What’s in Your Tool Shed?

By Steve Pigott

For years and years, people have used the saying “a bad workman always blames his tools.” In production however, sometimes “a good workman” can also blame his tools. You can be technically and creatively brilliant, but if you haven’t got the right quality of tools in your box, then you’re instantly on an uphill struggle.

Think about what our “tools” actually are. OK, so they may not be big bulky things that fill up a shed, but they are equally important instruments that enable us to do our job efficiently and to a high standard. Radio production tools can be related to tools of other trades in certain ways. If you buy a cheap basic drill, then you’ll get substandard results compared to the Black and Decker 18V GELMAX with a two-position gearbox!

In our language, buy substandard tools…get substandard production.

Obviously the expertise needs to be in place before the tools will take effect, just like in any industry. I’m sure the Black and Decker 18V GELMAX will not make me a construction worker!

Let’s start with the basics…your DAW, or Digital Audio Workstation. Think of this as the mother tool. Without this you would be nothing! I think I can safely say that Pro-Tools has become the weapon of choice in most cases, but what is a DAW without the toys that go with it? One may be more user friendly than the other, but it’s the add-ons that will make your imaging pop out on air. It is however easy to get carried away with plug-ins. If Toys ‘R’ Us sold them, their isles would be jam-packed full of imaging producers. The key to plug-ins is to buy a really good set of timeless effects, the kind of stuff that you use on a daily basis, and will continue using forever.

At Kiss, London, we spent near on $100,000 on plug-ins for Pro-Tools, and if I am completely honest, I think we actually used 5 of them on a daily basis… and two of those we’re bundled free! Do you really need a vocal modulator that makes your VO sound like a Martian on Acid? For day-to-day imaging, a lot of this stuff isn’t needed, and if it ever is, you can recreate the desired sound using your existing plugs and a little patience! Most plugins come with a trial period, so give ‘em a blast before you buy. I personally swear by the Waves bundle. These don’t come cheap, but 90% of the package I use frequently.

The Plug-In Generation is slowly killing the outboard world. Hardware FX processors are slowly vanishing, resulting in smaller studios and mobile environments. You can now walk around with a professional rig for under $2000. I’ve worked many times sitting on an aeroplane with a Digidesign MBox on a Mac Powerbook.

There is however one “tool” that has really enhanced the way I work… dual monitors. I’ve got two 23" Apple Cinema displays hooked up to my Mac. At first it may seem an unnecessary expense, but it will substantially improve the way you work. The displays can be arranged so that your desktop size is doubled, with the cursor floating between screens. Clever, huh? Stick your Pro-Tools session full size on one screen, and your other stuff on the second, such as email, web browser, or if you’re a mix freak, a full screen mixer!

When thinking about the tools for our job, many key areas are often overlooked. Listener testimonials, artist drops, and movie grabs are all important components that should be included in the equation. Take a day out to chop up everything you have and organise into easily distinguishable files. For the first time this year, I sat down and categorized all my dry work parts such as listener testimonials, and it has speeded up my workflow to no end. Unlike the other areas discussed in this article, these are tools that you don’t need to buy. There aren’t many tools in other industries that come for free, yet still do an effective job.

Imaging FX have been the centre of attention for some time in the production world. I don’t know about you guys, but I’m finding it very difficult to get excited over Imaging FX anymore. There are only a certain number of times you can hear a static and bleep noise. I’m sure we’ve all got enough of these tools to survive the next millennium cutting them up and using them in different ways? Cue death threats! I personally think the FX CD generation is over. Online services are slowly appearing out the shadows and crushing those six inch pieces of plastic that were considered “the future” not so many years ago. I don’t think I even have a CD in my studio anymore. Everything is on hard drives, or available online enabling instant access and more desk space! Couple that with digital music downloads such as iTunes, and I’ll be doing my work from a laptop in the Bahamas in no time!

The “Digital Revolution” brings me nicely onto my final topic of tools. In the last few years, we’ve seen the daddy of all tool-sheds: The Online Production Services. These are like the Home Depot of radio imaging, crammed full of everything you will ever need for your next imaging masterpiece — from ready-made sweepers and show opens, to artist drops, samples and voice work parts. Add these to a large selection of beds and sound design, and you’re on to a winner. There’s a bunch of good one’s around. Check out www.premiere radio.com for their catalogue, which includes my new service with Reelworld, Production Vault.

So instead of the same old clothes and DVD’s you’ll only watch once, ask for a sack of sounds for your next birthday.

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