Self-editing is overrated. Or is it?

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Well. Time to write for that correspondence course in air conditioner repair.

In keeping with what I perceive to be a continuing global conspiracy for people to tell me how easy my job is, Sony has announced the release of its new Cinescore automated soundtrack creation software, described by the company as "a breakthrough in professional soundtrack creation, automatically generating fully composed, multigenre, production music perfect for movies, slideshows, commercials, and radio productions." The software retails for $249.00, with an academic version available for $145.00.

According to Sony, Cinescore software includes a broad selection of musical theme packs and styles that can be customized to match the mood and musical genres of a project. Users select a theme pack based on keywords and more, and the Cinescore engine "composes" music that can be shaped based on user input and selections to fit a scene. Sony says each Cinescore theme pack can automatically generate an unlimited number of custom arrangements and variations.

Features of the software include the capability to automatically generate music to fit a specific time, 20 fully customizable theme packs in multiple genres, 16-bit, 44.1 kHz audio, user-defined settings enabling users to create unlimited musical results, "hint" markers to control changes in tempo, mood and intensity, multiple ending types, over 300 sound effects and audio transitions, video scoring track and real-time preview window, audio sweetening track, audio track markers, CD audio extraction to add in additional musical material, volume and pan curves, and more.

Music libraries may be most impacted by the release of Cinescore - Sony markets Cinescore as a way to avoid "clunky blocks of prearranged music" and "complicated licensing fees to drain your budget." In addition, the music generated by Cinescore is advertised by Sony as "royalty-free" which may give the software an advantage over music libraries who charge sync fees or usage fees for individual pieces of music.

Filmmakers and television producers creating original music from musical building blocks including loops and pre-recorded musical elements has been happening for some time now. One of the most high-profile themes created in this way is the theme to the hit ABC show Alias which was created by producer J.J. Abrams entirely using Reason sample/loop playback software.

As filmmakers create custom music with Cinescore, it is expected that they will claim lucrative ASCAP and BMI writer and publisher performance royalties on the music they create, as they seek to enhance the financial return from films and exercise more control over the creation of score music for their films.

Is this the beginning of the end of film composers? Well, not quite, says Mark Northam, head of the Film Music Network. In a recent column, Northam seemed to think that "Cinescore and similar soundtrack generating software will likely grab a share of lower-end production where the musical needs are not that complex, just as Turbo Tax is used by consumers and small businesses for many simpler tax filings to replace the hiring an accountant or tax preparer."

Well, ok. But isn't this just a way that directors can slowly take over the job of composer, as we all know that many of them define the art of collaboration as the art of just telling other people what to do?

Northam chooses to look at the optimistic viewpoint. "By letting interested directors be more involved in the scoring process, composers can align themselves more closely with directors (rather than working for directors) and the creation of the score becomes much more of a collaborative and joint effort. While some composers may see this as an unwanted intrusion into their creative domain, I believe it’s the way of the future - especially with filmmakers who now, thanks to a digital world and rapidly expanding array of digital filmmaking tools, have very exact and specific control over every element of the creation and editing process for film."

And maybe he's right. It could be a better way to shortcut to what directors are really after, instead of trying to guess. But the part of the collaborative process that everyone always seems to miss is that while it's absolutely the director's vision that's being served, exactly how that vision will be best served can be determined by a person who has an understanding of the myriad of options available to them. Therefore, the score can feel more unique while still remaining true to what the director wants. That, in a nutshell, is why you hire a composer.

Or, at least, it was. Anyway, 6 months from now, I'm gonna have the coolest house on the block, just as soon as my degree shows up, signed by Sally Struthers.


Blogger Will Fastie said...

I don't think Cinescore, or the older and better Sonic Fire from SmartSound, will replace living, breathing composers. Although this type of music is getting better, it is still mechanical and repetitive.

What I think is more likely is that folks who would not have hired a composer anyway will use this inexpensive software instead.

Believe me, if I could afford "real" music for my project, I'd certainly prefer it.

Will Fastie

6/11/2006 5:23 PM


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