Apple Soundtrack

February 24th, 2004 Software, Tech, The West Australian

Not content with cleaning up among amateur (and increasingly professional) video editors with Final Cut Pro (also recently released), Apple Computer has unleashed Soundtrack on the world, destined to make as much of an impact on amateur and hobby music production as Final Cut Pro (along with contemporaries like Avid and Adobe Premiere) have had on film and video editing.

If you’re used to any sort of motion graphics application like video editing or computer animation, Soundtrack will be a natural progression for you. The interface is made up of palettes for your sound files, separate tracks for each element, and the timeline to warp, shorten, lengthen, connect, distort or otherwise alter at will.

You simply load up all the elements you’ll need for a new project and Soundtrack gives you millisecond-scale control over your final sound file.

There’s an inherent ease of use in the program — the controls and methodologies that drive it are simple and sensible, so the difference between producing a short musical riff and an entire feature film musical score is one of complexity rather than difficulty. No matter what your projects size and scope, you can come out at the other end with a single .aiff file ready to export to other applications or encode as an mp3, a Quicktime movie, or all your individual tracks saved separately.

If you’re timing your piece of music to a video that’s already been put together (usually the case in professional circles), you can view it in a playback window and tailor the timing of your fade-ins, pitch adjustments, crashing timpani or screaming electric guitar perfectly.

If you haven’t come from a video or motion background, the work area you’ll be initially faced with in Soundtrack can look intimidating, the screen seemingly a litter of palettes and windows.

But if you understand the concept of working with tracks (different instruments to mix together into the one composition, for example), you’re well on your way. They need not be separate instruments, either. They can be the same instrument (or even the same sound) at different pitches or tempos. They can be a single guitar strum, a backing beat, a bassline or an external digital recording like a voiceover.

With all your clips (the correct term is ‘loops’) ready to play with, it’s just a matter of chopping and changing their running times, frequency or cues in the timeline area. Each loop is represented by a track along the timeline, and the countless controls and tweaks you can apply to tracks are what Soundtrack is all about.

The built smarts make it easy to get up and running quickly. Suppose you select a percussion loop, then add five other instruments or sounds to your project. Instead of having to adjust tempos to get them all in time, the application automatically matches them to the settings you’ve applied for the key and tempo, freeing up time and effort for your creativity instead of taking it up with the mechanicals of making music.

Of course, part of producing original music is having access to a professional band or orchestra, and once you have all the equipment, that’s where the expense really lies.

Soundtrack gives you all the equipment, but without any raw materials to work with, it would end up another cool idea you’ve only played with a handful of times. Not many people have their own music stock library on hand, and therein lies the Lynchpin of Soundtrack.

In an obvious yet very clever move, it come with a DVD data disc of over 4000 loops and sound effects, and part of the application is a built-in search engine to find the ones you’re after. It’s complete with a refinement option to narrow down your search and can categorise by instrument, genre or general description (everything from ‘cheerful’ to ‘intense’). And no more trawling the web for resources you can fudge enough to use for yourself; all he loops on the disc are royalty free.

Soundtrack is a fairly lean program (compared to it’s bigger video editing cousins), and it works pretty fast as long as you’ve got the right hardware to back it up. Apple recommend a 450Mhz G4 at the least, but if you’re interested in Soundtrack, the odds are you’ll be oufe with computer-based editing of some sort and will have a strong enough system to begin with.

It comes with several plug-in sound effects from both Apple and Emagic, and there are plenty around from third parties that you can install via Audio Units, Mac OS X’s native plug-in architecture.

Whether you just want to sit and play with some sound files to see what you can knock up or score a major Hollywood blockbuster, Soundtrack has both the simplicity and control to let you do either, and because of the free loops disc, you’ve got so much material to start off with the value for money goes up tenfold.

450 or 500Mhz G4 with OSX 10.2.5 or later


Apple Computer Australia:
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