Sonicfire Pro 6

df0517_sfp6_01Most editors have a pretty innate sense of rhythm, yet often finding and tailoring the right music to your video poses a challenge for even the most talented cutter. SmartSound has provided a solution to this dilemma for many years. Last year they updated their custom Sonicfire Pro audio mixing software to version 6. This update adds interesting new features and support for today’s crop of NLEs.

The starting point is SmartSound’s library of original music. You buy the tracks you like once, which includes easy licensing, and then tailor the song for the length needed, for as many productions as required. SmartSound’s offerings cover a wide range of genres, all of which have been quantized into beat blocks that the Sonicfire Pro application automatically uses for timing adjustments. While this might sound like all the music would need to be synthetically generated – it isn’t. These tracks are played by humans with real instruments, so if you want rock, electronic, symphonic, etc. – you’ve got it. Many selections have been mood-mapped – SmartSound’s term to identify music cues that are multi-layered with up to nine instrument layers. If you like the track, but want to lose the drums or lower the lead instrument’s volume within the mix, simply turn off that layer or adjust its volume envelope. Both multi-layer and single-layer tracks can all be adjusted for time within Sonicfire Pro.df0517_sfp6_02

Sonicfire Pro 6 brings with it a modern interface

The new Sonicfire Pro 6 application is a welcomed update. It’s more streamlined than version 5, with a clean, modern interface. This excellent mini-tutorial by Larry Jordan will give you a quick overview of how it works.

df0517_sfp6_08From within the application, you have immediate access to all of your owned titles, as well as any other SmartSound selection (when you are online). If you don’t already own it, find something from SmartSound that you like, buy and download it right from within Sonicfire Pro 6. In the upper browser pane, search for specific tracks, albums and style, or sort by tempo or intensity.

Naturally, Sonicfire Pro 6 supports video, since it’s intended to empower user-friendly music scoring to picture. To add a video clip, show the video window and from its pulldown, select “Add Video”. You can also resize the Sonicfire Pro 6 interface larger (it references your monitor size automatically) and at the right size it will allow you to have both the Video window and either the Inspector or Markers window open simultaneously, so you can actually reference your video when making adjustments in these panels. Now the video will run in sync with your timeline. You can also import audio from a video file, if you want to do the whole mix in Sonicfire – much like a traditional DAW. In addition, you can also export tracks, full mixes and/or complete audio/video files with completed mixes. However, this is optional, as you can run SFP6 as just an audio-only tool without ever involving video, should you decide to work that way.

df0517_sfp6_04df0517_sfp6_05When you initially pick a track, three settings will get you started. The first is duration. Enter the desired duration and Sonicfire Pro will change the song structure to fit the length. It does this without just repeating the same loop. Next, pick your variation. Each track has a set of variations, which are different arrangements of the same song. Finally, for mood-mapped (multi-layer) tracks, make a mood selection. Moods are different instrument arrangements within the song, going from a full mix to various combinations of dominant instruments used for that song. Finally, there’s a advanced tab for additional options, including adjusting the mix of multi-layer tracks and shifting the tempo. A really cool search function is “Tap”. Simply tap out the beats by clicking the Tap button a few times and Sonicfire Pro will subsequently sort the library selections based on the tempo you tapped out.

df0517_sfp6_06Working in the timeline

Once you’ve auditioned and (optionally) adjusted the duration, variation and mood, drag and drop the selection to the timeline at the bottom of the application window. If you need the track to be longer or shorter, just drag the edge of the clip to the desired length and Sonicfire Pro will automatically change the arrangement as needed, based on SmartSound’s proprietary beat block structure. Additional selections can be dragged to the timeline, so it’s easy to score an entire video using multiple track selections. Each added song dragged to the timeline creates its own, new track on the timeline. This enables you to still make volume, length and mood adjustments to a song without affecting other surrounding selections on that timeline.

Within the inspector you have additional controls, including the fade in and out handles for a clip, along with a new timing control feature. This was introduced in SFP5, but improved in version 6. As of this writing SmartSound has updated 110 albums for this feature, that’s over 1,100 tracks, and adds new albums regularly. For the tracks that have been updated, when you enable timing control, several markers appear on the clip in the timeline. These markers can be dragged to better adjust song changes to match key points in your video. When you drag a marker, SFP6 automatically shuffles the arrangement of that song. For example, if you want a big ending to happen at a better match for your video cut, sliding the marker will make this happen. In actual practice during my testing, this was a bit of trial and error. In one case, a change made too close to the end left me with an incomplete ending. I needed to also slide the track length a tad longer for SFP6 to come up with a good-sounding ending. But, this feature is designed to enable experimentation to produce a custom score, so, don’t be afraid to play with it.

df0517_sfp6_07Finally, as part of its integration with NLEs, Sonicfire offers a new feature called “Cut-Video-to-Music”. Final Cut Pro X, Premiere Pro CC, Avid Media Composer and Vegas Pro are all supported. This new feature lets you export a track along with a corresponding XML file, which in turn is imported into the designated project. Inside the NLE, the track shows up with markers identifying your choice of either beats, strong beats only, SmartSound blocks or music sections, making it easy to edit picture cuts accordingly.

Conclusion

Make sure you are running on the most recent version after you initially install the software. I did run into some minor issues with the initial 6.0.0 version, which were fixed with the df0517_sfp6_036.0.3 update. Updates may be downloaded from the SmartSound website. Overall, SmartSound’s Sonicfire Pro 6 is a welcomed refresh to a wonderful tool. To my knowledge, no other software developer offers anything to match it. Adobe briefly tried with its custom music features inside Soundbooth, but then dropped this function after a couple of years. Magix and Apple offer applications where you can create your own loop-based tunes; however, neither starts with finished compositions that can be modified both in length and arrangement with such ease.

While music choices are very subjective, I’ve personally built up a SmartSound library over the years, which lets me offer clients quality music alternatives without much fuss or cost. Just another service I can offer to a client. It allows you as an editor to be the hero to your client and accomplish the task expediently and on budget.

©2017 Oliver Peters

Advertisements

Audio Splits and Stems in Premiere Pro

df2916_audspltppro_8_sm

When TV shows and feature films are being mixed, the final deliverables usually include audio stems as separate audio files or married to a multi-channel video master file or tape. Stems are the isolated submix channels for dialogue, sound effects and music. These elements are typically called DME (dialogue, music, effects) stems or splits and a multi-channel master file that includes these is usually called a split-track submaster. These isolated tracks are normally at mix level, meaning that you can combine them and the sum should equal the same level and mix as the final composite mixed track.

The benefit of having such stems is that you can easily replace elements, like re-recording dialogue in a different language, without having to dive back into the original audio project. The simplest form is to have 3 stereo stem tracks (6 mono tracks) for left and right dialogue, sound effects and music. Obviously, if you have a 5.1 surround mix, you’ll end up with a lot more tracks. There are also other variations for sports or comedy shows. For example, sports shows often isolate the voice-over announcer material from an on-camera dialogue. Comedy shows may isolate the laugh track as a stem. In these cases, rather than 3 stereo DME stems, you might have 4 or more. In other cases, the music and effects stems are combined to end up with a single stereo M&E track (music and effects minus dialogue).

Although this is common practice for entertainment programming, it should also be common practice if you work in short films, corporate videos or commercials. Creating such split-track submasters at the time you finish your project can often save your bacon at some point down the line. I ran into this during the past week. df2916_audspltppro_1A large corporate client needed to replace the music tracks on 11 training videos. These videos were originally editing in 2010 using Final Cut Pro 7 and mixed in Pro Tools. Although it may have been possible to resurrect the old project files, doing so would have been problematic. However, in 2010, I had exported split-track submasters with the final picture and isolated stereo tracks for dialogue, sound effects and music. These have become the new source for our edit – now 6 years later. Since I am editing these in Premiere Pro CC, it is important to also create new split-track submasters, with the revised music tracks, should we ever need to do this again in the future.

Setting up a new Premiere Pro sequence 

I’m usually editing in either Final Cut Pro X or Premiere Pro CC these days. It’s easy to generate a multi-channel master file with isolated DME stems in FCP X, by using the Roles function. However, to do this, you need to make sure you properly assign the correct Roles from the get-go. Assuming that you’ve done this for dialogue, sound effects and music Roles on the source clips, then the stems become self-sorting upon export – based on how you route a Role to its corresponding export channel. When it comes to audio editing and mixing, I find Premiere Pro CC’s approach more to my liking. This process is relatively easy in Premiere, too; however, you have to set up a proper sequence designed for this type of audio work. That’s better than trying to sort it out at the end of the line.

df2916_audspltppro_4The first thing you’ll need to do is create a custom preset. By default, sequence presets are configured with a certain number of tracks routed to a stereo master output. This creates a 2-channel file on export. Start by changing the track configuration to multi-channel and set the number of output channels. My requirement is to end up with an 8-channel file that includes a stereo mix, plus stereo stems for isolated dialogue, sound effects and music. Next, add the number of tracks you need and assign them as “standard” for the regular tracks or “stereo submix” for the submix tracks.

df2916_audspltppro_2This is a simple example with 3 regular tracks and 3 submix tracks, because this was a simple project. A more complete project would have more regular tracks, depending on how much overlapping dialogue or sound effects or music you are working with on the timeline. For instance, some editors like to set up “zones” for types of audio. You might decide to have 24 timeline tracks, with 1-8 used for dialogue, 9-18 for sound effects and 17-24 for music. In this case, you would still only need 3 submix tracks for the aggregate of the dialogue, sound effects and music.

df2916_audspltppro_5Rename the submix tracks in the timeline. I’ve renamed Submix 1-3 as DIA, SFX and MUS for easy recognition. With Premiere Pro, you can mix audio in several different places, such as the clip mixer or the audio track mixer. Go to the audio track mixer and assign the channel output and routing. (Channel output can also be assigned in the sequence preset panel.) For each of the regular tracks, I’ve set the pulldown for routing to the corresponding submix track. Audio 1 to DIA, Audio 2 to SFX and Audio 3 to MUS. The 3 submix tracks are all routed to the Master output.

df2916_audspltppro_3The last step is to properly assign channel routing. With this sequence preset, master channels 1 and 2 will contain the full mix. First, when you export a 2-channel file as a master file or a review copy, by default only the first 2 output channels are used. So these will always get the mix without you having to change anything. Second, most of us tend to edit with stereo monitoring systems. Again, output channels 1 and 2 are the default, which means you’ll always be monitoring the full mix, unless you make changes or solo a track. Output channels 3-8 correspond to the stereo stems. Therefore, to enable this to happen automatically, you must assign the channel output in the following configuration: DIA (Submix 1) to 1-2 and 3-4, SFX (Submix 2) to 1-2 and 5-6, and MUS (Submix 3) to 1-2 and 7-8. The result is that everything goes to both the full mix, as well as the isolated stereo channel for each audio component – dialogue, sound effects and music.

Editing in the custom timeline

Once you’ve set up the timeline, the rest is easy. Edit any dialogue clips to track 1, sound effects to track 2 and music to track 3. In a more complex example, like the 24-track timeline I referred to earlier, you’d work in the “zones” that you had organized. If 1-8 are routed to the dialogue submix track, then you would edit dialogue clips only to tracks 1-8. Same for the corresponding sound effects and music tracks. Clips levels can still be adjusted as you normally would. But, by having submix tracks, you can adjust the level of all dialogue by moving the single, DIA submix fader in the audio track mixer. This can also be automated. If you want a common filter, like a compressor, added all of one stem – like a compressor across all sound effects – simply assign it from the pulldown within that submix channel strip.

Exporting the file

df2916_audspltppro_6The last step is exporting your spilt-track submaster file. If this isn’t correct, the rest was all for naught. The best formats to use are either a QuickTime ProRes file or one of the MXF OP1a choices. In the audio tab of the export settings panel, change the pulldown channel selection from Stereo to 8 channels. Now each of your timeline output channels will be exported as a separate mono track in the file. These correspond to your 4 stereo mix groups – the full mix plus stems. Now in one single, neat file, you have the final image and mix, along with the isolated stems that can facilitate easy changes down the road. Depending on the nature of the project, you might also want to export versions with and without titles for an extra level of future-proofing.

Reusing the file

df2916_audspltppro_7If you decide to use this exported submaster file at a later date as a source clip for a new edit, simply import it into Premiere Pro like any other form of media. However, because its channel structure will be read as 8 mono channels, you will need to modify the file using the Modify-Audio Channels contextual menu (right-click the clip). Change the clip channel format from Mono to Stereo, which turns your 8 mono channels back into the left and right sides of 4 stereo channels. You may then ignore the remaining “unassigned” clip channels. Do not change any of the check boxes.

Hopefully, by following this guide, you’ll find that creating timelines with stem tracks becomes second nature. It can sure help you years later, as I found out yet again this past week!

©2016 Oliver Peters

iZotope RX Loudness Control

 

df3215_rxloud_sm

As more emphasis is being placed on loudness compliance around the world, it’s important for editors and sound mixers to have the right tools to stay legal. iZotope offers its Insight metering to see where your levels are, but a new addition is the RX Loudness Control plug-in. This not only analyzes your mix, but fixes it to be compliant. This plug-in is designed for Avid ProTools and Media Composer, along with the Adobe Creative Cloud applications. It works with mono, stereo, or surround mixes, but is not a real-time plug-in. Instead, it quickly analyzes your final mix and performs a faster-than-real-time processing of the track.

RX Loudness Control includes presets for eight international loudness standards and correction includes three components: fixed gain to hit a specific target, optional short-term loudness compression, and True Peak limiting. By design, the intent is to leave the mix dynamics in place, but where necessary IRC II (Intelligent Release Control) limiting is used. This style of limiting is also found in iZotope’s Ozone 6 mastering suite.

Operation for editors using Avid Media Composer or Adobe Premiere Pro CC couldn’t be easier. In Media Composer, first create a mixdown clip of your timeline mix and place that on an available track. Mute all other tracks. Apply the RX Loudness Control as an AudioSuite filter to the mixdown clip. Set the loudness standard preset, analyze, and render.

With the Adobe applications, the RX Loudness Control appears as an export preset in the export module of Premiere Pro or through Adobe Media Encoder. Simply export your timeline using the RX Loudness preset. Make adjustments to the settings as needed. If you want the mixed/processed track to automatically be imported back into the same project, make sure to check that box. Now export. The new .wav file will appear in your project, so simply mute all existing audio in your sequence and drop the processed .wav onto an empty audio track.

In the current version, there is no native support for Apple Final Cut Pro X or Logic Pro X. However, if you also own, subscribe to, or have access to Avid or Adobe applications (with the RX Loudness Control plug-in installed), you could use one of those to process your FCP X mix. First export a mix from FCP X as either a self-contained QuickTime movie or an audio file. Bring that into one of the other applications to encode the file using RX Loudness Control. When that’s completed, import the processed audio track back into FCP X. Mute or detach and remove all audio from your project (edited timeline) and connect the newly processed composite mix for your final compliant audio mix.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / CreativePlanetNetworks.

©2015 Oliver Peters

Audio Tools Update

df_audiotools_7_sm

Most video editors can get by with the audio editing tools that are built into their NLE. But if you want that extra audio finesse, then you really need some dedicated audio applications and plug-ins. 2014 is closing out nicely with new offerings from Sony Creative Software and iZotope.

Sony Creative Software – Sound Forge Expands

df_audiotools_1Sony’s software arm – known for Acid, Vegas and Sound Forge, to name a few – has expanded its Mac audio offerings. Although Sony’s audio applications have traditionally been Windows-based, Sony previously ventured into the Mac ecosystem with its 1.0 version of Sound Forge Pro for the Mac. This year version 2.0 was released, which includes more features, power and support for 64-bit plug-ins. All Sound Forge Mac versions are architected for OS X and not simply a port from Windows.

As before, Sound Forge Pro continues to be a file-based editor and not a multi-track DAW designed for mixing. It supports high-resolution files up to 24-bit/192 kHz. Although file-based, it can handle up to 32-channel files and is capable of recording, as well as editing and mastering. The Pro version includes a number of Sony and iZotope plug-ins designed for mastering (EQ, reverb, multi-band compressor, limiter, imager and exciter), post processing (sample rate and bit depth conversion) and restore/repair (declicker, denoiser and declipper).

A new addition is the inclusion of the iZotope Nectar Elements plug-in. The Nectar series is a channel strip, all-in-one filter that combines a number of the processes that a recording engineer would place in the signal chain when recording vocals. However, it can still be used on music and mixed tracks without issue. Nectar Elements is the “lite” version of the full Nectar filter and is being bundled with a number of the Sony applications, including Vegas Pro. Another included filter is the Zplane élastique Pro time stretch and pitch shift plug-in.

df_audiotools_2The Convrt batch tool – a freestanding utility for mass file conversions – comes with Sound Forge Pro Mac 2. Load your files, set up the script and the rest is automated. If you purchase Sound Forge Pro as part of the Audio Mastering Bundle, you also get SpectraLayers Pro 2, an audio spectrum editing tool. Even without it, Sound Forge Pro Mac 2 now enables data interoperability between it and SpectraLayers Pro 2.

Loudness compliance is of big concern to broadcasters, so Sound Forge Pro Mac 2 now includes CALM Act compliant metering. Unfortunately, the read-out is by numbers and meters without the visual eye candy of an Insight or Radar-style meter; however, it does provide true peak values.

Mid-year, Sony also released Sound Forge for the Mac App Store. It doesn’t have all of the bell-and-whistles as the Pro version and due to the App Store’s sandboxing policies has other minor differences. Convrt and the iZotope plug-ins are not included; however, most of everything else is. Both versions support 64-bit AU and VST plug-ins. Both include real-time previewing. Both have generally the same tech specs. One extra that comes with Sound Forge is Wave Hammer, Sony’s own mastering compressor. It is not included in the Pro version. Lastly, both versions come with a large amount of downloadable sound effects content, which is available to users as a separate download, once they’ve registered the software.

There are a lot of audio tools on the market, but I find Sound Forge or Sound Forge Pro Mac 2 to be definite must-haves for the video editor serious about audio. The Sound Forge interface is clean and customizable and the operation is very intuitive. With nearly every spot I cut in FCP X, I’ll bounce the mix out to Sound Forge Pro for a mastering pass. Same if I need to modify a TV mix for a radio spot.

iZotope – Nectar

df_audiotools_4iZotope is one of the top audio plug-in developers and you’ll find their products bundled with a number of applications, including those from Sony and Adobe. One cool plug-in is the Nectar product, which is marketed in three versions: Nectar 2, Nectar Elements and Nectar Production Suite. These are compatible with most audio and video hosts that support AAX (Pro Tools), RTAS/AudioSuite, VST and AU plug-ins.

Nectar 2 is an all-in-one plug-in that combines eleven tools: plate reverb, pitch, FX, delay, de-esser, saturation, compressors, gate, EQ and limiter. It functions a lot like a very sophisticated channel strip in a mixing console, except with a lot more processes. Although designed with vocal recording in mind, it can easily be used for music and/or mastering. The interface presents you with an overview and easy controls for all tools, but then you can open each individual tool for more precise adjustments. It includes over 150 presets. You can switch between tracking and mixing modes for low-latency processing.

Nectar Elements is a reduced-feature version of Nectar 2. The controls tend to be more specific for vocal recording and the needs of home enthusiasts. On the other side is Nectar 2 Production Suite, which bundles the filter with a Pitch Editor and Breath Control plug-in for Nectar 2.

iZotope – RX 4

df_audiotools_5The biggest iZotope news is the release of the RX 4 audio repair and enhancement tool – the latest in iZotope’s RX series. RX 4 comes in a standard and advanced version and both include the RX 4 standalone application, as well as a set of RX 4 plug-ins that are compatible with a wide range of hosts. Built-in tools include declip, declick, hum removal, denoise, spectral repair, deconstruct (advanced), dereverb (advanced), leveler (advanced), EQ match (advanced), ambience match (advanced), time & pitch (advanced), loudness (advanced), gain, EQ, channel operations, resample and dither. Most, but not all of these, are also installed as RX 4 real-time plug-ins. Third-party plug-ins can also be accessed and used in the standalone RX 4 application. The breadth of what RX 4 offers makes it the biggest gun in the arsenal of most dialogue editors and sound designers, who are tasked with cleaning up challenging location recordings.

df_audiotools_3A powerful, new feature is RX Connect, which is a special “conduit” plug-in. It sets up a roundtrip between your host audio application and the RX 4 standalone application. For example, if you edit in Pro Tools, Audition or Sound Forge, highlight a range or a set of audio clips and select the RX Connect plug-in. (Where and how you select it will differ with each application). This opens an RX 4 window where you choose to send the selection to the RX 4 application. There you can process the clip as needed and send it back to the host application. In this way, you can use the individual effects as real-time plug-ins inside your audio host, or use the advanced processing power of the standalone application via the RX Connect roundtrip.

df_audiotools_6In addition to loudness processing, RX 4 Advanced also includes the Insight metering suite. This is iZotope’s extensive set of audio analysis and metering tools. It can be used for troubleshooting or to assure broadcast loudness compliance. Two other Advanced tools – EQ Match and Ambiance Match are ideal for the dialogue editor. EQ Match is exactly what the name implies. Here you send both a reference clip and a clip to be processed to the RX 4 application. The second clip is then analyzed and “matched” to the sonic qualities of the first. A common video editing practice is to cut out unwanted audio in your dialogue tracks, such as director’s cues, background noises, etc. This leaves gaps of silence in your track that need to be filled with ambient sound. In Ambiance Match, RX 4 samples areas of background sound between the spoken dialogue and creates a sound print from the quiet areas. RX 4 uses this to fill in gaps “automagically” between clips.

Finally, the standalone RX 4 application comes with built-in batch processing. There, you can set up a series of processing steps and the output location, naming and file formats. Add a set of files, apply the batch steps and process the files. iZotope’s RX 4 repair suite is a unique tool that is hard to beat when struggling with difficult audio that you want to make pristine. It’s a product that keeps getting better and, with the addition of the new RX Connect plug-in, provides better interoperability than ever before.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / CreativePlanetNetwork

©2014 Oliver Peters

Stocking Stuffers 2014

df_stuff14_1_smAs we head toward the end of the year, it’s time to look again at a few items you can use to spruce up your edit bay.

Let’s start at the computer. The “tube” Mac Pro has been out for nearly a year, but many will still be trying to get the most life out of their existing Mac Pro “tower”. I wrote about this awhile back, so this is a bit of a recap. More RAM, an internal SSD and an upgraded GPU card are the best starting points. OWC and Crucial are your best choices for RAM and solid state drives. If you want to bump up your GPU, then the Sapphire 7950 (Note: I have run into issues with some of these cards, where the spacer screws are too tall, requiring you to install the card in slot 2) and/or Nvidia GTX 680 Mac Edition cards are popular choices. However, these will only give you an incremental boost if you’ve already been running an ATI 5870 or Nvidia Quadro 4000 display card. df_stuff14_2_smIf you have the dough and want some solid horsepower, then go for the Nvidia Quadro K5000 card for the Mac. To expand your audio monitoring, look at Mackie mixers, KRK speakers and the PreSonus Audiobox USB interface. Naturally there are many video monitor options, but assuming you have an AJA or Blackmagic Design interface, FSI would be my choice. HP Dreamcolor is also a good option when connecting directly to the computer.

The video plug-in market is prolific, with plenty of packages and/or individual filters from FxFactory, Boris, GenArts, FCP Effects, Crumplepop, Red Giant and others. I like the Universe package from df_stuff14_3_smRed Giant, because it supports FCP X, Motion, Premiere Pro and After Effects. Red Giant continues to expand the package, including some very nice new premium effects. If you are a Media Composer user, then you might want to look into the upgrade from Avid FX to Boris Red. Naturally, you can’t go wrong with FxFactory, especially if you use FCP X. There’s a wide range of options with the ability to purchase single filters – all centrally managed through the FxFactory application.

df_stuff14_4_smFor audio, the go-to filter companies are iZotope, Waves and Focusrite to name a few. iZotope released some nice tools in its RX4 package – a state-of-the-art repair and restoration suite. If you just want a suite of EQ and compression tools, then Nectar Elements or Nectar 2 are the best all-in-one collections of audio filters. While most editors do their audio editing/mastering within their NLE, some need a bit more. Along with a 2.0 bump for Sound Forge Pro Mac, Sony Creative Software also released a standard version of Sound Forge through the Mac App Store.

df_stuff14_5_smIn the color correction world, there’s been a lot of development in film emulation look-up tables (LUTs). These can be used in most NLEs and grading applications. If that’s for you, check out ImpulZ and Osiris from Color Grading Central (LUT Utility required with FCP X), Koji Color or the new SpeedLooks 4 (from LookLabs). Each package offers a selection of Fuji and Kodak emulations, as well as other stylized looks. These packages feature LUT files in the .cube and/or .look (Adobe) LUT file formats and, thus, are compatible with most applications. If you want film emulation that also includes 3-way grading tools and adjustable film grain, your best choice is FilmConvert 2.0.

df_stuff14_6_smAnother category that is expanding covers the range of tools used to prep media from the camera prior to the edit. This had been something only for DITs and on-set “data wranglers”, but many videographers are increasingly using such tools on everyday productions. These now offer on-set features that benefit all file-based recordings. Pomfort Silverstack, ShotPut Pro, Redcine-X Pro and Adobe Prelude have been joined by new tools. To start, there’s Offload and EditReady, which are two very specific tools. Offload simply copies and verifies camera-card media to two target drives. EditReady is a simple drag-and-drop batch convertor to transcode media files. These join QtChange (a utility to batch-add timecode and reel IDs to media files) and Better Rename (a Finder renaming utility) in my book, as the best single-purpose production applications.

df_stuff14_7_smIf you want more in one tool, then there’s Bulletproof, which has now been joined in the market by Sony Creative Software’s Catalyst Browse and Prepare. Bulletproof features media offload, organization, color correction and transcoding. I like it, but my only beef is that it doesn’t properly handle timecode data, when present. Catalyst Browse is free and similar to Canon’s camera utility. It’s designed to read and work with media from any Sony camera. Catalyst Prepare is the paid version with an expanded feature set. It supports media from other camera manufacturers, including Canon and GoPro.

df_stuff14_8_smFinally, many folks are looking for alternative to Adobe Photoshop. I’m a fan of Pixelmator, but this has been joined by Pixlr and Mischief. All three are available from the Mac App Store. Pixlr is free, but can be expanded through subscription. In its basic form, Pixlr is a stylizing application that is like a very, very “lite” version of Photoshop; however, it includes some very nice image processing filters. Mischief is a drawing application designed to work with drawing tablets, although a mouse will work, too.

©2014 Oliver Peters

Apple Logic Pro X

df_lpx_interface

Most nonlinear editing software includes tools for editing and mixing audio. Nevertheless, if you really need to focus on audio, you need a dedicated DAW (digital audio workstation) application. There are quite a few challengers to the dominance of Pro Tools, including Reaper, Nuendo and Audition, but the strongest of these is Apple’s Logic Pro X. It holds a unique position as a tool that covers many divergent needs, including audio production and post, studio music recording and mixing, live performance and music notation.

The revamp to Logic Pro X and its integration with Final Cut Pro X, makes this an ideal time to see how well it works as a companion tool for video editors. Logic Pro X is without a doubt, a wonderful music production tool, but my focus is video editing. I’m going to skip the music side of Logic in this review, in order to focus on its strengths and weaknesses for my needs – film/video editorial.

Tech specs and installation

df_lpx_instrumentsLogic Pro X supports a wide range of control surfaces and I/O devices. Audio resolution is up to 24-bit/192kHz. The mixer supports up to 255 audio channel strips, 255 software instrument channel strips, 255 aux channel strips, 64 busses and 99 MIDI tracks. Logic comes with 67 effects plug-ins, including Pedalboard (with 35 stompboxes), and 18 software instruments. The sound library includes 1548 patches, 3647 Apple Loops, 848 sampler instruments, 30 drum kits and over 2,000 presets for instruments, patches and plug-ins. Needless to say, it’s a whopper!

Logic Pro X may be purchased and downloaded from Apple’s Mac App Store. It also works with a separate companion program, called MainStage that will appeal to musicians who play live. Both are independent applications and you can purchase and install one or the other or both. MainStage taps into Logic’s resources, effects and contents, but it’s not essential for post users.

The download sizes for Logic Pro X and MainStage are under 900MB and under 700MB, respectively. There’s also the free Logic Remote application for the iPad (iOS 7 or later), to control Logic Pro X, MainStage and GarageBand on the Mac. Logic’s plug-in controls and libraries may be accessed from Logic Remote. It’s ideal when you want to control a recording from a quiet room separated from the gear.

Once you install Logic Pro X, you gain access to optional content that may be downloaded and installed from within the application. How much of this you’ll want, depends on how much musical content you need. This includes stereo and surround plug-ins, samples and loops and compatibility content to work with older versions of Logic and GarageBand. All totaled, this extra content is up to 38GB of media. The largest batches are comprised of the Drum Kit samples and the Legacy and Compatibility group, which includes the JamPack loop libraries. If all you want is the basics, like plug-ins and some loops, you’ll only need to download a few extra gigabytes of content to get started. You can download the rest later at any time.

Templates, settings and preferences

df_lpx_templatesWhen you first launch Logic Pro X, you can start with a blank slate or use several different project templates. It is important to understand the distinctions among these, because different templates will use different settings. For example, it took me a while to figure out how to enable scrubbing, because a particular function needed to be enabled in the project settings’ MIDI tab, even though none of my tracks were MIDI tracks. Project settings are tied only to a project and they differ from the application preferences, which apply global changes.

In preferences you can enable Advanced Tools, for project alternatives, media browsers, expanded mixing and automation capabilities. The use of Advanced Tools is a way to make both beginning and advanced users comfortable with Logic Pro X. When Advanced Tools are not shown, the interface is a bit closer to GarageBand, with a number of controls and panels hidden or disabled. Once Advanced Tools are shown in Logic’s Preferences, you gain additional options required by experienced users.

Since a project can be based on time or musical values (beats, measures, key signatures), it’s important to set your project up correctly from the beginning. The opening template page lets you make overall changes to that project – like disabling the musical grid or setting samples rates and frame rates – but, even after you start, some values can still be altered. Once you become familiar with the project variations, it’s easy to create your own custom templates.

Tracks can be standard audio, MIDI, software instrument or drum kits. The difference between a standard track and an instrument track is that the instrument track is a patch configured with a number of in-line plug-ins. Each patch contains one or even multiple channel strips (such as the drummer track) in its configuration. If you add a software instrument track, it will default to piano with a set of plug-ins. Highlight the track and open the Library pane to change the type of sound or the type of instrument – for instance, from a piano to a guitar with a British lead sound. This changes the configuration of the patch. Likewise, a standard audio track, without any plug-ins added at the start, can also be changed in the Library pane to a different option, like a vocal track configured as a fuzz vocal. Each of these patches is simply a set of plug-ins with presets. All can be changed, removed or added to, depending on the sound you are looking for.

Interface

df_lpx_smartcontrolsLogic Pro X’s clean interface is optimized for a single screen, but also takes advantage of dual-screen layouts. Like FCP X, Logic uses a design of various panels that can be opened or closed, depending on your focus. Track adjustments, like volume or panning, can be made in the separate mixer window or in the main window. Effects adjustments can be made by opening each plug-in’s controls or by using the Smart Controls panel in the main window. The latter presents a streamlined set of macro controls that manipulate select parameters belonging to the multiple plug-ins used on the track. By default, each track also has a built-in EQ that becomes active once you make the first adjustment.

The wealth of Logic plug-ins will be familiar to most Soundtrack Pro and Final Cut Pro X users. If you want more, then compatible, third-party Audio Units plug-ins also work, including those from iZotope, Focusrite and Waves. Even the numerous musical plug-ins, such as a guitar pedal, can be added to standard audio tracks, including vocals. I’ve focused a lot on mixing tools, but, of course, Logic Pro X includes all of the file-based editing tools with sample-level accuracy that no professional DAW could be without.

df_lpx_trackstackA big new feature for most will be Track Stacks. To create a Track Stack, select a set of individual tracks and create a Stack from these. This can be a Folder Stack – where the component tracks are simply treated as a group. The other option is a Summing Stack, where the individual tracks are routed through a bus. It’s a lot like a Compound Clip in FCP X or a traditional submix bus in other audio mixing software. Let’s say you have a composite voice-over built out of several clips and spread across several tracks. Select and combine these into one Summing Track Stack and now the entire voice-over can be treated as a single track. The sub-tracks within it can be hidden by twirling the reveal triangle on the Track Stack. If you need to tweak one of the clips within the Stack, simply twirl it open and make the adjustments to that clip.

Logic Pro X also offers a composting feature that’s designed for recording sessions called Quick Swipe Comping. This function lets you quickly cut up the best sections of various takes. These can then be highlighted within a group, somewhat like FCP X’s Audition function. The composite of these recorded tracks is contained within a Folder Stack and can be manipulated as a group, without ever losing access to the alternate takes.

Another useful tool is Flex Time and Flex Pitch, which are great for video production, where broadcast length is critical. Turn on Flex Time and use the Flex Tool to expand or contract part or all of a clip to fit the necessary length. Finally, there’s Groove Track, which will let you realign the timing of tracks to a selected Groove Master track. Thanks to Flex Time, this feature works with both MIDI and audio tracks.

Working with NLEs

df_lpx_nle-to-lpxLogic Pro X supports a number of interchange formats, including AAF, Final Cut Pro XML, OMF and FCPXML. These come with some caveats. FCPXML (from FCP X) came across fine, even after the changes to the FCPXML format made in the 10.1.2 update. Compound Clips were automatically broken apart into individual tracks inside the Logic project. I was also able to bring in audio from FCP X as an AAF file by using the X2Pro Audio Convert utility. Unfortunately an AAF from Avid Media Composer didn’t work, because Logic Pro X cannot read audio files that are formatted as .MXF.

For Avid users, OMF is fine, but you have to use the following workaround in Media Composer: change the project format to NTSC; enable OMF media in the Media Creations menu; export an OMF with embedded AIFF-C sound files. In Logic Pro X, use the “Import Other” menu option. Finally, with Premiere Pro CC, the older (Final Cut Pro 7) XML format works fine. Translation completeness will vary with these different solutions. Generally fade handles or crossfades were completely lost, even with FCP X. Levels set within the NLE may or may not transfer. I got the best translation from Premiere Pro CC2014 using XML, where automation levels and crossfades were interpreted correctly.

Editors sending a project from an NLE into Logic Pro X should understand how to properly prep the audio files. Channels that are muted or disabled in the NLE will still be imported, but muted. This includes any unwanted audio from an FCP X project that’s part of a Connected Clip (B-roll). If you don’t want it, detach and remove it from the sequence. Camera clips using two microphones are often interpreted as stereo audio by some NLEs. These should be edited to the timeline as dual mono and not stereo. DAWs process interleaved stereo pairs differently than most NLEs. Once inside Logic, selecting either input 1 or 2 of a stereo track, will sound different than if this same audio comes in as two separate mono tracks and one or the other is used.

The weakest part of this interchange is video support. With FCPXML, Logic Pro X would attempt to use video from the project as a picture reference for the mix. Unfortunately the clip was completely wrong. If you want a proper picture reference, export a self-contained clip and open that as a movie file in Logic Pro X. The application will sync it to the start of the track and provides good offset control for accurate sync. Movie files may be viewed in a separate viewer window, as a movie track or as a small thumbnail.

Going in the other direction, you can export a full mix, as well as all or just selected tracks. Levels and plug-in effects will be baked in. Likewise you can also export an FCPXML or AAF. In the roundtrip back into FCP X, you have the option to include video and combine the tracks into a Compound Clip.

Conclusion

Logic Pro X is a refined audio tool, but it’s still missing some items offered by competitors and even by past Apple software. Ironically there’s still an “open in Soundtrack Pro” feature, even though that application has been discontinued. It still works quite well. Logic lacks a spectral analysis view. There’s no ability to use noise prints and ambient prints for noise reduction and filling in gaps. In an era when all audio post going to broadcast has to be CALM Act-compliant, there are no built-in loudness controls and metering features specific to this need. You can do each of these with third-party plug-ins, but it would be nice to have that be part of the native toolkit.

In spite of a few deficiencies, Logic Pro X is a wonderful mixer for stereo and surround projects and a great tool for composers. Video editors who use it can also benefit from Logic’s musical side. Simple scores are easy to create even if you aren’t a musician, thanks to the extensive media and loop libraries. Maybe you just need a temporary underscore to play under a voice-over so the client can get the feel of the piece. Or maybe you have strong composition skills and want to build the final music for your piece. Either situation can be filled by Logic Pro X. The term “Swiss army knife” gets bandied about for many applications, but it is warranted for your audio needs here. A few third-party plug-ins might be required to augment the package for some needs, but at the price – and given the wealth of additional content – Logic Pro X is a tremendous value for any video editor who wants to make sure their mixes stand out above the rest.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / CreativePlanetNetwork.

©2014 Oliver Peters

Sitting in the Mix Revisited

df_nlemix2_1

Video editors are being called on to do more and mixing audio is one of those tasks. While advanced audio editing and mixing is still best done in a DAW and by a professional who uses those tools everyday, it’s long been the case that most local TV commercials and a lot of corporate videos are mixed by the editor within the NLE. Time for a second look at the subject.

df_nlemix2_3Although most modern NLEs have very strong audio tools, I find that Adobe Premiere Pro CC is one of the better NLEs when it comes to basic audio mixing. There is a wide range of built-in plug-ins and it accepts most third party VST and AU (Mac) filters. Audio can be mixed at both the clip and the track level using faders, rubber-banding in the timeline or by writing automation mix passes with the track mixer. The following are some simple tips for getting good mixes for TV using Premiere Pro CC.

df_nlemix2_7Repair – If you have problem audio tracks, don’t forget that you can send your audio clip to Audition. When you select a clip to edit in Audition, a copy of the file is extracted and sent to Audition. This extracted copy replaces the original clip on the Premiere timeline so the original stays untouched. Audition is good for surgery, such as removing background noise. There are both waveform and spectral views where it’s possible to isolate and “heal” noise elements visible in the spectral view. I recently used this to reduce the noise from a lawn mower heard in the background of an on-location interview.

df_nlemix2_4Third-party filters – In addition the built-in tools, Premiere Pro supports any compliant audio filters on your system. By scanning the system, Premiere Pro (as well as Audition) can access plug-ins that you might have installed as part of other applications. Several good filter sets are available from Focusrite, Waves and iZotope. When it comes to audio mixing for simple projects, I’m a fan of the Vocal Rider and One Knob plug-ins from Waves. Vocal Rider is best with voice-overs by automatically “riding” the level between a minimum and maximum setting. It works a bit like a human operator in evening out volume variations and is not as blunt a tool as a compressor. The One Knob filters are a series of comprehensive filters for EQ or reverb controlled by a single adjustment knob. For example, you can use the “brighter” filter to adjust a multi-band, parametric-style EQ that increases the trebleness of the sound.

df_nlemix2_5Mixing formula – This is my standard formula for mixing TV spots in Premiere Pro. My intention is to end up with voices that sit well against a music track without the music volume being too low. A handy Premiere tool is the vocal enhancer. It’s a simple filter with an adjustment dial that balances the setting for male or female voices as well as for music. Dial in the setting by ear to the point that the voice “cuts” through the mix without sounding overly processed.  For music, I’ll typically apply an EQ filter to the track and bring down the broader mid-range by -2dB. Across the master bus (or a submix bus for each stem) I’ll apply a dynamic compressor/limiter. This is just used to “soft clip” the bus volume at -10dB. Overall, I’ll adjust clip and track volumes to run under this range, so as not to be harshly compressed or clipped.

df_nlemix2_6CALM – Most audio delivered for US broadcast has to be compliant to the loudness specs of the CALM Act. There are similar European standards. Adobe aids us in this, by including the TC Electronics Radar metering plug-in. If you use this, place it on the master bus and make sure audio is routed first through a submix bus. I’ll place a compressor/limiter on the submix bus. This way, all volume adjustments and limiting happen upstream of the meter. By adjusting your mix with the Radar meter running, it’s possible to end up with a compliant mix that still sounds quite natural.

©2014 Oliver Peters