Let the Music Play

Music can greatly enhance a visual medium. Imagine The Godfather without its traditional Italian songs and emotionally gripping score from Nino Rota. Or The Lord of the Rings trilogy without Howard Shore’s sweeping musical compositions. Whether you’re creating big-budget Hollywood films or low-budget training videos, music can mean the difference between engaging or losing your audience’s attention.
Short of hiring a composer and a group of musicians, the best options have been looped-based composition programs, such as Sony Media Software’s Acid Pro, or music-generation programs, such as SmartSound Software’s Sonicfire Pro. Loop-based software can be effective if you’re willing to spend a significant amount of time learning the interface. Music-generation software is easier to use, but the resulting music can sound generic if you don't tweak it first with some of the newer mixing tools (such as those in Sonicfire Pro 4).

Sony Media Software’s Cinescore ($249) is aimed squarely at the Sonicfire Pro user. Both programs let you choose an appropriate musical theme and tweak a few variables. The computer then generates a music track that runs the length of your video track. Both programs can match the music’s mood and pacing to visual changes in your video, and both let you manually link the music to specific points in the video.

Take a Hint
Why choose Cinescore over Sonicfire Pro? One reason is the quality of the music. Just as Acid Pro depends heavily on the excellent quality of the loops that are available for it, Sony has made sure the 20 themes that ship with Cinescore are first rate. Each theme has 15 to 20 variations that help you match the music more precisely to the video. Using the Hint Markers feature, you can indicate specific places on the timeline where you want the mood, tempo or intensity to change. The usual procedure is to let Cinescore decide where to place the musical transitions. Then you apply the hints to refine the process. The automated procedures can only take you so far, because only you know whether a sudden close-up would need added emotional punch. Fortunately, Cinescore provides enough tools to let you shape the flow of the music without it becoming forced or artificial.

Another advantage for Cinescore is its video-centric interface. It will be familiar to anyone who has worked with Vegas, since both programs were created by the same development team. While there’s only one video track available, you’ll find a generous set of editing tools. In addition, working with the music track has a video-editing feel with features such as post-edit ripples, automated crossfades and region markers.

On the downside, the manual is woefully inadequate. It covers the Vegas-like editing features comprehensively, but doesn’t devote enough space to the music-generation features. One of Cinescore’s more powerful features, a dedicated audio sweetening track for transitions and sound effects, is barely mentioned. However, Cinescore shows a lot of promise. Even though it’s brand new, its feature set, ease-of-use and quality of musical output make it a strong contender.