Available as a free trial for 21 days, SmartSound’s Sonicfire Pro 6 soundtracking and audio effects program includes a starter pack of 15 music tracks. While that may not seem like enough for most film and video productions, at only $199, the software also offers incredibly complex remixing capabilities as well as numerous song arrangements per each track that are available at the push, or rather click, of a button. In addition, SmartSound, which started as a royalty-free music service, has an enormous library of available songs, each with up to eight layers of instrumentation that can be easily adjusted.
In many ways, it’s like combining the possibilities of Adobe Pro Tools with the simplicity of an online rights-free licensing service. After using the software for only a single day, I was able to figure out how to layer a complete soundtracked edit, while doing a full deep dive into what the Sonicfire Pro 6 system offers took me several weeks. The sophisticated remixing available for each of the included songs may make the software the only tracking solution that you’ll need, and SmartSound offers a variety of album packs or singles, as well, in a variety of genres. Check out pricing here and you can peruse songs, and preview some of the alternate arrangements, online here.
Following is a Q+A with Kevin Klinger, co-founder of SmartSound Software, as well as president and CEO, who discusses the recently updated Sonicfire Pro 6 software, plus the extensive library of sourced tracks.
HDVP: I think a lot of the people using this service are going to be videographers and editors who don’t have a lot of experience with song licensing. Can you give a quick breakdown on royalty-free licensing and what’s covered and what’s not through the Sonicfire Pro 6 software?
Kevin Klinger: Glad to David. Royalty-free licensing means that the user need not pay any additional synchronization fees for the use of the music in other projects. They can use it in as many projects as they wish without paying additional usage fees for any of those projects. Some people get confused over this and think that they should get the music free, or that this should also include the publishing rights, which are controlled by organizations such as ASCAP and BMI.
But publishing is an entirely different right and, unless you’re dealing with major artists, record labels and the like, you only need to list the publishers and composers credited on music cue sheets. That’s all, and even then only on projects where that’s required (typically TV or feature film). So while publishing rights are different from “sync” rights, they don’t usually require any extra fees, again unless you’re dealing with well-known material.
HDVP: Would you explain the difference between your Widest and your Extended License, and what they offer for broadcast and online productions? What’s the additional cost to Sonicfire Pro 6 users for the Widest License, and what types of projects are you seeing that often need to go the extra mile for download coverage?
Kevin Klinger: Our Extended License is our main license. It’s a fully professional license that allows for a wide variety of professional (as well as personal) uses, including unlimited lifetime use in as many projects as you like, YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, etc., with Monetization, use in film festivals, theatrical use in one country, assignment of distribution rights, local television use and more. The Widest License builds on all these rights by adding use in theaters internationally, unlimited downloads and replication and television broadcasting nationally in one country. International TV broadcast is easily available with a simple $100 upgrade from the Widest License.
The Extended License is included with every track SmartSound sells; the track price is $49.95 when purchased individually but much lower when purchased as part of an album, or even lower with our several music packs, which are highly discounted music bundles that allow you to buy the music at a super-discount but choose it as you need and use it, up to a year. The Widest License is simply $149.95 per track though we have discounts available if you’re licensing more than one track at a time. These discounts can really add up if you’re licensing multiple tracks. And, as mentioned, International TV broadcast is a simple, one-time $100 upgrade from the Widest, and also has package discounts for multiple tracks.
The kind of projects that need the Widest vary widely but it often includes projects that need stronger overseas rights, either from foreign theatrical use or companies, organizations and groups with a customer presence in multiple countries. The other driver is international television, which is a very different right than international web use, which is contained in our Extended License.
HDVP: Would you speak a bit about YouTube’s Content Match ID technology and how it has affected what has been traditionally considered the “home video” market, i.e., wedding and event videos? How do live recordings of events come into play here?
Kevin Klinger: YouTube’s Content Match ID technology has been a boon to the major music companies (major music publishers and record labels), which control all their rights with an iron fist and, of course, have armies of lawyers to go after anyone that may be infringing. This is why you want to be very careful now using popular recorded music. If someone posts your video with a popular song anywhere on the Internet, especially YouTube or Facebook, your video could be flagged for containing unlicensed content. Not the end of the world because they will just remove your video, but certainly you want better control over situations like that and don’t want to risk anything that could become really problematic for you. All this has been part of its impact on the home video market.
The problem with YouTube’s Content Match ID is it only identifies music, it doesn’t differentiate between different distributors of that music, which is why it’s only good for the majors. Smaller music producers and suppliers often parse their music among different distributors for a variety of reasons, including trying to maximize their revenue from the music. Content Match ID can’t take any of these other licenses into account, so for a lot of smaller music producers and suppliers, it has been problematic. This is why validly licensed music is occasionally flagged as not licensed—it actually is, but Content Match ID isn’t able to track that license, just the identification of the track itself.
Live recordings of events require more care than scripted or fully controlled production. For the reasons mentioned here I would advise working with the producers or people putting on the event to make sure you know in advance what music is going to be used and whether it will be properly licensed if it needs to be. That way you can make sure to omit anything from your edit that may be questionable, or plan to replace the music for that segment in post, if possible.
HDVP: I’m sure the advent of the web has made royalty-free music a lot harder to track. How do authors find out if their work is being used and licensed properly in a production? What are a few of the dangers inherent in uploading copyrighted materials either on purpose or by accident?
Kevin Klinger: There are some exciting new technologies available now for tracking such things, and they do it well. One of the best is a technology called TuneSat, which, if you sign up for their service, will “watermark” your tracks (undetectable to the ear but traceable by the technology) and track the use of your music not only over the Internet but also television and other media. Of course, they do this for a fee. This has really been a help to a lot of smaller providers in protecting their music over a constantly expanding digital distribution landscape.
For music creators, uploading content has become easy and many places allow you to do that. However, make sure to read the fine print of any agreement; you want to pay special attention to any sub-distribution rights you are granting as well. I’m not talking about the end-user media creators, but the website’s rights to take your music and license it to someone else to resell or license. In SmartSound’s case we rarely take unsolicited material (though on very rare occasions we do) because we prefer the quality of a highly curated library—and so do our customers. It’s a bit of a Catch-22, but if you can work with the curated libraries over the ones that allow anyone to upload music, your music will be generally better protected. That’s because the curated libraries, which tend to have better music, consequently tend to be very careful with the distribution of it.
HDVP: How many singles and how many albums do SmartSound currently offer that are compatible with the full capabilities of the Sonicfire Pro 6 platform? How does SmartSound set itself apart from other royalty-free music services?
Kevin Klinger: We have 2,300 fully Multi-Layer tracks, contained on 230 albums. These days we try to release two albums per month, and those are almost always Multi-Layer. Our Multi-Layer tracks not only have all the music timing features our Sonicfire Pro platform offers, but with the access to the individual stems and layers, you can completely control the orchestration, mix—the overall Mood—as well as the timing of the music to match your video.
This is the key differentiator, and regular music libraries don’t offer this level of easy customization and control. With regular music libraries you have only the different broadcast length options they have always given you, which are now out of date given the amount of web and other digital distribution options. You can find out more about exactly how our customization tools work by going to our Sonicfire Pro page where these benefits are detailed specifically.
HDVP: Would you explain how the “Variation” and “Mood” options came about? How do those work exactly?
Kevin Klinger: The Variation is actually a function of achieving the Custom Lengths. The way our patented system works is, when you enter or drag the track to a new length, under the hood our technology rearranges what we call “blocks” to achieve that length. This rearrangement of the blocks results in our being able to provide not only the length, but different arrangements at that length. So these Variations give the user different creative options to choose from, all at the length they defined. This is one of the most powerful features of Sonicfire Pro as well are our web customization system Quicktracks.
The Mood Mapping feature was invented specifically to give the user complete control over the orchestration and instrumentation of the music, and, to not only allow for the control of the instruments in the mix, but also the instant timing of the mix changes across the timeline so the user can control where they happen precisely. We called this control over the mix at user selected timeframes Mood Mapping because of its ability to so significantly impact the actual mood of the music as the video changes. This is really powerful, and Mood Mapping is one of our most popular features and has won us multiple awards over the years.
HDVP: The overall quality of tracks was impressive. How does SmartSound pick and choose talent? What are the most popular styles of music being licensed? Are there any particular search terms that you’re seeing frequently?
Kevin Klinger: Thanks, David, we appreciate that. We work really hard on the quality of the music and have made great strides in this over the last few years. We curate every track in the library, making sure they have the highest level of production value and quality in writing. Unlike some music libraries, we do not accept unsolicited music except in very rare occasions; this helps us keep our quality higher. I think a lot of it has to do with that we are all from the music business as previous professional composers and music producers (well, most of us), so we know what great tracks should sound like and how they are composed.
We have specifically worked hard to improve the authenticity of the music, which has pulled us ahead of a lot of other libraries, not only royalty-free ones but even higher-priced ones, “per-use” libraries. That we curate the library so diligently makes all the difference in the world.
We’re seeing a big increase in demand for new pop styles that mix completely different genres into one track, e.g., pop tune grooves with banjos and phat synths, chill and lounge music with ’80s synth sounds or jazz influences, and, in general, a blending and fusing of styles that I think is very new in the music industry.
In terms of search terms, I would have to talk with my webmaster to see what he is seeing; we are constantly updating our search process and that, too, has improved a lot over the last year or so.
HDVP: I see Adobe, Apple, Avid, Vimeo, Disney and several other large corporations listed as clients on the SmartSound website. What are a few of the bigger projects that have used the Sonicfire Pro 6 software?
Kevin Klinger: Every so often we get music placed on major motion pictures such as The Bucket List and Tropic Thunder. But SmartSound’s technology, whether in the form of Sonicfire Pro 6 or our Cloud-based system, is ideal for smaller filmmakers and creatives who do not have access to the budgets and personnel of companies such as Warner Brothers or Dreamworks. We are seeing a significant increase in the use of our system for indie films of all sorts, as well as various types of television, particularly the popular niche cable channels.
A lot of the use of the companies you mentioned is for their internal corporate use, which has always been an important customer for us. But it’s particularly gratifying to see and note that the list includes many of the leading video and media technology companies (Apple, Adobe, Vimeo, Avid, Red Giant, etc.). In other words, the folks that are making the technology that media creators use, use SmartSound technology themselves for their own videos and media. I think that says it all.