Production 212: 2 Turntables and a Microphone - Part 3

Production-212-Logo-1By Dave Foxx

I recently got back from the Radio Days conference in Barcelona, Spain where I spoke at length about branding. I used Coca-Cola® as a prime example of branding done right and how music, handled well, is a primary key to their success over the last hundred plus years. In spite of constant hammering by Pepsi-Cola® the Coke brand has always maintained top-dog status in the soda wars. If you analyze what they’re selling, you realize pretty quickly that it’s not a sugary-sweet, brown beverage full of fizz you can clean truck tires with that they’re pushing out to the masses. It’s a lifestyle. It’s the Real Thing. Santa drinks Coke for goodness’ sake! Even polar bears moon over the moon with Coca-Cola.

From the earliest days of radio and television, Coca-Cola has always used music to help deliver that lifestyle message. The music they use in their commercials reinforces the lifestyle message subtly by staying on the pop edge without going over. It never misses a beat. Key changes lift up and make you feel happy. Somebody is paying attention to details like this, should you do any less?

This brings us to item 4 on “the list.”

  1. Music is made up of parts, which can be disassembled and reassembled.
  2. Tempo is ALWAYS flexible.
  3. Rhythm is NEVER flexible.
  4. Key is relative.
  5. Musical phrasing is similar to spoken phrasing.
  6. Placing voiceover over singing is very much like having two people talk at once.
  7. Ending the music is like putting a period at the end of a sentence.
  8. Sung vocals need to HELP the message if at all possible.
  9. Effects need to support the musical phrasing.
  10. Tracking your voiceover to the music can double its effectiveness.

When you’re dealing with beats and rhythm, it pretty much devolves into a discussion about math. How many beats per minute, which beats of every measure are emphasized and so forth. While discussions surrounding key can be mathematical as well, that’s not our primary focus. How do the keys relate to each other?

When you’re talking about key, you are essentially talking about a series of pitches and how they relate. In ALL Western music (by which I mean almost ALL music that comes from Western civilization, as opposed to civilizations in the Orient, which use different scales) there are 12 half steps, 8 of which you will use a majority of the time. In the key of C, you will use all of the white notes on a piano, and with few exceptions, none of the black notes.

keyboardAs you can see on the keyboard graphic, C is the note just to the left of the two black notes, so counting up from C, the numbers 1 thru 8 would be C, D, E, F, G, A, B and C again. If you play 1, 3 and 5 all at once, you are playing a chord, which is very pleasing to the ear. This is a C Major chord. Now, you have more knowledge than you need. The important thing to note, is the relationship those 3 notes have to each other. They make up a major chord. They play nicely together and sound happy. (Side note: To make them sound sad, change the 3rd note down one-half step to make a MINOR chord.)

I really don’t want you to get bogged down in the mechanics of this. Just know that for production purposes, regardless of what key you are in, the major chord will always be 1, 3 and 5. In the key of C, that’s C, E and G. In the key of F# it would be F# (the black note ABOVE F), A# and C#. Don’t let this confuse you. 1, 3 and 5 is all you need to know. The Z100 logo, played on a piano, is 3-1-5-5. They make a natural major chord, regardless of where you start on the keyboard.

When moving from one song to another, the second song will ideally be in the same key, but that doesn’t happen often. If you have a choice, put the LOWER keyed song first. Going UP in pitch does two things emotionally, it creates anticipation in the listener’s ear and it will almost always sound happier. I know, this might seem pretty arcane to some, but I’m telling you, this stuff really works. I have a really good example in my sound for this month. I’ll get to that in a moment.

Item 5 on the list is “Musical phrasing is similar to spoken phrasing.” A musical phrase is something you will hear over and over again in a song. I’m really talking about the instrumental portion of the song, not just the words. In fact, the words in a song will no doubt be different each time the musical phrase is repeated, as the singer works his/her way through the lyrics. Since we’re not dealing with the words for this paper anyway, I just want to make sure I’m being clear.

Find a recording of (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones, a classic rock recording from 1965, and listen to the opening guitar riff. This is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. The musical phrase is spread over TWO measures. A more up-to-date example is Feel So Close by Calvin Harris. It begins with a musical phrase spread across FOUR measures, repeated twice before he begins to sing.

Got it fixed in your mind then? A musical phrase is like a spoken phrase and should be treated the same way. You would never cut into or out of the middle of a spoken phrase. You need to treat the music the same way. Never cut into or out of a musical phrase. Always use the complete musical phrase, or it will be very unsettling to the listener. It will completely detract from whatever your message is… every time.

I promised I would talk about item 6 on the list as well, so here it is. Placing voiceover over singing is a BAD idea, always. If you’re producing a promo using a popular song, the last thing you want to do is create a distraction. There are TWO streams of thought going on at the same time. Why would you want the listener to decide which thought to follow? You want to make that decision FOR the listener. If you can’t find the instrumental of that song, change gears and use a piece of instrumental music, perhaps from your library. YOU make the decision and let them follow your train of thought. OK? ‘nuff said.

For my sound this month, a promo I put on the air at Z100 last year, about this time. I usually do three image promos at a time, each one featuring 3 or 4 songs, beat-mixed or beat-matched, to demonstrate the variety of music we play. By the time I got to the third one, all the easy transitions were taken. The Usher and Lady Gaga songs are both in the same key, but the Ke$ha song, Blow, is in a much lower key. So, I began with Ke$ha, and made a keyed transition up to Usher’s More. From there, I sailed directly into Lady Gaga’s Born This Way and closed it out.

Next time, the final installment in this series, (I know, I know… at last!) when we’ll take up the last 4 items on this list, which, when you think about it, are kind of self-explanatory.

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