Review: VASST TrakPaks, Vol. 1-4
As we all know, there is a wide variety of royalty-free music available, much of it tailor-made for use in video projects. Unfortunately, a lot of it sounds like "canned music," is very expensive to license, is not flexible or customizable enough to meet our needs, or requires special software plugins that can be somewhat cumbersome or complicated to use.
At the time of this writing (late September), I’m currently working on a short promotional video for a repeat corporate client. They didn’t want the expensive licensed music that we sometimes use, and I felt like I was running out of options with what was in my royalty-free library for this particular piece. Along came a review copy of TrakPaks (Vol. 1–4), a new collection of royalty-free music selections VASST/Sundance Media Group designed specifically for video soundtrack production, and its arrival proved to be a very timely event!
Each TrakPak DVD has at least seven full arrangements along with segments of those selections, such as intros, endings, and all the stuff that goes in between. Each song is similar enough to the others on the disc that they can be pieced together seamlessly and can loop for as long as you need them to. This makes it easy to customize your track to fit your video.
Currently available TrakPak DVDs include Vol. 1, Pianos and Pads; Vol. 2, Guitars and Pads; the confusingly numbered Vol. 3, Static Impulse Vol. 1; and Vol. 4, Hall of Shadows. Each DVD is sold separately for $89, but you can currently buy all four volumes for $200. All selections on the discs are 16-bit/48KHz WAV files. VASST will be releasing four or five more volumes, including Vol. 5 & 6, Modern Incidentals Vol. 1 & 2 (shipping by the time this article goes to print); Vol. 7, Black Tie Piano; Vol. 8, Mellow Grooves; and Vol. 9, Static Impulse Vol. 2.
Working with TrakPaks To use a TrakPak, you literally copy each piece from the DVD onto your computer, then import what you want into your NLE. No plugin required. I currently use Premiere Pro CS3, and each piece of music I imported came into my Premiere Pro project just fine without requiring any sort of rendering. If you need to customize your piece, you just drop the segments onto the timeline and butt them up against each other. If you have Adobe Audition, there are markers every 2 seconds where you can cut or copy chunks of music for a really customized piece of music!
VASST products have often been closely identified with Sony and particularly Sony Vegas, though the diversified product lines they’ve accumulated in recent years have made that close identification less relevant. VASST notes that there are some minor advantages to working with TrakPaks in Vegas (as well as SoundForge and Cinescore): Because each musical bar line is represented by an Event media marker, you can use those markers to make precise edits and pinpoint clip alignments. Each disc also includes sample Vegas project files (.veg) that illustrate how to use TrakPak selections effectively in Vegas projects.
Special perks for Vegas users aside (and you can get the same benefit when working in Audition), TrakPaks is very much an application-independent tool, and VASST says it will integrate easily with other NLEs, which was certainly my experience in using it with Premiere Pro.
About the Traks and Paks
As for the specific volumes of TrakPaks currently on the market at press time (all of which I received for review), Volume One, Pianos and Pads, and Volume Two, Guitars and Pads, are full of what I would call heartwarming and sweet music tracks that are good for emotional videos and weddings. All the arrangements are available with either just the one (real) instrument alone or with a string or synth pad.
Volume 3, Static Impulse, features electronic/techno selections with strong beats and effects. This music is well-suited to high-energy videos such as sports and fast-paced promo pieces. Each piece has a slightly different beat, so there are tons of options for customizing these pieces. Volume 4, Hall of Shadows, is dramatic and mysterious. These tracks are available either with or without a backbeat. This music is suspenseful and a bit on the eerie side.
Playing by Ear
I’m not a musician by any stretch of the imagination; although I did play the clarinet in seventh grade (I was pretty bad, too). But being a videographer means I need to listen closely and edit effectively to a wide variety of music—and trust me, I’ve heard and worked with a lot.
To me, the quality of TrakPaks seems top-notch. You can hear real instruments in there, which is certainly not always the case with buyout music and loops, although even at this unusually high level of quality there is still, to my ears, a very slight "canned" feel to a few of the pieces.
That said, at $89 per DVD, or $200 for all four volumes, the cost seems very fair for what you get: high-quality music that is easy to customize and loop within your NLE, and will integrate well into your video productions.
Laura Randall (info at edit1media.com), an award-winning videographer, popular speaker at videography conventions, and 2006 EventDV 25 honoree, runs award-winning Seattl-area studio Edit1Media with her husband, Chris.