hard drive).

The workspace in Soundtrack is simple, with many complex functions buried beneath the visible interface, accessible by CTRL+clicking, or using a 2 button mouse and right clicking.


Using my onboard soundcard in my Powerbook and G4 systems, I was adequately happy with the quality of sound. However, Soundtrack is capable of outputting much higher quality files than the internal soundcard provides drivers for. Using the Echo Indigo card, I was able to create pristine 24-bit, 96k audio files that tickled my inner ear. The M-Audio Revolution was also a great sound, although I admit I liked the Indigos 2 channel input on the soundcard as well. (the Indigo is a Cardbus card with 2 inputs and 8 discreet software output channels, www.echoaudio.com).

Users of Soundtrack with a professional audio card on their laptop are in for a significant surprise; while Apple's soundcards are decent, and great for everyday use, the loops really become fat when using a professional card such as the Revolution or the Indigo.

Loop libraries are available at price ranges from as low as $10.00 to $90.00 either via direct buy, or downloading individual loops on the web and buying just those loops. Libraries typically are 650 megs in size, and contain anywhere from a few hundred to nearly a thousand loops. I was able to resource just over 225 loop libraries on the web from various makers.

Overall, Soundtrack is not only an outstanding value, but a necessity for most video-related uses. Sometimes a music library just doesn't have what it takes. They are either too simple or not simple enough. One side benefit of the Soundtrack Loop Utility is that a complete song may be laid into the utility and beat mapped. Then the song can be dropped into Soundtrack and spiced up to suit the project. Imagine being able to take that nearly perfect piano bed and spicing it up, keeping perfect time in Soundtrack, adding basses, drums, guitar, etc. Granted, this is somewhat of an advanced use, but it doesn't take long to learn and can save an otherwise lackluster music bed for that corporate, cable, or DVD-bound project.

Who da' thunk it, a kid growing up and using Lego skills to build a music project in a software application? Truth is, if you can snap Legos together, you can easily build good music with Soundtrack regardless of musical acumen. Of course, having some musical skills means you can quickly build GREAT musical scores.

Soundtrack from Apple
Bundled with Final Cut Pro 4.0, or standalone for $299.00
www.apple.com

Loops available from:
www.sonicfoundry.com
www.quparts.com
www.cakewalk.com
www.spectrasonics.com
www.ilio.com
www.bigfish.com

Strengths:
  • Easy to use, provides wonderful sounds for even the non-musician to create loops with.
  • Uses Sony's ACID loops which open up millions of sonic palettes
  • Over 100 tracks simultaneously on a G4
  • Uses Emagic, Apple, and third party AU plugins for audio mastering/mixing.
  • Records audio loops for creating personal loop clips.


  • Weaknesses:
  • No MIDI timecode or SMPTE time capability
  • Lacks metronome for recording loops from scratch.





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    DOUGLAS SPOTTED EAGLE, Managing Producer Douglas Spotted Eagle is an audio and video pro. He is a Grammy recipient with DuPont, Peabody, and Telly awards lining his studio; he is also a participant/producer in multiple Emmy Award winning productions.

    Douglas is the Managing Producer for Sundance Media Group, Inc. and VASST, authoring several books and DVDs and serving as a trainer and consultant for videographers, software manufacturers and broadcasters. He is the author or co-author of several digital media titles including Digital Video Basics (VASST), The FullHD (VASST), and Vegas Editing Workshop (Focal Press) among many others.

    Douglas is an accomplished aerial photographer who thrives in the adrenaline-filled world of fast-action videography. He remains active as a multimedia producer, trainer, and presenter, utilizing the latest technology as part of his workflow.


    Related Keywords:Apple, Soundtrack, music, scores, video editors, DVD, royalty-free

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