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SonicFire Pro: Great Audio Made Easy

SonicFire Pro: Great Audio Made Easy

A Creative COW "Real World" Product Overview: How to Use, User Tips & Product Rating


Ron Lindeboom <ron@creativecow.net>
CreativeCow.net, Cambria, California USA
Article Focus:
In this article, Ron Lindeboom shows why SmartSound's Sonicfire Pro is a video content creator's dream tool. If you have a studio filled with MIDI equipment, you write your own stuff or you love to build loops layer upon layer upon layer for hours ... then SFP is probably not for you. But if you need great audio and you need it now -- and most importantly, you need it to fit your exact edit requirements -- then Sonicfire Pro is well worth exploring. Ron concludes that this is one tool that he refuses to be without.




Demo Movie Pros: Available for Mac and Windows. Powerful system that is very easy to use. An ever-increasing library of royalty-free audio titles gives users a broad range of music to choose from. Allows users to import and edit their own sound files easily. No "needledrop" charges, even in broadcast use. Video display window allows users to quickly sync audio to video. Cons: Some users report that some titles are too "canned" sounding. In responce to this, Sonic Desktop has now begun giving users online previews of newer titles to insure users get the correct music needed.
Sonic Desktop Software http://www.smartsound.com
$349US$ w/ two titles or $499US$ w/ four titles
(to save 10%, write Sharon and just say "Mooo!")

Overall Rating, 4 out of 5 Cows:


Of all the programs I've used over the years, there are few that have become genuine "must haves" and that will always find their way onto any system that I build. It doesn't matter if it's Mac or Windows, there are a few programs that I refuse to be without. Sonic Desktop's SmartSound® is one of these tools. Now, it's even more powerful sibling, Sonicfire Pro®, makes the SmartSound technology even better by adding features that allow video editors to work directly with their video content files. And the nicest part of all this, is that most users just happily use the system without ever looking into the directions. It's powerful, simple and works like a charm.


FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF SONICFIRE PRO
The biggest difference between Sonicfire Pro and any other audio tool with which I am aware, is this: Sonicfire Pro was designed from the ground up to be a solution targeted at "video" content creators, not audio experts. Oh, don't get me wrong, I know more than a few audio experts that use SFP as a secret weapon in their own work -- mainly because it's fast, very fast. But where Sonicfire Pro gains its greatest praise is from people like me: visual content creators that need great audio but don't want to learn a whole new craft to get it.

Built upon the bedrock of the highly touted SmartSound system, users enter and use the system by :

First, import your video clip into Sonicfire Pro using File -> Choose Video (as shown below). Find your file and import it into Sonicfire Pro.


Next, go to the "Timeline" dialog (right) and select the "Maestro" which is the area in Sonicfire Pro where you will be walked through a series of options that allow you to quickly find the music you need. (Note: the SmartSound Library is a series of royalty-free music volumes and the more volumes you own, the more choices will appear in your Maestro window to choose from.)

THE MAESTRO CONDUCTS...

Once you enter the Maestro, you will be presented with a series of screens that quickly guide you in finding appropriate musical choices to select from. Basically, the Maestro looks through all the libraried selections you have in your system. As mentioned earlier, the more volumes you have on hand, the more choices you have to select from. Adding additional volumes is relatively easy and requires just a couple of minutes to accomplish. (To learn the simple process of installing new titles into your system, simply click here.)

In the Maestro's first screen option, you begin your search in more broad and generalized terms. The right right-hand box gives a short description of any choice you make by clicking one of the buttons in the left-hand box. In this example, I am going to "Select by Style" because I want to find a "surf punkish" audio track to use with a video clip I created for a class I teach on Adobe After Effects Transfer Modes. Because the video uses a lot of nervous energy (courtesy of DigiEffects "Earthquake" plug-in from the Aurorix 2 series), I want something that plays to this frenetic, jumpy look.

You will notice that in the lefthand window, you can select by mood, type, style, sound effects and other options. Selecting by Library lets you immediately jump to a specific title if you suspect that the cut you want is probably there.

After you make your choice and you are satisfied with it, simply click the "Next" button in the lower right and you will be led to the next screen...



ALL WE NEED IS A GUITAR...
Knowing that the cut I want is a twangie "Dick Dale & The Del-Tones meets Orange County Surf Punk" kinda groove, I opted for "Rock" (below, left) and after clicking the "next" button, was presented with the screen to its right, showing the cuts currently available in our system.

Note: The little icon between the QuickTime player bar and the web button, is an icon taken from each volume in the series. This icon is from the volume "Rock Solid" and has a guy on the cover that reminds me of a guy who wants to be Henry Rollins of Black Flag. Each volume uses a different icon. If you forget which one is which and use the system on CD, it will tell you which volume to insert at the appropriate time.

Once you select a clip, Sonicfire Pro gives a short description of the clip in the right-hand box. You will notice below that "Riding The Board" tells you that I have found my Dick Dale on acid groove and can even preview the clip by playing it using the Quicktime Player bar just below the list of presented selections.

Click on the Quicktime Player bar just below the selection offerings to get an 8k "down and dirty" sample of the clip I selected. Obviously, this isn't the actual system but it will give you an idea of how it works.



Having decided that this is exactly the clip we want, we are now ready to move to the next step in the process...

TIME HAS COME TODAY...

Now that we have decided that this clip will work, simply click the "Next" button again. The next screen that appears in the Maestro is this one where we can tell the Maestro how long we want the clip to be. (Since we have already imported a clip, SonicFire Pro tells us that the imported clip is 00:17:28 long. Our actual clip at the end of the article is longer but I needed to keep some parts of the downloads smaller due to downloads, etc. (You can change the length settings in SFP to whatever you wish and Sonicfire Pro will follow your directions.) But since we are dealing with the shortened pre-imported video clip, let's let Sonicfire Pro select the time for us.

Note: You can select the "Loop" function and Sonicfire Pro will use the SmartSound technology to create a looping version for you -- fast, fast, fast! If you have ever tried making audio loops from some clips, you know that it is sometimes a very laborious process. Not with SmartSound which does a remarkable job creating loops.

The Sonic Desktop ads say that the SmartSound system is accurate down to a 10th of a second when choosing your play-lengths. Me, I have found that that is often the case and in the few times I've found it not quite that exact, I am not going to quibble with my friends at Sonic Desktop. As you will see below, we asked for 17 seconds and 28 frames in this dialog and came in at 18 seconds and 01 frames in the final version I used. That's 3 frames different and at 30 frames a second here in the NTSC world anyway, that's a 10th of a second by my math. (When it's not quite that exact and there needs a bit of cutting, transitioning or a fade out, etc., I simply use the Sonicfire Pro Editor, covered later in this article -- or if I am in After Effects as in this project, I sometimes do my fades there.)

Let's select the "Next" button again and having done so, we are presented with the following options...


MIXING IT UP...

Now that we have settled on the clip we want, we can now choose from the various mixes and instrumental treatments of this audio file.

Note: When working especially with the Jazz, New Age or Classical volumes in the SmartSound Library, this is really a great tool to help find exactly the mood and tone you want to project in your video.

Though less dramatic in this instance than some treatments we could have found to illustrate the differences in various mixes, you will get a good idea of different mixes available by clicking on the names of the different mixes shown at right. Please keep in mind that these highly compressed samples are 8k low-fidelity versions to make them download more quickly on the web. (Here, I have linked these different mixes to the sound clip for your convenience but inside SonicFire Pro, you would select the radio button for each and hit the play button below.) Each one is different, so check them out and see what you think.

I settled on "Hang Ten" for my own project but while working on this article, I almost wished that I had settled on the "West Coast" mix with it's "staccato pick" work and crunchy hanging "power-chord" sound. Very cool. Notice the "staccato pick" guitar work in "Beachy" and in the others that's missing in the "Hang Ten" mix. It takes on a very Dick Dale-meets-The Who kinda groove.

Once you have settled on the clip that you want, clicking the "Finish" button brings up the following screen...


SURF CITY, HERE WE COME...
Here is the Editing interface of Sonicfire Pro. The tools are along the top of the timeline, along with the play controls. You can add timeline markers such as you might in your nonlinear editing or compositing package but when used in Sonicfire Pro, these markers become powerful tools that allow you to automatically mark and cut sections of different music to that match the different onscreen moods and elements in your video project. (I will cover this technique in another article which I am working on at present. In it, I will also cover the tools in depth. The intent of this article is merely to introduce you to Sonicfire Pro and some of its easy to use but powerful features.)

Note: Please be aware that I have scaled down the actual interface to fit within the body of this article and in doing so, I have also copied and pasted areas at a larger scale (such as the SmartBlock® area in the bottom left, so that it is easier for you to get the idea...

Let's jump below the graphic and I will point out some other features in Sonicfire Pro's Editor...



In the bottom lefthand corner, you can see the Sonicfire video playback window. When we first imported the video clip at the beginning of this article, this is where it show up in our projects and from where it plays back simultaneously with your audio so that you can see how well your audio matches the on-screen visuals.

Note: To guarantee smoother playback for less powerful machines, you may have to create a low-rez, smaller frame size video file to act as a proxy as you work on creating your audio inside Sonicfire Pro. Full-screen, 30fps video may not always playback in realtime on all machines and will sometimes cause either video freezing or audio drop-outs as you work. Me, I nearly always opt for creating a low-rez proxy so that I avoid any issues. If you have a dual Athlon, Xeon or G4, then you are probably safe to go full-rez.

In this short overview of Sonicfire Pro, we will now take a quick look at how a few minutes of work in Sonicfire Pro matched our video file (I did go back to After Effects after finding the audio file and adjusted the on-screen queues to match the audio queues -- we could work the other way also and that will be covered in the next article)...

View Sorensen Quicktime File --- View Cinepak AVI File


This movie (an introduction taken from a class I sometimes teach for After Effects users) is a highly-compressed 10fps Sorensen Quicktime or Cinepak AVI file in which the audio has been stepped down to just 8k 8-bit stereo. The "click" at the end click is not in the audio file, it is a compression artifact.

I hope you enjoyed this tour of one of my favorite tools and I hope you will come back for Part Two.

To discuss SmartSound and the Sonicfire Pro system, please visit the SmartSound forum here at CreativeCow.net.

-- Ron Lindeboom

###


©2002 by Ron Lindeboom and CreativeCow.net. All rights are reserved.


Click here to visit Creative COW's user forums and many other articles if you got here by a direct link to this page





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