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Loop Management in Soundtrack Pro

By Frank Moldstad

Searching loops by keyword.
Soundtrack Pro comes with 5,000 Apple loops, spanning dozens of genres. But sound designers can never have too many loops, especially when they're looking for a specific sound. So they become major collectors, scooping up everything from GarageBand Jam Packs to homemade field recordings. It's easy to amass tens of thousands of loops this way.

That presents another problem. It doesn't do much good to have 35 creaking doors, 17 Oud solos and 27 cowbell files in your loop collection if you can't find them. How do you organize all this stuff?

In Soundtrack Pro, you use the Media and Effects Manager to browse for files by keywords, such as Instruments, Genres, Descriptors, and Sound Effects. All Apple Loops are tagged with extensive MetaTag information that lets you narrow a search, whether you're looking for a musical loop or an ambient sound. In addition, musical fiiles can be searched by time signature, looping properties and major/minor scales. Similar search capabilities are built into GarageBand, Logic Express 7 and Logic Pro 7, all of which can import Apple Loops.

That takes care of the 5,000 Apple Loops included with Soundtrack Pro, and up to 8,000 others available through Apple's four Jam Pack collections, each of which has 2,000 loops. But what about non-Apple Loops files, everything from ACID Loops to field recordings that a Soundtrack user might want to incorporate into the pool?

For this, there is the Apple Loops Utility, a companion program that is installed with Soundtrack Pro. The Apple Loops Utility will open and tag any Wave or AIFF file for inclusion in Soundtrack Pro's keyword searches -- including ACID loops. Any looped file will be converted to Apple Loops with this process. Non-looping files will use the MetaTags for indexing in the search engine. You can choose from the same keywords and Descriptors that standard Apple Loops have. Some of the MetaTag choices are absolute, such as time signature and key. Other information is more of a judgement call -- Descriptor categories include such attributes as Cheerful, Dark, Relaxed and Intense.

Files can even be batch-tagged. If you have multiple files that share the same MetaTag attributes, they can all be opened in the Assets window and selected as a group, or in selected subgroups if you prefer. Any tags you select are applied to the selected files. When the changes are saved, these files will be included in keyword searches. I tried batch-tagging 35 Wave files that were still on my computer from a recent recording project, and it worked like a charm. Although Soundtrack Pro will import Wave files, its standard file format is AIFF, and that is how it saves them.

A group of Wave files being batch-tagged in the Apple Loops Utility.

All timestamp information in the Wave files is included in the conversion to AIFF files. Incidentally, GarageBand 2 and Logic also have this capability, which could prove valuable to field recordists using a laptop to capture their sound sources.

Jam Packs, being Apple Loop files already, don't need to be tagged. But if they were previously installed on your computer, they need to be indexed before they will appear in Soundtrack Pro's browser. This is done from the Setup button on Soundtrack Pro's Search menu. I indexed all four of Apple's Jam Packs, and it took less than a minute to index each one.

The other thing the Apple Loops Utility does is analyze transients in audio files. Transients are the points where beats fall, and they are important when looped files are played back in Soundtrack Pro. Using a method called stretching, Soundtrack Pro adjusts looped files during playback to achieve the best audio quality based on the loops transients. If files are not loop-enabled, stretching will not affect them. The Apple Loops Utility looks for transients at every 16th note position, going by the files tempo tags and the number of beats. Transients can be added or moved around using the Transient Division pop-up menu. There's also a Sensitivity slider here that can be used to detect additional transients. Moving the slider to the left decreases the sensitivity, and moving it to the right increases it.

With powerful tools like these in Soundtrack Pro, there's no excuse for being disorganized. Unless, of course, you don't use them. The biggest challenge remains storage space for keeping large loop collections close at hand and searchable. But with 400GB removable hard drives coming down in price, that barrier is easing, too.



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Related Keywords:Soundtrack Pro, Apple loops, Apple Loops Utility, GarageBand, Jam Packs, Logic Express, Logic Pro 7

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