Production 212: 5 Easy Pieces

Prod212-Logo 2014 webBy Dave Foxx

The last couple of columns have been collections of smallish topics that generally don’t warrant a column of their own. We continue this month with five more, with apologies to Jack Nicholson. Good movie, by the way….

Sometimes, Simple Works Best

As a class of people, radio producers, particularly imaging producers, like to think of themselves as audio wizards. The temptation to make the most dazzling bit of production, “ever,” is something we all live with every day. Generally, I applaud that goal, but there is dazzling, and then there is dazzling. Too often, we are guilty of gilding the lily. Shakespeare said it best in King Richard:

To guard a title that was rich before,
To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,
To throw a perfume on the violet,
To smooth the ice, or add another hue
Unto the rainbow, or with taper-light
To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish,
Is wasteful and ridiculous excess.

If the idea is right, and the verbiage is what it needs to be, adding an extra sound effect or pushing the VO through a weird filter serves absolutely no purpose and, in fact, can be a distraction to your message. Too often, the production I hear starts with a good concept, a clear USP and a creative approach, but then gets muddied with extraneous effects or dramatically wrong music, making the entire piece a worthless bit of sound -- a nugget of noise that we could all live without. Oddly, it is of sound like this that some producers are often most boastful. When I get an email that includes a phrase like, “My latest smokin’ hot promo,” I can be fairly certain that it will probably make my ears bleed a bit. But when it’s done, I will know that the only thing smoking about it is the producer who is perhaps smoking crack.

The first, last and every in-between rule is always Serve the Unique Selling Proposition. If anything that doesn’t help the USP goes in, you can pretty much plan on throwing the whole piece out. Think about what you are trying to do before you begin slicing and dicing… think about what you are trying to do while you are slicing and dicing… then make sure that all of your slicing and dicing hasn’t shredded the USP when you’re done. Remember that the real skill in creative radio production is delivering the message. Like the pizza delivery guy, you don’t make the pizza, you deliver it fresh and hot. Your client, whether it’s a commercial client or your radio station, decides what the message needs to be. Don’t add extra mushrooms on your own.

Take Time to Experiment

We all have days that are less full than others. Instead of cruising the internet while you’re waiting for an order to come through, open a new session, drag in some music or VO and find out what all of your plug-ins do. I recently had a few minutes to play around this way and discovered that Vari-Fi™ by Avid (the folks who make Pro Tools) has new features introduced with PT10. For those with other systems, Vari-Fi™ takes a selected region and slows it down or speeds it up over time, giving the impression of a record slowing down or starting up. It used to be you could only select down or up, but now you can make it fit the same time frame or extend it by 150%, all automatically. You can now also turn the fade function on or off instead of it always being on. It’s not an effect I use every day, or even every month, but because I took the time to play with it, I know I have much more flexibility in using it.

Throw a One-Person Listening Party

If you are a regular reader of this column, you know that I recently expanded my production skills to include video and now produce a weekly web feature for several outlets that features videos of the top five songs of the week (in a few different categories.) I have to admit that, in the interest of getting through a project quickly, I will often skip through a song to find the hook, whether it’s in the video or the audio version of any song, without actually listening to the complete song. I flipped on the station on my way into work in a few days ago and heard what I thought was a new song playing. After listening for a bit more, I realized that it was a song we’ve been playing for weeks that I had just never listened to, all the way through. I swapped out the hook for that song as soon as I got into work. Now I’ve instituted a new rule for myself: In my copious free time I mentioned in the previous paragraph, I dub every song we add each week into my own DAW from our master system and listen all the way through. Likewise, I watch every video from start to finish before I select the 20 seconds or so that I feature in one of my video compilations. The bonus here is, I know the song much better, and when I need to use it in a concert or ticket giveaway promo, I can cut to the meat immediately.

Get Up With the Chickens

If you have ever seen me speak or are a long-time reader of this column, you’ve heard this before because it is advice I give all the time. Keeping morning show hours gives you that precious 3 to 4 hour window in the morning to get stuff done without being interrupted 5-bajillion times. Once regular working hours roll around, you then have the time and patience to deal with all the little brush fires that seem to pop up every day. Like many of you, I get lazy sometimes. I’ll hit the snooze button a couple of times, or if I know I don’t have all that much on my plate for that day, I’ll actually reset my alarm for a more normal 7:30. I hate the rush hour traffic, but that extra couple of hours of sleep can be delicious. Yesterday (as I write this) was Friday and I knew that I had an absolute butt-load of work to do, so I dutifully set my alarm for 4:15 and got into work in time to hear Elvis Duran and The Morning Show sign on. In spite of getting in at the crack of chickens, I was convinced I would be going home late. Wrong again. After producing 4 promos for 4 stations (all different formats, so all completely different concepts), 5 promos for 5 other stations (the only difference being the call letters and web addresses), a music image promo for Z100 and a cash giveaway promo for KTU, I still had time to knock out 5 stagers and 6 produced tags for the Z100 “Coming Up” bumpers before I called it a day at 2:30. Probably one of my most productive days ever, but it never would have happened had I commuted with the masses. Trust me, this is one of my very best tips for aspiring producers. Just try it for a week.

Take One Step Back From the Edge

Living on the cutting edge of technology can really leave you bleeding. For years I used the WAVES™ plug-ins on just about every piece I did. I was a devoted fan of the +L1 Ultramaximizer™, their venerable brick-wall limiter. I used it everywhere, for just about everything. Last Spring, when Avid introduced Pro Tools™ 11, I just about wet my pants in anticipation. With this release, Avid had finally gotten rid of the old (very outdated) Digital Audio Engine, and could now do all the things I had envied of Vegas™, MOTU™ and Audition™ users had been taking for granted for years. I didn’t even blink. I simply went online and ordered, downloaded and installed the new software. Oops! The new engine doesn’t use the old RTAS or TDM technology, rendering my several thousand-dollar WAVES bundle instantly obsolete. My friends in Tel Aviv were slow to adapt to the new AAX format, so I spent several days scrambling to find compatible plug-ins that could do what I wanted. The Avid folks gave me a great start with their native bundle, but the people who really came through were my PSP™ friends in Warsaw, Poland. Within just a very few days, they re-released just about every one of their plug-ins in the new AAX format. WAVES finally announced their full conversion to AAX in September but honestly, I’m not as married to them anymore. I have discovered that PSP and Avid have some really kickass products. Lesson learned though. That couple of weeks of absolute panic was more than enough to convince me to do a little more research before I jump in the pool with all my clothes on.

For my sound this month, a tasty little promo designed to appeal directly to the massive number of Lovatics in the New York area. Any time you can integrate artist drops into a promo, especially when that artist has so many fanatic fans, it’s almost guaranteed to generate a huge buzz. It did. I hope you like it. Check it out!

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