Q It Up: This month’s question comes from a RAP Network member who asks: “My Station Manager encourages me to look for different sounds/themes/textures for our stations’ imaging, to look to outside influences and media and incorporate them into our sound. Where do you go for ideas when looking to explore new sonic territory?”
Cooper Fox [cooper[at]conwaymagic .com], Magic 104, Conway, New Hampshire: Stations in other markets can be a great source, and occasionally something I see on TV will give me an idea. I always try to have a notebook and pen with me when traveling or watching TV. Another source I use for ideas is the RAP CD and the promotional CDs/websites for voiceover talent.
Chris Adams [ChrisAdams[at]Clear Channel.com], Clear Channel Audio Design, Boise, Idaho: We’re always looking for new sonic textures. We get ideas from broadcast TV, satellite TV, cable TV, and the Internet. But just IDEAS, not actual sound bites or clips. Clear Channel is VERY clear on copyright policies. We’ll also take a recorder outside and grab different sounds and try to put a beat to ‘em for promos. Now, THAT’s fun! And it works better than a SFX library for seasonal, local outdoor sounds.
We’re very fortunate that most of our production team plays at least one musical instrument (not necessarily WELL, in my case). A knowledge of music helps a BUNCH in trying to put all these items together in a meaningful way. But I would have to say the most important elements in finding and developing new sounds are 1) an open mind, and 2) time to experiment. If you have an open mind and are willing to try new directions in sound design, you’re 85% there. And if you have the time to experiment you are truly blessed.
Carlos Montoya [agmaprod[at]live radio.com], KYLZ, Albuquerque, New Mexico: Looking for new sounds is always a challenge. Not only are you under pressure to find new and exciting stuff on the cutting edge, but you are also bound by copyright laws—and enforcement is growing. So rather than trying to lift stuff from movies or TV, your best bet is to research the imaging libraries out there, and if you can get it approved, try to get a few of them at the same time. There are some really great libraries available, and if you mix up a few different ones, you can stay sounding fresh for a long time. If you’re a drop-oriented kind of imager, there are plenty of licensed libraries of hundreds of movie drops and quick bites. When it comes to sweeps and textures and that sort of thing, I rarely use imaging effects as they come on the CD. As I listen to the bare sounds off the CD, I get visions of bigger, more elaborate sound events. Each individual cut is a building block from which you can create an endless bank of sound sculptures. Whether you decide you need to cut, speed up, slow down, stutter, reverse, or add more sounds on top, or even insert bits of other sounds in the middle (or all of the above), you can really create some new and exciting stuff that nobody’s ever heard before. And no other market will have anything quite like it, even if they are using the same effects library. It’s very much like music. Everybody in the history of Western music has used the same twelve notes over and over. There’s never really anything new. But look at the infinite possibilities with the different arrangements and combinations of those notes. All you need to be the freshest sounding station in your market is a few buyout or barter deals, a big cup of coffee (or Coke or whatever) and your imagination. Happy sculpting!
Craig Jackman [craigj[at]canada .com], Rogers Media, Ottawa Canada: Wow tough question. I’ve always wanted to make my imaging complimentary to the music on the station... to move it forward by feeding on itself. So when I’m looking for sonic textures, I’m listening to what we’re playing, or what the “new music” stations in town are playing. Of course while I’m listening to the other stations’ music, I’m hearing what they do so I know what I DON’T want to do when it comes to imaging my stations.
When I’m looking for outside influences, mine comes from a most unexpected place. Rather than TV or print, I go for a walk in an old neighbourhood with lots of turn of the century and older houses. I find looking at all the beautiful craftsmanship, fine detail, and the pride the current owners have in the building puts me in the proper frame of mind to be creative in the studio.
Troy Duran [troy[at]troyduran.com]: I like to listen to different styles of music and use them like an interior decorator would use a color wheel. For instance, let’s say the primary color blue represents Rock: A promo highlighting your music might use the primary color. The secondary colors green and purple might represent Hard Rock and Alternative, which might be useful, depending on the promotion, or you could use a style of music on the opposite end of the spectrum to help provide a fresh perspective on the promo in question. For example, if you’re doing a promo for a beach party filled with debauchery and loud music, you could use the loud music itself, or you could go to the other side of the color wheel to paint the event like kindergarten recess, and use Teletubby music interspersed with music from the actual artists.
You can use this concept for any format. Just be careful to tailor the approach to what your audience will accept as entertaining. If it’s a Smooth Jazz station, you could probably use bluesy music to do a promo about some poor soul who didn’t get to pick the station at work. Doing the same kind of promo using Rock music might turn your listener off, as he/she came to your station to relax, not to hear reminders of what they’d rather not hear.
One good place to see this concept in action is cable TV. If you watch MTV and the Comedy Channel, you notice that they “paint” VERY boldly with wild contrasts in texture - Black and white, slashes and tears, flowers and flames. Go to the History Channel or TLC though, and you’ll see lots of complementary colors that blend and harmonize.
Two people who I think are masters at this are Ann Dewig at DC 101 and Joel Moss at WEBN. What incredible imaginations they have!
Dave Foxx [DaveFoxx[at]clearchannel .com], Z100, New York: There are a couple of places I look to for “inspiration,” and once in a while, actual sound.
Inspiration is easy. I subscribe to RAP Magazine. Every month I get a CD that is chock full of ideas. Just about every cut on the disc contains the seeds of brilliance, even if the brilliance isn’t fully realized on the cut. When I get a new RAP CD, I take it to my vehicle and listen to it while I drive. Knowing that when I drive, and I have all the usual distractions of traffic to deal with, I feel that any idea that stands out is one that cuts through and has potential for me in my work. I will generally listen through the CD at least two times, making mental notes as I go. Then I’ll bring it back into my studio and go through it one more time, making actual notes. Invariably, I’ll come away with at least three strong ideas that will ultimately find their way into my work.
I also find a lot of inspiration on television. Any channel that features pop culture news is a must for me. I always try to watch Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood and just about anything on the E! Channel. MTV is also a natural source. I try to hear what I am seeing. Scratchy film effects become filters. Surreal sequences become overdubs and cross-channel flips. My best inspiration comes from turning the sound down and just keeping my eyes on the screen.
In terms of actual sound, I’ve found motion picture companies’ Electronic Press Kits to be invaluable. Most EPKs feature “split” tracks. Dialogue on one channel and sound effects and music on the other means I get lines from movies in the clear. Case in point: Legally Blond 2. I lifted two lines for the 4th of July weekend: “You look like the 4th of July,” and “Hello Patriots!” which both fit perfectly into sweepers. Since many movie companies release their films to coincide with holidays and other notable dates, this just gets to be too easy. Even if you don’t have access to an EPK, you can always find movie trailers on the internet (www.apple.com is awesome) and find a ton of material just about any day of the week.
The key to any of this is looking for pop culture. After all, that’s pretty much what we, as an industry, are all about.
Sakis Korovessis [sakiskoro[at]net scape.net]: Well... most of the time, I’m spending time in “those other” record stores, meaning the ones that do not only support mainstream stuff. Being a fan of nothing that has got to do with Britney and others, I have a background on the industrial, ambient, new wave, jazz, Brit “indie” scene and the like.
I spend some time each week listening to new stuff from people whose work I trust, such as Autechre and Bowie, as well as people who I don’t know a thing about. Friends at record stores really help with new music and various magazines do their job as well.
Sometimes, I even go through my record collection and listen to tracks that really impressed me in the past and ones that I used to skip and find some interesting stuff. I recently found a track from a flip-side 12" by David Sylvian, which I had for almost 15 years and never listened to, which blew my mind — VERY EXCITING! I’m looking forward to the next production that will give me the chance to use some ideas developed through that record.
Also, listening to stuff I really HATE, sometimes gives me the chance to think of things that could never cross my mind before. Also, friends of friends of mine that don’t share common ground also inspire interesting ideas.
Jeff Berlin [JeffBerlin[at]clearchannel .com], Kiss108, Boston, Massachusettes: Where do I go for ideas when looking to explore new sonic territory? Adventurous late night college radio. I still occasionally fill in on WZBC out of Boston College, just to stay abreast of the cutting edge. That station gets service from the most obscure independent labels on earth. Check their playlist at wzbc.org.
Rich VanSlyke [richvs[at]bellsout h.net], Rich VanSlyke Productions, LLC, Suwanee, Georgia: Movie Trailers. Tons of them on the web. Nobody does sound and production better than Hollywood.