PreSonus Blog

Instant Soundtrack!

Who reading this wouldn’t want to make a little more money from their music? Okay, dumb question.

When people think “soundtrack,” images of Hollywood scoring stages come to mind. But soundtracks are a much broader topic now. YouTube videos, podcasters, corporate presenters, educational videos, and local businesses doing radio or TV ads all need soundtracks.

In 1992, I wrote an article called “Subtractive Sequencing” for Keyboard magazine that described filling a piece of music with loops, and then cutting out sections to make an arrangement. It didn’t get much attention. But over 20 years later (!), a blog post called “Subtractive Arranging—Novel Production Method from Danny J Lewis” presented the same technique. This time, it did get attention, to the point where the inevitable “Why I Don’t Use Subtractive Arranging” appeared in someone else’s blog.

 Why? He didn’t like how this technique created static arrangements. But those “static arrangements” are actually ideal for… wait for it… soundtracks.

A good soundtrack fills space behind visuals or narration, but always plays a supporting role. So, I use subtractive arrangements to create soundtracks. I just take a song, and remove anything with a human voice, lead lines, some of the layers in layered parts, and most ear candy unless it complements the visuals (fig. 1). Then I render the mix, and compress the heck out of it—not to win the loudness wars, but to maintain a constant level that can happily sit -12 to -15 dB or so below the narration or dialogue.

Figure 1: The events in white were part of a song—but not part of a soundtrack.

In fig. 1, subtracted events are filled in with white for clarity. The tracks Lead Vocal and Smile (some ear candy) were muted. So was a layered, Nashville tuned guitar track, because the high frequencies stood out too much. The layered Standard tuning part was left in, but extra tempo-synched echo for both were cut. Similarly, there were two tracks of “Beat Filters,” loops from my AdrenaLinn Guitars loop library. They were panned to center and side for a cool stereo effect—that no one would care about. So, I muted one of them. Sections of a house bass loop were also removed.

The final, mixed soundtrack is exactly 1.5 minutes, and consists of drums, rhythm guitar triggered by a drum sidechain signal, bass in some parts, a beat filter loop in some parts, and a little acoustic guitar. That’s all that was needed. One last tip: You can mix bass up pretty high, because it helps drive a song and is out of the speech range.  

Every now and then, I go through some of my older projects, strip out anything distracting, create a soundtrack, and save it into my “Soundtracks” folder. Whenever I need a soundtrack, there’s always something suitable in there. And even better, if you get into creating soundtracks, you might find some interesting opportunities to make money from them.

Here’s the finished soundtrack:

For more tips on how to get the most out of Studio One, check out the series of Studio One eBooks that cover tips & tricks, creative mixing, recording/mixing vocals, dynamics processors, and recording/mixing guitar. Remember, just like software, eBook owners can download the latest “point” updates for free from their PreSonus account (or Sweetwater account, if purchased from there). Owners are also eligible for new editions at a reduced price.