White Paper - Apple Soundtrack

August 25, 2003

Let There Be Music - Getting Started With Soundtrack

By Dan Brockett

Didn't you already write a Soundtrack article?
I recently wrote an article that was intended to serve as an introduction and overview of Soundtrack I highly recommend reading this article before jumping into this one. The article you are reading is aimed at getting the beginning to intermediate video editor up to speed and productive with Soundtrack. As you go through these tutorials, you will learn about Soundtrack's interface, tools, a little bit of music vocabulary and you will learn about several different methods for composing music tracks for your video projects.

"But How Do I...?"
Together, we'll explore step-by-step several typical scenarios that you may encounter when trying to effectively integrate Soundtrack into your video editing workflow. The great thing about Soundtrack is that you don't have to be a musician or composer to turn out at least acceptable music tracks. Be aware though, the better your ear and musical skills, the better your finished compositions will be. Some editors use Soundtrack to generate temp tracks, which are later replaced with custom composed tracks or library music tracks at the end of the postproduction workflow. Other editors are using their Soundtrack music tracks as the final music for their productions. Soundtrack is a very effective tool because almost any video editor can use it in several different ways, from very basic to quite advanced. Like any effective media tool, you are only limited by your skills and imagination. It's important that you realize that following these tutorials, step by step, will not make you a good composer, but hopefully you will learn how most of Soundtrack's tools and functions work and will pick up some basics about instruments, arrangements and how to set levels and panning to do a basic mix.

Tutorial One

For The Beginner
Perhaps you are just starting out with video editing? Are you new to Final Cut Pro and Soundtrack? If so, this tutorial is for you. If you have already used Soundtrack and want to get to the more advanced techniques, you might skip ahead to the intermediate level tutorial below.

The Hookup

In this tutorial, it is assumed that you have read at least the part of the Soundtrack manual that explains how to physically setup your system. If you are not using a soundcard, Firewire or USB audio interface, Soundtrack defaults to using your Mac's built-in audio system. USB, PCI cards and Firewire audio interfaces are generally a much higher quality way to get audio in and out of your Mac, if you can afford them. Regardless of your Mac's audio interface, hopefully you have routed your audio signal from your Mac out to a pair of quality audio monitors so you can really hear what you are doing. Cheap computer speakers and low fidelity home audio speakers really don't cut it for music composition. Note that since Soundtrack is not a video editing application, you will be monitoring your audio through your Mac, not through your Firewire deck or camcorder (assuming you are working with DV) as you would be when editing in Final Cut Pro. The audio output from the G4's unbalanced 3.5mm output jack leaves something to be desired as far as audio quality, but its sound is good enough to effectively use Soundtrack. The Soundtrack manual offers several sample routing illustrations for various ways to hookup your Mac for the best sound quality in your particular situation.

How to Score Your Two Minute Vacation Video
Simple enough, right? Let's begin...

In order to prepare this tutorial, I edited a one minute piece of my vacation video in FCP.

  1. As I scrubbed through the video timeline in FCP, I noticed that I had an opening montage of images of transportation, my arrival at the airport, the taxi ride to the hotel etc. I decided that some fast, percussion-based music would serve as a good introduction to the video.
  2. In the middle segment, I had an interview/sound bite and I needed the music to ramp down in intensity and tempo.
  3. The end of the video built back up with an emotional, quick cut section of cultural monuments that needed some appropriately high energy, fast tempo music.

Saving your ref movie for Soundtrack from Final Cut Pro 4.0
The first step in scoring your video is to make a reference Quicktime movie that you can use to see picture and timing cues in Soundtrack. Export your movie from FCP by marking in and out points on your Canvas or Timeline. It's a good idea to put some handles of video black, about two or three seconds on the beginning and end of your video clip. This gives you a little bit of pre-roll and post roll in Soundtrack to work with.

After marking your in and out points in the timeline or canvas, go to File>Export>movie for Soundtrack. Save the reference movie to your desktop. (No need to make a self-contained movie assuming you will be using Soundtrack on this same computer).

Before Moving On To Soundtrack...
Click and download this Soundtrack project file, called "Vacation", 152 k. So that you can easily locate the file, it would be a good idea to create a folder on your Mac's desktop. Label it "Soundtrack Tutorial". Save this project file in the folder you created. Open the "Vacation" Soundtrack Project file by going to File>Open and select the "Vacation". Assuming you have correctly installed the Soundtrack application and have all of the included audio loops installed, this project file will playback and sound exactly the same on your system as it did on the system I used to compose this piece of music. This project file will become your roadmap for this beginner tutorial. If, when attempting to open the project file, you get the Alert box below, click on 'Skip File'.

For the purposes of this tutorial, you can download this "My Vacation" Quicktime movie, 228 k. It contains three scoring markers that you would have been able to view in QT player or Soundtrack. We did find out that by running our tutorial movie through Media Cleaner that the scoring markers are lost so you won't see them in this file. If you want to have this movie for doing this tutorial, it could be helpful, although it's totally optional. Alternately, if you'd rather not download this Quicktime movie, you can generate one with your own material on your system but, of course, your pictures, marker locations and descriptions of shots won't match the tutorial project.

Note This tutorial assumes that you have installed your Soundtrack loops on your main HD. If you have installed your loops in another location, the file path specified in these project files will not work and you will have to manually link each file as the project loads OR you will have to re-locate the loops called for in the project file to the same file path location.

Get Familiar With The Interface

Before we jump into the tutorial, let's take a quick look at the Soundtrack interface. In Soundtrack, you do most of your work in two main areas: the Media Manager and the Project workspace. The Media Manager and the Project workspace can appear in a single window or in separate windows, depending on the layout you choose and the type of monitor setup you have.

File Browser
The File Browser displays the disks connected to your computer. You can use the File Browser to navigate to your audio and video files on your hard drives. Once you locate the files you want to use, you can preview them in the File Browser and drag them from the Media Manager to the Timeline.


When you have thousands of loops and one-shots to search through to try to locate a specific sound, you need a system that can sift through the data quickly and simply. Using Search, you can search for audio files based on a variety of criteria, including instrument, genre, mood descriptors, and other categories. You can also search using specific keywords. Once you locate the files you want to use, you can preview them in Search or drag them to the Timeline.

Preview Area

The lower part of the Media Manager contains the Preview area, with controls for previewing audio files. The Preview area also displays information about the file, including the file path, tempo, key, and number of beats. The Preview controls and information are available in all three Media Manager panes.

Project Workspace

The Project workspace is where you arrange your Soundtrack projects. It includes the Timeline, which contains tracks where you place and edit your project's loops, and also includes the Viewer, track controls for each track, Timeline controls, Beat and Time displays, transport controls, master controls, and the Global Timeline view.

Video track
When you add a video to your project, the video clip is displayed in the video track, starting at the beginning of the project. Each project can have only one video track.

Audio tracks

The main area of the Timeline contains the project's audio tracks. Each audio track extends from the beginning to the end of the project. You can have up to 127 audio tracks in your project.

Audio clips

Audio clips are the basic building blocks of a Soundtrack project. You add audio clips to a project by dragging them to an audio track in the Timeline at the position you want them to begin playing.

The Viewer

The Viewer has three panes, Video, Audio, and Meters. Each pane displays different information about your project. Click the Video, Audio, or Meters tab to display the corresponding pane in the Viewer.

Track Headers and Track Controls

Below the Viewer are track headers for the audio tracks in the Timeline. Each track header contains a track icon, track name field, and a set of track controls.

Timeline Controls

The lower-left corner of the Timeline contains controls for various aspects of Timeline display and operation.

Beat and Time Displays

Beat Display and Time Display In the upper-left corner of the Project workspace are the Beat display and Time display. Both show the current playhead position, using two different formats.

Transport Controls

Below the Beat and Time displays are the transport controls. You use the transport controls to control playback of your project, and to open recording sessions.

Master Controls

To the right of the transport controls are the master controls. You use the master controls set project properties and control overall project volume.

This covers the basic components of the interface. We'll get into some of the hidden and less frequently used controls as we move through the tutorials.

Check those preferences

Open Soundtrack. If your project is a DV-based project, chances are it has a 48KHz sample rate. Make sure that your preferences Soundtrack>Preferences>Project in Soundtrack are set for 48KHz so that the music tracks you create will smoothly and cleanly integrate with your DV tracks. Alternately, you can just go to Project>Sample Rate and make sure that 48KHz is checked. Of course, if you have a 32KHz or 44.1KHz non-DV project, you would set Soundtrack's preferences to the appropriate sample rate.

Importing your reference movie into Soundtrack

You also need to make sure that the three music clips you are going to compose for the three segments of the video will work together as far as length, key and tempo. Locate the "My Vacation" ref movie that you saved to the Soundtrack Tutorial folder on your desktop and drag it to the viewer window in Soundtrack. Move the playhead to the beginning of the Soundtrack timeline by hitting the keyboard shortcut, "home". Then hit the space bar to playback your movie and its accompanying sync sound, if there is a sync sound soundtrack for it. Check to see that your movie plays back smoothly and in-sync with it's own sound.

Drag the project length indicator down the timeline to the end of the length of the track for your movie. You have now the length of your Soundtrack project. Soundtrack will play through the timeline, all of the way to this indicator before looping back to the beginning of the timeline.

The Project
Your next step will be to play back the completed project that you have just downloaded. If you also downloaded the movie file for the video portion of the lesson, you should have it loaded into the viewer. If not, just the instrument tracks will be shown on your timeline.

The tracks will read, from the top of the track window to the bottom:

Vacation - this is your video track, if you loaded it
Batajon Percussion Loop 12
Birds FX 01
Automobile Drive By FX
Electric Guitar Winging
Percussion Groove 29
Acoustic Guitar Del Sol 01

Assuming that all of the tracks are present and accounted for, check the BPM in the master control window near the top of the screen. It should be set for 136 BPM. If, for some reason it's not, move the slider until the display reads 136 BPM. Now, hit the space bar and listen.

This project is more of a demo of what Soundtrack's capabilities are than a perfectly composed piece of music. I added not only musical instruments, but also a couple of sound effects. Keep in mind that the QT movie, if you downloaded it, is totally silent, there is no sync sound.

Break It Down!
Now, we will discuss what was done to create, arrange, sync and modify each track.

Track One - Vacation

This track is obviously our video track. It was edited together in Final Cut Pro 4.0. There were three scoring markers inserted that were labeled, "Opening Title", "Interview" and "Cultural landmarks". If you have loaded this movie from your system HD, you would see the orange scoring markers and the marker titles at the top of Soundtrack's timeline.

Track Two - Batajon Percussion Loop 12 - located under "Percussion" in the Media Manager

I chose this loop because it sounded like travel, not totally Hawaiian, but definitely exotic. This was the first loop I started the track with because I needed a good rhythmic foundation to begin with. The only modification I made to the track was that I set it into the timeline and extended it from one measure (8 beats) to about two and a third measures, using the loop extender tool. I also clicked on the track envelope control and placed four keyframes on the track volume display.

By default, there are two lines in each track envelope, one for volume and one for panning. If you have applied effects to a track, you may sometimes see some effect parameter envelop lines as well. You set envelope points by placing your mouse on the line at the point that you want to set the envelope points (keyframes). Double click your mouse on the line to set an envelope point. To do a volume ramp, you must set a minimum of three points but preferrably set at least four, two near the beginning of a clip as shown and two at the end of a clip. Having four points lets you keep a constant level once you have ramped up the volume. With three points, you can only do a volume swell since you only have an open point, a mid and an ending point.

I then used the mouse to adjust the four volume keyframes for a smooth ramp up and then a smooth ramp down at the end of the loop. This concept of setting volume curves with envelope points is performed the same way as keyframes are used in Final Cut Pro, either manually with Final Cut Pro's volume keyframe tools or automatically, using FCP 4.0's mixer and key frame automation. You can also adjust the overall volume of the track just using the track volume slider, but it usually sounds better to use keyframes and to ramp the volume up and down as needed.

Track Three - Birds FX 01 - Located under "FX" in the Media Manager

This track is not a music track, but since the movie had two scenes with palm trees and lush looking garden areas, I felt that adding some birds might make the clips a little more natural sounding. If you open the track envelope by clicking on the small arrow in the right hand side of the Birds FX 01 track heading area, you will see that I applied a very similar type of volume ramping up, then down as I did to most of the tracks. The goal is to make the tracks smoothly blend with each other so that the tracks all work with each other, not against each other.

Track Four - Automobile Drive By FX - Located under "FX" in the Media Manager

Same thing as the track above, not exactly a music loop, but I had a driving shot in the movie so I tried this and it kind of works although it's not ideal because it's a drive by instead of a steady driving sound. Supports the picture well though. Open the envelope and you'll see that the volume ramp up is more sudden than the fade out.

Track Five - Electric Guitar Winging - Located under "Guitars" in the Media Manager

I felt that this little guitar riff worked interestingly with the surf footage. It did, except for the end of the loop, it went on too long. So I faded down the volume early. Check the envelope for seeing how I keyframed and faded the volume down early.

Track Six - Percussion Groove 29 - Located under "Percussion" in the Media Manager

I needed another percussion track, but one that was different than the opening percussion track so this one fit the bill. Check the envelope for the usual volume up and down smoothly by keyframing.

Track Seven - Acoustic Guitar Del Sol 01 - Located under "Guitars" in the Media Manager

I looked at the two Hawaiian musicians in the second to last clip in the movie and tried to find a guitar piece that at least sort of matched the tempo of how they looked to be playing. Added the usual volume up and down with the volume keyframes.

More About Envelopes and Keyframes
Hopefully by looking at this project, you have a better idea about how to use the envelopes on each track. Keep in mind that the envelopes function in a manner that is very similar to how the keyframes function in Final Cut Pro. To use the track envelope controls, click on the envelop control triangle in each track to reveal the envelop controls, then you double click on the envelope line in the envelope track area to place an envelope mark. Then just put your mouse and click and drag the envelope point it to where you need it. If you can use keyframes in Final Cut Pro, you can use envelopes here in Soundtrack. Also, you can adjust over time, not only volume, but also track panning (whether a sound comes from the center, right or left speaker) and even some various plug-in effect parameters.

Some other important tools

A few other tools that you will find yourself using a lot are the solo and mute keys. The solo key is the small headphone icon. The mute key is the small speaker icon in the track header. The solo key turns off all other tracks in the arrangement and let's you hear the one loop or track you are soloing. The mute button merely mutes the selected track so you can take a specific loop out of your total mix without removing the track.

Ready, steady, compose!

Before you begin composing your first project, it's probably a good idea to spend an hour or two listening to some of the loops that are included with Soundtrack. You will find that using the media manager in different modes lets you group the thousands of loops that are included in several ways. You will be surprised at how quickly you'll become familiar with the included loops, even though there are thousands of them. As far as how you work with loops and locate them on your timeline, it's pretty intuitive. You can cut, copy, paste and or drag the loops, using the same sorts of standardized commands that you use in Final Cut Pro and many other programs.

The cool thing about loops
By performing this operation, the power of loops will become apparent to you. Just place your mouse over the right hand edge of the loop on the timeline and you will see a drag/extension tool appear. Click and hold down the mouse button and drag and you will see the loop drag along with your mouse, until you release the mouse button. Between copying, cutting and pasting, you can now can tweak the tempo, length and volume of the any loop until you heart's content. This is the fun part of the process. Try different loops, try different tempos. You can stack multiple drum loops, or stack on percussion. Then add more elements. Bass lines, guitar and piano, effects, whatever.

Let's change the arrangement

Now that you have seen how I built this track, let's try modifying it. Here, I am adding the "Grooving Electric Bass Line 14" to the timeline. Try following along on your system. I am adding it at the same point in the arrangement that Percussion Groove 29 begins at and I am dragging it out to approximately the same length.

Notice how when I drag this loop to the timeline, even though we can see by looking in the Media Manager that the loop itself has a tempo of 110 beats per minute, is in the key of C,

the loop fits into the tempo that I have already setup for the project on the timeline, in this case, 136 BPM?

Most of the drum and percussion loops don't have a key, but if I add in the bass line loop in the key of A, Soundtrack's default key, any subsequent loops added to the timeline will automatically be transposed to the correct key. You can manually change the key at the top of the Soundtrack interface, just to the right of the transport controls.

I have added the "Grooving Electric Bass Line 14" to my timeline, but notice how it is only eight beats long? I will obviously want to either put multiple copies of the bass line onto the timeline, or I will want to extend it out to provide a bass line for the entire piece of music. Or I may want to do a combination of both. If I only used were this single bass loop, my arrangement would get pretty monotonous, pretty quickly. I am going to look for another bass loop that will compliment the bass loop that I already am using and in this case, will also compliment the closing acoustic guitar riff, "Acoustic Guitar Del Sol 01". After listening to some more of the bass loops, I find that "Grooving Electric Bass Line 16" provides a nice alternate counterpoint to the first loop and works well with the acoustic guitar riff as well. Try adding "Grooving Bass Line 16" to the same area as the closing guitar track and see what you think. Try muting "Grooving Bass Line 16" by hitting the small speaker icon in the track header. Then go through the bass loops and experiment with listening to the arrangement using several different bass line. Anytime you are auditioning a loop in the Media Manager, you can hit the space bar on your keyboard and the arrangement will begin playing. Then you can hear the loop you are auditioning along with your arrangement. I could switch and alternate between the first "Grooving Electric Bass Line 14" and "Processed Experimental". Try laying in and alternating "Grooving Electric Bass Line 14" then "16", then substitute "Processed Experimental" for "16" and you'll see what I mean. Neither choice is really the right or wrong choice; they are just radically different aesthetic choices and each set up a radically different feel. A lot of your choice about how smooth and grooving about versus how discordant and dissonant should stem from your video editing style, the style of your footage and most importantly, the story you want to tell and how you want the viewer to feel about.

By now, you have probably noticed that Soundtrack doesn't really have a separate mixing console, per se, like Final Cut Pro 4.0 now has. So how do you mix your arrangement? Have you noticed the volume sliders moving in the track control areas each time you play the project? These are the results of the volume keyframes we have been building into each track's envelope controls. You can also adjust the pan controls to place your tracks in the left right or center of the soundstage. The soundstage is basically a description of the stereo effect. Mixing your relative levels on each track within the overall arrangement is fairly simple. Adjust the relative level on each track so that the summed total of all of the tracks doesn't make Soundtrack's audio meter go into the red or clip. Unfortunately, Apple didn't include a calibrated audio level scale in Soundtrack, so much like consumer and prosumer DV camcorders "meters", you just have to guess in regards to your exact recording and output levels. Letting the signal go into the red is probably a bad thing, keeping the peaks to about 3/4 of the total scale is a good thing. Use your monitors and use your ears as well. There are quite a few more advanced mixing techniques using envelopes in the Intermediate tutorial that follows this one, but for now, just adjust the relative track levels and pans to your liking using the envelope controls for each track.

Outputting your finished musical masterpiece in a format that Final Cut Pro can use is quite simple. Assuming you have saved your Soundtrack Project and are editing in Final Cut on the same Mac, you will create your arrangement, modify and work with the arrangement, mix the relative levels of all of your tracks and export the track as a finished two-track AIFF file. If you are working in DV, once you are finished with the arrangement and mixing it to your liking, go to File>Export Mix. Name your track and save it where you will be able to easily find it for when you import it to Final Cut Pro.

My hope is that after doing this tutorial, you can then try to tackle the more advanced tutorial below as your abilities and skills grow. It's very much like editing in Final Cut Pro. Remember how slow and unsure of yourself you were in Final Cut Pro the first few times you edited with it? Right now, these concepts are a little foreign and the interface is a bit weird, right? Play with Soundtrack and experiment. You will soon begin to understand how to use Soundtrack more effectively every time you boot it up.

Tutorial Two

The Intermediate User
Are you are a more advanced user, possibly an experienced video editor, but new to Soundtrack? Perhaps you have some musical ability or experience? If so, this tutorial is for you. We'll explore not only the basic workflow functions, but we'll also get into some more advanced techniques like how to effectively build and arrange music tracks, apply plug-in effects, use envelopes and how to use FCP scoring markers to your advantage.

Step One - Your Game Plan
In this scenario, let's say that you are editing together a :30 spot for one of your regular clients, in this case, a temp agency. You have all of the footage you will need to put the spot together, but this spot is low budget and the client doesn't really want to spend $200.00 or $400.00 required to license a library music track. Since the spot will obviously still need some cool music, you decide to try scoring a piece of music yourself, using Soundtrack.

We are going to work backwards here, deconstructing the arrangement that has already been created so that you can see which loops and tools in Soundtrack were used to create the score. Download this project file, "intermediate tutorial.loop" 216 k and download this video file, "intermediate temp.mov", 320 k. .

The Soundtrack Workflow
If you are reading this intermediate tutorial, I am going to assume that you have at least the basics of Soundtrack down and that you experimented with Soundtrack for at least a few hours. This tutorial also assumes that you understand how to export ref movies for Soundtrack from FCP and how to export AIFF files from Soundtrack back into FCP.

Since you have already edited together the final version of the commercial yet, we are going to assume that you want to generate a :30 piece of music. You at least have a rough idea of the feel and emotion that the client wants the commercial to convey. This commercial is aimed at local employers so the client's ad agency wants you to use shots of employees at work, being trained and looking positive and upbeat. The music will need to be exciting, up-tempo and show that the client is professional, progressive and can meet the local company's staffing needs in a cost effective way.

Jumping Into It
So those are the goals for the music for this project. Let's begin the process.