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Thursday, Nov 30, 2023

Hitting All the Right Notes

That television and film creators use the scores distributed by SmartSound Software Inc. is music to the ears of the three partners who founded the company. After more than 10 years of building up the business through corporate clients, the Northridge firm now stakes its future growth on professionals in the entertainment industry. Not even the ongoing writers strike is expected to have an effect as the production music put out by SmartSound is used by reality television programmers whose product is anticipated to fill in schedules as networks run out of scripted shows. The popularity of SmartSound’s software lies in the ability of a user to customize the music available on 150-plus discs. Multiple users can take the same piece of music and make each sound different. It’s like having an on-call music composer. “We can take the library industry and bring in a technology component that makes it irresistible to people using library music,” said company CEO Kevin Klingler. The founders of SmartSound all have a music background Klingler as a film and television composer; Vice President and CTO Chris Hufford as a recording engineer; and Vice President of product development Geoffrey Hufford as a music editor and arranger. When the company started in 1995 media creators were not a viable market for mixing software, a market dominated by audio professionals. If computer-aided design software can make designing things like buildings or airplanes easier, Klingler said, why shouldn’t there be software to make scoring easier? The idea proved so useful that SmartSound has been licensed by heavy hitters like IBM, Apple and Avid. Last year the company generated revenues of $2.8 million from sales of the software and licensing fees and received accolades for its products. EventDV magazine named the Sonicfire Pro 4.5 Network Edition as one of the 12 products to watch at the NAB 2007 conference in April and the Los Angeles Film School in Hollywood installed the software into its 41 work stations. The company scored a coup this fall in a deal with EMI Music to license four discs of its film and television scores for use by consumers for their home videos and amateur films. Imagine putting “Ghostbusters” to footage from a birthday or the theme from “The Good, the Bad and The Ugly” to a family wedding. It Sounds So Easy SmartSound software works this way: the music discs come encoded with information only the software can read and gives the user multiple versions of that music in varying lengths and different variations with full control over the mix. The user then has the ability to create music unattainable with traditional library scores. Rick Larimore, audio services manager at Burbank post-production house Elektrofilm, started using SmartSound software after visiting the company’s booth at the National Association of Broadcasters trade show in 2006. Using the software is akin to having an orchestra in front of you and being able to tell the violas to take a break, Larimore said. While working on a recent feature for the SciFi Channel, Larimore needed to add a theme for a television news show. With the original composer not available Larimore turned to SmartSound, found a piece of music he liked and created the theme music he needed by removing the strings and percussion. The editing, mixing and placement of the music took all of 30 minutes. “That’s worth the price of admission right there,” Larimore said. What Larry Jordan found useful about SmartSound was the ability to create music that matched the length of a scene. Unlike, say, a commercial with a set running time of 15 or 30 seconds that a composer can easily write for, a documentary or corporate video requires a score of varying lengths. Before using SmartSound, Jordan would spend hours editing scores. Now it’s as simple as hitting a button and coming out with a score with a beginning, a middle, an end and a melody. “When I saw this in ’97 I said, ‘Finally, I’ve got my life back,” Jordan said. The breadth of the musical styles offered is another plus pointed out by Jordan. Klingler and company achieve that by working with top-flight outside composers, including Emmy Award-winner Brian Keane and Richard Band, whose work has appeared in feature films, on CBS and the Sci-Fi Channel. Working with SmartSound offers a way for the composer’s work to be purchased and used by a large number of people, Klingler said. “The quality we are getting is the highest in the industry because of the composers we work with,” Klingler said. Production music once was derided as “canned” music and companies creating that music made them stand out by the quality of their work. That is no longer the case with the improvements in studio recording equipment and instruments. SmartSound gives itself an advantage over competitors by not only the quality of the music but the customization by the user. And it’s an easy system to use. Jordan, who gives training seminars on post-production software, said he can teach someone to use the SmartSound software in 35 seconds. “Maybe a minute if you are a slow learner,” Jordan added. While the company still has many corporate clients, its future lies with television and independent filmmakers. New versions of its software that use what Klingler would only reveal as “exciting” technology will push further into the professional market. “It’s that technology that will continue to drive the edge of the company,” Klingler said. SPOTLIGHT: SmartSound Software Inc. Year Founded: 1995 Revenues in 2000: $1.9 million Revenue in 2006: $2.8 million Employees in 2000: 11 Employees in 2006: 16

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