Quicktracks: Low-Cost Scoring at the Speed of Sound
COW Library : Audio Engineering : Jiggy Gaton : Quicktracks: Low-Cost Scoring at the Speed of Sound
Previously we had SmartSound's Sonicfire Pro 5, where we could easily create our scores by using a client-based tool to download and tailor tracks purchased from SmartSound's vast library of canned muzak. (If you haven't read my earlier, positive review of Sonicfire Pro 5, you can find it here.) But now with SmartSound's latest offering, Quicktracks, we can do the same without ever leaving the comfort of the cloud.
In other words, you no longer necessarily have to be to be at your scoring station to create a score based on your needs (clip time, mood, etc.). If you are working on a project while on the road, let's say, and all you have is your rough cuts and a laptop, you can still be scoring without a 100gb music library in tow, or your complete FCS or Protools rig sitting in front of you. Yet you can still play around with the different variations within each SmartSound selection, and just as easily download an edited sound bite using your favorite web browser.
In a time now forgotten…
In the olden days, there were studio musicians who would be standing by at the beck and call of any film director, just waiting for that very call to come into the studio horns and guitars blaring, and complete a score no matter how small or tall.
But in these modern times of shrunken budgets and light speed deadlines, it's not always practical to set up a studio session for just 10 seconds or so of a score.
Enter SmartSound and their set of virtual musicians...
SmartSound libraries are available for purchase, and now for editing, everyday and all day via your closest Internet browser.
Just log on to SmartSound.com and you not only find your previously purchased music stored in the cloud, but the new Quicktrack editor as well. This interesting new web app has access to the entire library from SmartSound, as well as all your purchases - and makes both repositories available for quick editing and score creation.
To be honest, since I last reviewed Sonicfire Pro 5 for the Cow back in 2009, I have not used it much. It's not that the product isn't useful; it's just that my work style puts me everywhere my 60gb of smart music files are not. After all, a laptop only holds so much, and the iPad 2 holds nothing at all.
Enter the Cloud…
Frankly, software developers can put everything they make in the cloud and I would be happy, as long as I have a decent Internet connection. We are already using Microsoft's Office 365 and a host of other cloud-based apps, and I love them all. More room on my laptop for things that matter, like my iTunes library! (Although I hear that even this may be going to the cloud soon.) The more room I have to work on my project du jour - the better!
Quicktracks, the First Cloud-based Smart Music App…
Now with Quicktracks, you can leave your SmartSound library at home, yet still create scores while on the road, or in a Phuket hotel room like where I'm staying this weekend.
It's monsoon here in Thailand, and raining buckets…perhaps bathtubs, as it's hard to tell just how much water is actually pouring out of the sky at the moment. So I have a bit of downtime to test out Quicktracks, and even have a real-life need. Let me explain…
The boys back at the studio had cooked up a music video, but were not happy with the first 11 seconds of the soundtrack, and had asked me to pitch in before leaving for the Islands. I hate to admit this, but their request was the last thing on my mind as I was preparing for a long overdue vacation. But now that's it raining and probably will be for hours, so I am going to help them out, as well as show you how this task can be done in Quicktracks in just three easy steps:
Step 1 - find something that you like
First, you just have to log into your account, and if you don't have one yet, it's just as easy to get one as on any other website on the planet -- a few clicks and a few personal details and you're in. Then, click on Quicktracks and you are taken straight to the search interface.
Just as with the Sonicfire Pro 5 client interface, you search through collections of music by sorting by styles (Heavy Metal or Orchestral for example), keywords (such as Bold or Brooding and even Sinister), or just by doing a Google-like freestyle search.
Since the boys back in the studio are mostly hot-headed headbangers, I choose Heavy Metal / Angry, as well as clicking Show My Music to see if any of my own music fit the bill - and I was immediately led to the perfect selection for the job at hand:
And that was lucky for me, as the Sonicfire Pro 5 client has a few more search choices to choose from, such as like tempo, intensity, and favorites. But we are in the cloud, were the air is as thin as the feature set, or so it seems. But let me hold my critiquing until the end of this review so we can get this job done quickly, before the sun comes back out and I feel the need to head for the beach.
Step 2 - create a music track that you can use
Now that you have a track you might want to use, you can trim the selection by time, and then further adjust the smart music file by clicking "Customize." If you had found a track that you did not own, you would just have to first click "Buy" before moving forward. Customizing a track is drop-dead simple in Quicktracks, as all you have to do is to set the length, then choose a Variation and a Mood, all the while using the Play button to hear the results of your selections. Once you are happy, just hit the Download button. Done.
Step 3 - insert the selection into your NLE
Before downloading, you select which format that you need for your project at hand, and the choices are the standard ones: WAV, MP3, OOG, and AIFF. The Quictracks applet keeps a history of your downloads, so you can experiment at will and not have to keep close tabs on what you've tried; Quicktracks remembers all that for ya. For this particular project -- the first 11 seconds of the a head-banging video -- it took me just a few tries to create what I wanted:
The cool factor is that since I did not have the complete video project with me (heck I'm on vacation), I just downloaded a draft from our YouTube account, created a new FCP project, and then inserted my experiments as downloaded from Quicktracks. After editing the mockup until satisfied, I shot off the Quicktrack clip to the boys for final mixing & mastering into the original project. Here is the "before & after" results (time spent online, 15 minutes or so):
Sequence 1 before Quicktracks
Sequence 1 with Quicktracks
Final Observations…It seems SmartSound has a winner here with their cloud-based interface dubbed Quicktracks, but for those used to the full-blown land-based version, Sonicfire Pro 5, you might be left a little light-headed from the lack of features that Quicktracks has floated first time out. Or you might be overjoyed on how dead simple Quicktracks is to use vs. the more complicated Sonicfire Pro.
Personally, I am all for dead simple, and I did not mind (too much) that I had to insert the created music clips into FCP by hand, and relink the media as I was playing around for a solution (Sonicfire Pro integrates this process with a plugin, at $49.95). However, the number of searching options missing from Quicktracks (but found in Sonicfire Pro) is a cause for alarm. I would like to see a more robust version of the search interface in the future. And finally, a real help page instead of the Quicktracks marketing blurb would be helpful.
A note on using this web app: like many web-based tools, you may have to tell your browser to allow popups, as Quicktracks expects that function to be available. In my case, I had popups turned off in Firefox because I hate those annoyances, and then I was a bit confused when clicking on "Download" did nothing. However, an email to Support quickly got me back on track.
The Bottom Line.I can't see why anyone already using Sonicfire Pro would not welcome this cloud alternative, and for those just starting out with SmartSound music, Quicktrack offers a quick and easy way to score using nothing more then a web browser window.
However, the "cost of use" may be of concern, as while Quicktracks is free to use on purchased music, you only get 5 complimentary downloads -- and after that, each download is a buck a pop. I would have liked to see Quicktracks as a completely free app to use, but then again, I am the kind of person that freaks out over iPhone apps costing more then 99 cents -- I am slightly irrational in that way.
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Jiggy Gaton is an expat living in Kathmandu Nepal, running a small A/V studio with family and dog. He is an author/cartoonist, filmmaker, and overall geek from way back. Not the kind of geek who would ever be sitting in a Star Trek Captain’s chair – more likely to be sitting on the back of a 500cc Royal Enfield Bullet somewhere out in the middle of the Himalayas - but only when he’s not behind his Macbook Pro hacking out whatever needs to be done in the studio.