Scoring with Cakewalk SONAR 6
15th June 2007)
Cakewalk’s SONAR 6
digital audio workstation (DAW) program is a very
powerful software package which is an ideal partner for
the modern film composer. This tutorial covers the
aspects most closely associated with film scoring from
setup to mixdown. Included are: preparing SONAR for
scoring use, working with video directly inside the
program, performing score-related adjustments and
editing, and outputting the finished score for inclusion
into the film's final dub.
PART 1: SETTING UP TO SCORE
effective film scoring template
ready-to-use palette of sounds on hand forms the
groundwork for creating an organized workflow for a film
composer. Making this template is simple and easy with
SONAR. Follow these steps:
“File” pulldown menu, choose “New” and select the
“Normal” template. Give it a name and click ”OK”.
Add a blank
MIDI track by pressing the “Insert New Track or
Busses” icon button (upper left corner) and choose
“MIDI Track”. Repeat as many times as needed to
cover all of the desired MIDI instruments.
naming the tracks to correspond to each instrument
that will be used in the template. Double click the
track name field to name the tracks.
To aid in
template organization, make use of the Track Folders
feature. Insert a new track folder by right-clicking
over any track and choose “Insert Track Folder”.
Moving tracks into track folders is done simply by
dragging a particular track onto the track folder;
this movement automatically places it neatly inside.
track folders, custom color coding can also be
utilized. Tracks normally automatically follow a
preset coloring scheme, but can easily be customized
by right-clicking anywhere over a track's inspector
area and choose “Track Properties” from the pulldown
menu. Both the foreground and background colors of
the track can be altered.
visual organizational aid is using SONAR's custom
track icons. Like the track color, a preset icon is
also automatically preassigned to a track (for
example, a picture of a head of a MIDI plug is
assigned to MIDI tracks, and a picture of a waveform
is assigned to audio tracks). To assign a custom
icon, right-click over the existing track icon and
choose “Load Track Icon”. A window displays the
factory library of custom icons categorized in
folders by instrument family. Choose one by opening
the appropriate family folder and double clicking on
an icon within. This custom icon shows up not only
in the Track View, but in the Console View as well,
easily identifying a track by showing a
representative picture of the instrument it's
assigned to. This feature assists in mixing the
score later on because it visually identifies tracks
much more easily than just by name alone. A composer
can even create customized icons as well.
template is complete, save it by choosing “Save As”
from the “File” pulldown menu. Give the template a
unique name in the “File Name” box such as “Working
Film Score Template”. Change the “Save as Type” box
from “Normal” to “Template”. Also change the “Go to
Folder” dropdown to “Template Files (.CWT, .TPL)”.
These steps ensure that when starting future score
projects, this newly saved template is ready and
waiting from within the “Template” listing in the
bottom list pane of the “New Project File” dialog
box (see screenshot of window below):
Set the Time Rulers
An unscored film
has no inclination of anything musical such as tempo,
meter or key. A great feature of SONAR is its capability
to keep track of and display musical time in the form of
bars and beats, and absolute time in the form of
timecode - simultaneously.
To set this up,
first right-click the small “+” box just to the right of
the Time Ruler display. A popup box gives additional
1. Choose the
Timecode Ruler (“Add H:M:S:F Ruler”):
2. Below shows the result
Using and Locking Markers
to track scene changes
Shown below are
markers placed to signify particular changes within a
scene (the orange points with text superimposed over the
invaluable for noting specific emotion changes and hits
within a scene, as well as defining cue boundaries.
These can be input either by entering them on the fly
via the F11 key while playing back the inserted video
file of the film inside SONAR (which the next section
explains), or by manually using the Markers View.
To input a
Choose a spot
in the film where a marker should go (like when a
film's character starts an important line of dialog
that would mark a cue start).
over the Time Rulers area and choose “Insert Marker”
from the drop down menu. Give the marker a
meaningful name and hit “OK”.
The “Markers View”
(accessed via SONAR's “View” pulldown menu > “Markers”)
shows the full list of markers used in the current
project. New markers can be added here, too, as well as
editing the markers' time and name. One thing to note is
that the second column header shows a small padlock
icon. This column toggles the marker lock, which becomes
important when varying tempo or meter in the project.
When locked, the marker stays in place at its absolute
time position, regardless of what's happening musically.
This marker anchoring is important when writing and
changing cues in a film so the markers keep their
original positions and stay linked to the scenes in the
film, not necessarily to the music.
Here's a closer
look at the Markers View window:
PART 2: ADDING THE FILM
INTO THE MIX
SONAR’s synchronized video player
not-so-distant past, working with video meant
synchronizing the composer's score to a timecoded signal
on a separate video cassette playing back a copy of the
film. Luckily today, this process has become much
easier, thanks to the computer playing back the video
file directly – all while in perfect sync to the music.
SONAR can work
with the most commonly used video file formats, such as
Windows Media, Quicktime and MPEG. It also can split out
the attached audio (if it exists) from within the video
file and place it into a newly created audio track.
To load a video
file into SONAR:
“File” pulldown menu, choose “Import > Video…”.
the desired video file and choose “Import Audio
Stream” if any attached audio should also be
imported. Click ”Open”.
Two new elements
are added to the project. First, a new window containing
a floating playback view of the selected video is
displayed. Right-clicking over the window brings up many
adjustable settings for how the video can be played and
processed by SONAR. Second, a special video track is
automatically placed at the very top of the Track View
where video thumbnails representing the content of the
video file are automatically generated across its
The video start,
front and back trim times are fully adjustable via the
video track's inspector area. Two icon buttons are also
included here. The first is to show or hide superimposed
frame numbers. The second shows or hides the video
thumbnails. Also, the entire video track itself can be
shown or hidden by pressing “L” on the computer
keyboard. Hiding this track removes the tendency of
SONAR to constantly redraw the thumbnails during zoom
operations, thus saving extra CPU cycles.
Piping the video out via
SONAR can output
its video directly out via the IEEE1394 (Firewire)
protocol. This in turn can be processed via a suitable
converter box, then on to an external video monitor or
television (see below):
Outputting video externally
instead of using the built-in internal video display
reduces CPU use as the Firewire converter box does most
of the display calculations itself (provided that a
properly encoded DV video file is fed to it first).
To output video via Firewire:
attach a suitable Firewire converter (check
Cakewalk.com for details) to the computer's
IEEE1394/Firewire output port. Windows and SONAR
will discover the converter automatically. Connect a
proper video display or television to the output of
the converter box.
the video display window or the video thumbnail
track and choose “External DV Output” > “DV Devices”
> (Firewire Converter Box Name). The floating video
window's video content disappears and is now
externally being fed through the converter.
As there is an
inherent processing delay when playing back video
via Firewire, SONAR can offset this effect by
adjusting a time value accessed by right-clicking
the floating window again, selecting “Video
Properties”, and inputting a time value in the
“Video Sync Offset” box. Experiment watching the
video while adjusting this setting and this will
help zero in on the correct offset value for the
particular Firewire device.
PART 3: MAKING CUE CHANGES
Getting the score to fit a scene: tempo and
For many reasons,
changes are required during the course of writing a film
score. Sometimes the director isn't quite satisfied with
the pace of the music within a scene, and sometimes the
composer will already be writing cues for a film which
hasn't been completely edited (or “locked”) yet,
resulting in disruption of timing and feel due to
certain scenes being changed.
One of the best
ways to make a particular piece of music fit its scene
is by manipulating its tempo and meter.
manually insert a tempo change:
“Views” pulldown menu, choose “Tempo”.
Open the tempo
list view by typing “T” on the computer keyboard.
Locate the cue
to be changed by clicking over the gray measure line
at the top of the window. Use the window zoom tools
at the bottom right if necessary to bring the length
of the cue into focus. One thing of note for film
composers is that the previously placed markers are
displayed within the tempo window, which makes
placing tempo changes that much easier because the
front and end of the targeted scene are visable.
To insert an
abrupt tempo change, switch to the Draw Tool (“D”)
and click on the graphic grid (up and down is tempo,
left to right is bars and beats).
To make a
gradual change in tempo, such as an accelerando or
ritardando, use the Draw Line Tool (“L”) and click a
starting point, then an ending point, and SONAR will
calculate the necessary tempo changes in between
Shown here is the
making of an accelerando from bar 1 to bar 6:
...and then the result:
SONAR also has the ability to
automatically timescale a whole section of music – MIDI
and audio simultaneously – to an exact ending-time
position. This command is called “Fit to Time”, which is
located via the “Process” pulldown menu. This feature
saves lots of time with its most powerful command when
the composer has to quickly shrink or enlarge cues to
fit a given scene.
The dialog box
offers many options to help make the change happen as
transparently as possible.
The “Fit to Time” facility makes
adjusting a cue's length to fit a modified scene almost
a meter change:
“Views” pulldown menu, choose “Meter/Key”.
“Insert Meter/Key” Icon button, or type “A” on the
dialog box is displayed to make the change. Note the
measure box at the top, then input a new time
signature under the “Meter” subheading. Hit OK to
apply the change.
changes via the Piano Roll View (PRV)
SONAR has a great
stacking feature in its MIDI editors, called the “Track
Pane”. Multiple MIDI tracks can be superimposed upon
each other, which in turn, can then be revolved for
individual editing. The film composer can take full
advantage of this feature for instant orchestration
changes. For example, a string section made up of many
individual tracks can all be brought into the Piano Roll
View (PRV), which instantly displays a view of the
string section's (for example) orchestration. This
feature promotes intuitive track editing, while at the
same time, updates changes to the section's
orchestration picture, all in plain view. The film
composer can now easily check section overlaps, thin-out
or thicken-up musical passages, or blend instrument
colors together more effectively.
more than one track for editing in the PRV, follow these
steps (and reference the screenshot below):
From the Track
View, shift-click two or more tracks by clicking on
the track numbers.
Press Alt and
the number 5 together to put these tracks into the
Now in the PRV,
press “H” on the computer keyboard to display the
Track Pane on the right side of the PRV.
track in the Track Pane is the current selected one.
To select another track for editing, click on the
track’s name, and the PRV will now show it in front
of the others.
editing, the Track Pane also contains controls to
mute (“M” square), solo (“S” square), and record arm
(“R” square) each track individually. Enable /
disable (white square) and track hiding (colored
track square) are also available on a per track
Tracks” dialog within the PRV (press “T”) permits
flexible edited track assignments to be displayed in
the PRV shown via the Track Pane.
Shown below is an
example of the above; three MIDI tracks to be edited
inside the PRV with Track Pane and floating “Pick
Tracks” dialog box:
PART 4: DELIVERING FOR THE
Once the composer's work has been completed and
approved, the audio must be prepared for inclusion into
the film's final mix, or dub.
Preparing stems for submixing
At the final mix, the mix engineer will need flexibility
in mixing the composer's outputted score, so separate
submixes, called “stems,” are required. Stems are
usually segmented by orchestral section, such as:
woodwinds, strings, brass, percussion, synths, effects,
special, etc... They can either be in normal stereo, or
in surround sound format (if that was used during the
composer's mixing process).
Here are a few guidelines to follow when stemming for
the final mix:
- Export at the sample rate
and resolution that the film will be mixed at
(typically this is 48Khz / 24 bit). It's a good idea
to compose entirely in the final mix rate and
resolution, if known ahead of time.
- Leave a little headroom
(3-6dB) as each stem will be combined with many
other sound elements later.
- Make the start of each
stem exactly at the same spot (usually the film's
absolute starting time). This step is to ensure
proper lineup of all of the tracks. Don't be
concerned that some stems may contain mostly silence
because proper synchronization is more important
than worrying about wasting disk space.
- Leave less traditional
effects (like thick digital delays or lo-fi) out of
the stem mix, unless the director calls for it.
Remember, the mix engineer cannot take things out of
a stem's mix. If in doubt, create a separate stem
with just the effect; it can then be mixed up or
down to suit.
To export a stem:
sure that the “Render Bit Depth” setting under the “File
bit depths” section (“Options” pulldown > “Global” >
“Audio Data” tab) matches that of the stem destination
file (see below).
02. Mute all of the tracks
that are not to be included in the stem to be recorded
(soloing may be easier in bigger templates).
the “File” pulldown menu, choose “Export” > “Audio”.
04. Choose a directory where the stem is to be
recorded. Give the stem recording a name. If the stems
are to be mixed in Pro Tools, for example, choose
“Broadcast Wave” (“Files of type” field) and “Channel
Format” as “Split Mono”. Check any other applicable
05. Press “Export” and the file will be mixed
down and saved. Repeat these steps again for the
remaining stems left for the final mix.
As already shown throughout this tutorial, film scoring
requires flexibility by nature, and the tools needed to
do the job have to be equally as flexible. That's why
SONAR is easily a perfect choice for the modern film