If you're a hammer, the world looks like a nail. This aphorism, which, to me at least, means that your background or perspective determines your vision and viewpoint, is one of my favorites. It's unavoidable and affects us all, in life and, more to the point, in how we produce video.
Here's what I mean. My personal video practice is homegrown, starting with home videos, then extending to concerts, ballet performances, tutorial DVDs for local artists, and now several weddings. My major focus has been on perfecting video then audio quality, then on the art of multicamera productions, then on some creative editing of video and still-image montages. Titles and DVD menus are important, but I've not been overwhelmingly creative by using minimal 3D motion graphics, for example, or complex designs.
Had I started in TV or advertising production, I would have assumed that high-quality audio and video was a given and moved quickly into how to delight and—more importantly, retain—the customer's interest. Intros to all major segments would be supported by both motion graphics and music, and no text would ever hit the screen without some motion or overlay elements.
Now for some video tutorials that I'm producing, the concept of "production value" is starting to come to the fore, especially after I've reviewed competitive products. Though my toolset is extensive, there are some gaps. I can create simple backgrounds and moving titles in Adobe After Effects, or Apple Motion or LiveType, but these aren't my strengths, and as a right brain-limited former CPA, I'll never be more than merely competent at creating my own. I want a source of thematic, high-quality animations and other design elements that I can simply plug into my productions.
On the audio front, while SmartSound has been wonderfully competent at full-length songs, and certainly can create short intros and outros, I'd like a tool that can present me with short, fixed-length tracks that also have longer complementary segments. In short, I want Digital Juice.
As luck may have it, one of the founders of Digital Juice lives here in Galax, and we've become buddies. When his former partner, and current president of Digital Juice, David Hebel came into town, he introduced us, and Hebel explained the company's product line and was kind enough to provide some samples.
To say that the meeting opened my eyes is an understatement; I haven't felt this creative since I learned how to change fonts in WordPerfect. While I hope I don't do the same kind of stylistic damage to my videos that I did to my memos and faxes back then, exposure to Digital Juice's product line dramatically changed my view of production elements that I formerly considered static. So, I'll devote my next two columns to Digital Juice, first reviewing their StackTraxx digital music offering and next month reviewing their Editor's Toolkit product.
Digital Juice has two music offerings, 15 volumes of StackTraxx layered music and 27 volumes of BackTraxx, which is older, non-layered music; both offerings are divided into themes such as corporate, sports, and suspense. Much as with SmartSound's multilayered music offering, you can customize StackTraxx down to choosing which instruments are playing, though the selection is for the entire song only, with no feature like SmartSound's mood mapping to adjust the mix mid-song. As with SmartSound's older collections, you can't adjust the mix of BackTraxx tracks.
StackTraxx volumes cost between $69 and $249 and contain 20-40 layered tracks per volume. Each track includes the complete song, usually around three to four minutes in length, plus variations of that song in durations of 10, 15, 30, and 60 seconds; this feature is a unique strength for commercials, intros, and outros. Unlike with SmartSound, you can't buy an individual song at a time or download a song after you buy it, so you need to budget accordingly and plan ahead. Uniquely, however, you can sample each song on the Digital Juice website with layers fully enabled, so you can verify that removing the drums will eliminate the conflict with your voice talent.
Once you buy a volume, you install it in the "Juicer," a free downloadable media management tool available for Mac and Windows. In the Juicer, you can search for songs and variations among your installed collections and then batch output them for use in your productions.
As mentioned previously, your selection of layers is for the entire song only. However, for more precise mixing, you can render all layers as separate tracks so you can input them all into your audio editor and refine the mix. While not as simple as SmartSound's Mood Mapping feature, StackTraxx's short selections seem more well formed than SmartSound's and are faster and easier to produce. Digital Juice offers a very helpful downloadable-PDF StackTraxx manual on its site to help you through the process.
Overall, the tools are more complementary than competitive; neither vendor really charges you for the music application, just the music that you buy, minimizing your initial investment. SmartSound's Mood Mapping and ability to create songs of variable length make it a better choice for scoring long segments, especially those that have to mix with dialog and other background noise, while StackTraxx seems ideal for intros, outros, and short commercials where you probably won't have to duck for dialog or well up for an emotional sequence.