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October 2014
Issue: September 1, 2006

REVIEW: SMARTSOUND SONICFIRE PRO 4

By: Ron DiCesare
PRODUCT: SmartSound Sonicfire Pro 4
WEB SITE: www.smartsound.com
PRICE: $199-$799, depending on bundle
- Customizable music library with searchable database
- Integrates with many leading video and graphics programs
- Imports video formats AVI, MOV, WMV, MPEG-1 and MPEG-4
- Mac and PC compatible

Sonicfire Pro 4 is the latest version of SmartSound's customizable, royalty free music library. Sonicfire does nearly the impossible by offering a powerful program to search, edit and re-arrange music from their library to fit any length you need, complete with a musical ending. The music edit is not achieved by speeding up or slowing down the tempo or pitch of the music, nor is it done by traditional editing techniques such as butting one section against another. Amazingly, the end result is a fully "composed" piece at the click of a mouse, no matter what the duration is.

THE MAESTRO

All of SmartSound's music is catalogued in a searchable database, with numerous styles and keywords available. It's called the Maestro. Here you can access both the Strata Series of customizable music selections and anything else from SmartSound's music library available through the Web. For my purpose, I selected the customizable music found only on the Strata discs. Finding music was a snap with the preview function. The Preview with Timeline feature allowed me to audition the music with my project. This was handy when working with video. Once I selected a piece of music, I simply dragged the curser to the desired length. Extending a piece of music from :30 to : 60, or shortening a two-minute song to :45 was never so easy.

SF4 can insert more than one piece of music into your timeline at a time, giving you even more control. I found this invaluable for the "problem/solution" scenario found in many TV and radio commercials I work on. Blending an "ominous" music piece into a "positive" resolve can be done based on the timing of your video and/or your voiceover, all in the SF4 environment.

MOOD MAPPING

Within the Strata Series library, it is simple to vary any piece of music using the Mood Mapping feature. Don't be confused by the term Mood. Moods are different music mixes and arrangements that allow you to further customize your music for even greater control. Moods are Dialogue, Background, Sparse, Piano solo, Rhythm section, and Lead instruments to name a few. The Mood Map track allows you to change the mood, or more specifically the mix, as much or as little as you like along the timeline.

You can further customize your Mood Map by showing the stems, or splits, of your music. Here you can take out any instrument or groups of instruments. For example, how many times have you found a great song for your project but a lead instrument, such as a trumpet, interferes with your voiceover? By showing the music stems, you can simply mute the lead instrument keeping it from interfering with your VO. No longer do you need to find a different piece of music or dip the whole music track so low in the mix that it might as well not be there.

SMARTSOUND MULTILAYER

The best thing about this program for me is the versatility. It can be a simple tool or a complex one, depending on how far you want to go with it. Each song offers many variations. The song "Backflash" could sound vastly different by selecting one of the 10 variations available, such as "Intrigue." Anything from different instrumentation to different sections of the song are available through the variation option. So, it is important to know when choosing your music, you may find another version of it you like better by exploring this feature.

For those who want the maximum flexibility and customization of their selection, the Multilayer feature allows you almost composer-like control over your music. You can choose to edit a specific instrument, instrument groups, or each sound block individually. This is the flexibility that many popular MIDI programs offer, such as Sony Software's Acid and Apple's GarageBand. The key difference is that SF4 requires no musical skills whatsoever. You can re-arrange each block in the almost fool-proof SF4 environment and it will still work musically.

In a case where you need a non-Strata Series music file, you can import the audio file formats AIFF, WAV and MP3. Once imported, you have some limited editing abilities. Adding outside files is more of a convenience rather than a feature. If you need to do complex editing to outside audio files, I would recommend using a different program like Pro Tools.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The software is extremely powerful and offers maximum flexibility with its library. Customizable durations and the ability to mute and un-mute various instruments is worth the price alone. SF4's downfalls are:  mediocre music and very limited choices. The 10-disc set only includes 119 song selections. Though the software gives you many variations for these 119 selections, with more discs on the way, it still is too small of a library practically speaking. Keyword searching "Upbeat" or "Friendly" brings up only two music selections. All of my clients expect to hear up to 20 different musical selections every time I do a search, so clearly more music is needed.

Despite its downfalls, I would like to see SF4 geared toward audio post pros rather than video editors and graphic designers. By catering to DAWs, they could expand their user base considerably. I would love to import videos digitized by Digidesign Pro Tools via the Avid Mojo (known as .mxf) directly into SF4. In my experience, clients are more likely to ask an audio engineer for stock music rather than the graphic designer. With the addition of more music and Pro Tools integration, SF4 could be a major force in music production.