R.A.P. Interview: Jeff Thomas

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JV: What are your imaging tools? What gear and software do you need to work your magic?
Jeff: Well, the number one thing is Pro Tools. I’ve got a Pro Tools Mix Plus system here with one of the old DSP Farm cards in it.

I’m not really plug-in based. I mean, when I say that, I use them all the time, and more often than not will max out a session from bringing in plug-ins, but they’re more often EQ – a lot of EQ, a lot of compression and filters, a little bit of reverb, a little bit of chorus sometimes. But I’m not a big fan of the plug-ins that basically try and replicate an Eventide Ultra-Harmonizer or something. And to be honest, even when I was using tape back in the analog days, I was never even a really huge fan of the Eventide as far as putting vocal effects on voice tracks and stuff like that, because at the time it just would never seem to sound as good on the air as it did in the studio. There were just issues with the on-air processing that would always kind of alter it.

And it’s the same with plug-ins now. I tend to stick to EQs. I’ve got one of the early Waves bundles. I really like the Bomb Factory low-pass filters; I use that all the time. And the Urie compressors I use all the time. Apart from that, I have a couple of Akai samplers, a Nord and a Korg keyboard, some old short-wave radios and things like that. And that’s pretty much the studio. I monitor through NS10s but also have Genelec 1032As for monitoring, and it all works well.

JV: Did you use a lot of sounds from the short-wave radios for the libraries?
Jeff: Well, initially, especially with some of the CD stuff. I would be playing around with the short-wave radios and find a nice sound, which often was the easy part, and then you’d start playing around with noise reduction plug-ins and things like this, and cutting and pasting to get rid of all of the crackling and static distortion that goes along with it. But it was good experience.

JV: What’s your imaging philosophy? What goals do you try to reach with your imaging for a radio station?
Jeff: I pretty much put everything down to an equation between fashion and function. It’s something that we used to talk a lot about at KIIS and it was a really good way, I found, of getting a clear idea of what the PD was looking for. With Dan, he’d give me a promo and I’d say, okay, what percentage fashion, what percentage function, and more often than not, it would be 90, 95 percent fashion and five percent function. So I think it’s good from that point of view. Nowadays, with everyone’s bullshit meters wound up as tight as they are, they can smell a sale from a mile away.

I think my philosophy with any promo is to make the promo for the moment more so than make it for what it’s talking about. So if you’re making a promo for a weekend countdown show or a flashback lunch or something along those lines, really, when you give the time and the day that this is happening, the chances of anybody making a mental note and actually tuning in to hear a collection of songs at that time are pretty slim. But if you treat the promo for the moment and use your fashion skills to brand these songs with the station name and to also get across the station personality and to put some fashion in there, then that’s really what the promo is about. It’s more for the feel and more for the fashion of the moment. And also, it’s about exercising your skills and trying to make it so that when the radio station talks to a listener, it has the same kind of thought and skills and expertise that’s gone into the music that’s played.

Jeff-Thomas-KillerHertz-LogoJV: Tell us about Killer Hertz 5.
Jeff: Well, for a long time, while I was working for the radio stations full-time, they would take 95 percent of my time and poor Killer Hertz would get the remaining five percent. Then last year, I hit a couple of milestones at the same time. I hit 25 years in radio and turned 40, and just decided that it was time to turn that equation around and really give Killer Hertz a good go. We spent a lot of time working on it early, making sure that we had a lot of material. Then we had to go through the process of designing a website and designing the software infrastructure that would allow me to do it the way I wanted to do it and for it to work the way I wanted it to work. The man-hours that have gone into it since is quite staggering. But I’m very proud of it. I’m very happy with how it’s turned out and the fact that we’ve managed to raise the bar again and endeavor to come up with stuff that’s not continuing on a theme, as such, and to find original material and original sounds and basically as much fashion as we can possibly put in there.

Obviously, the situation with a lot of stations around the world at the moment – especially in the US – is that there’s not many producers making promos from component form up, simply because they don’t have the time. They have too many radio stations to deal with all at once. So we’ve tried to combine Killer Hertz 5 with sound design that stands alone, whether it’s radio sound design or trailer sound design. But also, we’ve incorporated a lot more material that you simply couldn’t publish on a CD. There’s a lot of completed imaging parts and work shells. We’re doing a lot more beds, a lot more music, which is good. We’re bringing in guitars and things like that. I’m really enjoying that.

The offshoot of this too is that because it’s online, there’s a much better connection between me and the people using it. I’m in contact with them more often. It’s not simply a situation of selling somebody a CD and then never talking to them again.

So all of those things have made it a great experience, and if we can develop on this community aspect of it, i.e. the relationship between me and the people that use it, then all the better.

JV: It must be a challenge to keep coming up with different sounds. What do you do? Where do you go to keep your work fresh?
Jeff: We basically have started just doing weirder and weirder things as far as generating the noise. It’s funny. Sometimes you hear a sound that may be part of a piece, and you can hear it and just go, I haven’t heard any of the components before – it’s all pretty fresh – but it just doesn’t really excite me. And other times, you can hear something that’s put together with maybe one or two pieces that you have heard before and you just know. If something’s right, if it’s got the right vibe, you just know it. You can’t really put your finger on it, but if it works, it works. I think that’s part of the fun.

The great thing, too, of working for KIIS away from KIIS, is that you can set your own time agendas. You can spend a day on a bed if you want. You could spend a week on a bed if you want.

I think the thing which made me decide that I wanted to stay involved in radio, but not within a particular radio station, was the fact that you can end up just being on that treadmill doing the same stuff all the time, and that’s what I find taxing and draining.

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