Production 212: The Producer’s Ultimate Head Trip

Production-212-Logo-1By Dave Foxx

WOW! When I asked for responses from multi-station producers last month, I thought I’d see a half-dozen emails and that would be the end of it. Guess again Toulouse! As I write this, the ink is still wet on my copy of last month’s issue, and I’ve gotten a TON of email with notes of congratulations and advice. All of them offered some interesting points of view and several commented on the actual topic of the column, using EQ to make the voice jump out of the promo without a lot of ducking. Let’s begin with an idea for EQ I’d never thought about and then move on to the main topic for this month; producing multiple format imaging from one studio.

David Boothe in Dallas wrote, “Here is a trick I’ve used for years that really works. Instead of using brute-force EQ to get the VO over the music, I cut the mids in the music. This creates a “nest” for the VO to sit in, so less EQ is required for the VO. Many TV mixers I know do this.” As I sat reading this, I wondered if my mother had dropped me on my head as a child. John Pallarino in Greenville asked about exactly the same thing and had me really wondering about Mom. This is a truly brilliant idea on so many levels. Clearly, you won’t want to cut the mids in any hooks you use, but for the rest it works so much better! I’ve already re-designed my template to include two new music tracks with the mids cut -5db. Any time I want a vocal up, I simply snip it, drag it up to a flat track, and I’m on my way. I’m going to live with this for a few weeks or months and pass along what I learn.

OK. I’ve been living with my ‘split-personality’ job for a little more than a month now, and I’m ready to report that it’s not as bad as I thought it would be. The biggest hurdle I had to deal with was simply the sheer volume of work. However, that was mainly due to the fact that Harry Legg, the previous CSD at ‘KTU, was also the voice of the station. I basically had to re-image the whole radio station, replacing all of Harry’s voice work. It also came at an awkward time, since I had so many things on my plate for Z100. Dealing with the change in my head from one format to another has proven to be a bit easier than I first thought. What little difficulty there was has been all but wiped out by the many suggestions I received.

Ann DeWig, one of my favorite people in this business, is fully into the VO mode these days, down in Scottsdale. While it isn’t production per se, she certainly knows her way around a studio and gave me a wonderful anecdote that leads perfectly into imaging more than one station as this month’s topic. “I was at dinner with a friend, and our very cute waiter approached…my tone changed when I spoke to him, my manner more flirtatious. When I turned back to my friend, she was laughing. We had both noticed the change in my behavior. I realized that we all have multiple personalities and talk to the people we meet differently. When I go to soccer, I talk to the cute college referee in a very coy, flirtatious way. On my way home, I speak to the middle-aged male pharmacist with respect and confidence. And to the female teller at the bank, I speak with a knowing friendliness. I can only imagine this is true for us all. So when imaging my rock stations, I try to remember how I felt around my college soccer friends and tap into that energy/feeling. When imaging my AC station, I try to focus on the feeling I get when I speak to another woman. I suppose it’s all about tapping into what social skills I have already — knowing my ‘multiple social personalities’ and embracing them, then bringing them back to the studio and putting them to work.” Of course, we have to consider that Ann might be suffering from multiple-personality disorder, but her point is excellent.

Maurice Verschuuren used to image Yorin–FM and RTL–FM in the Netherlands. (He’s now imaging SLAM!FM) RTL was a very soft and smooth AC station, while Yorin-FM was a very edgy rock/CHR. Maurice said, “At first I only wanted to do the CHR station, but my former boss told me I shouldn’t become a ‘one trick pony.’ I found it amazingly hard to find the right production elements for the AC because in CHR you can get away with using almost anything.” Man…ain’t that the truth! “After a few weeks I noticed that it became natural. It’s kind of a button that you switch, and I found myself loving to do the soft stuff even more than I liked the CHR!” Again, it’s more of a simple mental process, of gauging who your audience is and making the subtle adjustments to be format sensitive.

Drake Donovan, a long-time friend, after working at a Hot AC station in Pittsburgh for three years, got the added pleasure of picking up the imaging for his sister station, a country outlet. Aside from being a NASCAR fan, he didn’t know the first thing about country music. He couldn’t tell you the difference between Faith Evans and Tim McGraw. (Thank goodness they know!) So he immediately immersed himself in the product to give himself a country edu-ma-cation.

In his email, he writes, “For my target listener on the Hot AC, I use a girl that I went to high school with that was a grade or two ahead of me. What did she do in the 80s? Where and when did she go to college? What’s life like for her right now? I look at my experiences at those times and try to draw a corollary to what she experienced. On the Country side, I have a friend who lives out in the sticks north of Pittsburgh. Although he went off to college, a lot of his cousins and friends just stuck around after high school. They’re quad-ridin’, deer-huntin’, trout-fishin’, Steeler-watchin’, blaze-orange & camo-wearin’, Cope-dippin’, pick-up truck-drivin’ good old boys from Armstrong County. That’s who I use when I write for country.” Can I get an ‘Amen?’ Once again…it’s mind-set. All right… I’m batting .1000… so far.

Then I got an email from Johnny George that took a completely different tack. Oh, mind-set still plays a part in his scheme, but he made it easier on himself. He wrote, “Working for Susquehanna, I imaged our big country station, WFMS, our young country station WGRL and our Oldies station, WGLD. Since the oldies station was done on a Friday the week before, I set up a standing weekly imaging session with that voice Monday mornings at 10. Right after lunch, I met with the WFMS PD to write copy for that station at 1:30 and set up the session with the imaging voice for the following afternoon at 1:30. That gave me Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning to produce our Oldies station. Since some of the promos were recycled due to the format, the load was the lesser of the two. Then I produced WFMS, our country station Wednesday-Friday.” Right away I could see that confining his work to one station on any given day (or half-day) meant that he could take a nice break for lunch and change hats while he was out, or simply go home and get into the right mind-set when he’s getting ready for work. He said it even better; “I separated my days so I could wear that hat for each format.

C.J. Wilson made me laugh out loud as she parroted my own words back to me from a presentation I did in Los Angeles last year. She said, “It all boils down to educating yourself to what the audience is talking about.” She is (I was) right! She went on, “I produce CHR, Country, Rock, CHR/Rhythmic, Caribbean and Sports. I approach every station as having its own feel and personality. I never thought I’d image a Caribbean format, but it forced me to know the musical differences between Soca, Reggae and Calypso. I have to be true to the music because the audience knows it better than me. Throwing a reggae music bed under everything won’t work.

As I said earlier, I got a BUNCH of emails, most of them full of hints and suggestions, but in the end the message was almost universal. It’s all a question of where your head is before you start. And you know what? That’s something I’ve been preaching for years, just working on one format. You have to have a vision of where you’re going or you’ll end up wandering all over creation before you arrive… if you arrive. Working on multiple-formats just means you have different destinations. You’ll take different paths to get to your various stations so it’s not nearly as hard as it seemed in the beginning. If you can hear it in your head, you can make it happen on the radio.

I want to thank everyone who responded to my call for input. Every email had some words of wisdom and they are all so very much appreciated.

Just for giggles, I put together a small montage of work I’ve done for three of our stations here in New York. The voice for WLTW (Lite-FM) is John Pleisse, for WKTU it’s Mark Maurer and for Z100 it’s… well, yours truly. I wrote both Z100 and ‘KTU copy, while Jim Ryan (PD) wrote the WLTW copy. Unless I miss my guess, the next couple of months’ CDs will be filled with your entries for the RAP awards. Good luck to you all. I really look forward to hearing your work.

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