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August 2014
Issue: September 1, 2011

Review: SmartSound Quicktracks

By: Luke Harper

PRODUCT: SmartSound Quicktracks cloud-based, royalty-free, soundtrack creation system

WEBSITE: www.smartsound.com/quick tracks

PRICE: Individual tracks from $29.95-$39.95; Albums $99; deals on collections

Remember the last time you didn’t have the right tool for the job? How frustrating it was, how much time it took to complete a task that should’ve been fast and easy? I would imagine you have a lot of the right tools for a lot of jobs... but you might not know about this one: SmartSound Quicktracks is an Internet-based collection of royalty-free music. But this particular service goes one significant step further: stems. 

That’s right. Customizable splits, just for you. Need just the drums? Here ya go... bassline and backing Rhodes piano? No problem. How about a customized duration? You enter your desired length, down to the frame, and it will spit out a shockingly well-formatted result that ends exactly when you want it to. A huge time-saver. 

So visualize this — you need just that cue. You’ve gotten close, but the pinnacle, the true picture-perfect match still eludes you. You log onto Quicktracks. 

START SEARCHING

You get there via SmartSound’s main site (www.SmartSound.com). SmartSound has a lot of offerings, but there are multiple menus to guide you. The first time you visit, you go through a sales page that outlines the service and lets you play around with a basic offering. Then you sign in and create an account. There’s been no money involved yet, just the basics. At this point you can access the main Quicktracks search area, which should be very familiar in layout and method to anyone who has dealt with an online needle-drop service. You have two basic search boxes listing various categories, and then drop-downs that offer additional options —  instrument, intensity, tempo, album and composer. You also have a blank search field in  which to refine your results.

The project I was working on demanded a little “lite” electronica, with just enough hip to make the corporate grey sparkle a little. Searching this yielded 100 tracks. Not a ton, but enough for my purposes. It should be noted, by the way, that not all of your results will have total customization beyond specific lengths. They have amassed various libraries over the years, but only the more recent offerings can be really split out. That leaves the majority of results, but full disclosure is healthy. Aiding in your selection is a handy-dandy little icon next to each result that informs you as to your potential levels of customization. Listening through immediately reveals that the offerings, in general, are pretty darn good. They’re clean, well produced and modern sounding. We are given some great info to help us skim over the potentials. Title, a short description, album, tempo and intensity. I find a track I like, but it isn’t quite right. Maybe there’s something on the album from the same production crew that could be slightly closer to what I’m aiming for. Clicking on the specific composer throws up all of their tracks, which can help you narrow flavor nicely. To narrow more, I type “confident” into the search bar. Finding a whole track that I like, and it’s time to start the fun part: options. Who doesn’t love options? Handy, right? You just want to dive in. 

It’s important to feel inspired by tools such as these, and Quicktracks really does an excellent job of making it intuitive and simple to get the most out of the customization process. Frankly, it’s also pretty fun. The variations are well thought out and offer enough variety to further hone. Being able to grab splits lets you get positively microscopic about your new creation. It is so refreshing and nice to be able to just drop the damned lead for 26 seconds while the announcer chats at us about something crucial. No more awkward edits on the three with a reverse cymbal snuck in for when the edit isn’t quite right.

FINAL THOUGHTS

As you may have noticed, this is not a “grab and go” service, per se. I mean, you could, in theory, find the perfect track right off the bat, download it, drop it in your timeline and be done. But that’s not really the point. This process can take awhile. But, if you don’t have the budget for a custom score, and the same old libraries are boring your ears off with predictability, Quicktracks will make you smile. 

The price will as well: individual instrumental tracks range from between $29.95 and $34.95. Pieces featuring vocals jump all the way up to $39.95. All albums, regardless of arrangements vis-a-vis vocalists, are $99. There are other deals to be had, just check the Website for the deets. Based on the quality and quantity of options available, the pricing is perfectly reasonable.

As with life, there are a couple of minor quibbles to be had — the site, while beautifully fast, is a little clunky. Initial navigation takes some getting used to. Not catastrophic, but you might want to get established with the system before pulling it up mid-session with a twitchy producer breathing over you. 

Then there is the issue of selection: while constantly expanding, the base collection is not huge. The main genres are represented, but for really obscure options you may find yourself looking elsewhere. 

However, given the awesome to embarrasingly unusable filler ratio in terms of creativity and results, Quicktracks is fantastic. It’s just the right tool for a surprising amount of production jobs.

Luke Harper is the Owner of Minneapolis, MN's Audio Altimeter (www.audioaltimeter.com).