With a disguisedly simple interface, as well as a massive library of available music tracks, background ambience, and sound effects, SmartSound’s Sonicfire Pro 6 is much more than a royalty-free music service. Beneath the hood, the program is infinitely complex, and yet within my very first day of using the service, I was able to quickly and proficiently soundtrack an edit. Featuring continuously adjustable durations plus instantly alterable arrangements, the soundtracking service also provides unique controls over not just the instrumentation, but the intensity and overall feel of the audio that you’re working with.
In fact, to its credit, the software is a bit overwhelming. While most other royalty-free services are interested in selling and licensing tracks, SmartSound has taken the time to fully flesh out a highly capable audio editing system that also provides a top-notch library of available music. Still, without much experience in audio editing software, remixing, or mastering, I was more or less up and running the first time that I tried it.
Watching this overview gave me a pretty good crash course in what Sonicfire Pro 6 can do, and there’s also an included 100-page manual for fully exploring the massive proficiencies of the software.
Beginning with the music, the Sonicfire Pro 6 software includes two albums of material that are not available in the SmartSound royalty-free library: the Core Foundations with five tracks, as well as the Core Ultimate with 10 more songs. It’s a good starter sampling of SmartSound’s offerings, covering a range of music styles from new age to electronica to pop. While most royalty-free services try to lure you into additional purchases, the wonder of the program is that you may not need to buy any additional music at all. Right off the bat, you can set the output length to needed timeframe, and the software will automatically adjust to length, from multiple hours down to hundredths of a second, just like timecode. Building on that, there are multiple variations to try out different styles of the same track for picking the best sequence for your edit.
That’s not to say that SmartSound doesn’t want to sell you more tracks. There are more than 4,000 singles in their online library, which can be purchased singly, or through more than 400 collected albums. These albums are grouped by a variety of different parameters, like composer, thematics, or song styles. With titles like Reality Drama TV, Acoustic Textures, and Dubstep, for example, there are also collections like the Classical Favorites album with famous compositions from the likes of Strauss, Tchaikovsky, Vivaldi, and Chopin. Legendary Cinema: New Music, released last October, looks to be a pretty fun selection of ten tracks that emulate the work of film composers like Henry Mancini and Ennio Morricone.
The songs can be previewed in the Royalty Free Music section of their website, which was a little wonky for tabbed browsing in Safari, unfortunately, but otherwise it’s a great way to check out the available music from SmartSound before you buy anything. (That being said, the Sonicfire Pro 6 software can be taken for a spin with a 21-day free trial.)
There are several ways to filter through the library as well, like genre, emotion, production type, and even instrumentation. On the SmartSound blog, you can also find tracks listed by genre, including pop, classical, orchestral, electronic, blues, country, and rock, or as production type, with options like Action, Corporate, News, Wedding, Sports, Horror, and Kids. (Check out the song ’Mystified’ from the “Captivating Portraits” album for an excellent reference as to the kinds of high-quality compositions that are available.) You can search directly from the Sonicfire Pro 6 interface, though it will not let you try the different Variation or Mood settings for songs you don’t own, nor set the time duration, or strip instrumentations or vocals, so I tended to stick with the browser interface for checking out library tracks and the possible alternate arrangements.
You have to be connected to the internet, but full-length tracks are available for download as audio-watermarked mp3 files to preview on your computer, if for some reason WiFi is not an option, if you’re planning to edit on location, for instance, or in crowded bandwidth networks on a set. I’d also love to see a way to click through to the SmartSound site via each individual owned or non-owned track, which would be particularly helpful with the Sound Effects library. Sometimes it’s faster to get an idea of related music or effects by looking through album collections, or to see if sound effects or music tracks are found individually rather than as a collection.
For tracks that are owned, on the other hand, the Search panel in the upper left, coupled with the Inspector panel on the upper right, gives a very fast and comprehensive way to filter through titles. You can make selections that work in tandem. Selecting “Owned Titles” alongside “Music Multi-layer”, or “Music Single-Layer”, whittles down your selections as needed. You can then organize the library of owned or non-owned tracks by several parameters, like Intensity, which is incredibly useful when you are looking for tracks to bolster the inherent pace of an edit, or instruments and keywords. It’s a very complex but also easy to understand search index that will help you hone down your needs fairly quickly.
In addition to the Sensory Searching, which is a fast way to find similar songs through SmartSound’s recommendations, a number of other options are provided for whittling down to desired tracks. A contextual menu has 25 different styles of music that can be shown all at once, or one at a time, which is awesome, though I do wish you could select two or three of the styles rather than all or one. Regardless, it’s a healthy selection of styles to step through, everything from Alternative Rock to Ballad to Classical, Electronica, Jazz, Orchestral, Production Elements, Trance – Dance, Urban, and even Whistling.
Searching “chase” in both “Owned Titles” and “SmartSound Store”, for example, showed me more than a hundred tracks that could then be organized through Tempo, denoted in bpm, frames per beat, and blocks of beats, as well as Intensity, which is SmartSound’s grouping by the overall feel of the track. There is an annotation pane where you can add comments and terms for searching through tracks later, in addition to a stored search history where you can step back through recent queries to find tracks you may have lost along the way. The Inspector panel further summarizes helpful delineations like instrumentations and composer. Believe me, you’ll be happy when you find a good composer, just as with over-the-counter music, knowing the artist can help you to comb through the vast library of SmartSound music to find the better possibilities.
The Sonicfire Pro 6 interface has an icon to the left of each song name that shows blue for owned and downloaded tracks, or gray, for unowned, as well as red if a song is missing, or green when added to your cart. These icons are also shown as a single bar, meaning Single-layer, for stereo tracks, or three bars, for multi-layered tracks, which offer up to eight instrumentation layers. These Multi-layered tracks are the coolest, most verbose aspect of the Sonicfire Pro 6 system. There are currently nearly 2,300 multi-layered tracks available, and SmartSound says that they are slowly but surely working to update older music and sound effects, too. Multi-layer tracks unlock the more advanced automation and audio mixing capabilities of the program, like Mood Mapping, their term for the available remixes, which can be set through keyframe Timing Control edits, plus tempo adjustments and slider mixing for each of the individual instrumentation layers.
Not only do these features provide automatic and immediate remixing, changes can be performed at different times and for varying durations throughout the mix of each song. So from slight tweaks to fully transfigured arrangements, the Sonicfire Pro 6 program offers a nearly infinite variety of customizations, both as one-click automation or as highly detailed control sets. I was particularly fond of the 122-bpm track ‘Inspiration’s Edge’, from the Core Ultimate album (only available with the purchase of Sonicfire Pro 6), for instance, which is described via the Track Info tab in the Inspector panel as “An uptempo electronic beat sprinkled with phat, booming synths that dangle on the edge before slamming down a rousing main chorus.” (SmartSound really is incredibly descriptive when it comes to tracks, and that definitely helps to save a lot of time while trying to preview the most appropriate style of music for edits.)
The Variation pop-up window in the Inspector panel will provide a number of alternative arrangements for influencing the feel of the music. With ‘Inspiration’s Edge’, for example, the straightforward track is provided as Soundscape, while the dropdown Variation contextual menu also has eight different versions, like Trust, with less bass, or A Mile High, which is an arrangement similar to popular dance music. In the same panel, a Mood dropdown offers equalization presets. So if you find a song you like, but it’s not quite working, there are a number of alternate choices that may more closely fit the edit. Also very cool, you can create your own custom mix that will automatically store in the Mood menu, available to you the next time that you want to use the same song, or if you want to loop in similar but different mixes to the same edit.
For those that want to create total remixes or meticulous changes, there is a Bin window for organizing the files in an edit. Here you’ll find waveforms in segment blocks that breakdown the beginnings, middles, and ending pieces of the compositions. You can also add other audio sources to the Bin and timeline. Figuring out how to import music from my iTunes library and other folders was easy as pie as Sonicfire Pro 6 follows the same contextual menu process as most Apple software and other NLE systems.
Sonicfire Pro 6 has a Smart Razor for working with multi-layered tracks as well as a standard Razor tool for cutting segments and adding transitions, fades, or new endings and beginnings. You can export a track in CD quality at 44kHz or “Audio for Digital Video” at 48kHz in AIFF or Wav. I did this review with Premiere Pro CC, using the plugin from within the File menu, which is as simple as selecting New > SmartSound to import each track. Each track can be brought in individually, or you can build a soundtrack on the timeline using many SmartSound tracks, and then import the entire timeline with all its tracks into Premiere Pro in one import command using the plugin. I also previewed the edit directly from the Sonicfire Pro 6 interface, using the Video panel through a filmstrip icon that replaces the Inspector panel.
In addition to music tracks, there are sound effects available through additional albums; like Backgrounds for ambience tracks, Logos and Stingers for graphics and CG effects, People and Animals for activities and animal noises, Machines and Destruction with explosions and tool and car sounds, and finally Presentation Effects 1 and 2 with sounds like computers, lasers, and background ambient sounds, which seems to be mostly targeted at sci-fi productions. The albums with sound effects have roughly 19 to 20 effects each.
SmartSound says that the majority of their customers use the program without the plug-ins, but they do have them for Pinnacle Studio on Windows, Adobe Premiere Pro, and After Effects or Final Cut Pro, as well as VEGAS Pro and VEGAS Movie Studio, purchased from Sony by MAGIX Software. (SmartSound said the workflows are slightly different for each plugin.) Using the Cut-Video-To-Music feature, which is currently compatible with Final Cut X, Premiere Pro CC, Vegas Pro, and Media Composer, tracks can be exported to NLE timelines as XML metadata or as a marker set with beat notations in a variety of options to view the beats or bars of each track. With a few limitations, you can sync video edits to the rhythm of the music and finesse from there, just by dragging the track to the appropriate length.
The software is priced at $199 for a single user on up to two computers. The included Extended music license covers most situations, and a Widest license is also available for project creators that may need unlimited downloads. If you’re worried about coverage, there’s a License pane in the Inspector window that will lay out in full what is covered and what is not. There’s an “Upgrade License” button to secure more advanced clearance for individual tracks. SmartSound singles are $49.95 each. Generally offering 10 tracks, albums are available at $99.95 with a number of album packs for wholesale pricing, starting at $299 for a five-pack, ten-pack at $499, and 25-pack for $699. Similarly, for singles, there are discounted singles packs at $299 and $199 for 10 singles or 5 singles respectively. That averages to $29 or $39 per track. (The entire library can also be bought on a dedicated hard drive.)
There are also volume and “Indie Film” sale packages available, as well as annual $1,995 Quicktracks Subscription service that provides full access to the SmartSound library and editing tools in an online interface for customization options based on the Sonicfire Pro software. These Quicktracks can be used and adjusted as needed during that year, but following the end of the subscription, no changes can be made to edits or projects that are using the tracks.
Somewhere in between a full audio editing system like Pro Tools and an NLE like Adobe Premiere Pro, to be honest, the system is so capable that it would take several reviews to fully get into what is available. Thankfully, there is a 100-page Sonicfire Pro Help booklet that gives a massive deep dive into what it can do. Aside from my quibbles with the preview section of the interface, there were a few quirks that seemed to pop up, mostly that I would need to step out of a track or double-click a few times when making changes, though it was intermittent and the verbosity of the Sonicfire Pro 6 software made it worth dealing with in comparison to employing an entirely different audio program to gain the same capabilities.