By Dave Cockram
Am I the only Radio Producer who thinks imaging libraries suck? How am I supposed to make my radio station sound different from my competitors if we are all using the same stuff? Yes! We are ALL using the same libraries! They may be called different things, but I assure you… it’s all more similar than different. We are also all guilty of an under the table file swap with our producer friends in other markets. Admit it.
When I first started in radio, it was the quest to find the coolest imaging library. In the time I spent sifting the internet for the best one, I could have built my own and it could have easily been just as good. It’s becoming so easy to make your own scores and FX with the advancements in software.
After a year of using these tips you will be well on your way to having your very own DIY Imaging Library! Make today the day that you will stop using other people’s work and punching in voice tracks and start to developing your own style. Here are some easy steps on how to do it.
1 - Make your own beats. It’s easy. Children can do it on an iPad
If you work for a major media company, you are likely sharing the same library across the board. Just because you work under the same corporate umbrella doesn’t mean YOUR station shouldn’t reflect YOUR personality. As you have heard Dave Foxx say many times, the Imaging Producer IS the personality of the radio station.
Here’s an idea: Buy a $20 virtual drum machine and make your own loops. Tell your PD you just saved the department $3000 a year by not using someone else’s work. Not only does this look good on the books, you will get way more job satisfaction out of producing when you create it yourself! Take that $3000 a year you saved the company and get some virtual instruments (or real ones) for your studio.
2 - Quantity over Quality. Do you want 85 half-assed ones, or 10 kick ass ones?
Libraries are the worst for sorting through 20,000 drum loops. I’m only ever going to use 20. But that doesn’t stop you from having to listen to them all to find the hidden treasures. I get my drum loops from my own library -- breaks and beats I have sampled, categorized, labeled and archived over my 17 year career. I know exactly where to find what I want because I did all the work, and I can access it way faster than sorting through the bottomless pit of a library. My point here is that we get sold on the quantity and lose the quality.
Let me put it this way. If you bought a new album from your favourite band, would you rather they made a 4 disc set with 36 mediocre songs? Or would you rather have 10 songs you can listen to over and over? The answer is simple. Work harder on fewer pieces and go for quality over quantity.
3 - Lasers. Just say no.
There’s nothing quite like an abrasive high pitched squelch to break the flow of music. Am I right? Your listeners want another song, not an interruption. If you are going to break the flow of music then you better make them laugh, or tell them something useful.
Yes, I realize WHY we all use these sounds. It’s to snap the listener out of whatever daze they are in and capturing a brief fleeting moment where you cram call letters down their ear holes. Yes. This method CAN and DOES work to some extent. But do you want to be the Producer (or Radio Station) who uses cheap tricks to get attention? There’s a smarter less abrasive way to claim your listeners attention. The challenge is getting people to notice you without tricking them with annoying sounds. No amount of sound effects or processing can make an idea better.
Sadly, this is what I thought radio imaging was for a long time. Take a mediocre script, add as many FX to make it “not boring” and hope for the best. Lasers and any other form of abrasive sound design are not personality. They are NOT creative unless used creatively.
So the next time you assemble an ID and add a sound effect ask yourself, “does this sound enhance the message I am trying to portray, or is it noise?” Rethink how you use special FX. Try going right from a song into… ANOTHER SONG. Your music will flow better, and it gives the listener the illusion that they are hearing more music non-stop without having to ever say it. Actions still speak louder than words. I will go into detail about this in a later article.
If you work in CHR it’s pretty likely that your PD will require you to have lots of these kinds of sounds on hand. Here’s a tip. Find some good EMD bands, and chop the song apart. You can get an endless supply of these sounds that are typically less abrasive than library special FX. Why? They are more pleasing to the ear, because even though sonically they may be powerful and hard hitting, it’s actually musical. It’s also likely other producers won’t take the time to hack a song apart. They are busy sorting through 20,000 drum loops.
There’s nothing wrong with using a library, but if you want to build your own sound, sample stuff no one else will.
4 - Mix outs are essential for your future.
Every year you are going to run Christmas, Halloween and Summertime IDs. So save your work! What we talk about is cyclical. Everything comes around again. You can use past mixes again next year, or use it for your freelance imaging business on the side. No one will remember or notice that it’s the same music as last year. Save every mix you do without any voice because it WILL come in handy again. Keep it well labeled and in a place you can access quickly. People will be stunned at how fast you can whip something up when half the work is already half done.
5 - Music Selection is King… next to dialogue of course.
The easiest way to sound different than your competition is to use a style of music or sound design that no one else in the market is using. It’s easier than you think. Listen to what everyone else is doing and do the opposite. When you select your music… don’t settle for mediocre. I’m serious. Set the bar as high as you can. The standard for music selection should be, “I could listen to this track on its own and still enjoy it”. Or, “This music is so unique it will capture people’s attention”.
At INDIE88 I sample a wide range of styles. For our quirky stuff, it’s stock library from the 70s and 80s. I also sample instrumental hip hop, indie rock (obvs), and some weirder EDM. Use your ears to get the most compelling and sonically interesting piece that fits the script.
If your PD or client doesn’t like your music selection on a promo or spot, save it! It’s subjective. That’s one person’s opinion. Just because he/she rejects it doesn’t mean that small market station you image on the side will. You did the work already, there’s a good chance it will work for something else.
If you can’t find a style that works for you or your station, get your musician friends together after hours one night to write and record a track that works specifically for you. I mean, you do have access to professional recording equipment for free. Utilize it and any talented people you know. If you are like me and can’t play any instruments yourself (other than the computer), then I’m sure you know some people who do. Once it’s all said and done… one more thing to add to your library.
6 - Put your spin on it.
This is one of the only things you can do to separate yourself from the competition. Remember, everyone’s using the same libraries and fighting for the same sound. What makes your imaging any different? It’s how you put it together.
Challenge yourself to edit in a slightly different way each time. Experiment! Get familiar with all the weird plug-ins you don’t understand yet. This is how you learn. Over time you will know ever tool in your arsenal. So when someone needs a Robot Voice, you will know exactly how to achieve it because you spent the time playing around with a vocoder last week.
Here’s a link to some Halloween Imaging I produced for INDIE88 last year. I wanted the entire station to sound like Grindhouse Trailer’s from the ‘70s/’80s. I had a blast making bad edits on purpose. Instead of clean polished special FX, I used old outdated low-fi sounds from B-Movies. Searching for tape hiss, vinyl scratches, and outdated library music was a chore but that was the sound I wanted. It wasn’t available in any library I had access to. I had to build it myself. But now that the work is done, I have all these mix outs in case we bring the idea back or I need similar sounds for a horror movie trailer spot. While every other station was doing poor Dracula impressions, we hired Corey Burton (who voiced the Tarantino Grindhouse Trailer) to make the project credible. https://soundcloud.com/dave-cockram/sets/indie88s-halloween-grindhouse
Find what works for you and your station. Don’t be afraid to “Break Rules”. That’s how new rules are created.
7 - Save your announcers reactions.
Every time you make your announcer laugh, every time you catch a sneeze, every time they scoff at you… SAVE IT! Your announcers create realistic reactions when they are relaxed and having an everyday conversation with you. Keep the mic rolling before they even attempt to voice with you, and you might be amazed at what every day human sounds they create naturally. We live in a day and age where you can afford to be a digital pack rat. So hoard everything because you can use it later.
There you go. 7 easy tips to start on your very own library! By next year you will be amazed at what you have created and get the satisfaction knowing you created it yourself.
Dave is a Producer at Indie88 in Toronto, ON. He welcomes your correspondence at