Review: Smartsound Sonicfire Pro 6.4

Want decent music for your videos but can’t score a note? Sonicfire Pro brings out the latent musical editor in you.

We often bang on about how important audio quality is in any video project – unless you are making a silent movie of course.

But one area that we haven’t touched on a great deal is that of music in video (as against a music video you understand).

Now I am lucky enough to have Jacqui by my side who is a trained musician and musical teacher and to boot an awesome composer. So, if I want a specific piece of music, I can ask Jacqui to put something together on her iMac using her fancy, shmancy keyboards and Apple’s ProLogic software, and hey presto, more often than not, a short time later I have an original piece I can use.

If you look, Facebook film / video making groups and their like are full of requests for “where to get good royalty-free music” (which is often misunderstood as being simply “free” which of course it is not).

But there is another way.

And I like it a lot and have done so for many years. It is called Smartsound Sonicfire Pro, and a new update to version 6.4 has just been released.

Now on the surface, Sonicfire Pro looks like an app where you browse through a music / sound effects library previewing pieces until you find one you like, purchase it and then download the full version and away you go.

And if you think that is all it is, you are very, very wide of the mark trust me.

Let’s look at a few of the special features of Sonicfire Pro 6.4 one by one.

Variations, Mood Mapping, Timing Control and more …

Integral to a lot of the functionality of Sonicfire Pro music / effects tracks is the way they are “built”. You see, they are not simply an audio track; this is simplistic I know but think of each piece being built up in terms of blocks and layers with a block being a section of the music and a layer being an instrument or even group of instruments. This means that you have the ability to switch layers on and off thus changing what instruments make up a section – a block – of a piece.

For example, you might want to have a piece of music play all the way through a scene, but at the start of it, only have a subset of the complete instrument collection in that piece playing. Perhaps the strings, or just the percussion. As the scene progresses, more and more are added to build to a crescendo.

To do this, Sonicfire Pro incorporates two systems – Variations where the style of music can be altered and Mood Mapping whereby you can select different “moods” from a piece of a music to play at a specific time, and switch between available moods in that piece at will.

Showing Variations of a piece of music
Showing Moods of a piece of music

Now that is clever enough, but you can also stretch or shrink a piece to match the length of a video clip without simply chopping the end of the piece off or having a fudgy sort of fade out. When you shorten or stretch a clip in Sonicfire Pro, it retains its proper beginning and ending. You can even change tempo and it will still remain intact and the right length.

And no, I don’t know how they do it either! But it’s bloody clever!

Using the Timing Control functionality of Sonicfire Pro 6.4, you can even move the beats of a piece of music to match your video clip – as against the annoyingly bothersome and tedious “normal” way of having to edit the video clip to the music beat.

It is important to note at this time that the music clips available in the library for Sonicfire Pro is music from REAL musicians, not synthesised tracks. As I said, bloody clever stuff.

Spotting

Spotting is another fabulous feature whereby you can add markers signifying specific parts of a video clip or series of clips and use these to build up your musical accompaniment based on the tempo created by the location of the markers.

Let’s say I have a series of clips that are related to my “thing”, motor sport.

The first clip might be a logo, the second a talking head introducing the third clip, a video of a lap of Bathurst, a fourth clip a slo-mo or still of one of the cars or some action on-track, a fifth back to the talking head and then the final, the logo again with closing credits.

By placing markers at the beginning of each section, using the Spotting function, you can select all the clips and Sonicfire Pro will automatically choose the most suitable beat to match the marker locations AND give you a choice of music from your library that suits!

Once you have selected a piece that matches, you can then choose from a list of variations to that piece.

Within the Spotting functionality, you are also able to set in and out points using the markers and match different pieces of music to the area between any number of markers. This is explained beautifully in one of the great tutorials Smartsound has in pace to learn Sonicfire Pro, and these are all available at https://www.smartsound.com/support/tutorials/scoring-tutorials.

Hit File

One of my favourite features is the “Hit File”. This is an inclusion of a sound effect and the best examples I know of (in my sphere) are used in the TV shows Top Gear and The Grand Tour when they do the slow panning and dollying around close ups of the cars. A hit file is used when for example, suddenly the headlines come on and there is an audible whoosh or bang (or similar) in conjunction with the soundtrack.

A Hit File has been selected and inserted. Note the 3 variations available (top right)

Sonicfire Pro makes it dead easy to create these standalone or as part of an overall soundtrack.

Smartsound has a whole bunch of tutorials online and I would recommend looking at the tutorials just as a matter of course, as seeing what can be done is far better than any review such as this can simply explain. Plus of course you can download the free version and the sample tracks that come with it and simply play along (you get 21 days full access to the full version with the freebie too).

Nor does it matter if you are Mac or PC as Sonicfire Pro is available for both platforms.

Version 6.4

The latest version has had a huge makeover of the interface primarily, with what I found as niggly issues in earlier versions being fixed. Some of the earlier updates looked like they had been tacked on to the existing interface for example as against being smoothly and seamlessly incorporated into the overall workflow as they are now.

The listing of albums and tracks has been improved as too has the search functionality. Purchases from the music / effects store can now be done directly from the main UI as well. Speaking of effects, multi-layer effects have ben introduced allowing variations of an effect inside a single file.

Finally, 64bit support is now standard.

And let’s face it, if you have used Sonicfire Pro pre version 6, the “old” interface did look dated.

Conclusion

There is a lot of satisfaction in using music you have created yourself, but let’s face it, some of us are musically challenged – and that is putting it kindly. In these circumstances, Sonicfire Pro 6.4 is the next best thing, and lets you become almost a proper music editor without knowing a beat from a bollard or a quiver from a quaver in most cases.

If you are a muso, there is a place for Sonicfire Pro 6.4 too, as sometimes, with all the best will in the world, the creative juices are just not there or we simply don’t have the time.

Have a play I say! I think you will pleasantly be surprised at what the muso and non-muso alike can achieve in a very short space of time.

Sonicfire Pro can run as a standalone application or it also functions beautifully as a plugin for Adobe Premiere Pro, Vegas Pro and Final Cut X.

We’ll be running a tutorial on using the basics of Sonicfire Pro 6.4 in a future edition of Australian Videocamera, and it will also be on our website so stay tuned!

 

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