You?ve just finished your video piece, now you need a soundtrack, for ? as guru Douglas Spotted Eagle has pointed out many times in VideoCamera magazine ? eighty percent of the impact of any movie is due to the audio ? says Denby Smith.
Assuming you?re not a professional musician and you can?t afford an orchestra, how do you come up with quality music? Sony?s ACID has been around for a good six years and has carved a solid niche as a powerful but easy-to-use music production program based on royalty free samples and loops, as well as directly recorded audio and has since expanded to include a vast array of MIDI tools and audio effects.
ACID Music Studio is a cut-down version of ACID Pro, designed for beginners and pro-sumers. Being a seasoned ACID user, I was keen to see what is being offered in the latest ACID Music Studio bundle, Version 6.
The chopper window allows you to select portions of media for inclusion in your tracks.
What?s in the box
In the box you?ll find four CDs, a Quick Start Manual and some promotional blurb. One disk contains the ACID Music Studio program; another is a sampler disc from the SONY Sound Series, which is a collection of high quality loops and samples from the enormous range currently available. You also get two discs of Music Studio content, containing even more loops, samples and demo songs. It?s great that Sony has included a few demo songs because they can really help you learn about how to construct a composition. By looking into the various tracks, events and effects you can see what the artist has done and what it sounds like. You also get the usual assortment of catalogues and support offerings. Discs like these can fetch upwards of a hundred dollars each, so they alone make the package worth buying.
Manuals and online help
The Quick Start Manual in this pack is very helpful, offering easily understood instructions on the basic functions of the program. Don?t be disappointed with the repeated declaration that this function is only available in ACID PRO. ACID Music Studio has enough tools and features to keep you entertained ? and entertaining ? for a very long time indeed.
Fully detailed and well written help screens are available.
In addition to the paper manual, there are online tutorials to step you through the various techniques and processes using animated wizard-style screens. These are well designed and really helpful, especially for novices.
Setup is easy; just insert your CD and follow the prompts. Once you?ve loaded it up and registered, go directly to your Preferences dialogue and carefully work your way through all the options, tailoring them to your system. Remember that options such as Create backup files (.acd.bak) on save will use more disk space, if even only a little. I prefer not to use these, but it?s your call. Make sure your folders for saving, recording and any VSTi plugins you have are all in the correct locations as this will make life a lot easier later on.
The ACID platform really is such an intuitive, fun way to write music. The great thing about it is ACID?s unique ?loop? format. A ?loop? is basically just a short grab of audio that has been ?acidized?, meaning that its pitch, tempo, and beat information have been mapped and ordered so it can form a continuous loop. The top and tail of your sample also have slight fades added ? around 0.5 milliseconds, which is far too fast to be audible but this is essential for removing potential clicks and pops at the beginning and end of each cycle.
Let?s get a little track happening. And also let?s thank Sony for providing an unlimited number of tracks in this version!
Go to the explorer window and navigate to one of the supplied discs. I like to start off with a bit of percussion.
To go through the loops just select them one at a time and they should auto play. Go through your loops till something grabs you, then double click it (or drag and drop it onto the time line). Now with the pencil tool simply paint out a section as long as you desire. I?ll usually paint about seven and a half bars, leave a half bar gap and then start again at eight (keep in mind I am mainly an electronic or techno producer).
This creates a good starting point for your intro. Calculating bars sounds like work for composers but the timeline format here is fantastic. First off, from the Options menu you can select your grid spacing from a whole Measure (BAR) down to Sixty-fourth note triplets. Stick with measures for now.
Then you?ll see Snapping. Snapping allows you to drop events onto the timeline with absolute precision, making it impossible to lose the beat, until later when you can turn snapping off and start getting really creative with the timing.
Now add another percussion track at about twelve bars and let the two play together. It?s best to find a light rhythmic track to start and a deep punchy track to kick in here. In the gap, add a little vocal sample or something appropriate to your project. OK, now we have a structure developing.
Time to get that melody
Here there are two options. The first is to scan through all your loops until you find one, or part of one, you like. Load it up and if necessary splice it up by putting the cursor over the exact bit and pressing ?S? to split the sample. Now you can copy and past that section as many times as you like or reverse it by right clicking and selecting reverse from the menu. In previous versions of Music Studio, this reversing function was not available – you had to load up your sample in a wave editor then reverse it, save it as another version, then reload it. This new option is great. Nice one guys!
The other option is to get into the soft synths and actually write your own notes. Load up a soft synth as described earlier and head down to the piano roll. Enable the loop function and press play, now pencil in notes dragging them up and down the scale, extending duration, or shortening it. Try anything, play around, you can?t stuff it up, so HAVE FUN. Of course you can also use a MIDI keyboard if you have one and just play the notes you want. Finally, to help those who haven?t studied music theory, there?s a great new snapping tool called Snap to Key. This only lets you add notes that are appropriate for the key you?re working in which basically means you?ll never be out of… key.
In the piano roll editor you can enter notes using the keyboard or pencil tool, then edit them as you wish. You can also paint changes for controllers such as velocity or aftertouch in the lowest pane.
To select the key for your project find the little tuning fork at the bottom left of the time line – here you can also adjust the project tempo and time signature. As you write in your musical notes, notice how they appear as a loop in the tracks above. The more notes you add, the longer the loop becomes. This loop acts just like any other. Place it to begin at your eighth bar. Finally select its effects from the left hand track properties. Choose ACID FX, which is a new effect pack that has all your most commonly needed effects in one window. Select a bit of delay. Your notes should bounce around now and start to sound a lot fuller. At this point I think you should be ready to experiment on your own.
The usual array of tools is available for cutting, pasting and looping. Drawing envelopes is an easy way to control volume and pan in your mix, however you can?t use them to control effects parameters in this version, which is a bit disappointing considering the impressive range of effects that are available in the package. All up, there are 40 audio effects included, each one having numerous presets, and each one being individually customizable. Once tweaked, you can save the settings for future use, which makes this aspect of Music Studio exceptionally powerful.
Once selected, you just paint your loops onto tracks, then sit back and enjoy the music.
VSTIs are third party software synths that you can load into most audio programs. They range from Virtual models of actual synths like 1970s analogue Korgs, to the most sophisticated mind blowing sound modulators that could never actually exist in a physical machine. Previously these have only been available in high-end audio packages and the fact that they are usable here is testament to the quality of this pack.
Using VSTIs is reasonably easy. Open up a new synth track, then select your synth from the dialogue and go down to the track properties window, where you?ll find the piano roll function. Simply put in your notes and press play – now have hours of fun going through sounds and exploring editing options.
You will have to search out and purchase your own VSTIs though, because the soft synths included are as basic as they come. Soft synths can be expensive but there are some good shareware modules around. Absynth is a great one with hundreds of amazing voices and seemingly endless tweaking options.
Unfortunately there is only limited support for dual monitors in this pack, which is a shame because there are so many windows you need that your workspace can be a bit cluttered. You can drag the workspace out over two screens but this doesn?t help a lot because you can?t ?dock? or ?undock? windows in the usual way and the stretched out timeline is rather disconcerting. Secondly, there is no support for surround sound mixes but these can be very complicated to get right and, besides most music CDs are still generally produced in stereo. Finally, your mixer view and video preview are tabs on the same window so you can only view one or the other. In ACID Pro they can both be open at once, which, once you?ve experienced it, is difficult to do without. Finally, although you do get a multi-track mixer, you don?t get the option of using audio busses as you do in Acid Pro. One thing?s for sure, once you get your head around Acid Music Studio, you will certainly be tempted to upgrade to the program?s big brother.
To summarise, this is an awesome package at an almost unbelievable price. I?m really pleased with the range of tools and functions available and it?s a great pack to start on. It?s also totally integrated with Vegas Movie Studio+DVD and Audio Studio giving you an immensely powerful audio and video editing suite. Sure, you can do more in the full versions, but for this price this is very hard to beat! Also available is ACID XMC, but that?s really so cut back it?s just not worth it. SORRY on that one, Sony. But Acid Music Studio definitely has my vote. Oh yeah!