$549.95 download, $599.95 boxed
By Craig Anderton
I do a lot of videos for Harmony Central, from tutorials to trade show coverage to trailers, and people often ask what I use. Well, first let me say that I don’t come from a video background. But many years ago, I discovered a program that presented video editing in such a musician-friendly way that I was indeed able to become a video editor. The program: Sony’s Vegas.
You can download a trial version of this Windows-only software at www.sonycreativesoftware.com, so we needn’t cover every aspect of the program; you can find that out for yourself. Instead, this review will describe the program’s gestalt, and why musicians often gravitate to it.
DO YOU NEED TO VIDEO?
Today, online videos are an almost essential element if you want to promote your band. If you tracks stats on what sells online and what doesn’t, having a video as part of your promotions really helps. Think of all the people who’ve sent you links to some video on YouTube; if you had a video up there, maybe people would be sending links to their friends about your video.
In a nutshell, all you really need to do video (assuming you have audio capabilities) is a video camera, a computer with an interface that lets you transfer video from the camera (typically, Firewire or with cameras that record to SD cards, a card reader), and capture/editing software—like Sony Vegas.
THE VEGAS-AUDIO CONNECTION
I think that one reason musicians can relate to Vegas is that it started as an audio-only program, designed to compete with software like Digidesign’s Pro Tools. It used familiar DAW paradigms, including track layouts, plug-ins, and the like. But it never really got traction—until it added a video editing window. From that point on, the video editing functions just got more and more sophisticated, and interestingly, the audio kept pace as well. Vegas Pro supports ASIO, VST and DirectX plug-in chains, the ability to open and edit tracks in Sound Forge, automatic crossfading, sophisticated automation, surround sound, high resolution sample rates, external controllers, and the like. About the only major audio-related goodies it doesn’t offer are MIDI and hosting of VST soft synths. But hey—this is a video program, right?
Because it started life as an audio program, the subsequent advances in Vegas’s video editing hewed to audio editing paradigms, to the point where if you know how to edit audio, you can pretty much edit video as well. You can add video plug-ins and effects to individual clips (the type of “object-oriented” editing in which Samplitude specializes) as well as to complete tracks. Video clips can do automatic crossfades and have envelopes for features such as opacity (transparency) and velocity (e.g., slow motion or sped-up motion). Although I’ve played around with various editing programs, Vegas has more equivalency of audio and video operations than any other program I’ve used.
WORKING WITH VEGAS
You’ll find out about the workflow soon enough if you download the demo, but the first step is getting video out of your camera and into the computer. An accessory program, VidCap, comes with Vegas; it’s dedicated to talking to your camcorder, and transferring data to your hard drive. After the data is there, Vegas can “point” to sections for playback, just like standard audio hard disk recorders.
As shown in Fig. 1, the program’s arrangement is very much like any audio host program. (However, if you use Acid or Sound Forge, you’ll have a head start on the learning curve—Sony’s pro programs have a lot in common, such as keyboard shortcuts.) There’s a list of tracks (audio and video), and a time line where you can see/edit audio and video clips. You’ll encounter familiar transport controls, a mixer for the audio, Explorer-like browser for finding material, and so on.
There are quite a few video effects; think of these as the video equivalent of signal processors. They can enhance a video production tremendously by adding accents like glows, improving the apparent quality of existing footage, or doing creative transitions between scenes. There are also preset transitions, like having a scene open up like a window. Frankly, I don’t use many of these—they’re okay for business presentations and such, but can give “serious” videos a sometimes amateurish quality unless the effects are used with taste…hmm, kind of like signal processors.
You need to learn a few basic video edits, like pan, zoom, and rotate, but that’s not hard. Figuring out text and such is also pretty easy, although new to version 8 is a more sophisticated titling option where letters can move and animate. I’m still getting into this, because there are a lot of options and as alluded to earlier, I try not to be too gimmicky in my videos.
The rest of the work with clips, either audio or video, involves the usual cut, paste, and copy options. There are a few differences compared to audio; a video clip higher in the track list will be “in front” of one and obscure any track that’s lower on the list, whereas with audio, they would all be heard at the same time.
However, this characteristic also allows for some great effects because you can add envelopes that affect the opacity of clips. So you could, for example, copy a clip and place it directly above the original. Make the top clip black and white, the bottom clip color, then fade out the black and white clip; it will fade into color (which will save you some time if you’re ever doing a remake of “Wizard of Oz”).
WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS DOESN’T STAY IN VEGAS
…it ends up on the web, or a DVD, or a CD-ROM. So Vegas can export in a variety of formats, and comes with DVD Architect, a DVD authoring program that lets you save your hard work on a standard DVD-ROM, and watch the video on your big-screen TV. Compared to what I feel is Vegas’s amazingly fluid workflow, DVD Architect seems kind of convoluted but I always manage to stumble my way through and create DVDs with indexes and all that other good stuff.
Vegas Pro costs under $600, which is certainly fair for what you get. But you may not need all the features it has, in which case it’s worth noting that Sony has a couple “downscale” products: Vegas Movie Studio ($74.95 download, $89.95 boxed) and Vegas Movie Studio Platinum Edition ($114.95 download, $129.95). How downscale? Well, I used Vegas Movie Studio to do many of last year’s Frankfurt Musikmesse videos for Harmony Central, so it can’t be too bad! It has fewer tracks and is more limited than Vegas, but it will do what most people need from a video editing program.
Of course, there are other options. Mac fans swear by Final Cut Pro, and Adobe’s suite of programs (including Premiere Pro) is excellent. But there’s no denying that many musicians feel most comfortable with Vegas. If you want to start making your own videos, the Vegas family of products is a fine place to start.
Craig Anderton is Editor Emeritus of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.