Q It Up: What skills are most important when producing great imaging?

Imaging SkillsQ It Up: What skills do you think are most important when it comes to cranking out great imaging production?  Is it knowing your DAW inside and out? Knowledge of the latest and greatest plug-ins? Ability to beat-mix like the best in the biz? Copywriting skills? Knowing your audience? And what recommendations would you have to nurture those assets?

Ron Tarrant, Head Imaging & Sound Designer/Voice of The Howard Stern Show, New York City, NY: Learn to play an instrument. Understanding music is the most important tool as an Imaging Producer. I once heard: "you can only shine a turd so much." That statement relates directly to poor writing. It's all up to the script, before your prod can become hip. Just my 2 cents. :)

Dale McCubbins, Production Director, Christian Family Radio, Bowling Green, KY: One skill I NEED to improve is time management + more short cuts on the DAW… I think small market teams especially, but probably everyone, is trying to do much more with very little extra resources (if not less!) so that the adage of “…we who’ve done so much with so little for so long can do just about anything with practically nothing!” is sadly becoming more and more realized.

Copywriting definitely… great writing trumps bells whistles laser wipes and droneouts!

To improve my skill set – I’m self-taught, and have been in the biz for a while, but I’m looking for a mentor to remind me of the basics or show me the new basics.

Dave Savage, Vice President, iHeartMedia Creative Studio: This is a better topic for all of us to get together in person and discuss over a few pitchers of beer. But since that ain’t gonna happen, I’ll toss up a few things up for discussion.

One of the necessary skills for an imaging producer today is multitasking. There aren’t too many stations that have a person whose sole responsibility is imaging one station like was not uncommon in the ‘90s. Aside from that, I don’t think the necessary skills needed for a great imaging producer are a whole lot different than it was 10 or 20 years ago. I think the number one requirement is the ability to see the vision of the PD and think like a PD. The station imaging is the only thing that reflects the stationality 24/7 -- more than any air personality, even more than a high-profile morning show.

A close second is a tie between knowing your audience and writing skills. It is crucial for a station to relate to its audience on an emotional level, and you can’t do that if you don’t know what makes them tick. Even if you do know what makes them tick but can’t convey that emotion on the air, it doesn’t do you any good. That’s where writing comes in. By writing I don’t necessarily mean scripting words for your station voice to read, although that is important. Maybe a better word than “writing” would be “concepting.” It is important that the station voice doesn’t carry the entire load of the imaging; it needs to be broken up by other voices and sounds. Hook/beat-mix promos/sweeps are a good way to do that. Listener audio is another good way, but you can’t script what the listeners are to say; you need the ability to ask leading questions that get them to say what you want in their own words so it sounds natural and not scripted. Another good way to vary the voices and sounds to give the station voice a rest is to create a character. I’ve worked at two stations, one in a small market and the other in a large market, where the janitorial crew was used on the air in promos and became huge personalities. In one case the cleaning lady was actually doing paid appearances.

These are the basic skills needed for imaging. If you don’t have this foundation, knowing all the tricks of the DAW and use of all the latest plugins won’t do you any good. But if you have mastered those skills on top of the foundation I’ve laid, out you can rule the world!

Al Peterson, National Production Director, Radio America Network, Washington DC: My only advice is to not produce something that you think would impress other production directors. Your station and your listeners come first.

You'd be surprised...

Jay Helmus, Audio Engineer, Jay Helmus & Zippy Zappy Productions, Vancouver, BC: Time management would be a huge one. But also a musical ear. A sense of timing, energy, rhythm, tempo and flow are all tools in the world of imaging. You have to use them all to create a certain "feeling" you want the listener to be feeling. You don't have to play an instrument or be a musician per say, but you probably need to have a good feel for music.

I'd also say a good mentor(s) is probably the best assets you could have. The ego likes to tell us that we're the sole reason for our successes, but I think if we're honest with ourselves, most of us are pretty heavily influenced and shaped by our mentors. At least, that's certainly been the case for me!

Don Elliot, Owner, Schwab Media, L.L.C., Hollywood, CA: I’d have to say my best I asset/tool is... communication with the client.

Learn to communicate with the customer/program director who doesn’t quite know how to communicate what he/she needs. Make them not afraid to step up to the director’s plate to articulate something you can then much more easily deliver. It will dramatically increase your batting average to deliver more usable takes for them to wade through. Granted, you can often “hit the ball” adequately when a program director tells you to “just do what you do”, based probably on your rather broad demo or other imaging that you have done, and send them a batch of “rainbow reads” which are all over the place, knowing that one of them might fit his request of “I’ll know it when I hear it”. (What a copout for no talent as a director).

There is some validity to this at least, and most likely you will have several interpretations of that direction, errr, “request”… you get the difference? It’s sort of like bracketing exposures if you are a photographer. One is exposed exactly to the subject… another one being slightly more open by an f-stop, the third being slightly more closed by perhaps a stop. The same is true in the acting demanded in your read.

When you have completed your requested reads, it never hurts to “do one for yourself“ instead of trying to force your hand on how you think it ought to go at the start of the session. Give them what they need or what they think they need. Follow up with an ad lib or an interpretation that you hear in your own head. It just might open up a few extra doors that the client might build upon or awaken them with just another way to go.

It is an odd twist that many people in radio lack communication skills with one other -- particularly when it comes to directing voice talent. I make the distinction between voice talent and DJs. Even though they may be expert DJs, voiceover talent is a totally different business.

Face it… It’s not their specialty and your job is to make them look like a hero. This is how you gain confidence with a client, and soon you will find that they’ll ease the reins somewhat in the flexibility of what they have you do. You gain their confidence. And that results in… You guessed it… Better air product and repeat business for you!

Bernie Lucas, WMZQ, Washington DC and iHeart Media National Programming Group Country Imager: I think copywriting talent and knowing your audience are the most important assets for producing great imaging. Crafting messages that connect with station fans is what will make your imaging stand out from the wall of sound crashing into their ears every day, hour, minute. Understanding your Program Director’s vision for the sound of your station is equally important.

Another valuable skill is knowing your own strengths and weaknesses. If you’re strong on bringing an idea to life but weak at getting the idea to begin with, collaborate with imagers who you know are more creative than you are. Learn from them. I also recommend listening to other imaging, from out of your market or out of your format, not necessarily to ‘borrow’ ideas but more to be inspired.

And to repeat something Dave Foxx says a lot… be your audience. Learn their habits and interests, speak their language. Listeners aren’t hanging on to every edit or sound; they’re responding to the message… IF it means something to them. Imaging should help listeners feel your station is part of their life.

Denzil Lacey, Production Director, Dublin's FM104: I feel idea generation, script generation, and production skills are the most important things for any imager to upskill on constantly.

Getting content ideas is always tough and it requires a lot of thought – so setting time aside every week and month is super important. Watching movies and TV shows while staying current with news topics and entertainment stories can make your imaging from good to great! Also try out the plugins you use and don't use regularly to ensure that you can do everything and know how to make the sounds you want.

Tim Hopwood, The Timothy Call: Some imaging pros work best by themselves; however, I recommend making friends in the business. These relationships often nurture trust and respect for one another. Most of us enjoy sharing our portfolio and I believe it's crucial to do so. We pros need to open ourselves to constructive criticism among our peers. For some, this isn't easy to do.

Swallow your pride, make some friends, and allow yourself to listen. I understand that "listening" isn't always easy for those of us who talk for a living - but it's essential for improvement.

One last note: don't feel pressured into taking the advice from your fellow friends in the industry. After all, we are all creative and distinctive talents. That being said, build relevant friendships with professionals (you are a professional), and open your mind to their critiques. You might just find some valuable ideas that will enable you to produce your next masterpiece.

Ricky Correa, Voice Over/Production Services, http://www.rickycorrea.com: To me, radio is a free form of expressing your talent, imagination, and passion. I mean your creativity. The way you produce may vary accordingly with the assigned project, but there (to me) are some standard skills you may be required to have in order to create a masterpiece.

First of all, you need to have in mind what is the purpose of each production, and it must be "to deliver a message". That message could be serious, fun, or whatever, but it needs to be delivered (understood) or you'll be wasting your time and the listeners’ time without effectiveness.

With that said is imperative that you (1) develop creative writing skills, but in a simple way, according to your audience. [Have in mind that it's hard to deliver and produce from a bad script]

(2) All the DAWs out there are good. The thing is to know the one you choose, your preference, and know what it does and how it works so you can be quick and skilled, and how to fix it on the run in case of trouble to avoid delays.

(3) One of the things that delay a production is searching for the right elements when you're putting the pieces together. In order to maximize your time, have your libraries organized and know your inventory; also mix and match them to make different sounds because some producers use the same libraries. Nowadays you can hear a production and determine if elements were from this library or that one.

(4) Listen to different demos of colleagues -- not to copycat but to adapt your own style from here and there and to be on the trend.

(5) Having musical knowledge, how to play an instrument and knowing how to beat-match a promo definitely will help you a lot in the process. I play by ear, but I try to be very rhythmic on my productions with good results.

From experience, a radio Imaging Producer never has time to be around chasing flies in the hallways. There's always a demo to listen to, an idea that pops up and you make note of it, a tutorial to learn more about your DAW, organize your libraries and listen to them, watch tutorials for plug- tutorials and play with your plug-ins to improve the power of your sound. Also, you can practice beat-matching in your spare time or make some station logos to create your own sounds and have them ready for the next assignment and shine on your own.

Andy Goddard, Producer, 92.1 Rock / Kiss 99.3 Timmins, ON: You can have all the knowledge in the world of what your DAW is capable of… You can be a master at knowing what effects, plugins and audio tricks can achieve a variety of different sounds… But ultimately a producer’s ears have to be the most important asset. We work in such a visual manner that our eyes can get carried away and convince us that we need to fill space on the screen, when there is already enough audio carrying a listener’s attention. Plus, visually working also often leads us to hear things that really just get lost in the mix when you’re not looking at a trackview. Switch off the screen to “really” listen.

Emmanuel, French VO and Producer at voixoffonline.eu: When it comes to produce radio imaging, I’ll say there are 4 important axes: Powers intros, sweeper elements, beatmatch IDs, and finally promos.

The on air imaging consists of a straight collaboration between the imaging director and the program director. The imaging/creative director defines the color of the on air imaging. The PD is the business guy. The creative director must be creative!

In terms of imaging "skills" the creative director must have: Mixing skills: The imaging must cut thru the on air processing (Omnias, Optimods, etc.) but today the hype means "less is MORE” -- Goodbye to “squashed” elements. Rhythm and music skills: For example, with power intros, a capellas must be in the tune/beat of the song and not too long.

Some imaging directors are now producing Outros. Yeah, that's the "hype".

Finally in terms of "imaging tools" the digital era offers now multiple possibilities at your fingertips. You can do bpm switches, etc... But keep in mind the "Less is more" factor!

And I will say, if you are also a voice talent, that's the cherry on the cake!

Gord Williams: I don’t do a lot of imaging, but of course I have an opinion. This one I will say may not be on the money honestly. Good imaging catches the ear somehow so the list -- writing, producing, and so on -- is definitely a part of it. These are the tools that express creativity. I think it’s the ability to suffer the slings and arrows of bad press, perhaps to the extent that people do not take your phone call for a while. Otherwise it’s nothing new. Fewer people are that brave or wack. What is ‘new’ is usually a spin on what is happening now, and a slight twist. Sometimes I have a hard time hearing how the thundering sounders underneath vary that much, but BAM! They do! And people are better for it.

To an extent I think Radio and TV turns in on itself and becomes this club that only members understand promo production. I was just watching some video airchecks of people like the late Tom Rivers (CKLW), and here he is sitting in a hat and doing some high energy what could be called patter. Good stuff, but anyone like my ex girl in Detroit and friends there would only know CKLW as a completely different entity. Tom Rivers was a weird looking guy in a Mountie hat, why? I doubt promos are that much of an audience item.

So a step further when we bring it forward to now, beat mixing? I did that and no one ever congratulated me after six hours of doing that at a club. Is it cool? Darned straight! But is it necessary in a promo? Maybe if you do that on air, maybe if it lifts the performance over all. But for those of us hanging around listening for whatever our purpose is like in Harpo’s Disco (there I said the word, now where is the exit?) I don’t know if it’s that big a deal now or ever was.

Creatively, how can you bring it to the next level and if you make your living from this, how can you get it sold and sell more of them? That’s the big thing. Everybody has an airplane, drone, stuttering or what have you going through their promo. Dave Diamond did some a few years ago, they were very creative. As if he was having a conversation, yet it had the impacting stuff that Radio Geeks and Freaks talk about during Reunion Super Gold weekends.

That’s got to be a fine line and that also was then. What’s next? Who’s daring enough to create it and sell it? That’s the skill however that manifests itself.

Adam Garey: Know your DAW...speed in creating and piecing your work parts.

Additional comments and responses welcome below!

Thanks to all who responded. Your input is valuable and appreciated. If you have a question you’d like to see posed to the RAP Q It Up panel, email it to editor@rapmag.com.  If you would like to join the Q It Up panel, send your request to editor@rapmag.com.

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