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Building Sounds for your Applications with SoundTracker

Getting Started: The Sounds

August 9, 2002

With Andrew J.D. Bowman

Entering the world of the professional sound editor is like trying to go from Windows to Linux when you've never touched a Unix system before. You know how to listen to CDs and MP3s, maybe even how to burn your own CDs, but all of this talk about "tracks" and "loops" and other electronic music and sound generation terminology can be enough to make you consider changing careers to basket weaving.

A "verbal" introduction to this technology is just not enough for most beginners. Rather than writing "about" SoundTracker and sound generation, what we've built here is a proper introductory lesson to get you started. After going through this, you should be able to use SoundTracker under Linux to generate sounds for your latest applications before you release them.

Most folks don't start completely from scratch. Doing so is a far more involved and advanced issue; so let's not muddy the waters here for those just getting started. The first task, then, is to collect "sound samples," which are as you might guess are files that each contain a recording of a sound. This sound can be as brief as a single note from a musical instrument, or longer, such as someone speaking a word, or even a portion of a song (which, according to US copyright law, may be licensed up to as little as two notes, so be careful. If you're not in the US then consult your own country's laws on this issue.).

Fortunately, sound samples are everywhere on the Internet. You can buy them from commercial sites, such as www.sonicfoundry.com, and download them for free from legitimate download sites like www.pocketfuel.com/. Keep in mind that even free sample sounds are often copyrighted; but when purchased, their license allows the user to combine them into an original work without violating the copyright of the individual component samples.

Sample format is important to understand as well. In the case of SoundTracker, there are references to Modules, Samples, Instruments, and a Wave. Waves can be the most complex items here, and are typically in WAV format. A WAV is a large file containing numbers that represent the cumulative sound wave of a song, though it's often also used to contain samples as well. Note that an MP3 file is a WAV file subjected to a particular type of data compression. When SoundTracker refers to a "Sample," it's typically referring to a WAV.

When SoundTracker wants a Module, it's talking about the MOD format, which contains both the instructions for playing the particular song or sound (remember, we can be talking about a flute or a voice or the sounds of boots stepping in gravel), and the actual base "recordings" required for building the piece. Then there's the Instruments, which are in XI format in SoundTracker's case. XI files are a remnant of the FastTracker program, an older DOS Tracker program, and contain both instrument sounds and complex drum beats.

So you can follow along, we have included a set of sound samples for you to work with for this project.

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