Work smarter, not harder.
In what can be filed under as an "out of the box solution" for on set workflow, let me introduce you to Soundplant, a free application that allows you to play any piece of preloaded audio through a QWERTY keyboard.
I first learned about Soundplant interviewing production sound mixer Ed Novick (Inception, The Dark Knight, Moneyball) about his work on Adam McKay's Vice. Since finding out about it, it's become one of those "where have you been all my life" moments and a must share for NFS readers.
Any production sound mixer will tell you that playback is an essential part of their duties. Whether it's to cue music for actors to sing along or to trigger a beat for background extras to dance to, as a production sound mixer, playback cues have to be on time to keep the energy in scenes. Pro Tools has always been the go-to for playback on set, and if the scene is complex, a separate playback operator is ideal. But what if the budget doesn't allow for one or you're not familiar with Pro Tools (its free version is available for download here). Enter Soundplant.
With this free software you can assign sound files in virtually any format and length to the keyboard keys of your choosing. It's simple; once the Soundplant interface is open, you can click on any one of the 72 keyboard keys and open the sound file you want designated to that key. Once assigned, the audio can be instantly played by pressing the key. So if "Cruel Summer" by Bananarama is allocated to Q", all you need to do is press "Q" on your laptop for it to begin playing. This allows you to keep mixing the scene without missing a beat.
Soundplant supports .wav, .aif, .mp3, .mp4, .m4a, .aac, .flac, .wma, .alac, .wv, .ogg, .snd and .ape files as well as video formats .wmv, .mov, .avi, .divx, .mpg, .flv and .3gp. Its developer, Marc Blum, is a one-man show, so he's always updating and reading user feedback to improve functionality.
The interface is chock-full of options. If you want to change the audio to a different key all you need to do is click and drag the sound file to another key. There's recording functionality and real-time tweaking for volume, panning, pitch, reverb, lowpass, resonance and LFO effects. Multiple tracks can also be played at once. Options for autofade, custom track colors, renaming tracks, waveform views and the ability to launch multiple Soundplant interfaces are also available. The latter is a great way to keep content for multiple scenes separate.
Besides music, Soundplant works with dialog cues for phone calls or in place of off-camera lines normally read by the assistant director or script supervisor. It's a program every filmmaker should at least know about and it's already helped this author out on several projects. You can learn more about it or download it here.