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Review: Apple Soundtrack
Posted Mar 4, 2004 Print Version     « previous Page 2of 2

More Fun in the New World
Our first project was building a soundtrack to two minutes of street scene footage shot outside the EMedia offices in Madison, Wisconsin. There's only so much excitement you can create out of passing vehicles and pedestrians, even when they're walking their gorgeous malamute, but it supplied the DV clips that I needed to bring into Final Cut Pro 4 (I could have used Final Cut Express or, for that matter, iMovie). I did only simple editing—not much more than setting in and out points, dumping the clip's audio, and setting a few markers—and then exported the clip directly into Soundtrack. If you're working in another editor, or even in a tool like Macromedia Flash MX, just remember that Soundtrack only accepts QuickTime (MOV) video clips. Using a dual-processor 2gHz G5 and 23-inch Cinema Display on loan from Apple, I suspected that system performance wasn't going to be an issue, and I was right. (You surely don't need a top-of-the-line computer to use Soundtrack; a single-processor 500mHz or dual-processor 450mHz G4 is the baseline. But having a stout performer like the dual G5 sure is nice.)

Once there, I used Soundtrack's Insert Time Marker feature to place video frames in the timeline at the spots where I set the markers in Final Cut Pro to give us visual cues as to the scenes I'd be scoring. I wanted a modern rock feel, but with a few old-school elements thrown in. I began by selecting one of the Modern Rock Clean Guitar loops and dragging it into the timeline. Once a loop is in the timeline, you can grab it and drag it out as long as you want; in this case, I let the single-measure (four beat) loop repeat throughout the entire clip. I grabbed a Bluesy Electric Guitar Riff loop and dropped it in, dragging its start point to the fifth measure, followed by an Electric Bass Bumpy loop that began in measure eight. Beginning at a scene change in measure 12, I added a drum groove, another guitar riff, and a cymbal crash, which I then repeated every four measures. Twelve measures later, at another scene change, I added a horn section and some piano, and topped it all off in measure 32 with a cool Spy Guitar Riff, to give my dog-walking pedestrian a little of that "Secret Agent Man" feel. Maybe that's a bit much, but hey, it's my movie. I could have used up to 126 tracks, though I wouldn't recommend that on a less powerful machine.

Track by track, I adjusted the levels—a little more bass here, a little less cymbal there—to come up with a preliminary mix. Then, I went to the Window pulldown to open the Effects menu. Soundtrack comes with more than 30 Apple and Emagic effects, including Reverb, Distortion, and EQ, which can be applied to individual tracks or to the entire mix. I wanted to make the bass sound sharper, so I applied Emagic's Fat EQ and bumped up the 3900Hz and 10000Hz levels to make it snap a little more. The Spy Guitar Riff needed a little more punch, so I jacked up the tone from 980Hz to 1200Hz. So on and so forth, through each of the tracks that needed a little tweaking.

If you find a loop that you particularly like, but want to change its key, tempo, or merely its searchable metadata (descriptors like Clean vs. Dissonant, Grooving vs. Arrythmic), you can open up the loop in the Soundtrack Loop Utility, make those changes, and then save it with the new parameters.

Once I was satisfied with the project, which I had now renamed "The Mean Streets of Madison" (that malamute was handsome, but I didn't like the look in his eyes), I exported the entire thing as a QuickTime movie, which took about 15 seconds. I also exported the individual tracks as AIFF files, in case I wanted to work more with the video and its new soundtrack in Final Cut Pro. (The real audio pros can then work with the tracks in tools like Logic or even Digidesign's Pro Tools.) Had I really liked the final mix, I could have also exported the whole thing to an AIFF so I could just enjoy the music or have it on hand if I wanted to apply the entire thing to a different video, or even to a menu in DVD Studio Pro.

Wild Gift
That done, I couldn't resist the urge to apply my newfound soundtrack creation skills (OK, so I'm still no Terence Blanchard or John Williams; heck, I'm not even Kenny G) to a Mini Cooper commercial that Apple supplied with the reviewer copy of Final Cut Pro 4. The ad was cool, but I couldn't help but think that the soundtrack was, well, a bit cheesy. Perhaps influenced by a recent viewing of The Italian Job (the 2003 version), I figured it needed something edgier. So I replaced the New Age acoustic guitar and wispy vocals with a mix of bluesy acoustic slide guitar, a couple of electric rock riffs, and some club dance beats. It completely changed the mood of the commercial, making the guy waving his hand out the window seem almost as tough as the bulldog leaning out the passenger side. Even the cat in the back seat had a little 'tude now.

From its ease of use to the sheer volume of clips and effects, Soundtrack's yet another example of the philosophy that's made Apple so successful, market share be damned. Of course, at its $199 price tag, it's also yet another Apple app that sells for more than similar products for the PC. Even though the new GarageBand offers the same loop-based composition capability, it doesn't let you edit tracks to video, so Apple's got nothing in the sub-$100 price range to compete directly with Screenblast's ACID. But ACID only hints at the kind of precise editing capabilities that are at your fingertips with Soundtrack, so your $199 gives you plenty of bang for your buck.

Apple Soundtrack

System Requirements:
• Power Mac G4 with single 500mHz or dual 450mHz processor
• Mac OS X 10.2.5 or later
• QuickTime 6.1 or later
• 384MB RAM (512MB recommended)
• 5GB available HDD space

Other Companies Mentioned in this Article
BIAS, Inc.
Digidesign (A Division of Avid)
Macromedia, Inc.
MOTU, Inc.
Sony Screenblast

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