R.A.P. Interview: Jeff Thomas

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R.A.P.: With so many station voices to use, are you utilizing the convenience of ISDN or something similar?
Jeff: Yeah, absolutely. We're using ISDN quite considerably. We also have some voices locally that we get into the studio and we produce them there, which I prefer. One of the great things I've found using ISDN here in London with the ProTools system is that even though it's got this conversion delay, I'm still, through patching, putting stuff straight onto the bed. I've always preferred, in most cases, making a bed first and putting the voice tracks onto a bed. Now, on an analog system, that's very time consuming because you have to dub off all of the voice tracks, then dub them back on in time because of this delay. Because you can just grab them loosely on ProTools, it works like a dream. We're using a guy who lives a fair way away from London, and we use him on a weekly basis. With ISDN, it's just a matter of dialing in. It's perfect.

I was talking to somebody, I think it was Keith Eubanks, who was saying that with the combination of ISDN technology and the net technology, he's soon going to be able to spit out all of his work onto the net.

R.A.P.: Tell us about the studios you're working out of.
Jeff: Production studios...there's one and a half. One is also the standby on-air studio. We're basically both using ProTools driven on a Power Mac. In my studio, I'm using an Akai S3200 sampler, the Eventide H3000, a small little Yamaha keyboard which is basically just a trigger more than anything, and we've got a couple of Rane compressor/limiters and that sort of stuff. This is basically a totally digital radio station, which is one of the other things that attracted me to the job. Up until the end of last year, I didn't know how to turn a computer on, and now we're talking about a system within the radio station that you're hard pressed to find a reel of tape in.

It's quite amazing, and I guess a lot of it stems from the fact that this is a young station. One of the things that continually blows me out is the fact that not only is a lot of this stuff more capable, but it's also a lot cheaper to equip stations with this stuff these days. We've got a DCS system that handles our commercials and promos and IDs which is "post" studio inasmuch as whenever we hit the button, this thing sends out two feeds, one to FM and one to AM. We've had to devise little audio triggers for news and for traffic and for sports and things like that which we can land in the same place on both FM and AM. We've got an RCS system called RCS Master Control which, from what I can understand, is like the mother ship of the Selector programming software which is used extensively in Australia and the U.K., and I'm sure it's used in America. Until recently, we used to play all the music off of RCS, but it's also got this amazing production tool. It's 2-track hard-disk editing but very, very powerful. That covers the on-air sort of things and then ProTools is in production. It's strong, but all you can do is sit down and pray you never get a power surge. You're open to a whole new element of problems with digital, I guess.

R.A.P.: What about production music? What are you using?
Jeff: We've got the standard production packages as far as what would normally be used for commercials. We're in a situation here because of PRS and the systems that are unique to the U.K.. From what I can ascertain, we have the libraries that are distributed by KPM or something similar that we can use if we're going to use a promo which is strictly client based. As far as promo production goes, strangely enough, we've just managed to lock into a couple of Brown Bag CDs which is quite unique for me because I've spent the last eight years in Sydney competing against Brown Bag. It was always locked out, and we could never get to it. It's quite strange to put in a CD that you've actually never heard before and know most of it because it's something you've worked against.

I'm making a bit of music myself. I've also got X-FX, the Sean Caldwell/Hal Knapp CD, which is great. And I don't even need to go into the Brown Bag stuff because the dynamics in that stuff is amazing. But with all of it, I tend to like to take bits of it rather than using one piece. Because Brown Bag is so acceptable or obtainable to a lot of stations, even though at any given time it's market exclusive, I tend to like to take a piece and definitely not improve it--I'm not taking any ego trip here--but just add my own touch and just take a bit that does what I want it to do rather than me being locked into any particular format. So I take one brass stab or one hit from a piece and make it do something else. My attitude with these packages has always been to take them and add my two cents worth and then make them do something else so it still has an element of uniqueness to the radio station.

R.A.P.: You said you make some of your own music. Are you a musician as well?
Jeff: I'm definitely not a musician. I've dabbled in taking a few sound effects and making a few sound effects of my own, but there are no masterpieces in there. We're talking about basic shortwave radio sound effects and stuff where I put a dozen sounds into the Mac or, back in Sydney, onto the 24-track and just keep on adjusting things until I get something I like. Don't worry, I'm not making any sixty second pieces here.

R.A.P.: What's your "production philosophy?"
Jeff: It's no big revelation. I just think it's one of these great jobs where you can take risks, and if it's crap, you can trash it before anybody else gets a chance to hear it. Even though you're working within a department within a radio station with a lot of people around you, this happens basically in people's heads as far as the creation of it. So you've got this ideal chance, as opposed to most other jobs, to try something weird, and if it doesn't work, just trash it. You can be your own critic. You can try something which is totally stupid, and if it's an absolute disaster, nobody gets a chance to hear it but you. That's my vibe. It's like you go out a little bit farther left than you would normally, and if you have to come back a little bit, then you can.

R.A.P.: There are a lot of young production people, and some not so young, who will read this interview and listen to your tape on The Cassette. When they hear the tape, they are going to be impressed. To these producers who are aspiring to be better, what advice would you give?
Jeff: I think one of the criticisms that could possibly be made toward me is that I take it too personally and I live it too much, and I tend to beat myself up about it a lot. I have this very big understanding that things are good for its time, but you can listen to something two days after you've made it and hate it. You can listen to something three days after you made it and think that somebody else remixed it while you weren't looking. I tend to think that maybe if I was to push to be a bit of an "all-arounder," that might be better. I think you've got to be aware of what else is happening in your market. I think you've got to be aware of what's happening with the music the station's playing--the latest trends. I've sort of been lucky enough to hear a lot of American radio, decent American production, and Radio And Production is one of the great avenues of that. But I think you've also got to make sure you can do a bit of writing, make sure you can edit, make sure you've got a basic understanding of how a song is constructed. And I think it's as important to surround yourself with good people, follow good people. I think it's important to train the people who are working with you if you're in that position. I think the best thing is maybe not to strive to be the world's best at any one particular facet, but to try and cover all bases.

R.A.P.: When do you know you've just finished a good promo?
Jeff: Well, in Sydney, there was a girl who worked in promotions. If I made a good promo and I dragged her into the studio to give her a listen and she got goose bumps, then I thought I had a win. I think it's something that gets the message across, which obviously is the most important thing. But if you can cause a physical reaction, whether it's hair standing up on the back of your neck or a few goose bumps or whatever, then you've had a bit of a win.

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