The Open Source Soundtrack Project

This project is not affiliated with the Blender Foundation, with “Project Gooseberry” or with any other party

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Introduction

Soundtrack and Sound Design with Open Source Software – Production and Flowchart

Introduction

Did you enjoy Elephants Dream, Big Buck Bunny and Sintel?

Did you know that Project Gooseberry has started?

If so, for sure you know that these “open movies” have been realized by means of the free and open source Blender 3D animation suite.

What about the soundtrack and the sound design?

They came from the brilliant fantasy and outstanding skills of Jan Morgenstern, the best composer for media on the earth!

So, what’s the matter? Aren’t there already open source soundtracks for open source movies?

Well, this is hard to say, because “source files” of a soundtrack may not be well definable.

In general, “sources are available” when we have access to the file used to create the “product”.

But, with “open source”, we also would like to have means of re-creating the given “product”, or a derived type of the given “product”.

Blender is free and professional software, so, given the source “.blend” files, textures, Blender software, as well as enough CPU power, we will be able to re-create or modify the movie.

Unfortunately, many free tools for music creation are still not able to deliver “professional” music.

So, composers and music producers “are forced” to use commercial software, which is better in terms of:

  • time on market;
  • ease of use;
  • stability.

We will see later the music creation tools currently available on the market.

For now, let’s just focus on the conclusion: a professional music composer doesn’t use open source software, also because the results will not be professional.

Therefore, even if we had access to the project files (Sibelius/Cubase/ProTools files), and this is not the case with most of the composers, we still would not be able to recreate the original product, because:

  • we would have to buy the original commercial software to actually use the project files;
  • the samples/sounds used for the audio rendering and for sound design would be also commercial and very expensive.

So, many “potentially interested” users, which in the past have asked for a complete score of the soundtrack, are not able to enjoy experimenting with the music files, or simply learning from other people’s experience. This simply happens because the composer, who lives by doing music (let’s not forget this!) just doesn’t have time to provide a full orchestral score by starting from scratch on another notation program.

Is there a final solution for this matter?

We think that, currently, there isn’t any.

But, here is what the Open Source Soundtrack Project (OSSP) aims to do.

Who are we?

That depends…

Goal of this Project

The goal of the Open Source Soundtrack Project (OSSP) is to deliver the best open source soundtrack possible for an open source movie.

This means that the soundtrack must be:

  • professional;
  • original and well adapted to the movie;
  • suitable for a standalone listening experience, when this is not in contrast with the movie;
  • available as sources;
  • released under Creative Commons license.

OK, there’s nothing original in this.

What is the difference with non-open source soundtracks?

How can we make all this happen?

Let’s focus once more on the idea of “availability of sources”, with the following question.

Is classical music “open source”?

Well, we have the original orchestral score of sheet music, which now is in public domain and freely available on imslp.org, so the answer is: yes, classical music is “open source”, because we have had access to “sources” for such a long time, without even knowing it!

How can we reproduce classical music? Strictly speaking, we can’t reproduce it exactly, but we can perform it live, adapt it, interpret it, modify it, and so on.

So, the original idea of “sources” splits once more into:

  1. availability of a file;

  2. means of reproducing it.

About the “availability of the file”, we may want to split this idea into: availability of the score/sheet music, which contains the original music + availability of all the project files.

About the “means of reproducing the music”, we may want to split this idea into: means of reproducing it exactly + means of playing it live.

All these ideas act very well in the following combinations.

  1. We may release a soundtrack by means of a Creative Commons score or as sheet music, giving rights to
    orchestras to perform it live freely, i.e. without paying royalties to collecting societies (ASCAP, etc.). This
    way, a real orchestra will be able to bring this music “in tour”, to get payed for its performance and to give us in return a beautiful recording of a real performance, which can be mixed into the open-source movie.

  2. As above, giving anyone the rights to create the synthesized version of the score, which he will release as Creative Commons. Anyone will be able to use it as “production music” for other projects and we would receive “professional-sounding” music to be mixed into the open-source movie.

  3. We may directly release the soundtrack as a “complete product”, with all the project files that can be used to re-create the synthesized version of the music. This may include files that can be opened by open source software or commercial software. The important is that these files are available to everyone. Also in this case, live playing and modifications of the music would be unrestricted.

And the best idea is that, at each further step, the music gets improvements from listeners, performers, producers, etc.

This would be great material, for the next generations!

The Software

Actually, the software used in each step is not important (Mozart never used software!); the important thing is that the score must always be accessible to everyone.

Why?

Because, even if currently there isn’t an open source software for this ambitious project (and we would be happy to be proven wrong), in future there will almost certainly be: and we would be happy and free to “convert our work for use with this software”.

Please also remember that “open source music” does not mean that the final recorded music will be distributed as an open format file, like OGG or FLAC. This has nothing to do with it!
Of course, the choice of these formats as the final music media files is a natural pick, but the “source” project files or the score do not only consist of an audio file!

A short and very incomplete list follows, with popular tools that may be used for our goals.

Open Source Software

  • Lilypond (very good rendering of the sheet music, very difficult to learn and use, as it is mainly “textual”)
  • Musescore (excellent software for sheet music creation, user-friendly, moderate audio playing capabilities through plugins, such as Linuxsampler and additional “sound” samples)
  • LMMS (good digital audio workstation, lacks extensive automation of the plugins, does not send control signals to the VST instruments)
  • Rosegarden
  • Ardour
  • Kdenlive (video editing and audio synchronization)
  • Audacity (excellent audio editor)
  • Blender (3D animation suite, with audio capability)

The big problem of these tools is that each of them is mainly dedicated to a key single task only.

Furthermore, open source music samples (virtual instruments) with licenses suitable for their usage in open source development are generally hard to find. Open source virtual instruments, like orchestral samples and relevant audio rendering engines, are generally not able to deliver “professional” sound quality.

Commercial Software

  • Sibelius (excellent score production capabilities, excellent rendering capabilities through other VST instruments, like East West Play, VSL)
  • Finale (excellent score layout capabilities, a little bit difficult to learn, moderate capability of sound rendering)
  • Cubase/ProTools/Reaper and other Digital Audio Workstations
  • East West VST instruments
  • Vienna Symphonic Library VST instruments

All these tools are excellent, but very expensive, so, for open source music, additional human-readable output files (like a PDF or an interchange format) should be released along with the project files.

Interchange formats

Interchange formats may be useful when trying to open one project file with another tool.

The main interchange formats are the following.

  • MusicXML. This score interchange format may be read and written by many music notation programs (Musescore, Sibelius, Finale).
  • MIDI. This old music interchange format may be suitable to pass information about notes and automation curves between audio programs.
  • PDF. This printing format can accurately represent the whole score.

The mentioned music formats are not “native” formats, so much information is lost in the conversion process. The lost data must be manually re-created in the “destination program” that opens the interchange format file.

The Team

The Team of the Open Source Soundtrack Project (OSSP) will perform the following activities:

  • creation of the open source soundtrack for the open movie;
  • registration, through third party digital time-stamping or in a suitable registry e.g. safecreative.org, of the Creative Commons work, to prove the authorship of the work and to prevent different licensing terms;
  • delivery of all the project files relevant to the production of the soundtrack;
  • delivery, as applicable, of all the instructions to re-create the soundtrack, both “exactly”, i.e. by means of suitable software, and “not-exactly”, i.e. in a live performance;
  • delivery of one ore more human-readable files, e.g. score files, to encourage spread of the music and future uses with open source tools, in particular when projects files are not created with an open source program;
  • delivery of high quality soundtracks in compressed and non-compressed open formats;
  • delivery, when requested, of a complete and open set of sounds for the sound design (environmental and background noises, footsteps, etc.);
  • creation of a website to support our work and use of other existing websites, e.g. imslp.org, to give visibility to the soundtrack.

I know, I still haven’t said who we are…

The License

Mainly, the works will be released under a suitable Creative Commons license, allowing commercial usage, public performance and modifications of the work.

The Making of an Open Source Soundtrack

We have two options to schedule the making of an open source soundtrack.

Option No. 1 is: the soundtrack creation starts when the movie is ready, as a post-production task.

Pros:

  • Lower cost and time. The soundtrack only needs to be studied once. No re-synchronization due to movie modifications.

Cons:

  • The soundtrack must be prepared as fast as possible. This may lead to non-original music, never ending strings chords, and so on…
  • There is no musical fun during the movie creation. The cast and the team do not feel the characters behaviors through the “lead musical themes”, because the themes are not yet available.
  • Less time to define the single characters from a musical point of view. This may be OK for a short movie, but in a 90-minute movie, this may lead to an awful soundtrack.

Option No. 2 is: the soundtrack evolves during the whole project, from the beginning.

Pros:

  • There is much time to “think” about the soundtrack type, instruments, mood, etc. and to deliver original music. When music is not original, it just get modified. The musical themes are studied and proposed early in the development of the story, scripts, drafts, etc. Musical themes may be discussed and commented by the production team.
  • Every character or situation may have a suitable musical idea, therefore, many themes will be present in the final soundtrack.
  • The soundtrack will not contain “useless musical fillings” and it will be self supporting, even in case it is listened to as “standalone music”, separate from the movie.
  • There is time for music to “inspire” the movie, so the movie may develop also on the basis of the music. Furthermore, often music just self-evolves as time passes.

Cons:

  • Higher overall costs (unless people are working for free on the project).
  • Coordination problems may arise, since many composers may try to impose their music. To solve this issue, the final word about music style, development and approval will be, as usual, from the movie production team.

We are focusing on an open source movie, so our project has an “experimental” nature. Therefore, we may want to evaluate Option No. 2.

As a “plan B”, we will have time to fall back to Option No. 1 (post-production task).

The Sound Design

Like in all movies, the sound design will be required to give credibility to the animation (characters, movements, locations).

Therefore, we will also need to deliver a complete set of sounds for the sound design (environmental noises, footsteps, etc.).

The audio samples must be:

  • high quality – this mainly means recorded with high quality devices;
  • free of superimposed background noises;
  • licensed for open source and Creative Commons use, so that the samples may be distributed along with the open movie and soundtrack.

Samples collection may be done “from scratch”, with preparation of a large database in which the contributors of this project will store their personally recorded samples, in FLAC/16-bit/44.1 kHz format.

The audio samples may be organized like “textures” in Blender.

Audio samples may also be retrieved from existing open projects, such as:

The sounds are generally placed under public domain and/or Creative Commons licenses.

Before inclusion of the sounds in our open source project, a preliminary analysis will be performed about actual sound quality, suitability for the sound environment and distribution license.

Editing and synchronizing of these samples is possible by means of many open source audio editors and in Blender as well, using “Speaker” objects which can be moved along with animated objects to create very interesting environmental sounds.

Therefore, open source files may be available also for sound design and environmental noises.

Support us

So, who are we?

This should be clear, now:

  • anyone who wants to share his works and experiences (not only as a composer, but also as a consultant, or a live performer, or an orchestrator), even for free on his spare time, or on a commercial basis. This may include you!
  • artists who may be interested in developing this project or in providing music with Creative Commons license.
  • people who want to share their recorded sounds.

If you are a professional composer, don’t be scared of this project: it does not aim at stealing market to traditional composers: the same non-profit rules that apply to open movies creation will also apply to the soundtrack creation, on a case-by-case basis, so that doesn’t mean that you will have to contribute to the project “full-time” or “for free”.

Please also be warned that the focus of this project is to create “one quality soundtrack within a year”, according to the typical time schedule of an open movie, not to mass-produce commercial soundtracks or production music.

If you want to support us with comments, improvements to this project, or if you want to offer your skills in music production in accordance with the ideas expressed herein, feel free to leave a comment or contact us.

This project is not affiliated with the Blender Foundation, with “Project Gooseberry” or with any other party

Creative Commons License
The Open Source Soundtrack Project by Francesco Zanellato is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://francescozanellato.jamendo.net/ossp.